Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that ye should follow his steps.—1Pe_2:21.
These words are a striking illustration of the way in which the Gospel brings Christ’s principles to bear upon morals and duty. The Apostle is doing nothing more than exhorting a handful of slaves to the full and complete and patient acceptance of their hard lot, and in order to teach a very homely and lowly lesson to the squalid minds of a few captives, he brings in the mightiest of all lessons by pointing to the most beautiful, most blessed, and most mysterious fact in the world’s history—the cross of Christ.
There are two things in the text—
Christ as a Propitiation—“Christ suffered for you.”
Christ as a Pattern—“leaving you an example.”
But more important than either of these things, highly important as they are, is their connexion. Christ is of little avail as an example if He is not first a propitiation; and again the propitiation is of little worth if we do not follow the example. We shall take the two separately, but first of all let us take them together.
1. A large number of those who profess and call themselves Christians would fain blot out Calvary from the system of Christian morality. They would tell us that it was only an accident in the onward march of Divine revelation, that the Saviour’s sufferings had in them nothing mediatorial, nothing atoning; and, on the other hand, there are men who would hold so tightly by faith in the power of the Cross of the blessed Saviour as to banish from their minds the idea of an honest, a diligent, and a loving copy of His example. They will say, “Look to the Cross alone, trust in the Cross alone, and all will and must be right.” Good people there may be found in these two extremes, but the scribe that is well instructed in the things pertaining to the Kingdom of God will not be satisfied with either one or the other; he must have both together. Like the two inscriptions, like the two faces on a coin, which must be there before it can be made current of the realm, so the Divine truth has these two manifestations,—first the suffering for sin, next the example of godly life.
2. The Antinomian, the man who thinks that all religion is centred in the single grace of faith, looks at Christ as his Saviour, but forgets that He is also his Example. The Socinian professes to follow Jesus as an Example, but rejects Him as a Saviour. The Bible-taught Christian unites these two opposite systems into one. Confessing with St. Peter that “there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved,” he also allows with St. Paul that he who would taste of this salvation must “so walk as he walked.” In the simple and unmistakable language of the text, believing with all his heart that Christ suffered for him, he has an equally deep conviction that He has left us an example that we should follow His steps.
3. Without the Atonement there would have been little use of the Example. Moses is an example, and Abraham, and Joseph, and David, and every holy man or woman that ever lived—many in our own times and neighbourhood, whom we may ourselves have known. St. Paul, who was the last person in the world to speak presumptuously or vaingloriously, exhorts the Philippians to be followers together of him, and to mark those who walked so as they had him for an ensample. And yet in another Epistle, after calling his readers’ attention to the great cloud of witnesses with whom they were encompassed, all of them “examples” of patience, faith, and other heavenly graces, he does not suffer their thoughts to rest there, or on any merely human object, but carries them on with him still further, even to the foot of the Cross, there bidding them look unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of their faith; “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
If ever the history of human error comes to be written faithfully and exhaustively, it will be found, I venture to say, that by far the largest proportion of human mistakes, whether in the region of theology or in the region of philosophy, will be found to have their origin, not so much in the abstract grasp of error as in the partial grasp of truth. The danger is inconceivably great of a shallow and imperfect comprehension of the mind and will of God, and in all ages and under all circumstances men have been found taking up this or that or the other statement of God’s most holy Word; emphasizing it and giving to it a dignity and an importance, not possibly in itself greater than it deserves, but relatively to the other truths of God’s Divine Word. And hence it comes to pass, that amidst the multitudes of divisions and parties and sects and schisms that Christianity presents to-day, and, indeed, has presented in all ages, there is no party or sect or schism that has not in some degree a grasp of some kind of Divine truth and revelation, the mistake and the misfortune being that it esteems this particle and portion equal to the entire, and forgets the dignity and importance of declaring the whole counsel of God.1 [Note: Prebendary Cross.]
“Christ also suffered for you.”
1. The mystery of suffering! Suffering beyond any doubt is the commonest feature of human life. There are none who escape. There are the weird, strange sufferings of childhood, which grow into the sterner sufferings of our manhood; and these pass into the special sufferings of old age. It reaches every portion of our being. Our body is held in the grip of physical suffering; our minds know the exquisite suffering of intense perplexity, our hearts are continually all but broken in the woes of life and our wills in the spheres of intense suffering, in the intense discipline to which we are called upon to submit in life; and the inner shrine of our being is the scene of our most exquisite suffering, the spiritual sorrows of children of God. Suffering—it casts its shadow over our life. Looked at upon the surface, all life may seem to be a comedy; but it is a very weird and pathetic comedy, for beneath this comedy lies the awful tragedy of life.
