Great Texts of the Bible by James Hastings - Isaiah 53:3 - 53:3

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Great Texts of the Bible by James Hastings - Isaiah 53:3 - 53:3

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This Chapter Verse Commentaries:

A Man of Sorrows

He was despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not—Isa_53:3.

There is not a verse of this chapter of Isaiah at which one might not very well begin, as S. Philip the Evangelist once did to the eunuch, and preach the whole doctrine of Christ crucified. As it was in the counsels of Almighty God, that His Blessed Son should endure for our behalf all the various afflictions which we have deserved, so this famous prophecy touches, one after another, the several sorrows which He endured. It speaks of His intense bodily pain. “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities.” It speaks again of the grievous oppression, the wrong, injustice, undeserved ill-usage, which He had to sustain. “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He openeth not His mouth; He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He opened not His mouth.” And here, in the beginning of the prophecy, mention is particularly made of that which was the root of all the rest, and which many persons would feel as the bitterest of all—His being despised and scorned. “He shall grow up before” God “as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and we hid as it were our faces from Him; He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.”

What this verse and this chapter prophetically anticipate the Gospel record of His life shows to have been historically fulfilled. He was a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. No other impression admits of being left upon us by the perusal of the New Testament story. It is tragedy pure and solid; wrought out, to be sure, with certain touches of light and beauty, but touches added in such a way as to bring out in only stronger relief the tragic features of earnestness and pathos.

The verse probably contains but one topic—the contempt, or rather aversion, with which men regarded the Servant of the Lord. But the English translation contains the classical phrase “a man of sorrows.” And from that, it has generally been held, that its chief topic is the sorrows of the Redeemer. We have, therefore, (1) Christ despised and rejected, and (2) Christ a man of sorrows. The two ideas are not far apart. Keble even says, He was to be a man of sorrows, and because of His sorrows, He was to be despised. Such is the pride and bitterness of our sinful nature, ever since the fall of our first parents; which began with the lust of the eyes, Eve indulging herself with the sight of the forbidden fruit; and which has gone on ever since, men refusing in general so much as to look at the afflicted, “hiding, as it were, their faces” from them, because such sights interrupt their enjoyment and satisfaction.


Christ Despised and Rejected

i. Why He was despised

The root of it all is Unbelief. This is fully discussed and explained by St. Paul in the eleventh chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, which should be read in this connection. His reference to the unbelief of the Jews he ends with the statement: “God hath concluded them all in unbelief that He might have mercy upon all.” To this unbelief the prophet refers in the first verse thus: “Who hath believed our report?” The announcements made by Isaiah and the other prophets, as Jeremiah, Zechariah, and others, had been discredited and disregarded. Piecing the different prophecies of the Old Testament together, the Jews had a clear outline of His whole life from His birth to His ascension, from the earliest prophecy in Gen_3:15, in which He is called the “Seed of the woman,” to the latest in Mal_4:2, where He is spoken of as the “Sun of Righteousness.” They had His biography in their own Scriptures, but they believed them not. And when John the Baptist and Jesus Himself and His apostles came preaching the Kingdom of God, the mass of the people still refused to believe.

Sigismund Goetze, in his picture “Despised and Rejected,” has placed upon the canvas a striking illustration of this text. In the centre of the picture is the suffering Christ, bound upon a Roman altar, overshadowed by an angel with the Gethsemane cup, and surrounded by all sorts and conditions of men. Yet He and His sufferings are not in all their thoughts. The political agitator has his crowd, the workman his beer, the artist his cigarette, the broken down his care. Under the very shadow of the great Sufferer, the sporting man is engrossed in his “pink edition,” and the scientist in his test-tube. The newsboy is vigorously pushing the sale of his paper containing “the latest winners” and society scandals. The flower-girl offers her wares unnoticed to the society doll, whose frivolous vanity is flattered by the attentions of a fashionable young man. The world-power militarism ignores the suffering Prince of Peace. At the very feet of the Victim are the outcast woman and her babe, while afar off stands the widow with her lonely burden of grief; yet even she does not look to Him for sympathy and help. Churchmen, of whom more might be expected, dispute the text of Scripture, but forget the spirit of the Gospel. Of all that throng, no eye is turned towards the Sufferer, save that of a nurse, well accustomed to scenes of pain and anguish. Her face is expressive of wonder, horror, and sympathy, and suggests Lam_1:12, “Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? Behold and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow.” The great world, engrossed in its own pursuits, its business and its pleasures, its selfishness, and its gain, its frivolity, its grief—all purely questions of time, has no eye for, and no thought of, Christ, who is still the “despised and rejected of men.”

1. They were disappointed in His birth and parentage. They expected Him to come as heir of the Royal Family of David, and to be openly known as born and educated at Bethlehem. But He, though of royal descent, was the son of a poor unnoticed virgin and the reputed son of a carpenter, who were not generally known or recognised as descended from David. He grew up and lived a long time in obscurity, probably working at His father’s trade. He appeared a poor man who had no home of His own, no attendants but a few poor fishermen going about as an itinerant teacher and preacher, having no ecclesiastical authority from the chief priests and scribes. Thus, instead of being a “plant of renown,” He appeared as a “root out of a dry ground,” never likely to come to anything.

