Christ In His Suffering, Trial, and Crucified by Klaas Schilder: Schilder, Klaas - Vol 1 - Christ In His Suffering: 18. Chapter 18: Christ’s Sorrows Have Their Own Peculiar Cause

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Christ In His Suffering, Trial, and Crucified by Klaas Schilder: Schilder, Klaas - Vol 1 - Christ In His Suffering: 18. Chapter 18: Christ’s Sorrows Have Their Own Peculiar Cause

TOPIC: Schilder, Klaas - Vol 1 - Christ In His Suffering (Other Topics in this Collection)
SUBJECT: 18. Chapter 18: Christ’s Sorrows Have Their Own Peculiar Cause

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Christ’s Sorrows Have Their Own Peculiar Cause

Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done.


THE burden of the preceding chapter was the necessity of seeing Christ in Gethsemane solely in reference to God. Not what the people do, and not what arises in His own human soul, but what God, from His side, does and does not do —that, we discovered, is the first cause and the quintessential motivation of the experiences, the sorrows, the heaviness which Jesus feels in Gethsemane.

We must cling to that truth. Only the person who holds tenaciously to that fact can succeed at all in becoming aware of the terribleness of Gethsemane.

The event in Gethsemane can come but once. The world could be created only once, and only once be destroyed. Once a human being is born and once he dies. The work which God accomplishes by His special grace happens “once” only. In grace (in distinction from nature) there is only one spring (the sprouting), one summer (the ripening), and one autumn (the harvesting). Precisely so the passion in Gethsemane is unique. It occurs only once. It is never repeated; never in history is it repeated. It has no sequel; not in history has it a sequel. No one may say, as someone once did,[1] that Gethsemane and Golgotha are part and parcel of actual life, belonging to it as evening and night belong to to day. The extraordinariness of Gethsemane arises from the fact that it took place on one particular day, one not to be counted as a day among days. Gethsemane took place on the one day, the one day (of the Lord).

[1] Wittig, Joseph, Leben Jesu in Palastina, Schlesien, und anderswo, Munich, 1925, II, p. 253.

Remember the one great day courses through all the days of time. That is the one day of the Lord.

The prophets know, and are in hearty agreement with each other in asserting, that the day of the Lord is one day. That day extends itself over all the centuries. Or, to put it more accurately, that day is the day of all the ages taken as a unit. A century, an epoch, is only a subsidiary part of the one “day of the Lord.” A century elapses—the timepiece of the day of the Lord ticks its single, dry tick. In fact, the humanly designed and mechanically conceived subdivisions of time into “centuries,” and, consequently, the coming and going of these, have preciously little relevance for heaven’s timepiece. God’s day has its own, distinctive subdivisions. It reckons with epochs, yes, with processes, with periods of growth, maturity, and decay, with the substitutions of one culture for another, with reformations and revolutions—but it reckons with these in its own way. Whenever an epoch of world, ecclesiastical, or cultural history has developed fully, the clock which marks the time of the day of the Lord from the origins of Gen_1:1 to the consummations of Rev_22:21 strikes the hour loudly, forcefully. For that day of the Lord is the day in which God executes the plan of His counsel. And this plan is one which includes all the centuries in one immense decision. This day’s dawning appears in creation as soon as it rises to the plane of redemption as expressed in that promise of Paradise in reference to the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent.[2] And the morning of that day of the Lord is the calling of Abraham. The time of the grasshopper-plague of Joel’s day, of the captivity and the return from captivity, and of the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem—that time represents the late hours of the morning of the day of the Lord. That day has its noon in Christ’s advent to the world and in His being impelled by the relentless coercion of the ticking of God’s clock to the cross and the resurrection. That day’s afternoon is completed when the Spirit of Pentecost comes to the world. And that same single day moves to its close during the centuries following. It will be completed when Christ opens the graves, raises the dead, establishes His seat upon the stars, and leads a regenerated world back to the Father.

[2] Note that the “day of the Lord” is the day of redemption; the “day of God” refers solely to the day of creation. After the fall the “day of God” becomes the “day of the Lord.”

Hence it is folly—no, we may say it is blasphemy, to assert that Gethsemane and Golgotha belong to every day as do the evening and the night. Such blasphemy asserts that there are numerous analogous days in the realm of grace. If the Preacher who said that in nature days come and go, suns rise and set, and that all that exists comes, and goes, and returns again in unprofitable repetition—if he could have raised the same plaint against the history or developments in the realm of grace, the statement made above would be quite true. Then every man would have his “mount of olives” and every man his “golgotha.”

But the startling truth is that in the kingdom of heaven there is but one day, the day of the Lord, the one “jom” Jahwe.”

The conclusion of this? The clock can strike twelve only once on a single day. Therefore the clock of Gethsemane can strike only once in the world.

Lift the word once out of the title-page and text of the book of God’s counsel—then Christianity is no more, and all that teaches us faith and hope and love becomes vain. If Christ be not raised, says Paul, we are of all men most miserable. And to that we may add, for this, too, is written in the Bible: if Christ had been raised twice, if He had done any single thing twice, we should be the most miserable of all men. That would have meant that grace had been made subject to the law of nature, that special grace had mingled itself with common grace. Then the tedium of grace would have fatigued the Ecclesiast even more than that of nature. We may as well drink the cup of dregs with a Jesus, if he is one who repeats his actions and must drink the cup more than once. For such a Jesus is our companion in misery, but not our Lord in redemption. Take “once” out of the books of redemption and that writer referred to is correct in saying that any person can experience his gethsemane at a study-table.