To-day I had a long and strange interview with a lady who has recently become a member of the congregation.… She asked me if I had ever known a case of trial so severe as hers. “Yes,” I replied: “numbers; it is the case of all. Suffering is very common, so is disappointment.” “Are our affections to be all withered?”—“Very often, I believe.” “Then why were they given me?”—“I am sure I cannot tell you that, but I suppose it would not have been very good for you to have had it all your own way.” “Then, do you think I am better for this blighting succession of griefs?”—“I do not know, but I know you ought to be.” Wordsworth was lying open on the table, and I pointed her to these lines:—
Then was the truth received into my heart,
That, under heaviest sorrow earth can bring,
If from the affliction somewhere do not grow
Honour which could not else have been, a faith,
An elevation, and a sanctity,
If new strength be not given nor old restored,
The blame is ours, not Nature’s.
The deep undertone of this world is sadness: a solemn bass occurring at measured intervals, and heard through all other tones. Ultimately, all the strains of this world’s music resolve themselves into that tone; and I believe that, rightly felt, the Cross, and the Cross alone, interprets the mournful mystery of life—the sorrow of the Highest, the Lord of Life; the result of error and sin, but ultimately remedial, purifying, and exalting.1 [Note: Life and Letters of F. W. Robertson, 285.]
2. Christ is the first of sufferers. Nothing was wanting, humanly speaking, to make patience impossible. The natural sensitiveness of His tender frame, the ingenious appliances of torture, such as a crown of thorns pressed down upon the head and the temples, the coarse brutality of His executioners, the vivid consciousness of the Sufferer sustained from moment to moment, a consciousness directed upon all that He was enduring, and upon all also that immediately awaited Him—the continuous succession of varied sufferings without any relaxation throughout His passion, without any one pause or relaxation—this might well have exhausted patience. And what His mental sufferings must have been we may infer distantly from the agony in the garden, in which, without any outward cause, His body yielded all the symptoms of a violent convulsion. His sweat was, as it were, great drops of blood falling to the ground.
If you will read this Epistle of Peter at your leisure, you will see that while, with Paul, he makes the cross of Christ the centre of his teaching, Paul speaks more about His death, and Peter more about His sufferings. Throughout the letters of Peter the phrase runs, and the phrase has come into modern Christian usage almost entirely from this Apostle. That vivid imagination of his, when brought to the contemplation of his Master’s trials, supported by his warm heart, which could have said, not once only but always, and with truth, “Lord, thou knowest that I love thee,” led Peter to dwell not merely on the single fact of the death, but also on the accompaniments of that awful death, of the mental and physical pain, and especially the temper of the Saviour.
I saw in Siena pictures,
I sought not the names of the masters,
Nor the works men care to see;
But once in a low-ceiled passage
I came on a place of gloom,
Lit here and there with halos
Like saints within the room.
The pure, serene, mild colours
The early artists used
Had made my heart grow softer,
And still on peace I mused.
Sudden I saw the Sufferer,
And my frame was clenched with pain;
Perchance no throe so noble
Visits my soul again.
Mine were the stripes of the scourging;
On my thorn-pierced brow blood ran;
In my breast the deep compassion
Breaking the heart for man.
I drooped with heavy eyelids,
Till evil should have its will;
On my lips was silence gathered;
My waiting soul stood still.
I gazed, nor knew I was gazing;
I trembled, and woke to know
Him whom they worship in heaven
Still walking on earth below.
Once have I borne His sorrows
Beneath the flail of fate!
Once in the woe of His passion,
I felt the soul grow great!
I turned from my dead Leader;
I passed the silent door;
The gray-walled street received me;
On peace I mused no more.1 [Note: George Edward Woodberry.]
3. The sufferings of Christ are inexplicable on any other supposition than that they were for others. They could not be the due reward of personal demerit; for, if He suffered more than other men justly, He must have been worse than all men; instead of which He was the best of men, the sinless One in a world of sinners. If then He could not suffer because of personal ill-desert, being wholly free from fault, did He suffer by the unjust decree of Heaven? That again is an impossible supposition; for not only would it destroy the righteousness of God, but it would also contradict the experience of Christ Himself in His sufferings. For He never manifests any sense of being unjustly dealt with. Indeed no other explanation of His painful experiences is possible than that which He Himself gives, and which is repeated in the teachings of the Apostles, namely, that He was a sufferer for others; that He endured voluntarily that which came upon Him, and with a conscious reference to other persons. “The good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep” are His own words. The Apostles simply repeat that which Christ felt and declared when they say, as did St. Paul, “Christ died for us,” or as St. Peter, “Christ suffered for us.” It was this fact that reconciled our Lord to His sufferings and cross; it was this that led Him to take them up in a voluntary manner.