2. And as they were disappointed in regard to His birth, so they were in regard to His manner of life. There was no splendid pomp or lordly retinue. But, coming as He did, a poor man, of humble rank and lowly surroundings, notwithstanding the wisdom and grace of His words, the power of His miracles, and the unapproachable beauty of His character, the Jews found in Him no form or comeliness. They were ashamed to own Him, and even the disciples, at the last, all “forsook Him and fled.” Thus He was an object of contempt and scorn to the proud Pharisee, the sceptical Sadducee, and haughty, Imperial Roman. He lived a suffering life, constantly subject to evil-speaking, lying, and slander, and He was finally rejected and crucified as an impostor and deceiver.

It seems odd to us, because we read centuries of experience into the story of the past, and confound the Ideal Christ with the Historic Jesus. We think of Jesus as going about with a halo of glory about His head, as they represent Him in the pictures: and, of course, that is all a mistaken notion from beginning to end. A halo of glory about His head! Why, He hadn’t even a roof to cover it. But still, it does seem odd that He was despised. I can understand that a great many people hated Jesus. He was so pure and so true that impure and untrue and hypocritical natures naturally would hate Him. And then those ecclesiastics at Jerusalem, with their idea that religion consisted in formal outward observance: washing the hands, and cleansing platters, and saying formal prayers—of course they would hate a teacher who said that all that kind of thing was worthless, and that religion consisted merely in being one with the Father and loving one’s fellow-men. Oh, I can understand their hating Him. But despising Him—looking down on Him with contempt—that is the strange thing.1 [Note: R. C. Fillingham.]

There is a well-known short story by Anatole France where Pontius Pilate is represented in retirement near the end of his life talking over old times with a pleasure-loving friend who had known him in Judæa. During supper the talk falls upon the qualities of the Jewish women, and the friend speaks of Mary of Magdala whom he had known during her unrepentant days in Jerusalem. He recounts the manner of his parting from Mary, who left him to join the band of a young miracle-worker from Galilee. “His name was Jesus; He came from Nazareth, and was crucified at last for some crime or other. Pontius, do you remember the man?” The old procurator frowned and raised a hand to his forehead as one who searches through his memory. Then, after some moments of silence, “Jesus,” he muttered, “Jesus of Nazareth? No, I don’t remember Him.”1 [Note: H. Sturt, The Idea of a Free Church, 224.]

ii. How He is rejected still

He is despised and rejected of men still, both Jews and Gentiles, and the words of that hymn are no less plain than sadly true, which says—

Our Lord is now rejected, and by the world disowned;

By the many still neglected, but by the few enthroned.

But soon He’ll come in glory, the hour is drawing nigh;

Oh, the crowning day is coming by and by.

1. We reject Christ when we fear unpopularity.

It is a lesson sorely needed in these days, that unpopularity is not the worst evil, nor popularity the chief aim in life. As we look about us, we see that men’s habits and behaviour and ideals are constantly governed by the mere desire to stand high in the good opinion of others. There is the statesman who never dares adopt a policy, however just, which he fancies may put him out of favour with the multitude. There is the author or the artist who works with his eye upon the public purse, and sells his soul for the reputation of an hour. There is the lover of society who is perfectly happy so long as other men think well of him. There is the teacher or the preacher who cuts his message to suit the taste of his hearers; who will never ruffle their complacency or disturb their peace; who, if they are rich, will never speak to them of the dangers of wealth, and, if they are needy, never of the temptations of the poor; who is ready to barter his birthright of truth for the pottage of the world’s worship and applause. These are the men who, by their very presence, lower the standard of life for us all.2 [Note: S. A. Alexander, The Mind of Christ, p. 47.]

I heard a sermon a short time ago preached in a seaside church which deeply moved me; a sermon I was thankful to have heard, and the like of which I would walk a long way to hear again. As I stood outside the building waiting for a friend the congregation came out, and I heard the usual interchange of verbal nothings. The only reference I did hear to the service was from a well-dressed young man to a girl by his side, and this is what he said, “A long-winded fellow, that; let us go on the parade.” The remark did not unduly surprise me. “I wonder,” said a man to me lately, “why some people go to a place of worship at all; they appear to be as indifferent to what is said, sung, or prayed, as the dog that barks is indifferent about the dog-star.”1 [Note: A. Shepherd, Men in the Making, p. 193.]

2. We reject Christ when we refuse to suffer.

We hide our faces from “the Man of Sorrows” when we wish to make this world a paradise of rest, when we neglect the duty of knowing and acquainting ourselves with the burdens which are borne by men, and begin to plan for this world as if it were a place for happiness and repose. There is no rest here; woe to the man who attempts to make it a place of rest. Oh! there is a false view of things which we get when we try to shut out the thought of suffering. Think of the young man and the young woman who make gaiety their home day after day and night after night, and think of Christ with the sick and maimed around Him; think of one who surrounds himself with the entertainment of this world, and think of one whose day is spent in passing from one sick chamber to another.

