Great Texts of the Bible by James Hastings - Isaiah 53:5 - 53:5

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Great Texts of the Bible by James Hastings - Isaiah 53:5 - 53:5

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This Chapter Verse Commentaries:

Vicarious Healing

With His stripes we are healed.—Isa_53:5.

1. “I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man?” Such was surely the very natural question put by the Ethiopian stranger who had gone to worship at Jerusalem, and returning, sat in his chariot and read this passage of the prophet Isaiah. Even now, with all the light shed upon the interpretation of this passage by the New Testament and by the history of eighteen centuries of Christian experience, men are still repeating the eunuch’s question. “I pray thee of whom speaketh the prophet this?” Some would persuade us that the prophet is speaking of the nation of Israel; others would persuade us that Jeremiah is the servant of the Lord who is led as a lamb to the slaughter; and others again that it is the prophet himself or the better part of the people who occasionally bore the burden of the rest.

Unquestionably there is a difficulty in this passage. And it is just this, that the prophet does speak of the servant of the Lord who occupies so very prominent a part in all the later chapters of the prophet Isaiah,—he does speak of the servant of the Lord sometimes as the nation of Israel, sometimes as the prophet himself, and at other times of a third person. For instance, in the very first place where the servant of the Lord is mentioned—in the eighth and ninth verses of the forty-first chapter—“Thou, Israel, art My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen.” And again, in the forty-second chapter, and the nineteenth verse, “Who is blind, but My servant? or deaf, as My messenger that I sent? Who is blind as he that is perfect, and blind as the Lord’s servant?” The context very plainly shows that he is speaking of the nation at large; and the prophet himself is spoken of as the Lord’s servant in the forty-fourth chapter, “That confirmeth the word of His servant, and performeth the counsel of His messengers.” But here is one, “the servant of the Lord,” who is certainly not the nation if he atones for the nation; and certainly is not the prophet, for the prophet joins himself with the rest of the nation as one of those who need atonement:—“All we like sheep have gone astray.”

How are we to understand this? How is it that the servant of the Lord is the nation, is the prophet, is the coming Redeemer? Just for this reason, that the true Redeemer, born of the seed of Abraham, is so absolutely one with Israel that the whole history of Israel and the whole history of Israel’s great representative men, whether prophets, priests, or kings, is fashioned on the lines of the great redemption, and can be interpreted only by the life and sufferings and death and victory of the great Redeemer. You will remember that St. Matthew sees the fulfilment of Hosea’s words, “Out of Egypt have I called my son,” in the going down of our Lord into Egypt in His infancy and His sojourn there. Yet we know that Hosea is speaking of the literal Israel, for he says, “When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt.” St. Matthew sees that what is true of Israel is true also of the Christ.

2. Now here we have the great truth of a suffering Messiah, a suffering Redeemer, brought out in all its fulness as we have it nowhere else in the Old Testament. The details are so striking that we cannot wonder that again and again this passage is quoted in the New Testament, as having its fulfilment in Christ. Our Lord Himself sanctions the application when He declares, “For I say unto you, that this that is written must yet be accomplished in Me. And He was reckoned among the transgressors.” And Philip’s answer to the eunuch was this, “Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus.” No passage in the Old Testament teaches so unequivocally the doctrine of vicarious atonement. True, the whole sacrificial system of Israel prefigures it, for the sacrificer brings the victim in acknowledgment that he is sinful, and that his own life is forfeit. In the twenty-second Psalm we have the Messiah forsaken of God, persecuted, reviled, spat upon, pierced, done to death, and reaping the great reward of His sufferings in the glory that should follow; but here, and here alone, in the whole of the Old Testament, we have a person, Himself of spotless innocence, entering into the whole fellowship of human suffering, led as a lamb to the slaughter, wounded for our transgressions, having the chastisement of our peace upon Him, bearing our iniquity laid upon Him by the law, making intercession for the transgressors, and receiving as His recompense that He should see His seed, that the pleasure of the Lord should prosper in His hand, that He should divide the portion with the great and the spoil with the strong. I do not wonder, as we read the prophecy with all its minuteness of detail, and as we look down on the ages and search in vain for any figure but One in all history in whom its lineaments can be traced, that in his great defence of Christianity Paley should have based his whole argument from prophecy on this single chapter which he transcribes at length; or that Luther should have said that there is not in all the Old Testament a clearer prophecy both of the sufferings and of the resurrection of Christ.