It is interesting to notice how, as his life went on, and his inspiration became more full, this Apostle came to understand, as being the very living and heart centre of his religion, the thing which at first was a stumbling-block and mystery to him. You remember that when Christ was here on earth, and was surrounded by all His disciples, the man who actually led antagonism to the thought of a saving Messiah was this very Apostle Peter. You remember how he displayed his ignorance in the words, “This shall not be unto thee, Lord”; and how his audacity rose to the height of saying, “Lord, why cannot I follow thee now? I will lay down my life for thy sake”—so little did he understand the purposes of Christ’s suffering and death. And even after His resurrection we do not find that Peter in his early preaching had got as far as he seems to have got in this letter. You will notice that here he speaks a great deal about the sufferings of Christ, which he puts side by side and in contrast with God’s glorifying of His Son. Christ’s cross, which at first had come to him as a rejection, has now come to him in all its reality, and to him there was the one grand thing, “He suffered for us,” as though he realized Christ in all His beauty and purity, and not only as a beautiful teacher and dear friend. That which at first seemed to him as an astounding mystery and perfect impossibility, he now comes to understand. With those two little words, “for us,” where there was before impossibility, disappointment, and anomaly, the anomaly vanishes, although the mystery becomes deeper.1 [Note: A. Maclaren.]
4. The doctrine of the Atonement, then, is this, that we who were by nature “afar off from God,” in Christ are “brought nigh”: that God, for His sake, “hath blotted out our transgressions,” “and our sins and iniquities will he remember no more”: that He gives “the water of life,” to all who will take it, freely: that we are not, and cannot be, saved by our own righteousness: that God’s purpose towards us is full of mercy and tenderness in His blessed Son: that “He willeth not that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance”: that those will be saved who, renouncing their own merits and all carnal titles to God’s favour, look for salvation only through the blood of Christ; who come unto Him that they may have life; who appropriate the benefits of His sacrifice by personal faith, confessing that “they are bought with a price,” and feeling that “he who glorieth must glory in the Lord.” It is a blessed and comfortable doctrine! the anchor of our hopes as well as the object of our faith; the only sure ground of peace, and confidence, and joy; not only enabling but impelling us to “come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” It has bridged over the wide gulf that lay between ourselves and God; and shows even to the most obdurate sinner, if he will only follow it, a way by which he may yet hear of joy and gladness; and to the heaviest-laden a place where they may find rest unto their souls. “God hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”
For poor Jean Valjean, weeping bitterly for his sins, while he watched the boy play with the buttercups and prayed that God would give him, the red and horny-handed criminal, to feel again as he felt when he pressed his dewy cheek against his mother’s knee—for Jean Valjean is there no suffering friend, no forgiving heart? Is there no bosom where poor Magdalene can sob out her bitter confession? What if God were the soul’s father! What if He too serves and suffers vicariously! What if nature and life do but interpret in the small this Divine principle existing in the large in Him who is infinite! What if Calvary is God’s eternal heartache, manifest in time! What if, sore-footed and heavy-hearted, bruised with many a fall, we should come back to the old home, from which once we fled away, gay and foolish prodigals! The time was when, as small boys and girls, with blinding tears, we groped toward the mother’s bosom and sobbed out our bitter pain and sorrow with the full story of our sin. What if the form on Calvary were like the king of eternity, toiling up the hill of time, his feet bare, his locks all wet with the dew of night, while he cries: “Oh, Absalom! my son, my son, Absalom!” What if we are Absalom, and have hurt God’s heart! Reason staggers. Groping, trusting, hoping, we fall blindly on the stairs that slope through darkness up to God. But, falling, we fall into the arms of Him who hath suffered vicariously for man from the foundation of the world.1 [Note: N. D. Hillis, The Investment of Influence, 86.]
“Leaving you an example, that ye should follow his steps.”
i. Christ is an example
1. The word “example” in the text is a highly technical word. It was a word that was specifically employed by the old writers to indicate the headline of a copy, given by the master for the pupil to imitate, to trace out and to follow. And if we regard the blessed Saviour’s example in that light, much good fruit will be produced in our lives.
In the economy of Divine grace our blessed Master, in the three-and-thirty years of His earthly sojourn, was employed in writing the great headline of the copy; and as He gathers the children of the ages round about Him, generation after generation, century after century, place after place, nation after nation, He says, “I have left you an example”; meaning by that, that pains and diligent care must be taken to copy that great example, and also that the eye may be lovingly and constantly fixed upon that Jesus, who is alike the Author and the Finisher of our faith.
