Great Texts of the Bible by James Hastings - Isaiah 53:6 - 53:6

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Great Texts of the Bible by James Hastings - Isaiah 53:6 - 53:6

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This Chapter Verse Commentaries:

Our Sin-bearer

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.—Isa_53:6.

We do not know, and there is no gain in guessing, who the sufferer was who is thus commemorated. “Vicarious suffering,” it has been said, “is not a dogmatic but an experimental truth … a great living fact of human experience, evident to men’s eyes, and appreciable, in its meaning, to their consciences.” Somebody—Jeremiah or another—lived a life of absolute self-devotion and, as appeared, of defeat as absolute, and then he passed away without remark. There was nothing in him to draw the eyes of his contemporaries, nothing but his sufferings, from which, as average healthy creatures, they were rather inclined to turn away. He was one from whom men hide their faces, seeking to avoid him on the street; and he made so little impression on his age that the writer adds, “Who of his generation even considered that he had ceased to live?” Whatever the nobility of his life may have been, that was the extent of its prosperity—a failure which had not even the compensation of publicity.

And yet when that life was over it somehow refused to be done. It is no uncommon experience for us to discover, weeks or months after an event, that we have been more observant than we imagined. When a situation, which in no way concerned us at the time, is recalled in memory, fragmentary impressions come drifting back, words which unconsciously we had marked, looks which had been noted; and we fit them together so that we begin actually to understand the episode from which we fancied we had carried nothing away. That is how the prophet proceeds. He, also, had been one of the unobservant, but something from that forgotten incident remained, insistent, provocative to the mind; and by degrees he began to spell out the meaning of what he had not regarded, until in the figure of that forgotten sufferer he found a key to the mystery of God’s way in redeeming men. It is by self-devoting love like that, he says, that men are healed, and God’s Servant when He comes will surely take that away.1 [Note: W. M. Macgregor.]

But there is only one Individual in history of whom it is a likeness. The life and death of Jesus Christ—lived and died five hundred years after the very latest date to which any one has assigned this prophecy—fit it feature by feature, tint by tint, as nothing else can. And the minute external correspondences between the prophet’s vision and the Gospel story, important as these literal resemblances are, are mainly important as pointing onwards to the complete correspondence between the spirit and functions of the suffering servant of the prophecy and of the Jesus Christ of the Gospel history.


All we, like sheep

1. All we have gone astray.—The speakers are primarily the penitent Jewish nation, who at last have learned how much they had at first misunderstood the servant of the Lord. But the “we” and the “all” of our text may very fairly be widened out so as to include the whole world, and every individual of the race. Iniquity is the universal burden of us all.

In the Journal of Biblical Literature for 1910 (Part I., p. 24) Dr. W. H. Cobb points out that the Hebrew word kol translated “all” is not an adjective but a substantive, and has the definite article prefixed to it. Accordingly, to bring out the force of the original, he translates this passage, “The whole of us wandered like sheep.” It is the universe of mankind; there is no break in its uniformity. In the same way he renders Deu_6:5, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with the whole of thy heart,” for it is not merely an intense love that God demands, it is an undivided love; no part of the heart is to be given to the love of any other god.

(1) The fact that every man is a transgressor of the law of God is the prime fact of humanity, and the all-important truth needed for the apprehension of the very rudiments of the Gospel. We shall never know what we need, or be able to understand what Christianity, as gathered in Christ—who is Christianity—offers to do for us, unless our eyes are opened and our consciences made sensitive to the unwelcome but undeniable truth that we all “have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” I believe that almost all of the mistaken and unworthy conceptions of Christianity which have afflicted and do afflict the world are directly traceable to this—the failure to apprehend the radical fact affecting men’s condition that they are all sinful, and therefore separated from God.1 [Note: A. Maclaren.]

There are differences immensely important in other respects between men, differences of culture, of talent, of opportunity; differences of outward life: some living respectable, decent, cleanly lives, full of many virtues and many graces; some, perhaps, having done many a thing that, if it did not bring them within the grip of criminal law, at least sets them outside the decent, respectable classes of society. But, whatever may be the superficial differences, down below there is identity; and beneath all varieties of garb and vesture, and all diversities of culture, intelligence, profession, and all differences of degrees of civilisation and of rank and position, wise man and fool, cultured man and savage, saint and criminal, loftiest and lowliest, all are alike in this, that they have sinned.

Gone Astray!” Two little words spoken in a moment, but how humbling to man’s pride!

There are men of great intellectual grasp and culture. They have swept the heavens with telescopes, and searched them out. They have explored and mastered the secrets of the earth. To them science and art have laid bare their treasures. We admire and honour them. We do well; for their discoveries confer immense benefits upon the human race. But God looks down upon every one of them by nature, and says, “Gone Astray!” There are men of great wealth. Broad acres own them as lord, their rent-roll is reckoned by hundreds of thousands of pounds. In addition to this, they are philanthropic and kind. It is joy to them to succour the fatherless, and to care for the widow. With open hand they delight to help forward any scheme which promises to lighten the sufferings of their fellow-men. We love these men. We do well to do so. But God looks down upon every one of them by nature, and says, “Gone Astray!” There are men of the strictest integrity and the highest morality. All their business transactions are conducted with honour; and in all their private relationships they are scrupulously upright. Everybody respects and trusts them; yet God looks down upon them all by nature and says, “Gone Astray!