3. In the text sin is spoken of as a disease. It is a disease, however, which is, humanly speaking, incurable. The only cure is a vicarious one. So we have—

         1.       Sin as a disease.

         2.       An incurable disease.

         3.       Cured vicariously.


Sin as a Disease

There would be no need to talk about healing if sin had not been regarded by God as a disease. It is a great deal more than a disease, it is a wilful crime; but still it is also a disease. It is often very difficult to separate the part in a crime which disease of the mind may have, and that portion which is distinctly wilful. We need not make this separation ourselves. If we were to do so in order to excuse ourselves, that would only be increasing the evil; and if we do it for any other reason, we are so apt to be partial, that I am afraid we should ultimately make some kind of palliation for our sin which would not bear the test of the day of judgment. It is only because of God’s sovereignty, and His infinite grace, and His strong resolve to have mercy upon men, that, in this instance, He wills to look upon sin as a disease. He does not conceal from Himself, or from us, that it is a great and grievous fault; He calls it a trespass, a transgression, iniquity, and other terms that set forth its true character. Never in Scripture do we find any excuse for sin, or lessening of its heinousness; but in order that He might have mercy upon us, and deal graciously with us, the Lord is pleased to regard it as a disease, and then to come and treat us as a physician treats his patients, that He may cure us of the evil.

1. Sin is a disease, first, because it is not an essential part of man as he was created. It is something abnormal, it was not in human nature at the first. “God made man upright.” Our first parent, as he came fresh from the hand of his Maker, was without taint or speck of sin; he had a healthy body inhabited by a healthy soul. There was about him no tendency to evil, he was created pure and perfect; and sin does not enter into the constitution of man, per se, as God made it. It is a something which has come into us from outside. Satan came with his temptation, and sin entered into us, and death by sin. Therefore, let no man, in any sense whatever, attribute sin to God as the Creator. Let him look upon sin as being a something extraneous to a man, something which ought never to have had a locus standi within our nature at all, a something that is disturbing and destructive, a poisoned dart that is sticking in our flesh, abiding in our nature, and that has to be extracted by Divine and sovereign grace.

2. Sin is like a disease because it puts all the faculties out of gear, and breaks the equilibrium of the life forces, just as disease disturbs all our bodily functions. When a man is sick and ill, nothing about him works as it ought to do. There are some particular symptoms which, first of all, betray the existence of the virus of disease; but you cannot injure any one power of the body without the rest being in their measure put out of order. Thus has sin come into the soul of man, and put him altogether out of gear. Sometimes, a certain passion becomes predominant in a person quite out of proportion to the rest of his manhood. Things that might have been right in themselves, grow by indulgence into positive evils, while other things which ought to have had an open existence are suppressed until the suppression becomes a crime. As long as a man is under the power of sin, his soul is under the power of a disease which has disturbed all his faculties, and taken away the correct action from every part of his being.

3. Sin is a disease because it weakens the moral energy, just as many diseases weaken the sick person’s body. A man, under the influence of some particular disease, becomes quite incapacitated for his work. There was a time when he was strong and athletic, but disease has entered his system, and so his nerves have lost their former force; and he, who would be the helper of others, becomes impotent, and needs to be waited upon himself. Does not the apostle speak of us as being “without strength” when “in due time Christ died for the ungodly?” The man has not the power or the will to believe in Christ, but yet he can believe a lie most readily, and he has no difficulty in cheating himself into self-conceit. The man has not the strength to quit his sin, though he has power to pursue it with yet greater energy. He is weak in the knees, so that he cannot pray; he is weak in the eyes, so that he cannot see Jesus as his Saviour; he is weak in the feet, so that he cannot draw near to God; he has withered hands, dumb lips, deaf ears, and he is palsied in his whole system.

4. Sin is like a disease because it either causes great pain or deadens all sensibility, as the case may be; I do not know, says Spurgeon (whose divisions of sin considered as a disease are here followed), which one might rather choose, whether to be so diseased as to be full of pain, or to be suddenly smitten by a paralytic stroke, so as not to be able to feel at all. In spiritual things, the latter is the worse of the two evils. There are sinners who appear to feel nothing; they sin, but their conscience does not accuse them concerning it. They purpose to go yet further into sin, and they reject Christ, and turn aside from Him even when the Spirit of God is striving with them, for they are insensible to the wrong they are doing. They do not feel, they cannot feel, and, alas! they do not even want to feel; they are callous and obdurate, and, as the apostle says, “past feeling.” In others, sin causes constant misery. I do not mean that godly sorrow which leads to penitence, for sin never brings its own repentance; but by way of remorse, or else of ungratified desire, or restlessness such as is natural to men who try to fill their immortal spirits with the empty joys of this poor world. Are there not many who, if they had all they have ever wished for, would still wish for more? If they could at this moment gratify every desire they have, they would but be as men who drink of the brine of the sea, whose thirst is not thereby quenched, but only increased.