How easily and contentedly we speak of Jesus Christ as our example. Do we realize what it means? If we did, it would revolutionize our life. Do we begin to know our Bible as He did? Do we begin to pray as He did? How thoughtful He was for others, how patient toward dulness, how quiet under insult! Think of what it meant for Him to take a basin and towel like a slave and wash the disciples’ feet! Do we stoop to serve? Can any one say of us, as was said of Him, that we go about “doing good”? Think of His words, servants of His, “I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.” “Christ-like” is a word often on our lips. Do not speak it too lightly. It is the heart of God’s predestination. It is our high calling.1 [Note: M. D. Babcock, Thoughts for Every-Day Living, 50.]
2. “That ye should follow.” As Christ gained disciples, or as any proffered to be His disciples, the first and only direction He gave them was to become devoted followers of Himself personally. Instead of laying before them any laws of His Kingdom, or any definite rules by which to regulate their lives, His one exhortation was—forsake all and follow Me. Instead of instituting any inquiry into their moral character or their religious experience—as men do now—the only test He applied was to their love for Him and the need they felt for His love and friendship, which of course would have to be strong in order to secure a consistent and devoted discipleship. Hence, to the words “forsake all,” He often added “take up the cross and follow me.”
It is clear that by following Him, He meant exactly what we mean when we present His life as an example; He meant entering into the spirit and manner, and thereby into the very deeds of His life. To this precept, He in many ways gave great force, as, for instance, when He sent them forth on evangelic missions invested with the powers that He Himself possessed, and when He spoke such striking words as to their being one with Him, even as He was one with the Father.
And how shall I follow Jesus the Christ? The first requisite is a personal relationship to Him. From the Cross where He has saved me I set out on the pilgrim-road of imitation. Sometimes I hear it alleged against Thomas à Kempis’s golden little book, that it fails to insist on these initial experiences of pardon and reconcilement. But the good monk regards them as having been already tasted and passed through. As truly as Charles Wesley, he is persuaded that the Saviour must cover his defenceless head with the shadow of His wing. Has He done so? I cannot wear the loveliness of Jesus till I drink deep of the forgiveness of Jesus.
And, next, I must have a constant remembrance of the real humanness of my Lord. The radiant lights of divinity and eternity gleam about His person. But His example ceases to have practical interest for me unless I feel that He was and is my real Kinsman and my very Brother. I must not lift Him into a magical world from which I am excluded. Where He has gone in advance of me, I can walk in patience behind.
This is necessary, too, that love for Him leaps and flames in my soul. No amount of intellectual comprehension and no attention to worship and work are enough. The heart must enthrone Him, must adore Him, must turn to Him with the inevitableness and the trust of the sunflower turning to the sun. I can resemble Him only if mine is an affection profound, controlling, pervasive, revealing itself in look and word and deed and behaviour, not to be checked by ridicule and opposition, not to be dried up.
And a certain aloofness of spirit is required. Of spirit, not of body. I am not to retire to any hermitage or desert or solitary’s cell. No arbitrary fences are to divide me from my neighbours. Yet, if I would be an epistle of Christ, I must hold on firmly to the heavenly life around the earthly life; my heart will move there while my feet stay here. “The holy man,” said Jacob Böhme, who made and mended shoes, “hath his church about him everywhere, even in himself. He standeth and walketh, sitteth and lieth down, in his church.”
And there must be intimacy with my Lord. His thought, His temper, His motives, His decisions, I am to share. So I must commit myself implicitly and continuously to His Holy Spirit, who takes His things and shows them to me. I must dwell much with Himself in prayer. I must read often the story of His life and death. I must accustom myself to consider Him, the Apostle and High Priest of my confession.
These are some of the modes in which I shall touch and grasp and keep the grace and the wisdom and the power and the gentleness and the splendour of Jesus Christ.1 [Note: A. Smellie, In the Secret Place, 350.]
In one way or another the idea of withdrawing entirely from the world engaged Francis’ thoughts. He often discussed it with the Brothers of the Order and weighed the pro and con. There was one thing that always prevented him from choosing the hermit life, and that was the example of our Lord. Jesus could have chosen to remain in His glory at His Father’s right hand, but instead descended to earth to endure the vicissitudes of human life and to die the bitter death of shame on the Cross. And it was the Cross that had from the first been Francis’ model, the Cross to which he applied with the rest of the Middle Ages God’s word to Moses: Fac secundum exemplar—“Make it according to the pattern, that was shewn thee in the mount.”2 [Note: J. Jörgensen, St. Francis of Assisi, 148.]