The more deeply we enter into the meaning of Christ considered as the Divine Man, the more distinctly revealed it becomes to us that what His life was our life is intended to be. I believe that in our best and truest Christian moments nothing less meets the demands of our own minds and hearts, than that we should become inwardly in our animating spirit, and outwardly in our relations with the world in which we live, reduplications in small of Him whom we call Master. That we try to satisfy ourselves with less than this we should all be prepared to admit. There are instincts and there are impulses and ambitions that shrink from coming under the sovereignty of a commitment so cordial and entire. That accounts for the disproportionate emphasis so customarily laid upon the commercial feature of the atonement. It is pleasant, it fits our languid and criminal tastes to believe that Christ’s work was accomplished by His sacrifice upon the cross, in such sense that we are saved by the sheer transaction of crucifixion. It passes as the orthodox view of redemption. It is easier and it is lazier to believe in a Christ that is going to pay my debts for me than it is to grow up in Christ into a Divine endowment, that shall be itself the cure for insolvency and the material of wealth Divine and inexhaustible. You have really done nothing for a poor man by paying his debts for him, unless in addition to squaring his old accounts you have dealt with him in such manner as to guarantee him against being similarly involved in the time to come. Emphasise as we may the merely ransoming work of Christ, we are not made free men by having our fetters broken off, and we are not made wealthy men by having our debts paid. It is not what Christ delivers us from, but what He translates us into that makes us saved men in Christ. That brings us on to the clear ground of the positive feature of Christian character; and there is no more distinct or comprehensive way of stating that positive feature than to say that it involves being in our limited capacity exactly what He was in His infinite capacity. Christ as we know Him in history is nothing more or less than the ideal man actualised. The essential features of Christ we are therefore to look upon as prescriptive. Christ’s being, His experience, His relations to men, the attitude in which He stood towards what concerned His contemporaries, the feelings which their concerns excited in Him—all of that becomes practically just so much direct ordinance binding itself upon us closely and authoritatively. What He was in His Divine way we are bound to become in our human way.

You cannot drift down the tide of event and be a Christ man or a Christ woman. The world is to be saved; the tide is to be reversed. Man inspired of God is to do it; and you cannot buckle yourself down to that problem in Christian wholeheartedness and not grow sober under it. A thousand torchlights and ten thousand brass bands will not convert the world-tragedy into a world-comedy, or crinkle the fixed lines of your seriousness into merriment. Now you see the philosophy of the sober Christ. He flung Himself against forty centuries of bad event, and the Divine Man was bruised by the impact. He stood up and let forty centuries jump on Him; He held His own, but blood brake through His pores in perspiration, and about that there is nothing humorous.1 [Note: C. H.]

3. We reject Christ when we refuse to relieve suffering.

There is an evil which is done in this world by the “want of thought”; that is the sin of those who go through life, not suspecting, and not caring to inquire, how much there is of human desolation. And there is an evil which is done in this world by “the want of heart”; that is the sin of those who are familiar with all that you can tell them of misery, and still go on feasting, and dressing, and amusing themselves, and doling out with a grudge the driblets of their income in the sacred cause of benevolence.

If ever you feel disposed in this manner to turn away from the afflicted, you will do well to check yourself with the question, “Am I not, in fact, behaving as the Jews did when they turned away from our Saviour?” “He was a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief,” and, therefore, “they hid as it were their faces from Him.” Surely if we hide our face, peevishly or contemptuously, from any one of His afflicted and poor people; if we are impatient and displeased with everything, except what encourages our mirth or what helps us in our day’s work; we have every reason to think that we too should have hidden our faces from our Saviour, had we known Him in the flesh: we should have been impatient and displeased at being called on to look off our business or our diversion towards a person so lowly and little esteemed, so very full of infirmities and sufferings. The history of our Lord’s life and death is full of instances of this sort of temper; but none perhaps so remarkable as in the case of the two thieves who were crucified by His side. Even in the very agony of their own death, and that the most painful and shameful of deaths, both of them at first, and one as it would seem to the end, could find it in their hearts to revile our Lord for His sufferings. “If Thou be Christ,” they tauntingly said, “save Thyself and us.” They cast in His teeth the same reproach as the haughty Roman soldiers and self-satisfied Pharisees did: “He saved others, Himself He cannot save.” Those dying and blaspheming malefactors were the very type of the world’s proud and cruel nature, rejecting and disdaining all fellowship with the poor and afflicted, and refusing to be saved by sufferings, even the sufferings of Jesus Christ.

I question if there is more than one heresy that is bad enough to keep a man out of the kingdom of heaven—that is, the heresy of trying to be in heaven to-day, at the same time that the world is full of men who by their sins and burdens and distresses are already in hell to-day.1 [Note: C. H. Parkhurst.]


Christ a Man of Sorrows

i. The Occasion of His Sorrow

1. His own life was sorrowful.—He was away from home; from His Father’s presence. He was a stranger—and made continually to feel it—in a strange land. From His childhood He was full of thoughts which He could not utter; because, if uttered, they were not understood.

He was a lonely man. Those who loved Him knew Him not. They were constantly misreading His intentions, thwarting His purposes, and suggesting a line of action which was not His own. While they were faithful to Him, they could not understand Him. It was a constant struggle for Him to convey spiritual thoughts to the carnal, and heavenly ideas to the earthly-minded. At last they deserted Him; all forsook Him and fled.

2. His care for others made Him sorrowful.—Christ’s first acquaintance with sorrow was by sympathy. To sympathise is simply this, to feel with those who suffer. It is the instinct of a kindly heart. It is the obedience to that law of Christian duty which bids us “rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.” It is the rising, the almost spontaneous rising, of the emotion of pity in the bosom. You do not bid the feeling come. It comes. That is passive knowledge of misery. When we have thrilled over the anguish that we see, there is a sense in which we are acquainted with grief. In this knowledge, our Redeemer’s heart was rich. We will take but two cases which belong to our present purpose, the case of poverty, and the case of corporeal maladies. It was a most distinguishing feature of the life of Jesus, the compassion which He felt for the degraded, neglected, unbefriended poor. And He sympathised with bodily anguish. He was walking almost all His life through the wards of a vast hospital. The hospital was the world; the sick, the dying, and the mad were lying on their beds, on both sides of Him. At evening “they brought unto Him many that were sick”; and, it is written again and again, “He was moved with compassion.”