5. Sin is also like a disease, because it frequently produces a manifest pollution. All disease in the body does pollute it in some way or other. Turn the microscope upon the part affected, and you will soon discover that there is something obnoxious there. But sin in the soul pollutes terribly in the sight of God. There are quiet, respectable sins which men can conceal from their fellow-creatures, so that they can keep their place in society, and seem to be all that they ought to be; but there are other sins which, like the leprosy of old, are white upon their brows. There are sins that are to be seen in the outward appearance of the man; his speech betrays him, his walk and conversation indicate what is going on within his heart.

6. Sin is like disease because it tends to increase in the man, and will one day prove fatal to him. You cannot say to disease, “Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further.” There are some diseases that seem to come very gradually, but they come very surely. There is the hectic flush, the trying cough, the painful breathing, and we begin to feel that consumption is coming, and very soon—terribly soon to those who love them—those who were once hale and hearty, to all appearance, become like walking skeletons, for the fell disease has laid its cruel hand upon them, and will not let them go. So, my friend, as long as sin is in you, you need not deceive yourself, and think you can get rid of it when you will, for you cannot. It must be driven out by a higher power than your own; this disease must be cured by the great Physician, or else it will keep on increasing until at last you die. Sin will grow upon you till, “when it is finished, it bringeth forth death.” God grant that, before that awful ending is reached, the Lord Jesus Christ may come and cure you, so that you may be able to say, “With His stripes we are healed.”1 [Note: C. H. Spurgeon.]


Sin as an Incurable Disease

If some part of the human body is bruised or cut or broken by an outside force, nature sets about at once to repair the injury. There is a resident power within, which at once comes to the rescue. Steadfast methods of life and growth assert themselves; there is a busy knitting of broken ligaments and wounded tissues, mysterious processes of channelling, forcing new paths of life—all striving to get back on the road towards the specific perfection to which nature had started.

Is there a work of moral and spiritual repair going on analogous to this? Do men’s sins heal of themselves from resident inner forces? Is there, apart from the intervention of God and Christ, a coursing stream of health which works out fresh channels, knits together the lacerated moral tissues and steadfastly moves towards life? Does the disposition to steal cure itself, or the sin of impurity, or slandering, or greed? Is there not generally a going from bad to worse until some power from the outside arrests a man? And why? Because sin is a wound inflicted not upon the surface or the extremities, but upon the vitals. It has reached the shrine and centre of implanted life, and the poison is flowing in the streams which should have been for its health.

The inherent life of the body may be able by a quickened effort to repair the partial loss wrought by a force external to itself; but it was no partial loss, no local injury that had maimed and deformed the spirit of man; it was not a merely and wholly external force that still dragged and beat him down from the glory for which God had fashioned him. No, the whole head was sick, and the whole heart faint. In the individual and in the race alike the ethical basis of development was conditioned by the perversion of past generations: as the personal and spiritual being woke to self-consciousness he found that in the very depths of his life evil was present with him, and he by sin sore let and hindered in running the race that was set before him.

On the deepest thoughts and the purest minds of the heathen world there had fallen from time to time the passing gleam of a hope that there might be some power which could repair the ruin of a sinful race, and cut off the pitiless entail of guilt and misery. The faith, that, by some mysterious efficacy, a pure act of sacrifice might heal the hereditary taint of an accursed house, lay near to the most clear and constant forms under which a Greek conceived his relation to the Unseen. It was this belief that hindered his great conception of Nemesis from ever approaching to the immorality or despair of fatalism. He believed that a single act of pride or violence provoked a doom which held its course through sin and punishment, and sin and punishment, from one generation to another: he traced the dark bequest of Tantalus, or Labdacus, or Xerxes: and he felt that the power of outraged holiness was astir, and that there would be no peace for the wicked. But he also believed that there was an act which could arrest even the blind and ruthless curse: that the taint by which strength and cunning were smitten and sank down and died, was powerless against the sacrifice of a pure obedience. Such a sacrifice he saw in the utter submission, the prostrate humiliation, of Oedipus, in the self-forgetful righteousness of Orestes’ vengeance, in Antigone’s allegiance to the heavenly Voice. And from such a sacrifice in every case there came forth a newness of life which could push back the threatening death and wake the voice of joy and health in the dwellings of the righteous. So the thunderous air, the terror and agony of the Oedipus Tyrannus, passes into the solemn, tender stillness of Colonus: and

The promise of the morrow

Is glorious on that eve,

Dear as the holy sorrow

When good men cease to live.