3. “His steps.” As a guide going across a wet moor with a traveller calls out, “Step where I step, or else you will be bogged,” so we must tread in the steps of the Saviour, and then we shall come safe to the other side.
It is said of the Bohemian king, Wenceslaus, that on one occasion he set forth in a wild snowstorm, when the frost was keen and the air bitterly cold, on an enterprise of mercy and love. His servant, following him barefooted, as was the habit in those days, could not keep up to his master by reason of the bleeding of his naked feet as they trod upon the sharp protruding icicles. So the king said to his follower, “Watch where I plant my steps, and plant yours there too.” And so the master advanced and the servant followed, treading in the master’s steps.
Dean Stanley was one day showing, as he loved to do, some working men over Westminster Abbey. One of them in conversation referred to the Dean’s work on Sinai and Palestine, which he had just been reading, and remarked, as he thought of its graphic descriptions of the Holy Land, and how the Dean had actually stood upon the sacred soil, and personally visited the hallowed places, “How beautiful to have been able to walk where the Saviour had walked.” The man said, “I shall never forget the answer, nor the look with which it was accompanied, as the Dean replied: ‘Beautiful indeed, and not beyond the power of any man to endeavour to walk in the footsteps of the Saviour.’ ”
4. Our Lord’s life, as recorded in the Gospels, does not present situations corresponding to all those in which human beings may be placed. Perhaps too much is sometimes attempted to be made out, with regard to the extent to which the life of Christ tallies in its outward features with the lives of men. It is true that Jesus was an infant, a youth, and a grown man; and it is profitable to consider Him as therefore sharing our infancy, our boyhood, and our adult age. But then it must be admitted that He was not an old man. He was a son, a friend, and presumably an artisan. But He was not a husband or a father; not a landowner or a tradesman. We make perhaps a graver admission still, when we say that He was not a woman. These admissions we might carry on without limit, as we reckon up the various relations and circumstances in which we may be placed. They prove conclusively that a close repetition of the acts of our Lord cannot be what is meant, when it is said that His example is one for all men to follow. If a father seeks to know, for instance, how he ought to act in the management of his children, he will not find it reported how the Son of God acted in similar circumstances. Even when we find a correspondence of circumstances, and can learn how Jesus acted when placed as one of us may be placed, we ought not to consider the following of His example to be simply the repeating of His actions.
The most intelligent Christians here cannot see why they should not have everything we have. They have no national costume, and every one of them would like to have clothes just like ours, from hat to shoes, regardless of the fact that they would be miserable in such dress. One of our elders made me fairly shudder, some months ago, by appearing at communion in a thick overcoat. He sweltered in it through a long hot day with a look of supreme contentment. It was a white man’s coat, and therefore must be right. I suppose I was the only person in the audience who did not envy him.1 [Note: E. C. Parsons, A Life for Africa, 155.]
5. It is clearly the spirit in which our Saviour acted that we are to follow. The details of our Lord’s conduct may be very helpful in showing us how to act in particular situations; but their highest and most general value consists in their illustrating or interpreting the mind of Christ. As we learn to understand our fellow-men not through metaphysical or ethical descriptions of them, but through the observation of their acts, so is it with our knowledge of the Saviour. It was of infinite importance that we should know the Son of God to be a living person, and should perceive the Spirit that was in Him to be a fountain of conduct, sending forth the streams of word and deed. Everything He did, every word He spoke, has this value, that it contributes to our knowledge of Him who spoke and acted. The single recorded incident of His boyhood, His conversation with the doctors in the Temple, and what we are told of His submission to His mother and Joseph, and His growing in favour with man as well as with God, cannot be thought of with much profit, except in direct connexion with His nature and character. All the acts of His ministry become most instructive when we see in them so many tokens of the simplicity, the sympathy, the kindness, the fearlessness of our Lord’s character. The actions are most precious and indispensable to bring us into acquaintance with the spirit out of which they proceeded; and when they have done that, their chief work is done. Thenceforward, what we have to do with is the spirit.
It does us good to see how faithful persons have discharged duties which we ourselves are called to perform, those of husbands and wives and parents, of lawyers and merchants, of domestic servants, of Christian ministers; and how a life that might have been solitary has been glorified, like that of a Mary Carpenter or a Sister Dora, by special enterprises of noble voluntary service. It is clear therefore that the example left us by the Lord Jesus is one which can be largely supplemented by other lives. Good Christians may be said to fill up that which is behind or lacking in the actions and instructions as well as the afflictions of Christ for the sake of His body, which is the Church.1 [Note: J. Ll. Davies, Social Questions, 115.]
Not Thine the bigot’s partial plea,
Nor Thine the zealot’s ban;
Thou well canst spare a love of Thee
Which ends in hate of man.