It was the love which Christ had for the world that made Him sad while doing His work in the world; and the infinitude of His love is what explains the unutterableness of His pain; for the world in which Christ fulfilled His mission was a suffering world. Now a man who is without love can be in the midst of suffering and not suffer. A loveless spirit grieves over its own pain, but has no sense of another’s pain, and no feeling of being burdened by another’s pain. Love has this peculiar property, that it makes the person whom we love one with us, so that his experience becomes a part of our own life, his pain becomes painful to us, his burdens make us tired. The mother feels her child’s pain as keenly as though it were her own pain, perhaps more so. In its Divine relations this is all expressed in those familiar words of Scripture, “In all their afflictions He was afflicted.” He was not simply sorry for their suffering, He felt their suffering as His suffering, which is what we mean by sympathy. Sympathy is the form which love takes in a suffering world.

There is a remarkable Talmudic legend (Sanhedrin 98 a) which tells how a certain Rabbi one day meets Elijah the Prophet, and asks him when Messiah will come. “Go,” replies Elijah, “and ask Messiah himself. You will find him at the city gate; and by this token you will know him, that he sits among the poor and the sick. A man of sorrows himself, he ministers lovingly to those who suffer, and binds up their wounds.” The Rabbi finds Messiah, and asks his question, “When wilt thou come, Master?” “To-day,” is the reply. Meeting Elijah again, the Rabbi cries, “Messiah has deceived me; he says he will come to-day, but he has not come.” “Nay,” answers Elijah, “he is no deceiver; in truth will he come to-day—yes, ‘to-day,’ as the Psalmist says, ‘if you will hearken unto God’s voice.’ ”1 [Note: M. Joseph, The Ideal in Judaism, p. 132.]

(1) His care for bodily suffering caused Him sorrow. This is the first element of our Lord’s sorrow. I have often observed that while in churches we take offerings for hospitals, very few people ever visit them. They refer to them in their family devotions, but very few go to them, and some of us do not care to see the woeful sights of suffering; but Christ, if He were to come to London to-night, would not come to church, He would go to the hospital, where they most need His help, His power, and the attestation of His miracles. He is moved to action in the presence of suffering.2 [Note: S. P. Cadman.]

What a blessing it is that the medical profession has inherited so much of this high-minded reserve! The delicacy, the consecration and heroism of the doctors of both England and America have always most deeply impressed me. What a day was the advent of this suffering Man for all the sufferings of men—that He who suffered in all things like unto His brethren should so completely and deeply identify Himself with them that suffered everywhere! And so did Christ heal diseases, for as many as touched Him were made whole.

How beautiful, in this connection, becomes the miracle, recorded by St. Mark only, of the healing of the deaf and stammering man by the Sea of Galilee; when He, who had the power, and knew that He had the power, to remove the malady, yet, in the very act of doing so, “looked up to heaven and sighed,” as He said the all-powerful “Ephphatha” which bade the deaf ear be opened! That sigh fulfilled the sign given in prophecy of Him that should come. It showed Him, not only as the Almighty One, in whom dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily; but also as that All-pitying One, in whom dwelt all the fulness of humanity too; as the Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief.

There are two epochs in the career of medical life. There is a period in the surgeon’s existence when he occupies the position of a student, and belongs to a class of men proverbially reckless. And there is another period in his life when he belongs to a class which all experience forces us to place among the most devoted, the most tender, the most sympathetic of his species. How comes it that the young experimentalist is so marvellously transformed into the benevolent physician? The secret lies in this. In the outset of the profession a man has to look on suffering as a bystander. The recoil and the faintness of human sensitiveness pass off. He becomes familiar with human anguish. He looks upon the contortions of agony with the cold eye of a theorist. The human frame into which the sharp knife is passing is nothing to him but the material for a lecture. Emotion has dulled itself by repetition. This is the passive acquaintance with sorrow. It would be a miracle indeed if all this did not blunt sensibility. For if by God’s wise law it did not blunt it, and if the emotion remained as keen as ever, how could the human heart bear perpetual laceration? That is the first stage. But as medical life goes on it becomes a duty not to look on but to relieve. And then he begins to feel the blessedness of benevolence, and once more his heart expands when he sets about doing good. And year by year the habit deepens: the shudder of inexperience, and the mere emotional useless sickening of the heart, which come from witnessing an operation—all that is gone. It was worth nothing after all; and in its place there has come something nobler, something that can be made use of in this work-day world, something even in its way Christ-like—that habit of prompt love which will enable a man to put up with much that is disgusting, and much that would shock the false delicacy of mere feeling, in order to do good.1 [Note: F. W. Robertson.]

(2) Mental suffering caused Him sorrow. When He met that funeral procession coming forth from the gate of Nain, with the widowed and now orphaned mother following behind, it was not that He hailed this as an opportunity of “manifesting forth His glory”; it was not that He coldly or roughly restored the breath to the closed lips, or the warmth to the frozen limbs, or the colour to the pallid cheek and brow of death, as One who would say, “Receive the credentials of My Messiahship, and accept Me by this sign as your Lord and King”; no, a human compassion wrought with the Divine power, and marked the Redeemer not only as the mighty God, but also as the Man of Sorrows, bearing our griefs. “When the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her”; and when He had bidden the young man to arise, it was “to his mother” that He “delivered him.”

