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THE SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST, IN WHICH THE ATONEMENT
WAS PERFECTED, CONSIDERED IN THEIR RELATION, IST, TO HIS WITNESSING FOR GOD TO MEN, AND 2DLY, TO HIS DEALING WITH GOD ON BEHALF OF MEN.
1. THESE sufferings were the perfecting of the Son's
I witnessing for the Father, being the perfected manifestation of the life of love as sonship towards God and brotherhood towards man.
The trial of our Lord's love to men, and its triumph in the prayer on the cross, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do,”—and the trial of His love to the Father, and trust in the Father, of which the final and perfected expression was these words in death, “Into thy hands, O Father, I commend my spirit,” -were accomplished together by one and the same elements. The power of the life of sonship and of conscious oneness with the Father in His mind towards His brethren, to enable Christ to abide in love, and overcome evil with good, is in truth that which we have now been contemplating. The sense of His Father's fatherliness was the strength in which He manifested this perfection of brotherhood. For that perfection of brotherhood was just His following of the Father as a dear child,--and all He suffered in this path came to Him as doing His Father's commandments, and abiding in His love; and thus was the Father in all this glorified in the Son. The very words, “ Father, forgive them,” testify how within the light of the Father's love and favour the Intercessor abode while suffering,—finding in that favour strength
to suffer, and not only to suffer, but to intercede. And as the experience of the utter weakness of suffering flesh was necessary to the completeness of the trial of His love to men, so was it also essential to the development of perfect trust in the Father,—for there remained to the sufferer no strength but the strength of faith.
The outward history of the hour and power of darkness we have detailed to us by the Evangelists. We have not, however, much from them to help us to see that “hour” as from Christ's side. But there is a portion of Scripture, one of the Psalms, which is usually received as having this special interest to us, and which therefore is taken in supplement of the gospel narrative; and our Lord's own partial quotation of this psalm on the cross, as well as its own contents, seem to justify our so receiving it. I refer to the 22nd psalm, which I shall now venture to use in this way— being the more desirous to do so, because, while I believe that it is altogether confirmatory of the view now taken of the cup given our Lord to drink,-I mean especially as a permitted trial of the faith of the Son in the Father, and not an expression of wrath in the Father towards the Son,—the first words of the psalm, as quoted by our Lord, have been the words chiefly rested upon as the intimation to us of our Lord's having been the object of such wrath,—an interpretation which seems to me a violent straining of these words, taken alone; but which, if we take them as a part of the psalm, and to be understood in harmony with it, is altogether untenable, being indeed directly opposed to the tone and character of the psalm, as a whole. Its concluding verses, by the largeness of the reference to men, connect this psalm with the character of the cross as a trial of the love of brotherhood in Christ. But the first and larger portion of it places the suffering
Saviour before us as an individual sufferer, drinking the bitter cup given Him to drink, and uttering the trial of faith which He is experiencing in drinking it.
The psalm opens with a cleaving appropriation on the part of the Sufferer, of God as His God: “My God, my God.” He asks God, His God, why He leaves Him in the hands of the wicked, and interposes not on His behalf, delaying to answer His prayer: “Why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the voice of my roaring ? O my God, I cry in the day-time, but thou hearest not; and in the night-season, and am not silent.” He refuses any explanation of this silence that would be dishonouring to God: “But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.” He refers to God's former justifying of faith in the case of others of old: “Our fathers trusted in thee; they trusted, and thou didst deliver them. They cried unto thee, and were delivered. They trusted in thee, and were not confounded.” But the acknowledgment of God is delayed in His case as it had not been in theirs, and the delay is exposing the sufferer to contempt and scorn, and the bitter reproach that His professed trust in God has been a delusion, or a false pretension: “But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people. All they that see me laugh me to scorn. They shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, He trusted on the Lord that He would deliver Him: let Him deliver Him, seeing He delighted in Him." Therefore does the tried one go back on that which God has been to Him,—therefore does He fall back on the faithfulness of God, as the “ faithful Creator:” “But thou art He that took me out of the womb: thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother's
breasts. I was cast upon thee from the womb. Thou art my God from my mother's belly.” Thus His faith is strengthened, and the prayer, the delay in answering which has been the subject of the opening question, is renewed; for His hope in God, His God, is not let go: “Be not thou far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help.” The trouble is very great. The outer circle of His being is possessed by His enemies. He turns from it to that inner region, where God's nearness is to be known, for elsewhere there is no help: “Many bulls have compassed me; strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round. They gaped on me with their mouths, as a ravening and roaring lion.” And this is while the depths of the utter and absolute weakness of humanity are proved by the Sufferer as by one cast entirely upon God, and who puts not forth one effort on His own behalf, nor gives place to one movement of self-relying energy or self-dependent strength of the flesh: “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death.” Thus low in suffering at the hands of the wicked is He brought. “For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have enclosed me : they pierced my hands and my feet. I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me. They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture." All this is permitted to the wicked; for “they would have had no power at all, unless it had been given them from above." All this is received as therefore to Him from God: “ Thou hast brought me into the dust of death.” But God is Himself to Him “ His God” still ; so He is only the more cast upon God, made the more to cleave to Him: “But be not thou far from me, O Lord : O my strength, haste thou to help me. Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog. Save me from the lion's mouth.”
And now we meet the returning answer of prayer, -the justification of the Sufferer's unbroken trust,—the clearing up of God's faithfulness and truth in the whole transaction : “Thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns. I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee." His experience of God was not found to be in contradiction to God's justification of the trust of the fathers, to which He had referred. That of God to which they were witnesses, has been, through the divine dealing with Him, only more deeply revealed :—as we see in the Epistle to the Hebrews, the testimony of the cloud of witnesses, connected with that of our Lord Himself, as “the author and finisher of faith,” ¿. e. He whose faith perfects the revelation of that in God which we have to trust. Therefore he proceeds, “Ye that fear the Lord, praise Him : all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify Him: and fear Him, all ye the seed of Israel. For He hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath He hid His face from Him; but when He cried unto Him, He heard.” Then follows the expression of the purpose, to declare to men what in this great trial of faith He has been experiencing of God's faithfulness, and a prophesying of the result that would follow, viz. universal trust in God, who had not hid His face from the afflicted, but had heard His prayer: “My praise shall be of thee in the great congregation : I will pay my vows before them that fear Him. The meek shall eat, and shall be satisfied : they shall praise the Lord, that seek Him: your heart shall live for ever. All ends of the world shall remember