Our Friend, our Brother, and our Lord,
What may Thy service be?—
Nor name, nor form, nor ritual word,
But simply following Thee.
We bring no ghastly holocaust,
We pile no graven stone;
He serves Thee best who loveth most
His brothers and Thy own.2 [Note: John Greenleaf Whittier.]
ii. Christ is especially an example to sufferers
1. In His public teaching our Lord made much of patient submission to undeserved wrong. He pronounced those men blessed who suffered for righteousness’ sake. “Blessed are ye,” He says, “when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely. Rejoice and be exceeding glad.” Not in exemption from suffering, but in truthful endurance, would His true followers find their peace. “In your patience, possess ye your souls.”
2. Our Lord teaches us by His sufferings more than in any other way. By these He reveals to us the love of God: by these He points to the value of heaven. These sufferings are the measure of the gravity of our sins, of the miseries of hell, of the solemnity of life. But, beyond this, our Lord gives us lessons about pain—pain, that stern and strange mystery which follows hard upon the steps of every one of us throughout life, with which, sooner or later, we each of us become familiar, of which, left to ourselves, we know and even can guess so little.
Do not complain of suffering; it teaches you to succour others.1 [Note: Golden Thoughts of Carmen Sylva, 35.]
Depend upon it, patient, cheerful acceptance of suffering is a great force which achieves more than many active energies that command the attention of mankind. To take one single instance from the history of this country, how vast has been the effect of the closing scenes of the life of King Charles the First. Had he conquered in his struggle with the Parliament, the English Revolution would have been only deferred. Had he died quietly in his bed, whether in exile or as the occupant of a phantom throne, such as at one time after his great defeat his enemies would still have been content to leave him, he would have lived in history as a monarch who had endeavoured to exaggerate the prerogative and to defend the exaggeration, and who, happily, had failed; and the political and religious history of England might—nay, would—have been widely different. But whatever the mistakes of his earlier life, his last sufferings were covered with a robe of moral glory—the glory of Christian patience. That long imprisonment, borne with such unvarying patient dignity—that refusal at the last to make concessions which did violence to his conscience, but which certainly might have saved his life—above all, that last tragedy at Whitehall, the most tragic, perhaps, all things considered, in the history of our country, when, as the old poet Marvell says,—
He nothing common did or mean
Upon that memorable scene;
But with his keener eye
The axe’s edge did try,
Nor Heaven invoked, with vulgar spite,
To vindicate his helpless right,
But bowed his comely head
Down, as upon a bed,
While his last thoughts were, as we know,
Turned to the cross, and his last words, “I go
From a corruptible crown to
here was the real secret of the Restoration which followed—here the moral force which, in the end, saved by ennobling the English monarchy.1 [Note: Canon H. P. Liddon.]
It is a tremendous moment when first one is called upon to join the great army of those who suffer. That vast world of love and pain opens suddenly to admit us one by one within its fortress. We are afraid to enter into the land, yet you will, I know, feel how high is the call. It is as a trumpet speaking to us, that cries aloud—“It is your turn—endure.” Play your part. As they endured before you, so now, close up the ranks—be patient and strong as they were. Since Christ, this world of pain is no accident untoward or sinister, but a lawful department, of life, with experiences, interests, adventures, hopes, delights, secrets of its own. These are all thrown open to us as we pass within the gates—things that we could never learn or know or see, so long as we were well.
God help you to walk through this world now opened to you as through a kingdom, regal, royal, and wide and glorious.2 [Note: Canon Scott Holland, in a letter to Romanes, in Life and Letters of George John Romanes, 284.]
3. We suffer in mind, we suffer in body, we suffer in soul.
(1) We suffer in mind.—From the point of view of religion there is the suffering of doubt, which comes at times like a cloud between almost every Christian and God. But we suffer not only from doubt, but from fears—fears whether we shall persevere, fears whether we can stand against the storm of trial and temptation, fears, perhaps, whether we are even now in the narrow way. We suffer from perplexity, from the difficulty of deciding our duty in the many questions which come before us. And we suffer in mind lastly, and perhaps most often, in what may be called the “worries” of life; the irritations, the trifling troubles of every day—trifles in themselves, and each one easy to be borne if it stood alone; but coming so continually, coming so thickly, the worries of life often seem to overwhelm us.
We turn to our Lord and we follow Him through His whole life of sorrow and suffering, but we find that He seems to be always so calm—with Him there is no doubt, no perplexity, no fear, no worry. There is one scene in our Lord’s life which seems to be the climax of the concentrated suffering of His mind—that time, between twelve and three upon Good Friday, when He hung upon the Cross, doing penance for the sin of the world, and darkness rolled, not only around His Cross, hiding from sight the light of day, but into His very soul, and extorted from Him that one cry of complaint, the only one in His whole life, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Once only in His life does our Lord reveal to us the sufferings of His mind.