If we scan

The wide or narrow circle of our friends

And weigh their worth, we find, alas! that all,

Even in the glance of charity, possess

Some spot; and if we haply mark ourselves,

We are not perfect! E’en humanity,

Like the spoilt picture of some master-mind,

Hath much it may admire, but prominent

The fault obtrudes! And as when Lucifer

Poured the dark drop at Eden’s fountain-head,

He poisoned every stream; e’en so when Eve

The cup of disobedience tasted there,

She gave to all her children naughtiness.1 [Note: Ebenezer Palmer.]

(2) The verse says first, “all we”; but immediately afterwards it says also, “every one.” Each son and daughter of Adam has strayed far away from the fold of the Good Shepherd, and no one is able to find his own way back again. The wilderness of sin is so large that the erring flock gets scattered and separated into innumerable bypaths. Every child of Adam has his own peculiar form of sinfulness. One man hates his brother man; another has not in his heart the love of God. One man’s sins are sins of the flesh; another man’s are sins of the spirit. The besetting sin of one heart is pride—a high flying sin; while the sin of another is vanity—a creeping thing. Here we find the vice of drunkenness, and there the love of money. The sins of Esau were of a different class from those of his brother Jacob. The faults of John the Apostle were not the same as those of Simon Peter.

John Bunyan, in The Pilgrim’s Progress, illustrates admirably this truth that “we have turned every one to his own way.” He does so in the very names which he gives to worldly men and false pilgrims. There are “Obstinate and Pliable,” “Simple, Sloth, and Presumption,” “Formalist and Hypocrisy,” “Timorous and Mistrust,” “Talkative,” “Ignorance,” “Vain-Confidence,” and many others. Some are guilty of “secret faults,” and others of “presumptuous sins.” The sins of one are black, those of a second are scarlet, and those of a third are red like crimson. Each turns to “his own way.”1 [Note: C. Jerdan, Messages to the Children, p. 73.]

You have heard Handel’s “Messiah.” I never realised how beautiful this figure was until I heard the music of this particular part, “All we like sheep have gone astray.” If you listen to the music you see the sheep beginning to go astray, and then as the notes are sung out you see one go this way and another that way, and another yonder way. Even in wandering they do not keep together, and that marvellous musician has expressed it in music—one note seems to show which way this sheep goes, and another that sheep, and another that. There is a process of scattering vividly depicted in the whole music.2 [Note: D. Davies, Talks with Men, Women, and Children, v. p. 446.]

2. Like sheep.

1. Spurgeon has well said that the sheep is a creature exceedingly quick-witted upon the one matter of going astray. If there be but one gap in the hedge, the sheep will find it out. If there be but one possibility out of five hundred that by any means the flock shall wander, one of the flock will be certain to discover that possibility, and all its companions will avail themselves of it. So is it with man. He is quick of understanding for evil things. God made man upright, but he hath sought out many inventions, the inventions being all to destroy his own uprightness, and to do despite to the law of God. But that very creature who is so quick-witted to wander is the least likely of all animals to return. The ox knoweth its owner, and the ass knows its master’s crib; even the swine that will wander by day will return to the trough at night, and the dog will scent out his master over many a league; but not so the sheep. Sharp as it is to discover opportunities for going astray, it seems to be bereft of all wit or will to come back to the fold. And such is man—wise to do evil, but foolish towards that which is good. With a hundred eyes, like Argus, he searches out opportunities for sinning; but, like Bartimeus, he is stone blind as to repentance and return to God.

When I was a boy in my own country, I used to notice that when the clouds were gathering and a storm threatened, the shepherd would go round the shoulder of the hill and fetch all the sheep that happened to be on the stormy side back under the shadow of a great rock, so that, when the storm at length raged, the sheep were all safely sheltered. The sheep had not the sense to find that place out for themselves, and though the shepherd had done that scores of times for them, yet they never thought of doing it without his aid.1 [Note: D. Davies, Talks with Men, Women, and Children, v. p. 445.]

2. It is not written, “All we like wolves, like tigers,” but “All we like sheep have gone astray.” We do not usually associate the thought of something so silly, so whimsical, so essentially harmless as a sheep with the awful deeps and disobediences of the human heart.

In this assertion of the prophet there is not so much as a hint of hereditary tendencies forcing themselves into uncontrollable action, of innate devilry in man manifesting itself in a species of Satanic concert; it simply amounts to a matter of pitiable moral weakness. Like sheep, like simpletons, have we gone astray. Whether he is right or wrong, this is what the writer says. And it is worth our while to think, to take in the fact, that the prophet-poet uses the word “sheep” in this highly-wrought passage, rather than some word that connotes a very different force, as in tiger, wolf, or snake. If we settle it in our mind that men in large numbers go wrong, not because they must and cannot help it, but because they are fools and will not help it, the conviction may not do much for our natural conceit, but it will probably serve a useful purpose in a more important direction.