And so it was in the more detailed narrative of the raising of Lazarus. Although He thought it needful for God’s glory that the death should not be prevented but suffered, and allowed therefore the sisters to think for two days that He was wanting in His care for them, yet how tender was the feeling shown at each step of that wonderful history; from the first mention of the “sleep” of His friend to His disciples at a distance, to the grief shown in the meeting and the tears shed at the grave! That briefest of all sentences, “Jesus wept,” how does it carry with it, to all mourners, the assurance of His tender concern for them, who is Himself the Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief!

3. He was a Man of Sorrows because of His contact with sin.—(1) The daily sins of ordinary life. Many vices were doubtless practised there, in the Holy Land; making homes wretched, and doing dishonour to God. The common sins of a fallen nature were daily committed, no doubt, if not in His sight, yet at least in the full view of His omniscient intuition. These things caused Him sorrow.

We know what positive pain it is to a man or a woman of refined and cultivated tastes, to listen to coarse, bad, vulgar language. Apart altogether from any sin in the thing, the polished educated nature recoils from it, shudders at it. Shut up any one of high mental culture and refinement with the vile, the abandoned, the coarse, and every moment of such an association will be a very hell to that person. The words, the acts, the gestures of the vile will positively torture his spirit. Yet all this gives us only the faintest idea of how deeply Christ’s soul was pained by man’s sin. From morning till night, and from night till morning, everywhere, always, throughout the whole period of His sojourn upon earth, the holy nature of Jesus must have writhed in torture under what He saw and heard. Lot, as his character is drawn for us in the Old Testament, was by no means a perfect man; yet imperfect though he was, St. Peter says of him that in Sodom he was “vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked”; (“for that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds”)—2Pe_2:8. If this was so with an imperfect and sinful man, what must have been the agonised recoil of Christ’s soul from sin, as it met Him, on every side, working, speaking, and acting in men, when He was here on earth?

(2) There was also the special sin of hypocrisy. He saw religion itself with its very heart eaten out of it in those who professed to be its disciples and even its teachers. It is quite plain that the formalism, the false sanctimoniousness, the utter and absolute hypocrisy of the Scribes and Pharisees, was the thing which caused our Saviour on earth the greatest concern as well as the greatest displeasure. It met Him everywhere. He could not go into the Temple without seeing some sign of it. Perhaps there was a Pharisee saying his prayers; for a pretence making long prayers, full of boasting and self-parade; and then going away to devour a widow’s substance. Perhaps there was a Scribe teaching the people; laying down the law, professing (unhappily) to lay down God’s law, to the ignorant but respectful knot of men, women, and children around him; and in all that he taught them there was not one word of truth, not one word of reality, not one idea communicated by which the soul could be nourished. Perhaps, when Christ was teaching, or when He was in the very act of healing, He saw before Him—it happened constantly—some suspicious countenance, some “evil eye” watching His work and lying in wait to accuse. Often the same spirit broke out in open blasphemy. “This man is in concert with the devil. The devil lets Him cast out, that he may be the gainer.” The finished work of such men was His betrayal and murder: but the work, in its beginning and in its progress, was harder still for Him to bear; thwarting His gracious designs, and giving at each turn that most painful impression of being in a hostile presence and watched by a hostile eye.

“He was despised and rejected of men.” The word translated “men” is a very striking one. It does not occur elsewhere in the prophecy of Isaiah in this exact form; it occurs only twice in all the Old Testament. There is another familiar word referring to man as man that is repeatedly used; but this word is exceptional, and refers to men in high places, men of distinction and of influence, men who have the forming of public opinion, and who give the lead to fashion and to sentiment. They are the men spoken of here. The prophet, therefore, in these words describes our Lord’s relationship to the polite society of His day. So far it is not His relationship with humanity—we have that later on—but with men who occupied the seats of Moses and of the prophets, who were proud of their distinctions but thoughtless of Him who had exalted them, and unmindful of the duty which such distinctions involved. Was it not so? Who were the men who despised Christ? Who were those who rejected or “boycotted” Him? For if that word were classical, it would be the most forcible and effective translation. In what hearts did Christ first of all find contempt? Who were those who excluded Him from their tables as the poor unlettered peasant of Galilee? Oh, men in high places, who belonged to the polite society of the day, that had its rules, its etiquette, its conditions of entrance into its privileged circle, men who were proud because high, who lacked insight, but sought to compensate for that by an assurance which only conceit begot.1 [Note: D. Davies.]

(3) There was also the special sin of treachery. “And Judas Iscariot, which also was the traitor.” Most wonderful indeed is the record of that Divine forbearance, which treated the traitor apostle, through three long years, on terms of friendship, confidence, and sympathy. All the miracles were wrought, all the discourses of Christ were uttered, with Judas Iscariot standing in the inner circle. And “Jesus knew from the beginning who should betray Him.” Can we think of a trial, of a sorrow, heavier than this: to have in your own household, at your own table, admitted to your confidence, possessed of your secrets, one who is hardening more and more into hostility, and whom you know to be marked out as your eventual betrayer? This sorrow was Christ’s all along. He had a traitor in His camp, an enemy in His bosom.