So in the Electra the same chorus which has sung of the everlasting doom, the ceaseless, weary violence of the sons of Pelops, breaks into a blessing when Orestes’ service is fulfilled:—

O seed of Atreus, after many woes,

Thou hast come forth, they freedom hardly won,

By this emprise made perfect.

So does Antigone win deliverance from the black tide of the unwearied curse, and lay hold on the good hope of a love that is stronger than death. But in the cost of each such saving act, in the horror and anguish and cruelty and slaughter which gather round the sacrifice, the conscience of Greece assented to the law that without shedding of blood is no remission of sin: in the narrowness and imperfection of that which even the costliest and purest offering could achieve, it owned that the true healing of the nations must wait for the obedience of One who should be more than man, and for sorrow like unto which there was not any sorrow.1 [Note: F. Paget, Faculties and Difficulties, p. 181.]


Vicarious Healing

1. What is Vicariousness? When we speak of “vicarious atonement,” what do we mean? “Vicarious” means something that is done by one on behalf of another because he is unable to do it himself. You have an obligation to fulfil, and you are unable to fulfil it, and another fulfils it on your behalf. Your obligation is this: you ought to obey the law of God perfectly, but you do not and cannot. You have, every one of you, broken the law, and you have done wrong against God, for every sin is a wrong against God. You owe, therefore, reparation to God. You deserve punishment, for your sin is a breach of the law, the eternal and immutable law of God which cannot be broken with impunity; and that the majesty of law may be held and God’s justice satisfied, you must bear the penalty of transgression. And then, further, you need to have the enmity done away with, which exists between you and God. You need a new heart of reconciliation which will bring you into fellowship and peace with God. How is this atonement, this at-one-ment, to be effected? Plato said, “Deliberate sin may perhaps be forgiven, but I do not see how.” How is this reparation to be made to God and to the majesty of His law? How is the guilt which rests upon us to be taken away? Who is the person that is able to take upon Himself all the sin of the world and to make perfect satisfaction to God’s holy law, and so to bring us guilty sinners near to God?

(1) First, He must be a willing victim, laying down His life of Himself freely, for if the punishment of the smallest sin were inflicted on Him without or against His will the justice of heaven would be infringed.

(2) Next, He must be a spotless victim, for one taint or spot would do away with the efficacy of the sacrifice—the sinless alone can atone for the sinful.

(3) Further, He must be capable of offering satisfaction for the sins of the whole world; and no man can do this. A man, even a perfect man, cannot atone for all men’s sins. He can only clear himself. He cannot open his arms and clasp all men to his bosom and make all their burdens his own. Let him be as philanthropic as he may, the effects of his death as a martyr would be unfelt beyond his own circle. To do a thing which should affect the whole race of man, those who have long since returned to the dust, and those who are not yet fashioned out of the dust, requires surely the same amount of power as where He creates and sustains men. The victim must have the power of God, to take upon Himself all human needs, and weaknesses, and sorrows, and sufferings, and sins; but if He is to suffer for sin, if he is to stand in the place of man and to write with His own hands the lesson that sin should not go unpunished—He must also be man, to suffer as one of us, and for us.

How could man rise towards the specific type when his ruin had reached that spiritual being to which had been intrusted the secret of this perfection? The one answer may be given in words taken from St. Athanasius—None could change the corruptible to incorruption save He who also in the beginning made all things from nothing; none could renew in man the Image of God save the express Image of His Person; none could make the dying to be deathless save He who is the Life, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

2. Upon what, then, does the possibility of vicarious healing rest? It rests upon two things:—

1. The identification of the Healer with those He has come to heal.—Before they say “with His stripes we are healed,” they must be able to say, “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows.” Their life must be His by voluntary adoption—its perils, its pains, its privations, His! He must be involved in it all. He must taste its troubled life—“drink its sour grape and eat its bitter bread.” He must be numbered even with the transgressors—must be content to be taken for one of them, to be misunderstood for their sake, to get near to them, understand them and represent them. And gradually the eyes of the people will open. This one, so unselfish and pure and loving, is bearing their iniquities. In bringing misery upon themselves they are bringing it upon Him. For themselves they deserve it, and they expect it. But He is wounded for their transgressions, and bruised for their iniquities. Nobody can come really to their help and not be involved in their retribution. At last they begin to see the shame and folly of their sin. They never hated their sins when they saw them in themselves, but now they see them in Him, the mark of them in pain upon His face, in agony upon His heart. A new loathing, a new penitence surges within them. They can bear it no longer. The innocent Sufferer draws them out of their captivity, and by His stripes they are healed.