A sheep does not intentionally go astray. It nibbles itself astray. It puts its head down to the grass, and begins to eat, and eat, and eat, and at last looking up finds it has wandered far from the flock, and is lost. It was so absorbed in feeding, that it paid no heed to its whereabouts. Men become thoughtlessly absorbed in something or other, and never call halt to look around to ascertain in what direction they are tending. Men get their heads down making money. It absorbs all their energies and all their thoughts, and almost unconsciously they wander far from the shepherd into moral and spiritual perdition. Minor fascinations ensnare us until we forget or ignore the fascinations of our Lord. The sheep of God’s pastures stray away in thoughtless absorption, and become lost in the regions of wild beasts and night. “When He hath found it He layeth it upon His shoulders.” He takes us in our moral impotence, and carries us.

(1) Many estimable people are travelling on through life without a suspicion of offence, doing what others do and judging as others judge—like sheep; and it never occurs to them to ask if their world has room within it for the Cross, in which they yet profess to believe. Actually they do not need it and they do not understand it. Walter Bagehot, in one place, speaks of those “gentlemen who revolt from what is coarse, are sickened by what is gross, hate what is ugly.… The law in their members does not war against the law of their mind. They live within the hedgerows of polished society, and they do not wish to go beyond them into the great deep of human life.” And then, abruptly, he adds, “These are the men whom it is hardest to make Christians.” Paul went everywhere, as he says, to Jew and Gentile, testifying the repentance which brings men to God and the faith which casts them on the Lord Jesus Christ; but what have some men to do with repentance or faith? They want to go on as they are, for they have not realised, as this man did, the shame and scandal of the selfish life when once it is seen alongside of an existence more nobly managed. It is still by seeing Jesus Christ in the mystery of His passion that men come to see themselves.

Oft when the Word is on me to deliver

Lifts the illusion and the truth lies bare;

Desert or throng, the city or the river,

Melts in a lucid Paradise of air,—

Only like souls I see the folk thereunder,

Bound who should conquer, slaves who should be kings,—

Hearing their one hope with an empty wonder,

Sadly contented in a show of things;—

Then with a rush the intolerable craving

Shivers throughout me like a trumpet-call,—

Oh to save these! to perish for their saving,

Die for their life, be offered for them all!1 [Note: F. W. H. Myers, Saint Paul.]

(2) The reason, we are told, why men do certain things and follow certain paths is not folly but fate. That one man works out his salvation, and another his damnation, is not the wisdom of one or the foolishness of the other, it is the necessity of both. It is the accident of having brains and will, or not having them. The theory which has heredity and the accumulation of heredity as one of its essential levers, has taken possession of the popular mind and imagination as never before perhaps in the history of thought. “It has fixed attention on the law in its purely physical aspects, and has made men feel more keenly the difficulty of giving it a moral interpretation consistent with individual freedom.” This goes far to explain the change that has come over the working classes during the last quarter of a century in the estimate of the chances and possibilities of their lives.

In the little schooling that fell to my lot, I was fortunate for a few months to come under the influence of a thoroughly high type of a man who recognised his obligations as a teacher to all sides of our nature. Hardly a lesson passed which he did not use as an opportunity to rub in some phase of our duty to God and ourselves. His unwearied insistence was that self-effort and utter truthfulness, or the absence of these, always explain men and their circumstances. About two years ago this good man got together all his old scholars who were above ground and within reach, and it was remarkable how few gaps thirty years had made in the ranks of those who gladly, and with every demonstration of genuine affection, met to do honour to their old schoolmaster. I could not be present, but one of the company writing me after said: “You would have been pleased to see what a prosperous lot we looked, almost without exception. Not one of us has failed to give some account of himself; while many have attained positions of considerable importance; others have achieved comparative wealth.”1 [Note: Ambrose Shepherd, The Gospel and Social Questions, p. 51.]

In the long run fame finds deserving man,

The lucky wight may prosper for a day,

And in good time true merit leads the van,

And vain pretence, unnoticed goes its way.

There is no Chance, no Destiny, no Fate,

But fortune smiles on those who work and wait

In the long run.2 [Note: E. W. Wilcox, Love Never Lost.]

3. We have an evidence which the prophet lacked, an evidence which is outspread over nineteen hundred years, for, with reason or without it, men have everywhere been drawn to righteousness and to settled peace by the contemplation of the Cross on which Jesus died. When they come to that place the burden which has been pressing them hard falls away. The sin itself may remain, the evil bias and the evil habit, but the hopelessness of it has gone, and the dread of God’s anger. Jesus, who sought in all things to be one with His brethren, emboldens us to seek in faith for oneness with Himself; and in virtue of that mystical union our pardon is secured. As He associated Himself with us, so we associate ourselves with Him both in His doing and in His suffering. We make His confession ours, the homage due to the righteous will of God, which we cannot render of ourselves, we find in Him. We have no desire to stand apart, living our lives out in ways of our own; we wish to be found in Him, and judged only in relation to Him. Abundantly conscious of weakness and failure, we yet receive through this fellowship of life all the tokens of God’s favour: light and peace, and power to make progress. And thus we have assurance through Christ of the forgiveness of our sins. It is not for human effort to restore the fallen dignities of life, as if man were the doer, and God, at best, the observer and rewarder. God is the doer, and you and I receive. He takes it as His business to make life simple, glad, and clean once more, and to attain that end He is willing to go all lengths. “He so loved the world,” said John, “that He gave His only begotten Son.”