(4) But His sorrow’s crown of sorrow was this, that He was Himself made sin for others. To see sin was sorrow to the Holy One. To see sin ruining men’s lives, teaching in God’s name, present daily with Him in disguise, was enough to sadden Him. But He was to come closer even than this to it. “He bare,” this chapter says, “the sin of many.” It is probably in reference to this, that Christ is called a Man of Sorrows. If we wish to see Him in His sorrow, we must go to Gethsemane and Calvary. It was in Gethsemane that the confession fell from Him, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful even unto death.” It was on Calvary that the cry was wrung from His lips, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” Surely it was neither the fear of death, nor the presence of death, which constituted the point and sting of that grief. It was no mere remembrance of what He had seen of sin upon earth, no mere anticipation of what sin might yet be in its misery and in its consequences, which expressed itself in those bitter words of anguish. Sin was nearer to Him even than the memory or the foreknowledge. It was then lying upon Him: He was bearing it—bearing it for us—tasting death, not for Himself, but (by the grace of God) for every man. The crowning point of the sorrows was the conscious incorporation with the sin.

ii. The Reason of His Sorrow

1. He was a Man of Sorrows in order to be one of us. Sorrow is a universal fact. It is a fact which is both prominent and arrestive. There is no door at which it does not knock, no portal through which it does not enter, no roof beneath which it does not tarry. Christ Himself trod the Via Dolorosa—the name given to the road which leads from Olivet to Calvary. And for all of us the pathway of life is the pathway of sorrow—

The path of sorrow, and that path alone,

Leads to the land where sorrow is unknown.

The task which the master painters of the middle ages for centuries proposed to themselves as the highest aim of art, was to realise on canvas the conception of the Anointed One of God. It was their grand work to paint a Christ. And what they made their business was not to turn off a portrait, but to embody the highest idea which genius could conceive of glorious humanity. If the Italian painter, or if the Spanish painter, produced a form which bore the peculiar national lineaments worn by the humanity in his own climate, so far he had failed. He might have idealised the grandeur of the Italian form, or the grandeur of the Spanish form, but he had not given to men’s eyes that grandeur of the human species which belonged to a conception of the Son of Man. He had got a portrait for which a nobly formed individual of one nation might have sat, but an individual of no other. He had got the perfection of the Italian or of the Spanish type, but not the perfection of manhood. Now that which the painter aimed at in the outward form, that Christ was in inward character. He was the essence, the sublimation, of humanity. It was a noble endeavour of the Apostle Paul to be all things to all men. To the Gentile he became as a Gentile, that he might gain the Gentiles; to the Jew as a Jew. But in all this he was acting a single part for a time. He made it his business while the Jew was with him to try to realise the feelings and enter into the difficulties of a Jew. He laid it upon himself as a Christian duty while he was reasoning with a Gentile to throw himself into the Gentile’s position, to try to look at things from his point of view, and even to fancy himself perplexed with his prejudices. But directly he had done with the man he wished to win, he laid aside his part. He was neither Jew nor Gentile, but he was Paul again, with all Paul’s personality, with all Paul’s peculiarities. That which Paul was for a time, Christ is for ever. That which Paul was by effort and constraint, Christ is by the very law of His nature. He is all things to all men. He is the countryman of the world. He is the Mediator, not between God and a nation, but between God and man. He was the Jew and the Gentile, and the Greek and the Roman, all in one. He can sympathise with every man, because He had, as it were, been every man. There is not a natural throb which ever agitated the bosom of humanity that Christ has not felt. The aspirations of loftiest genius and the failure of humblest mediocrity, the bitterness of disappointment and the triumph of success, the privations of the poor man, and the feebleness of corporeal agony—Christ knew them all. He came into this world the Son and Heir of the whole race of Man_1:1 [Note: F. W. Robertson.]

2. He was man—a man, therefore “a man of sorrows.” In this time-world those two things shall not be severed. Bodily and mentally, the constitution of a son of man is such that escape is impossible. Look at that surface of the human frame which is exposed to outward injury. There runs beneath it, crossed and recrossed in windings inconceivable, a network of nerves, every fibre of which may become the home of pain. There is no interstice large enough to admit between them, in a space that does not feel, the finest needle’s-point. Beneath all that there is a marvellous machinery. Man anatomised is like an instrument of music. The combined action of ten hundred thousand strings, each moving in its moment and in its place, is the melody and the harmony of health; but if one chord vibrate out of tune you have then the discord of the harp, the derangement of disease. Our bodies are strung to suffering. That we suffer is no marvel, that we want the repair of the physician is no wonder; the marvel is this—that a harp of so many strings should keep in tune so long.

Look next at our mental machinery. These incomprehensible hearts of ours are liable to a derangement more terrible than bodily disorganisation. The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity, but a wounded spirit who can bear? The inner mind, wrapped up as it seems by impenetrable defences, is yet more exposed to shocks and wounds than the outward skin tissue, and the sensitive network which encompasses that mind is a thousandfold more alive to agony than the nerves that quiver when they are cut. There is such a thing as disappointment in this world. There is such a thing as affection thrown back upon itself. There are such things as slight and injury and insult. There is such a thing as an industrious man finding all his efforts to procure an honest livelihood in vain, and looking upon his pale children with a heart crushed, to feel that there is nothing for them but the poorhouse. There is such a thing as a man going down the hill that leads into the sepulchre, and acknowledging as the shadows darken around him that life has been a failure. All this is sorrow; and just because of the constitution with which he is born. In some form or other this is the portion of the son of man.