Look at the life of Moses, sent as a national redeemer from the curse and yoke of Egypt. He identifies himself with his slave-brethren, and the wrath of the oppressor falls on him as well as on them. This was the first secret of the confidence he won from them. “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows.” Then look on further, and see how he was involved in all the consequences of the sins of his people. They, you say, deserved those weary, hopeless years of wanderings in the desert; but he did not. Yet because he had given himself to them, “he was wounded for their transgressions, and bruised for their iniquities.” He had no part nor lot in the sin of idolatry, but he was numbered with the transgressors. He bore more of the burden of shame, humiliation and contrition than they who did the sin.1 [Note: C. S. Horne, The Soul’s Awakening, p. 102.]

2. The possibility of vicarious healing depends, in the second place, upon the power of innocent vicarious suffering. This is an inexplicable law, but equally it is indisputable. That we need for our soul’s awakening to see our sin, not in ourselves, but in another, is a strange truth, but truth it is. Yonder young man has never realised his sins, though he has suffered for them. He is callous and careless, but one day he notices a look in his mother’s face, and sees the lines of care about the mouth and brow, and the truth flashes upon him, “That is what my sin has done.” Her innocent suffering brings him to himself, and with its stripes he is healed. Or let us change the illustration. Christian people will always differ as to the merits of particular wars, but all Christian people are one in the hatred and horror of war. And if one were to go further one would say that it is not in the actual field of battle, where hate and passion are so strongly mingled with heroism and devotion, that its misery is most realised. It is emphatically suffering innocence that kills the war spirit in us. By these stripes we are healed. Soldiers who have kindled with the fierce excitement and dark enthusiasm of war, when they have come face to face with suffering innocence, have grown sick and sad, and confessed to an ungovernable revulsion of feeling. All the love of war dies out. By the stripes of suffering innocence they are healed.

Yesterday afternoon, as the sun went down, I sat by the bedside watching the wan face of a wife and mother who had prematurely worn out her life in toils for her husband and children, and was even then most absorbed in certain tender parting charges concerning them when she should be no longer able to care for them. “She wouldna be there,” said the stalwart but deeply grieved husband, “but for slavin’ and slavin’ for us.” There was an instance of vicarious self-sacrifice. In the annals of womanhood there are many such. And whatever we may think about its justice or expediency, there is something in us which endears to us the person who has obeyed the sacred law, and our pulses beat quicker at a thing which puts fresh honour upon our community.1 [Note: F. W. Luce, in The Treasury, September 1902, p. 353.]

Stanley, in one of his books on African travel, tells of the crime of Uledi, his native coxswain, and what came of it. Uledi was deservedly popular for his ability and courage, but having robbed his master, a jury of his fellows condemned him to receive “a terrible flogging.” Then uprose his brother Shumari, who said, “Uledi has done very wrong; but no one can accuse me of wrong-doing. Now, mates, let me take half the whipping. I will cheerfully endure it for the sake of my brother.” Scarcely had he finished when another arose, and said, “Uledi has been the father of the boat, boys. He has many times risked his life to save others; and he is my cousin; and yet he ought to be punished. Shumari says he will take half the punishment; and now let me take the other half, and let Uledi go free.”1 [Note: B. J. Gibbon, Visionaries, p. 114.]