A little girl of six years old was singing, “I lay my sins on Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God.” Her uncle was upstairs, sick. Little Annie crept up to his bedside, and whispered, “Uncle, have you laid your sins on Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God?” She went back to her play. But all that evening he was praying to God to forgive him for Jesus’ sake. Next day Annie went up to the sickroom and whispered with winning tenderness, “Uncle William, did you do as I told you?” “Yes, I did, I did, and He has taken all my sins away.”1 [Note: W. Armstrong, Five-Minute Sermons to Children, p. 87.]

As the fond sheep that idly strays,

With wanton play, through winding ways,

Which never hits the road of home,

O’er wilds of danger learns to roam,

Till, wearied out with idle fear,

And, passing there, and turning here,

He will, for rest, to covert run,

And meet the wolf he wish’d to shun;

Thus wretched I, through wanton will,

Run blind and headlong on in ill:

’Twas thus from sin to sin I flew,

And thus I might have perish’d too:

But Mercy dropp’d the likeness here,

And show’d, and sav’d me from my fear.1 [Note: Thomas Parnell.]


The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all

The evil that we do, going forth from us as deed, comes back upon us as guilt. Flung up, as it were, into the heavens, it falls back again on the head of the man that cast it. And so the text speaks of a recoil of the evil. “The Lord hath made to fall upon” some one “the iniquity” that had been audaciously cast up in the face of the heavens, as in scorn. “If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well it were done quickly,” but seeing that it only begins when “’tis done,” it is an awful thing to commit the smallest evil. The recoil of the gun bruises blue the shoulder of the man that fires it; and all our evil deeds, according to the old proverb about curses, “come home to roost.” There is guilt, and there is habit, and there is the uneasy, or worse, the silent and seared conscience; and there is the disturbance of the relation to God, and there is the flight of peace from the heart, and there is the onward look that says, “If there is a future it is a future of retribution, and every transgression and disobedience shall have its just recompense of reward.” Is not that a burden for us to carry?—the weight of evil pressing upon us, in its consequences, of guilt, disturbance, irritated or paralysed conscience, and the foreboding that if we get what we deserve we shall get but a bitter weird. “Bread eaten in secret is pleasant,” but it turns to gravel that breaks the teeth of the eater.

Now it needs nothing more than the strength and the wisdom and the patience of the earthly shepherd to restore the straying sheep. But although my Shepherd is God over all, He cannot lead me back by His patience and His wisdom and His strength alone. Something more is required: something momentous, inexplicable, poignant. He must put Himself into my place. He must charge Himself with my sin. He must die my death. The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

1. The Lord.—Who finds for me a rescuer? Who provides me with a Saviour? It is the Lord. It is God the Father and God the Judge. It is He whose commandments I have broken, and whose sentence I have incurred. Not, however, without the fullest consent of Jesus, did God assign Him a task so sorrowful and a burden so heavy. The Shepherd’s delights were with the foolish and wilful sheep, whom he could not bless without passing through the furnace and the flood. Ah! there is no God like mine. God is Love—God the Father and God the Son; and between the affection of these two I dare not discriminate.1 [Note: A. Smellie, In the Secret Place, p. 317.]

Remember that although the text speaks of that burden as being laid upon Him by the Lord, we are not to suppose that, therefore, it was not assumed by Him by His own loving volition. He bore our sins because He would. The Lord laid them upon Him; therefore the sacrifice appointed by God is accepted of God; but He chose to suffer, and He willed to die, because He loved thee, and me, and every soul of sinful men. There is the secret of the power of the Gospel.2 [Note: A. Maclaren, Paul’s Prayers, p. 177.]

2. On Him.—The words, “The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all” are a foreshadowing of the death of Jesus. The man who uttered them was thinking of life. He knew that many righteous had suffered for the unrighteous. Probably he was patiently suffering for others. The whole chapter is the heart-utterance of one who bears the sins of others, who feels the guilt of his fellow-men. Human experience is revealed in these immortal, soul-subduing words. They reveal an eternal principle, and only Jesus expressed it fully in His life and on the Cross.

There is nothing unreal in this idea of redemption; it brings the Cross into the movement of the world. Vicarious suffering has been working for good from the beginning. You are familiar with this thought. The Old Testament is full of substitution.

The weak suffer for the strong in the lower grades of life. In the struggle for existence the weakest give place to the strongest. This is always going on. The best survive, and so the quality is raised. Now, does not this involve a kind of suffering? That the many perish for the few to survive, seems so awful a process.

Are God and Nature then at strife,

That Nature lends such evil dreams?

So careful of the type she seems,

So careless of the single life.

That is Tennyson’s note of despair, but he was truer to the spirit when he said—

That nothing walks with aimless feet.

Out of the loss and suffering there is gain and progress. Let us go a step higher.

The strong suffer for the weak.—The birds look after their young. Savage beasts defend their offspring, and risk their lives in defence. When we come to mankind, there is a greater demand made upon the love of the parents. We come into existence dependent for years upon the help of others. The strong cherish, guide, and support the weak. Professor Drummond has made this beautifully clear in his Ascent of Man, showing how there has always been going on a struggle not only for life, but for the life of others.