And we may remark this also—the susceptibility of suffering is the lot of the highest manhood. Just in proportion as man is exquisitely man, he is alive to endurance. There is a languid, relaxed frame of body in which pain is not keenly felt. The more complete the organisation the severer the endurance. Strong and able manhood suffers more the division of the nerve than softened debilitated frames. So it is with the spirit. The more emphatically you are the son of man, with human nature in its perfection in you, the more exquisitely can your feelings bleed. That which a base and a craven spirit smiles at, is torture to the noblest and the best. It was for this reason that Christ was in a peculiar sense the “Man of Sorrows.” Things which rough and scornful men would have shaken from them without feeling, went home sharp and deep into His gentle and loving heart. The perfection of His humanity ensured for Him the perfection of endurance, “Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto My sorrow.”

3. He was a Man of Sorrows in order to save us. For one man entirely at ease, in mind, body, and estate, how many, shall we say, are in a condition of discomfort, of conscious disquietude, in one of these respects, or in all? Who is there without some definite drawback to entire satisfaction? The health, or the income—the business, or the family—the affections, or the conscience—the past, or the future—how many could honestly say that in all these things they are entirely and absolutely happy? Now just in proportion as there is a drawback to happiness, there is what we may call a natural affinity and attraction to Christ. Slow as we are to turn to Him in affliction, we are slower still to turn to Him in prosperity. “They that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.” Not until the lights of earth are dimmed, do men commonly look out for the great, central, all-quickening light of heaven. “When He slew them, they sought Him.” And then the thing which most touches them is the thought that the Saviour was a suffering man below; that He tasted not of human joy, but drank to the dregs the cup of human grief; that He was despised and rejected of men, bore our griefs and carried our sorrows, was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities, was Himself (in every sense) a Man of Sorrows, and profoundly acquainted with grief. It is this that makes Him a Saviour for all men and for the whole of life: for the sad as well as the joyful, for hours of gloom as well as for moments of gladness.

“When I feel myself in my heart of hearts a sinner,” I once heard Dr. Parker say, “a trespasser against God’s law and God’s love; when I feel that a thought may overwhelm me in destruction, that a secret, unexpressed desire may shut me out of heaven and make me glad to go to hell to be away from the face of Him that sitteth upon the throne—then when I am told that Jesus Christ was wounded for my transgressions, that upon Him was laid the chastisement of my peace, I press my way through all the difficulties and say: If I perish I will pray and perish at the Cross; for if this be not sufficient, it hath not entered into the heart of man to solve the problem of human depravity, and the human consciousness of sin.”1 [Note: A. Shepherd, Men in the Making, p. 205.]

iii. The Way He bore His Sorrows

1. He spoke very little about them. Though we are constantly meeting with events in His life which might have caused Him much sorrow, yet only two instances are recorded of His speaking of His sorrow. “Now is My soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save Me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour.” The other instance is when He exclaimed, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.”

Dr. Arnold had a sister who suffered for twenty years from a disease which prevented her from ever changing her position. He said of her, “I never saw a more perfect instance of the power of love and of a sound mind. For twenty years she adhered to her early formed resolution of never talking about herself.” She bore her painful indisposition without ever talking about it. The biographer of the late Lady Georgina Fullerton alludes to this great virtue in that saintly lady’s character. “The gaiety and serenity of her countenance told little of the suffering she underwent from time to time; for her disease was rather hidden than inactive. But she never complained or spoke of her health.”2 [Note: H. G. Youard.]

2. Sorrow did not rob His life of its joys. Sorrow often causes people to take a gloomy view of life; to indulge in the utterance of morbid sentiments; to speak of life as “a vale of tears”; to regard everything as “vanity,” as though God had withdrawn all brightness, and joy, and beauty from the world, and had left nothing in it but dismal shadows to fall upon the path of man. Our Saviour’s sorrow had not this effect. None can discern a spirit of morbidness in Him. We see in Him no disposition to take a dismal view of life. Whatever sorrows reigned within, He never allowed them to impart their sombre colouring to the world without.

After the “Man of Sorrows,” perhaps no one had so much sorrow as St. Paul; and yet we fail to recognise a morbid spirit in any of his writings. You search in vain for dismal views of life in any of his epistles. In one of those epistles, that to the Corinthians, we find him saying, “I am exceeding joyful in all our tribulation.” There may be solemn and stern views of life and duty set forth in his writings; there may be much that he says which gives us the impression that St. Paul was a distinctly serious man; but there is nothing which conveys the impression that he took gloomy views of life. He was an apostle of hope, joy, and brightness, notwithstanding that he was ever passing through the deepest currents of troubled waters.

Bishop Jeremy Taylor had this rare virtue of refusing to take a gloomy view of life when passing through trouble. Alluding to one of the great troubles of his life, he wrote, “They have taken all from me. What now? They have left me the sun and moon, fire and water, a loving wife, and many friends to pity me, and some to relieve me; and I can still discourse, and, unless I list, they have not taken away my merry countenance, and my cheerful spirit, and a good conscience; they still have left me the providence of God, and all the promises of the Gospel, and my religion, and my hopes of heaven, and my charity to them too; and still I eat and drink, I sleep and digest, I read and meditate; I can walk in my neighbour’s pleasant fields, and delight in all that in which God delights.”1 [Note: H. G. Youard.]

3. He was not impatient to be rid of them. “Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour.” Even in Gethsemane, when His sorrows reached their climax, and assumed the form of an agony inconceivable to us, He added to His supplication for deliverance a “nevertheless, not My will, but Thine be done”; which showed that, though wishful to be delivered, if possible, He was not impatient to be delivered.