3. The Lamb of God on the altar of sacrifice is a deep and dark mystery. How is it possible that my punishment should lie on Him? What justice can there be in the suffering of the innocent for the guilty? The prophet anticipates the great misunderstanding of the world: “Yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.” Thus was Christ judged according to outward appearance; it seemed as if He were so greviously smitten on account of His own sin. And although in our days no one goes quite so far, yet the mystery of the atonement by substitution is still a stumbling-block. It is incomprehensible to human intelligence, yet Scripture plainly declares the vicarious nature of Christ’s sufferings. This is the stumbling-block of the Cross, which has in all ages been an offence to the world. Many have made shipwreck of their faith on this rock, esteeming Christ not as a sacrifice for us, but merely as a martyr to His own cause, and an example of patient endurance. Consequently millions of Christians keep Good Friday in vain; they will not accept mysteries which are too vast for human reason. The Lamb of God, the Divine hostage for our guilt, sinks in their idea of Him to a mere man, who left us a perfect example, but did not obtain grace and salvation, righteousness and peace, for us. Not thus did the prophet speak of Christ: “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him.” The words are plain enough, He suffers for our sake and in our stead; “he carried our sorrows.” To this all the apostles bear witness when speaking of Christ as our throne of grace, as the expiation for our sins. St. Peter writes: “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree.” Christ’s testimony of Himself is this: “My flesh, which I will give for the life of the world”; and the witness borne throughout the New Testament, from that of John the Baptist to the Revelation, is the same; wherever Christ appears, it is in a garment dipped in blood.

“In a large family of evil-doers, where the father and mother are drunkards, the sons jail-birds, and the daughters steeped in shame, there may be one—a daughter—pure, sensible, sensitive, living in the home of sin like a lily among thorns; and she makes all the sin of the family her own. The others do not mind it; the shame of their sin is nothing to them; it is the talk of the town, but they do not care. Only in her heart do their crimes and disgrace meet like a sheaf of spears, piercing and mangling. The one innocent member of the family bears the guilt of all the rest. Even their cruelty to herself she hides, as if the shame of it were her own. Such a position did Christ hold in the human family.”1 [Note: J. Stalker, Imago Christi.]

4. There seem to be three demands made by the human conscience on this great mystery.

1. It must be an act of justice.—How is it that God should punish for the guilty? If Christ is innocent, and yet is punished, how is this in accordance with any principle of justice? In the first place, it is certain that we do see every day in our lives the innocent suffering for the guilty, not through any fault of their own, but simply from the circumstances in which they are necessarily placed. When a pious and saintly mother suffers for a vicious son, you say it is unjust. Well, it is part of the constitution of the world. We cannot alter it. It runs through the whole of God’s providence. The innocent man who has done no harm suffers for the profligacy and wickedness of those who are nearest to him. Therefore when Christ our Lord put Himself into our place, He placed Himself in the position of one who, though perfectly innocent—and none of us are perfectly innocent—yet took upon Himself the burden of our guilt and of our sins. This is only an illustration. Of course it is not for one moment maintained that we can fathom all the depth of the meaning of the Atonement. How is that possible, when He who made atonement for us is the Son of God? How can we explain all His sufferings, or the meaning of all those sufferings? But surely we can get some glimpse of the love in those sufferings.

Why should the world so greatly wonder that we are cleansed from sin by the transfer of our guilt to another? Surely earthly parents bear the sins of an erring son, both in suffering and in interceding for him. In the act of washing our hands the stain passes into the water and the towel; in cleansing a garment the dust is transferred to the air or to the ground. Why should it be said that God was unjust in letting Christ suffer for us? Did not Christ willingly undertake the suffering? If a friend pays our debts for us, is our creditor unjust in accepting that payment? And surely God is not unjust in pardoning our sins for Christ’s sake, since Christ, as the second ancestor of our race, gives Himself up in the name of us all; and since no one can appropriate the precious fruits of this death unless he has in faith become spiritually one with the Lamb of God, in order that, in this communion, he may die unto sin.

Could not God forgive without the suffering of Jesus? There is only one answer: He could not. The reason why He could not is difficult to see, but it is not beyond the understanding. No earthly parallel is adequate. We can only see “through a glass darkly.” If a governor pardons a prisoner two interests must be maintained: the government must continue to be antagonistic to crime, and the welfare of the governed must not be overlooked. If God forgives, His own integrity and the interest of His children must be secured. Is this done in the death of Jesus? Does the death of Jesus make us fear and reverence God more or less than we should do otherwise? It must be said that it increases our fear of Him. On the other hand, does the suffering of Jesus make it easier or more difficult for us to sin? It makes it much more difficult. By the death of Jesus God forgives and remains holy, and the people receive an impulse away from sin.

“The Well is deep.”

The saying is most true:

Salvation’s well is deep,

Only Christ’s hand can reach the waters blue.

And even He must stoop to draw it up,

Ere He can fill thy cup.

2. It must be an act of love.—Truly this is a great mystery, which we must here contemplate in silent meditation, and which eternity alone can unveil. Every sacrifice was a mystery; every act of laying, as it were, sin upon the victim was mysterious. Infinitely more so was the death of our Lord. Still, Scripture gives us one master-key by which we may penetrate into this as into every mystery—it is love. It was love that could not bear to leave mankind under sentence of death, thus frustrating the object of creation; love could plan out a way of escape, and find means to effect it.