Then there is the highest kind of suffering. The innocent suffer for the guilty, the just for the unjust; and this was fully revealed in the Cross. The evil that men do lives after them, said Shakespeare. Very true, but that is not all. Evil done afflicts the righteous now. It is they who feel the shame of wrong. The pure among the impure, the gentle among the brutal, feel most the shame of impurity and cruelty. Innocent children suffer through the sin of parents, and parents for children. One may bear the disgrace of another. The natural history of wrong who can trace? Christ was brought under the same law. “He bore our sins in his own body on to the tree”; not simply “on the tree,” but onward through life unto death. “The Divine can never be more Divine than that.” If that Spirit was not God in man, we may cease to speak or even to dream of God.1 [Note: F. R. Swan, The Death of Jesus Christ, p. 15.]

The great mystery of the idea of sacrifice, which has been manifested as one united and solemn instinct by all thoughtful and affectionate races since the wide world became peopled, is founded on the secret truths … that you cannot save men from death but by facing it for them, nor from sin but by resisting it for them. All the true good and glory even of this world, not to speak of any that is to come, must be bought with our toil and with our tears.2 [Note: J. Ruskin, The Art of England, § 12.]

(1) Preachers have often spoken unwisely, of the offices of Christ, as if the office were the great matter, and not the person who holds it; but the teaching of experience is that offices of the higher sort cannot be discharged at all unless a man have some native bent towards the business. A king will never be made such by his coronation, unless he have within him instincts of authority and of order. A priest can never be made by any form of human education; he must possess the priestly nature, the greatly daring and loving heart, which takes the concerns of man on to itself, and pleads in regard to them in the very face of God. And Jesus, Prophet, Priest, King, was born such. He could not be content within Himself, but must go out to find the sorrows, burdens, perplexities of men, which never seemed to Him alien or remote. As the world is made some one must suffer under these, and He claimed that as His part. All sickness and darkness and evil in the land were drawn together at His advent, and He treated them as no intrusion but as belonging to the ministry on which He had been sent. For His chosen business was to bear the inflictions which have come upon the world of men, acknowledging them as righteous, and thus to bring hope and pardon to the hopeless.

(2) Too much attention has been paid to the physical sufferings of Christ. Especially has the phrase “shedding of blood” been too literally considered. We need not be afraid of the word “blood,” if only we think of what it symbolises. But, thoughtlessly to use the term is not helpful to the soul. It is a word having very sacred meanings, and should be uttered with great reverence and feeling. The more we dwell upon the terrible bodily agony of Christ, the less wonderful does the Cross become. Because by obscuring the spirit of the Cross, we bring the death of Jesus too near the level of other martyrs, who suffered the keenest of torture and the most horrible forms of death.

We have not to exalt Christ’s death by trying to show that He suffered more bodily agony than any other martyr. That may be so, or it may not be so. On one side we can compare Him with others who suffered, but on the other side there is no comparison whatever. It was God, as man, who gave Himself. It was man’s Head and representative who poured out His soul unto death. It was not a death not foreshadowed, but a sacrifice that God in humanity was preparing to give. The world waited for One who could atone for all, speak for all, live for all. Moses could not, nor David, nor Isaiah, nor Hosea, nor any good man; they had much of God in them, but needed redemption all the same.

I know of no theory, says Maclaren, which redeems the story of Gethsemane and Calvary from the charge of being the history of a man whose courage collapsed when it came to be tested, except that which sees in the agony beneath the olives, in the bloody sweat, in the awful and pathetic words with which He appealed to His friends: “My soul is compassed about with sorrows even unto death,” an element far more mysterious and awful than the mere shrinking of humanity from death. Surely, surely, the Lord and the Master, in the strength of whose name feeble women and tremulous virgins and little children have gone to the pyre and the scaffold and the lions, as to a feast, did not exhibit all that agitation and tremor and shrinking, only because He was afraid of the death that belongs to all men. Ask yourselves how reverence for Jesus Christ will survive in the face of the story of His last hours, unless, as we listen to Him crying, “My God! My God! Why hast thou forsaken me?” we hear the cry of Him who before His shearers was dumb, but opened His mouth at last in that mysterious complaint in which filial obedience and utter desolation are so strangely blended because “the Lord hath made to light on Him the iniquity of us all?”

What a burdened conscience! It must have been the most burdened conscience in the world. Yet this man was perfectly sinless. How can we account for the anomaly? How can we reconcile the burden with the blamelessness? Easily; nothing can explain the burden but the blamelessness. Do you know what sinlessness is? It is perfect unselfishness. And do you know what perfect unselfishness is? It is the breaking of the partition between my life and other lives. You have a large room, beautifully furnished, and a little anteroom, separated by a wall, and badly furnished. You break down the wall and make them one room; and you have lost the prestige of your furniture. The large room has taken in the little one with all its imperfections; it has borne its sins. If it were to become conscious, it would be aware of blemishes within it not its own. So was it with the Divine man. He broke the middle wall of partition between His room and your room. He destroyed the barrier between the large and the small apartment; He made of twain one. He allowed your mean furniture to blend with His costly adornments. He felt your life to be a part of His life. He was mesmerised by love. He looked at His brother’s temptations, and said, “They did it unto Me.” He bore in His own body the pain of other bodies. It was not the sense of pity; it was the sense of identity—the identity of love. It was His unselfishness that gave Him a universal conscience—“the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”1 [Note: G. Matheson, Searching in the Silence, p. 146.]