4. As sorrow abounded so prayer abounded. St. Luke tells us, “And being in an agony, He prayed more earnestly.” It was an agony of sorrow to which these words allude. We learn from them what we learn from other parts of the Gospels, that our Lord prayed when He sorrowed. But we learn something more. He not only prayed, but He prayed “more earnestly.” His prayer was proportioned to His sorrow. The more intense His sorrow, the more earnest His prayer.

5. His sorrows did not keep Him from His work. Even when His sorrows were reaching their greatest intensity, piercing Him through and through, He did not omit His duty to Malchus, to the weeping women on the way to Calvary, to the dying thief, to His crucifiers, to His mother.

A lady of rank, a singularly saintly character, whose life has recently been published, alluding to the death of her only child, wrote: “The eve of St. Philip’s Day! the eve of the day when I saw my boy for the last time! It seems as if I had no leisure for grief now.” Her time was so occupied with her duties that she had no leisure for grief; and so sorrow in her case was singularly blessed by Heaven, and became a great hallowing power in her life.1 [Note: H. G. Youard.]

It was a feature in Queen Victoria’s character that she did not allow her sorrows to interfere with her duties. Referring to this, on one occasion, the Duke of Argyle said, “I think it a circumstance worthy of observation, and one which ought to be known to all the people of this country, that during all the years of the Queen’s affliction, during which she has lived in comparative retirement, she has omitted no part of that public duty which concerns her as sovereign of this country; that on no occasion has she struck work, so to speak, in those public duties which belong to her exalted position.”2 [Note: Ibid.]

iv. The Fellowship of His Sufferings

Christ’s battle and victory did not set aside, but rather established, the great law, that the evil of the world is to be cured by suffering. The wonderful power and virtue of suffering, so awfully, yet so triumphantly, wielded by the Son of God, was bequeathed by Him to His Church. Not, indeed, in all its efficacies. One result of it, atonement for sin, He alone could attain, and He attained it to the full for all mankind. “By His one oblation of Himself once offered upon the Cross, He made a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.” And to that perfect atonement, as there needs nothing to be added, so it is not in the power of sinful man to add.

On the other hand, there is a work to be done by suffering, in the bodies and souls of the members of Christ’s body, in which the Head of that body could personally have no part or share. That work is personal, individual purification from sin. In that He could not partake, who was eternally and infinitely pure. So that of these two works of healing by sorrow, to one Christ could not come by reason of His purity; to the other man could not attain by reason of his sin.

One work remains common to both, first, without flaw or stint to Christ; secondly, though imperfect and in measure, to us in Christ. This is the drawing, attracting, winning of souls to Christ by suffering; the advancing upon earth of the glorious Kingdom of God.

It was on this account, because of their deep belief in this doctrine, that the Apostles gave utterance to such earnest yearnings to be allowed to be partakers of the sufferings of Christ. “What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ,” says St. Paul, “that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death.” And again: “I, Paul, who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for His body’s sake, which is the church.” And again: “Therefore I endure all things for the elect’s sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” And so St. Peter speaks: “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when His glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.”

I cannot believe that you can have this view of Christian suffering presented to you without your hearts being affected by it. If you regard the sorrows of life that come upon you as chastisement alone you may be tempted to murmur and repine. If you look upon them too exclusively as means of personal cleansing, there will be in this an encouragement to pride. But if you receive them as the tokens of “the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings,” as the writing within your soul of the wounded Foot, the torn Hand, the pierced Side, the bleeding Brow, as the embrace of the Man of Sorrows, drawing you to Him, and making you so one with Himself, that the virtue of His Passion passes through you for a far higher benefit and blessing to others than your own active zeal and labours could ever accomplish; this is a consideration than which I can conceive nothing more powerful to still all rebellious and repining thoughts, nothing that could elevate more, and yet make more lowly.

There is a fable of the ancient heathen (perhaps another of their beautiful allegories) that the nightingale rested its breast upon a thorn when it poured out those melodiously melancholy tones which pierce and ravish the soul.

It is thus with the Christian who sits upon the Cross. Then will his tones be like unto the songs of David’s harp, now pealing in the Heavens above, in high accord “with Angel, and Archangel, and all the glorious company of Heaven”; now bringing down the Heavenly strains to sad, sweet sympathy with the sorrows of the Church below, to dispel the fear, to restore the faith, to brighten the hope, to calm the troubled mind, to heal the broken heart of many sufferers with the “song of the Redeemed.” Such marvellous power is given, not to those who would serve God in their own way, by pleasing themselves, or according to the wisdom of the world, but to those only who suffer the will of God patiently and gladly, who “glory not, save in the Cross of their Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto them, and they unto the world.”1 [Note: 1 J. R. Alsop.]

A Man of Sorrows


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Alexander (S. A.), The Mind of Christ, 45.

Davies (D.), Talks with Men, Women, and Children, 5th Ser., 379.

Fallowes (J. P.), The King’s Fountain, 193.

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Keble (J.), Sermons for the Christian Year, Holy Week, 102.

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Vaughan (C. J.), Family Prayer and Sermon Book, i. 271.

Christian World Pulpit, xxvii. 53 (Davies); xxxv. 109 (Rogers); lv. 394 (Lang); lx. 180 (Cadman); lxxi. 145 (Campbell).

Church of England Pulpit, xl. 29 (Reid).

Churchman’s Pulpit, Good Friday, 13 (Alsop).

Clergyman’s Magazine, new Ser., vii. (Youard).

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Preacher’s Magazine, i. 126 (Vaughan); vi. 237 (Brewin); xii. 142 (Brewin).