You will often hear it said that God was angry with man, and that Christ turned away His wrath. Holy Scripture tells us that “God so loved the world.” He is angry with sin, but “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son.” And again we sometimes hear it said that the wrath of God was poured out upon His Son. But Jesus Christ tells us, “Therefore my Father loveth me, because I lay down my life for the sheep.” So that His sacrifice called forth afresh as it were the very love of God which had been His from all eternity.

In a particular district of France there is a school for poor boys who have neither father nor mother to care for them, and who run homeless about the streets. It is a very good school, and the boys who enter it are cared for and helped, to become good men. But sometimes bad boys get in, and boys who will not try to be better. A boy of this sort one day stabbed another in the arm with a knife. Now in that school they have two very wonderful rules: 1st. Bad boys, when they do mischief, are tried by the scholars, not by the masters. And the sentence the other boys passed on this cruel lad was, that he should be kept three weeks in a dark cell, and fed on bread and water. 2nd. But in this school substitutes are allowed in punishments. Any boy may come forward and say he will bear the punishment to which an evil-doer has been sentenced. So, when the sentence was pronounced, the question was asked whether any boy was willing to bear this punishment. And, to the surprise of all the school, the boy whose arm had been stabbed stepped forward and said, “I will bear it in his stead.” And that was agreed to, but the master said, “The criminal must take the bread and water to the cell.” So the boy whose arm had been stabbed went into the cell to bear the punishment. And the boy who stabbed him carried the bread and water three times a-day to the cell. He went through his task six days. But then he broke down; three times every day to see the pale face of the boy he had stabbed in prison for him made him see how cruel he had been, and he came to the master and insisted on bearing the rest of the punishment himself.1 [Note: A. Macleod, The Child Jesus, p. 78.]

When we speak of punishment, what do we mean? What do we mean by saying that our Lord was punished for our transgressions? I do not think that the expression is altogether an applicable one. I was reading the other day a lecture delivered by the Rev. Joseph Cook in Boston, in America, in which he says, “Guilt or obligation to satisfy the demands of a violated law may be removed when the author of the law substitutes his own voluntary chastisement for our punishment. When such a substitution is made, the highest possible motives of loyalty to that rule are brought to bear upon the rebellious subject. If any great arrangement on that principle has been made by the Father, Redeemer, and Sanctifier of the Universe, that arrangement meets with exactness the deepest want of men. It is the highest possible dissuasive from the love of sin; it is the only possible deliverance from the guilt of sin, in the sense, not of personal blameworthiness, but of obligation to satisfy the violated law which says I ought.” And then he gives this striking illustration of meeting the objection that Christ being innocent was punished. He says, “There was a New England schoolmaster—I saw his death mentioned in the papers the other day—who made it a rule that if a pupil violated any law of the school the master should substitute his own voluntary sacrificial chastisement for that pupil’s punishment.” The pupils were quite willing, and for that reason the measure was effective among them. “One day,” he said, “I called before me a pupil, nine or ten years of age, who had violated an important regulation of the school. All the pupils were looking on, and they knew what the rule of the school was. I put the ruler into the hand of the offending pupil, I extended my hand, I told him to strike. The instant the boy saw my extended hand, and heard my command to strike, I saw the struggle begin in his face. A new light sprang up in his countenance, a new nature seemed to be rising within him. I kept my hand extended, and the school was in tears. The boy struck once, and he himself burst into tears. I constantly watched his face, and it seemed in a bath of fire, giving him a new nature. The boy seemed transformed by the idea that I should take the chastisement in place of his punishment. He went back to his seat, and ever after was one of the most docile of all the pupils in the school, although at first he had been one of the rudest.” Have we not here a glimpse of the principle on which the atonement operates? In the example was the master punished? Strictly speaking, no. Was he guilty? Certainly not. Was the personal demerit of the pupil transferred to the master? No. What was it that happened? He voluntarily accepted the chastisement instead of the pupil’s punishment. Punishment, strictly speaking, is inflicted for personal guilt. Chastisement may be inflicted for the improvement of him who suffers it, or for the benefit of those who witness it, but the latter does not imply guilt.1 [Note: Bishop J. J. S. Perowne.]