3. Laid on Him the iniquity.—“The Lord hath made to light on Him the iniquity of us all.” In the compass of three verses of this chapter, there are seven distinct, emphatic, and harmonious utterances, all bearing on the one thought of the vicarious suffering of the Lord Jesus Christ. (1) “He hath borne our griefs”; (2) “And carried our sorrows”; (3) “He was wounded for our transgressions”; (4) “He was bruised for our iniquities”; (5) “The chastisement of our peace was upon Him”; (6) “And with His stripes we are healed.” And they are all gathered together in the final word of this text—“The Lord hath made to light on Him the iniquity of us all.” I venture to say that if these words, in the variety of their metaphor and the fulness of their description, do not teach the Gospel that Jesus Christ bore in His sufferings the sins of the whole world, and bore them away, language has no meaning. Nothing could be more emphatic, nothing more reiterated, full, and confident than this sevenfold presentation of the great truth that He lived and suffered and died for us because He suffered and died instead of us.1 [Note: A. Maclaren.]

Whether we examine the first resurrection announcements of Christ, or His words at one of the fundamental institutes of His religion, or His admonitory appeals to His hearers, or His statement as to His mission, together with the dual proclamation of the Baptist and the prediction of the angel, the same fact is presented to us: the sinless Christ is invariably associated with sin. In the Epistles, not only is this fact conserved; there is an amazing advance upon it. To cite the passages in these early and inspired documents which bear upon the mysterious relationship between Christ and sin, would be to transcribe many sections of St. Paul’s letters. Suffice it to say that there are twelve passages in the Epistles which speak of Him as dying for sin. There are three which describe Him as bearing our sins. There are two which say He was “made sin” and “made a curse for us.” Twelve passages ascribe to the death of Christ the removal and remission of sins, together with deliverance from their penal consequences. He is said to be the cause of our justification in three; of our redemption in nine; of our reconciliation to God in five; as a propitiation in four; as a priest, six; as a representative, four; while the Scriptures which represent the sufferings of Christ as sacrificial appear in the Epistles to the Romans, the Ephesians, the Hebrews, and in the Apocalypse.

I was once talking to a poor dying woman about the Crucifixion of our Blessed Lord. She was very ignorant and had led a bad life, and it was only now during her last sickness that she seemed to realise that Christ had indeed died for sinners—had indeed died for her! She said to me: “I am trying to understand it, but it seems so dreadful, that though I know it must be true, still one half hopes it is not, for oh, how could we have done such a thing!”2 [Note: D. Baillie.]

1. There are two fundamental realities, marking the sacrificial ritual of the Old Testament, which indicate two fundamental doctrines, marking the sacrifice of Christ in the New Testament. These are, first, the position which the object sacrificed occupied with regard to the worshipper; and, secondly, the effects, limited but prospective, of the sacrifice thus offered.

(1) The position which the object sacrificed occupied with regard to him who offered it may be gathered from a series of rigid and suggestive regulations. These have to do with the nature and condition of the sacrifice. It was to be offered willingly, but when selected from herd or flock, as the best of its kind, being vigorous in life and without blemish, it was brought to the door of the tabernacle, and thenceforward the completion of the ceremonial was the work of the priest. Before the sacerdotal office was exercised, there was one rite common to all the bleeding sacrifices. God required of the worshipper that “He shall put his hand upon the head of his offering.” Now, throughout Holy Scripture, manual imposition is associated with the idea of transfer or communication. The latter explains its use in blessing, in office, in the miracles of Christ and of His followers. The former implies the conveyance of something from him whose hands are imposed to the object beneath the pressure. The ritual of the great Day of Atonement tells us what that something is: “And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat.” And as the need of the worshipper, whether individual or corporate, was expiation—implying the sense of sin, of guilt, of estrangement from God, and of penal liability—that need was in a measure supplied by the animal sacrificed. To that animal was transferred, symbolically, the sin and the guilt of the worshipper. The death of the animal declared the liability of him who offered it, while the imposition of hands declared the symbolical transfer of that to which death was due. In a word, the worship of the Hebrew economy typifies the doctrine of expiation by sacrificial substitution.

(2) Next consider the effects which in Holy Scripture are attributed to the vicarious offering of Christ. The Levitical sacrifices connect the shedding of blood with atonement. “The life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you upon the altar, to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.” The principle expressed in these words seems to be that of Life for Life. Life is taken that law may be magnified, and that life may be spared; that transgression may at once be condemned and the transgressor condoned, forgiven, pardoned. Ceremonial remission in the symbol corresponds to moral remission through the Saviour. Throughout the New Testament, and conspicuously in the Epistles, to the sacrifice of Christ is attributed the remission of sin. “God hath set forth Jesus Christ a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;” and to the Ephesians, the great Apostle writes: “We have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.”1 [Note: Dean Lefroy.]