On reading his correspondence, some may accuse him of indicating too strongly his loneliness and passionate desire of sympathy; they may call his fancies diseased, his complaints unmanly, and his transient doubts unchristian. But his faithlessness was but momentary: only the man who can become at one with Frederick Robertson’s strange and manifold character, and can realize as he did the agony and sin of the world,—only the man who can feel the deepest pain, and the highest joy, as Robertson could have felt them—has either the right or the capability of judging him. Doubts did cross his mind, but they passed over it as clouds across the sun. The glowing heart which lay behind soon dissipated them by its warmth.
With regard to his passionate desires and his complaint, they were human, and would have been humanly wrong in him only if he had allowed them to gain predominance over his will, righteously bent all through his life, not on their extinction, but on their subjugation. The untroubled heart is not the deepest, the stern heart not the noblest, the heart which crushes all expression of its pain not that which can produce the most delicate sympathy, the most manifold teaching, or speak so as to give the greatest consolation. Had not Robertson often suffered, and suffered so much as to be unable sometimes to suppress a cry, his sermons would never have been the deep source of comfort and of inspiration which they have proved to thousands. The very knowledge that one who worked out the voyage of his life so truly and so firmly could so suffer and so declare his suffering, is calculated to console and strengthen many who endure partially his pain and loneliness, but who have not, as yet, resisted so victoriously; whose temperament is morbid, but who have not, as yet, subdued it to the loving and healthy cheerfulness of his Christian action.1 [Note: S. A. Brooke, Life and Letters of F. W. Robertson, 473.]
(2) We have to suffer in body, through sickness or accident. This frame of earth in which we tabernacle during our sojourn in this world, how frail it is! how full of weakness and of pain! And yet, even here, in the majority of cases, we can trace our pain or sickness to our own fault, to the breaking of some law of health, very likely to our luxury of life, or our gluttony, or love of ease, or the pursuit of pleasure.
It may be pointed out with irresistible force that suffering can be traced, often at a long interval, in some cases to sin, and that it is simply one of the wholesome sanctions of law. We are firmly convinced that we live in a moral universe, and by that we mean in a state where it will be made pleasant to do what is right, and very unpleasant to do what is wrong, at least in physical affairs. If one play the fool and slap Nature in the face, that power will take up the quarrel and pursue it to the end with the man and his descendants till she has obtained complete satisfaction. If one make a covenant with Nature and keep her laws loyally, this power will remember him for good, and his children after him, opening her hand and blessing them with health and strength. With her saving judgments and her abundant mercies, Nature fences up the way of life that we may be induced to walk therein with steadfast step. And if any one break through the hedge, it is good that he suffer; and if it be that its actual transgressor do not pay all the debt, but that the innocent must share his liability, this is only the inevitable consequence of the solidarity of the family and the race. None can interfere between the sinner and his penalty, and we can even see that it is well none should, for in so far as one accepts his chastisement with a right mind the pain leaves peace behind.2 [Note: J. Watson, The Potter’s Wheel, 140.]
(3) And then, lastly, there is the suffering of the human soul; the suffering in our affections—the keenest, the deepest, the hardest of all to bear! And again we see that this comes so often through our own sin; so often we have to suffer in our affections, because our affections have been set on that which is not lawfully within our reach, that which has been forbidden to us by the law of God.
But, whether it be from our own fault, or from those many, many heart-wrenchings which come through love, even in right affections, in right relationships—the sorrows, the pains of husband or wife at the suffering or perhaps sin of the other; the pains (what greater?) of the mother weeping over her erring, wayward, sinful child—all these sufferings of the human soul we find in their fulness throughout our Lord’s life, and reaching their culminating point upon the Cross. For throughout His life He suffered, “being grieved at the hardness of men’s hearts.” He suffered in seeing those for whom He had come to die refuse His proffered grace and turn away from His words of love.
It goes without proving that no one has ever so affected our race for weal as our Master, and that the spring of this salvation is in Himself. Partly it is His example of holy living, and partly it is His Gospel of Divine Truth, but a white marble Christ had not touched the human heart, or loosed the bands of sin. It is the Crucified, in the unutterable pathos of His Passion and Death, who has overcome and gotten unto Himself the victory. Because it appears that God also is in the tragedy of life, and in the heart of its mystery. When one enters the dimness of a foreign cathedral, he sees nothing clearly for a while, save that there is a light from the Eastern window, and it is shining over a figure raised high above the choir. As one’s eyes grow accustomed to the gloom, he identifies the Crucifix, repeated in every side chapel, and marks that to this Sufferer all kneel in their trouble, and are comforted. From age to age the shadow hangs heavy on life and men walk softly in the holy place, but ever the Crucifix faces them, and they are drawn to His feet and goodness by the invitation of the pierced hands.