Dr. Lowson of Hull, who died in a London nursing home on 14th March 1906, had had a distinguished career, and was one of the most skilful surgeons in the country. Whilst in practice in Huddersfield he was called upon to perform the operation of tracheotomy for diphtheria. The tube suddenly became blocked, and with no thought for himself Dr. Lowson at once sucked the wound and rescued the patient from imminent death. Within a few days he was himself stricken with the disease, and, owing to serious complications which it left behind, he was incapacitated from work for a year. For his noble act he received the Albert Medal. The illness which has resulted in his death commenced through blood-poisoning caused through pricking his finger whilst performing an operation for appendicitis without fee.2 [Note: Daily News, 16th March 1906.]

3. It must not be in vain.—This demand is met by the prophet in a later verse of this same chapter—“He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied.” Here it is enough to notice the fundamental fact that Christ died once for all. The penalty, paid once, cannot be exacted twice. And so they who die with Him are free from the fear of a second death, or of any form of punishment. Death hath no longer any dominion over them. There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus. And, more than that, Christ, being made a curse for us, has redeemed us from the curse of the Law, that the righteousness of the Law might be fulfilled in us.

Recall Joseph Cook’s illustration. Suppose the boy had been called up and punished a second time, after the master had been chastised, would that have been right? The master accepted the chastisement voluntarily, and now he cannot call up that boy and punish him again. The school would say it was wrong. Why? What has the master done? He has paid the debt of the boy to the school, and to the law which he broke, but the master is not to blame. In this, which we can understand as a human transaction, we may perhaps catch a glimpse of an infinitely greater transaction, which we call the Atonement. In the case of the scholar guilt meant two things. Where there is personal blameworthiness, there is the obligation to do something to pay the debt due to the school and to the law. It is eternally true of the boy that the violation of the law, his personal demerit, was not transferred to the master; only his obligation to pay the debt is removed by the voluntary sacrifice of the master. Now I understand when that is done by a voluntary act of the master, a motive has been brought to bear on the boy which will transform him, if anything can. Nothing can take hold of human nature like such convincing justice and love.1 [Note: Bishop Perowne.]

I bore with thee long weary days and nights,

Through many pangs of heart, through many tears;

I bore with thee, thy hardness, coldness, slights,

For three-and-thirty years.

Who else had dared for thee what I have dared?

I plunged the depth most deep from bliss above;

I not My flesh, I not My spirit spared:

Give thou Me love for love.

For thee I thirsted in the daily drouth,

For thee I trembled in the nightly frost:

Much sweeter thou than honey to My mouth:

Why wilt thou still be lost?

I bore thee on My shoulders and rejoiced:

Men only marked upon My shoulders borne

The branding cross; and shouted hungry-voiced,

Or wagged their heads in scorn.

Thee did nails grave upon My hands, thy name

Did thorns for frontlets stamp between Mine eyes:

I, Holy One, put on thy guilt and shame;

I, God, Priest, Sacrifice.

A thief upon My right hand and My left;

Six hours alone, athirst, in misery:

At length in death one smote My heart and cleft

A hiding-place for thee.

Nailed to the racking cross, than bed of down

More dear, whereon to stretch Myself and sleep:

So did I win a kingdom—Share My crown;

A harvest—Come and reap.2 [Note: Christina G. Rossetti.]

Vicarious Healing


Christlieb (T.), Memoir and Sermons, 308.

Doney (C. G.), The Throne-Room of the Soul, 35.

Gibbon (B. J.) Visionaries, 104.

Horne (C. S.), The Soul’s Awakening, 97.

Horne (W.) Religious Life and Thought, 146.

Hutton (R. E.), Sorrows of the King, 141.

Laing (F. A.), Simple Bible Lessons, 249.

Maclaren (A.), Expositions, Isaiah xlix.–lxvi., 97.

Macleod (A.), The Child Jesus, 76.

Paget (F.), Faculties and Difficulties for Belief and Disbelief, 172.

Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, xiv. No. 834; xviii. No. 1068; xxxiii. No. 2000; xliii. No. 2499; l. No. 2887.

Tipple (E. S.), Drew Sermons on the Golden Texts for 1910, 295.

Watson (E. K. R.), Heavenly Truths in Earthly Dress, 82, 94, 127.

Wilmot Buxton (H. J.), Sunday Lessons for Daily Life, i. 97, 305.

Woods (F. H.), The Hope of Israel, 151.

Christian World Pulpit, xiv. 8 (Tuck).

Contemporary Pulpit, 1st series, ix. 274 (Perowne).

Treasury (New York), xx. 351 (Kinsolving).