Nearly one hundred years ago, La Reveilliere Lepeaux, one of the five directors who then constituted the government of France, appealed to Talleyrand as to the forms of worship which might be necessary and helpful to Theophilanthropism. Talleyrand replied: “I have but a single observation to make: Jesus Christ, to found His religion, suffered Himself to be crucified, and He rose again. You should try to do as much.” The splendid irony of this sentence is likely to escape us, in our sorrow at the imperfect account Talleyrand gives of the mission of our Lord. He did not die to found His religion. He died “the Just for the unjust, to bring us to God,” and He lived and died to establish the Kingdom of Heaven upon earth, until He comes whose right it is. But Talleyrand’s memorable words reveal the greatness and the grandeur of our Lord’s work.

2. Where is the justice of it? If I am to trust my soul to this sacrifice, let me see the meaning of it. I do not ask to understand it thoroughly and to the bottom, but at least it should not startle and assail my moral instincts.

Well, is there not a spiritual law of imputation? Do not these two verses reveal the same law, acting very differently, as the warm sun acts differently on slimy marshes and on beds of roses—the law of guilt and penalty stretching away beyond the actual perpetrators of the crime, laying hold on others, involving them in the same ruin?

(1) Looking first at the spread of guilt to other guilty persons, the very statute-book can tell of crime spreading out far beyond the doers of the act. For example, a murder has been perpetrated. The victim is in his grave. The deed is over. But the account is not closed: the guilt is spreading still; and whoever knowingly shelters and helps the murderers, whoever tries to confuse the scent along which Justice is pursuing the fugitives, that man is an accessory after the act; and if his deed can be proved he will suffer for it.

(2) Certainly it is a great leap from this to the falling of penalties upon an innocent head; because here all sympathy with the crime is absent. But let us return to our example. Let one of those same murderers be convicted and await his doom. You can bear none of the penalty for his sin exacted by his fellows; that is beyond mortal power. But is there not something quite as great which you can do for him? Look at him, paralysed with terror and helpless rage, a pale, inert, sullen creature, stricken to stone, and yet full of rebellion against both God and man. Speak to him now about hell and the broken laws of God; and he shivers, perhaps he bids you cease from torturing him, but his heart is still as hard as adamant. There is only one chance for him, and that is that you should pity and suffer along with him; that you should understand all the strange, aching numbness of his heart, painful beyond any pain; that your eyes should grow dim and your voice be shaken—by what? by your share in his agony, so that you must bear his grief and carry his sorrows, which he deserves so richly, and which you do not deserve at all. There are half-hours of such pleading which leave a man physically aching as after a long day of toil, and mentally exhausted as if he had been stunned by a blow. For that heavy frost upon a guilty soul is its due moral penalty, and the only possible way to uplift it is by taking share with it, by suffering for it, the just for the unjust. The innocent helper does, quite as really as the guilty abettor, though very differently, enter into the spirit of the culprit, and upon him comes a share in the suffering from which he would fain snatch his brother. Or ask any mother who has tenderly pleaded with a sullen rebellious child until the little one melted, after long obstinacy, and was forgiven—ask her whether this pleading cost her nothing. The shadow of it hangs over her all day.

(3) But no sooner do you carry the process to this point than you become aware that more is wanted, that the principle on which you have been acting must have other and larger applications, or else it exists in vain. For your own heart has not fire enough to melt the heart of ice with which you accept the chill of contact. Your best hope is to become a conductor, by which a stronger compassion may minister healing through His stripes. Try, then, this experiment. Speak of Jesus, of His love, of those keen fleshly sufferings which were the symbol, the outward and visible sign, the sacrament, of His wounded heart. Do this, and the pettish child and the hardened criminal alike will be made aware of the powers of the world to come. They may resist, being free agents, but only by a great and fatal effort. And what draws all men to Him is that sublime and awful sorrow endured for us. Tell me only that He was a sufferer, and His story is still pathetic; but merely as one old, old tragedy among the many which afflict the world. Say even that He loved me; and I may fail, though striving, to return His love. But tell me that He suffered for my sake, because He crossed the fatal circle of my sins, and drew down, like electricity flashing out in lightning, the bolt on His own head; tell me that He intended this, and, for love of me, deliberately broke the bar which severs man from man, made my penalty His own, took my stripes and the chastisement of my peace, and, if I can believe it, I will adore Him.1 [Note: G. A. Chadwick.]

Wherever there is love, true unselfish love, there is vicarious suffering. I remember at one time being entertained by some friends of mine. Their home was a palatial building amongst wonderful hills, below which wound a broad and majestic river, and beyond the river a splendid city. The house was filled with every evidence of wealth and culture and pleasure. We had spent the day in various delights—in woods and gardens, with music and jest. At night-time, when all the others had gone to rest and the great house was still, and only the candles lightened the gloom of the old panelled room in which we were, my host and I sat together. A great change had come over him. The cheerful smile was put off like a mask. The easy careless talk was stilled. Sad lines marked his mouth, and his head seemed suddenly bowed with age. He told me of a tragedy in that beautiful home—of the wayward child far away, whose sins and sorrows her parents unceasingly mourned. Nothing could make up to the father for the love of his daughter, and in the background of his life he suffered and wept. We all know what that means. The innocent everywhere suffer for the guilty, the loving for the loveless. We form a web of humanity, closely woven, not a series of unknitted threads, and where guilt enters, a quiver of pain passes through the race. It was thus that Jesus suffered. His love, beyond the love of women, made Him susceptible to all the sorrow of the world. As the lightning conductor draws the electric flash to itself, so in the bosom of Christ the flashes and bolts of the world’s wickedness buried themselves.1 [Note: N. H. Marshall, Atonement and Progress, p. 80.]