Had one lived in Jesus’ day and realized His excellence, the Cross would have been an almost insuperable offence to faith. Why should He have had a crown of thorns? Had the veil been lifted from the future, and had one seen the salvation flowing from the five wounds of the Redeemer, then he had been comforted and content. No one then imagined that through the mystery of the Lord’s Passion so great a blessing was to come on all ages, for none had entered into the secret of suffering. To-day we are perplexed by the Passion, which is not now concentrated like a bitter essence in the Cup of a Divine Person, but is distributed in the earthly vessels of ordinary people, and we stand aghast at the lot of the victims. Were our vision purged and power given us to detect spiritual effects, then we would understand, and cease to complain. We would see the hard crust of human nature broken up, and the fountain of fine emotion unsealed; the subtle sins which sap the vigour of character eliminated, and the unconscious virtues brought to bloom. Before the widespread, silent, searching appeal of the suffering, each in his appointed place, the heart of the race grows tender and opens its door to goodness.1 [Note: J. Watson, The Potter’s Wheel, 150.]
It was the Sea of Sorrow; and I stood
At midnight on the shore. The heavy skies
Hung dark above; the voice of them that wept
Was heard upon the waters, and the chill,
Sad going of a midnight wind, which stirred
No wave thereon. And I was there alone
To face that dreadful sea: I felt the cold
And deathly waters touch my feet, and drew
A little back, and shuddered. Yet I knew
That all who follow Christ must suffer here.
“Master,” I said, with trembling, in the night,
With voice that none but He would note or know,
So hoarse and weak—“O Master, bid me come!
If on these woeful waters I must walk,
Then let me hear thy voice thereon, that so
I may not die, before I reach Thy feet,
Of loneliness and fear.”
I listened there,
With breathless longing by that solemn sea,
Till through the curtains of the night I heard
His own voice calling me—that voice which draws
His children through the flood and through the fire
To kiss His feet; and at the Master’s word
I left the shore, forth walking on the dim
And untried waters, there to follow Him
Who called me, and there to see His face.2 [Note: B. M., The Sea of Sorrow.]
A Propitiation and a Pattern
Brown (C.), Trial and Triumph, 89.
Davies (J. Ll.), Social Questions, 114.
Davies (J. Ll.), The Work of Christ, 104.
Edgar (S.), Sermons at Auckland, N.Z., ii. 27.
Farrar (F. W.), Bells and Pomegranates, 133.
Fraser (J.), Parochial Sermons, 115.
Gibson (J. G.), Stepping Stones to Life, 96.
Hamilton (J.), Works, iv. 217.
Hickey (F. P.), Short Sermons, ii. 94.
Kuegele (F.), Country Sermons, New Ser., ii. 286.
Liddon (H. P.), Easter in St. Paul’s, 346.
Mackennal (A.), The Eternal Son of God and the Human Sonship, 81.
Meyer (F. B.), Tried by Fire, 105.
Mortimer (A. G.), Lenten Preaching, 142.
Russell (A.), The Light that Lighteth Every Man, 122.
Sauter (B.), The Sunday Epistles, 242.
Vaughan (R.), Stones from the Quarry, 87.
Watkinson (W. L.), The Education of the Heart, 186.
Wells (J.), Bible Echoes, 153.
Wilson (J. M.), Truths New and Old, 260.
Wilson (J. M.), Rochdale Sermons, 10.
Wilson (S.), Lenten Shadows and Easter Lights, 71.
Wiseman (N.), Children’s Sermons, 302.
Cambridge Review, xiv. Supplement No. 350 (Ridgeway).
Christian World Pulpit, xviii. 142 (Tatton); xlv. 241 (Fairbairn); lvii. 164 (Body); lxiii. 193 (Fairbairn).
Church of England Pulpit, xlvi. 5 (Henslow); xlix. 290 (Body); 1. 2 (Rawnsley).
Churchman’s Pulpit: Lenten Season: v. 140 (Carter).
Churchman’s Pulpit: 2nd Sunday after Easter: viii. 19 (Liddon), 23 (Cotton), 27 (Henslow), 29 (Fairbairn), 31 (Edger), 34 (Davies).
Churchman’s Pulpit: Sermons to the Young: xvi. 256 (Garbett).