4. The iniquity of us all.—Whose iniquity is it? It is that of us all—all of us, poor self-destroyed sheep, if only we look to Jesus for ourselves. I vex myself sometimes by questioning whether I can possibly be among the elect whom God has chosen. But did I ever hear of a case in which. His sovereignty has hampered His love? Did I ever know of a seeker who came to the Saviour and was refused, because God had not ordained him to everlasting life? The one thing which keeps me from the Shepherd is my unbelief; it never is the Divine decree. I am one of us all, and Christ has room for me.2 [Note: A. Smellie.]

1. The work of Christ is potentially as universal as the sin to which it is addressed. In this our Lord stands separated from every one, who, possessed of an inspiration, sought to aid, to enlighten, to elevate his fellows. One man addresses his best energies to abolish slavery; another to mitigate the humbling pressure of poverty; another to the dispersion of the fogs of ignorance, superstition, prejudice; another to the alleviation of disease and to the advancement of the public health. These are beneficent enterprises, but they are partial, transient, and mainly material. Christ compasses the infinities. He walks amid the immensities of the spiritual, the permanent, the universal, the eternal. These are factors in a conception which never dawned upon the loftiest intellectual day. They were as natural to Christ as His sinlessness.

Our text begins and ends with the word “all.” Now, what each of us has got to do is to go in at the one “all,” and to come out at the other. I must go in at the “all” of condemnation, by acknowledging that I have gone astray like a lost sheep. And I must come out at the “all” of justification, by believing that the Lord has made my iniquity to light on the head of Jesus Christ.

I lay my sins on Jesus,

The spotless Lamb of God;

He bears them all, and frees us

From the accursed load.

2. “He hath made to meet upon him the iniquity of us all.” Yes! and yet it is possible for a man included in the “all” to have to stagger along through life under his burden, and to carry it with him when he goes hence. “Be not deceived, God is not mocked,” says the foremost preacher of the doctrine that Christ’s death takes away sin. “Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap. Every man shall bear his own burden.” So your sins, taken away as they are by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, may yet cling to you and crush you. There is only one way by which the possibilities open to all men by the death of Jesus Christ may become the actual experience of every man, or of any man—and that is, the simple laying of his burden, by his own act of quiet trust, upon the shoulders of Him that is mighty to save.

Sympathise with a murderer, feel as you would fain have him feel the misery of his condition, and, as the subtle fibres of a strange communion draw you together, as he responds, he begins to feel the softer grief, the contrition which already, in a sense, you feel for him. Your spirit passes into him. But this is only on the condition that he responds. Even so, to have the benefit of Christ’s suffering we must consent to enter into His spirit, and to die with Him, that we may also live with Him. As many as are baptized into Christ Jesus are baptized into His death. He is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption, when we surrender to His influences.1 [Note: G. A. Chadwick.]

Lord, dost Thou look on me, and will not I

Launch out my heart to Heaven to look on Thee?

Here if one loved me, I should turn to see,

And often think on him and often sigh,

And by a tender friendship make reply

To love gratuitous poured forth on me,

And nurse a hope of happy days to be,

And mean “until we meet” in each good-bye.

Lord, Thou dost look and love is in Thine Eyes,

Thy heart is set upon me day and night,

Thou stoopest low to set me far above:

O Lord, that I may love Thee make me wise;

That I may see and love Thee grant me sight;

And give me love that I may give Thee love.1 [Note: Christina G. Rossetti.]

Our Sin-bearer


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Armstrong (W.), Five-Minute Sermons to Children, 85, 184.

Baillie (D.), The Love of God, 20.

Belfrage (H.), Sacramental Addresses, 73.

Chadwick (G. A.), Pilate’s Gift, 220.

Davies (D.), Talks with Men, Women, and Children, 5th series, 445.

Jerdan (C.) Messages to the Children, 70.

Laing (F. A.), Simple Bible Lessons, 392.

Lefroy (W.), The Immortality of Memory, 119.

Macduff (J. R.), The Shepherd and His Flock, 9.

Macgregor (W. M.), Jesus Christ the Son of God, 66.

Maclaren (A.), Paul’s Prayers, 168.

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

Matheson (G.), Searchings in the Silence, 146.

Nicoll (W. R.), Ten-Minute Sermons, 227.

Price (A. C.), Fifty Sermons, i. 313.

Shepherd (A.), The Gospel and Social Questions, 49.

Smellie (A.), In the Secret Place, 317.

Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, xii. No. 694; xvi. No. 925.

Swan (F. R.), The Death of Jesus Christ, 12.

Sermons for Sundays, Festivals, and Fasts, 2nd series, ii. 63.

Church Pulpit Year Book, vii. 9.

Churchman’s Pulpit (Good Friday), 16 (Pinder).

Clergyman’s Magazine, 3rd series, ii. 91.

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

Homiletic Review, iii. 690 (Tyng); vii. 59 (Brown); xxx. 146 (Bayne).

Preacher’s Magazine, ii. 463 (Ryle); xvi. 334 (Cowl).