Leave the word “once” where it is written and you will see engraved over the gate to Gethsemane and mingled with the leaves of those trees of God this secret truth: “It is appointed unto the Son once to die, and in this the judgment.” Then you will appreciate, will have a full sense of the blasphemy of the assertion that Gethsemane could have obtained in the world before this and after. Gethsemane is meaningless except in relevance to Christ and His specific work, His specific relation to God, His specific task as Mediator, and His specific cup. Whoever chooses to strike that specific character from the record of the garden of Gethsemane will retain nothing but vanity and emptiness. Is Gethsemane “a” place of a cup? On the contrary, it is the place of this cup, of this one.

THIS cup!

Father, Father, this cup. Father, this unique cup; there it is . . . the hand that extends it comes from the hills of eternity.

THIS cup.

Hence, we will care to believe Christ. I say that we want to believe Him. We shall not prove, not demonstrate, not point out the fact that the little word once ignited the atmosphere and seared itself upon His soul. What comes but once leaves us no time for “demonstration.” We can only apply scholarship and critical methods to such events as come again and again. If only one star had fallen in the world, only one meteor crashed through the atmosphere, and if only once a person had died, we should be unable to make a study of the phenomena of stars, meteors, and death, or to write a description of them.

If you cling to the truth of that, you will feel—and this is true of our own Christian argumentations also—how blasphemous it is to dissect, rationalize, demonstrate, or point out the plausibility of Christ’s sorrows in Gethsemane.

Exorcise such blasphemy; put it far, far away from you.

There is the Christian thinker who likes to compare the experience of Jesus’ soul with that in the souls of others, and who prefers to stop with comparison as if to say: My psychological sermon is finished now; I have enabled you to stop trembling; God be gracious to your soul; Amen. But such a thinker does injustice to his soul. He calls that edification (a building up of things) which really is a breaking down. He does not eat the bread of heaven in the temple of God’s justice, but he simply nibbles at his own little biscuit while sitting on the tomb of a certain Jesus. And while there he carves his own initials into the wood next to that of other visitors. From the vantage point of that monument he looks out pleasantly upon life. But his argumentation insults the redemptive event, both superficially and essentially.

No, no—we choose to believe; to believe that Jesus experienced the extraordinary experience of the word once. We will believe, simply believe, that He keenly sensed how on the one day of the Lord the hands of the clock, built solely for that one day, gradually moved towards twelve.

And in that faith for which—God be praised!—we have no quantitative evidence whatever, in that faith, whose very imperviousness to evidence is the very glory of all, we accept the fact that Christ in Gethsemane trembled before God who sent over Him that one time what He could only once subject Him to.

Had it not been revealed we would know nothing of it. Because of revelation, however, we know that the cup was prepared. The hand appeared and wrote on the wall: mene, mene, tekel, upharsin. Only the Surety could read; only He could not fail to understand it.

The Cup.

The Hand.

The Surety.

Consequently we cannot explain the individual, the characteristic quality of Gethsemane by reference to a conclusion in some paragraph, of a psychological treatise (supposing such conclusions were available). And we cannot discover that peculiar characteristic either by reference to any utterance made about the life of our mind, the life of our days, of our experience.

Even the Bible does not give us a single statement derived from human suffering and life, by way of saying: Look, this is the key to the explanation of Gethsemane.

If the Bible had given us principles derived from human psychological experience to serve as a light in our hands by which we might illumine Jesus Christ in Gethsemane, and so investigate the character of His passion, the Bible would thereby have taken the crown and the terribleness of Jesus Christ and Gethsemane away from these.

For example, there is the biblical phrase which heightens the enigmatic character of the riddle of Gethsemane for numerous readers.

I am thinking of the statement in one of the letters of John: There is no fear in love. And I am thinking also of the utterance which follows: Perfect love casteth out fear.

Many assert that the riddle of Gethsemane arises from that first phrase. “In love,” it says, “there is no fear.” Christ—and in this consists the enigma—has love, has perfect love, and nevertheless has a thousand fears.

Moreover, these troubled minds continue: Perfect love casts out fear. Is Christ, whose love, certainly, is perfect, unable to vanquish fear? Can He not cast out fear by the act of faith, and, by a sudden motion (as the text indicates), raise Himself again to the heights of poise and serenity? Alas, these are two riddles indeed, they complain.

The first of these is the query as to how it is possible for fear to enter into Christ’s soul. The perfect love which is in us was imperfect before; of us, therefore, it can be said that fear had its opportunity to enter. But His love was always perfect—how could fear obtrude upon His soul?

And, indeed, from this point of view, that does constitute the first enigma.

And the second (for those who have the courage to proceed to a second over an unsolved first) is that Christ cannot cast out the fear, but constantly falls, rises, falls forward, rises again, goes, returns, and goes again, repeating the words. That, surely, represents a second “problem.” Christ, these argue, does jerk at the ropes, but He is unable to sear them into pieces with the fire of faith and perfect love. Christ does battle against fear, but He cannot cast it out. If an angel had not come to support Him, fear would have exhausted, vanquished Him and laid Him low. Without an angel’s intervention His own soul cannot cast out the fear. That is the second cause of bafflement.

In that way these observers try to distinguish the parts of Gethsemane, and formulate the question “in reference to” a text which speaks of people (plural) in general who in the days (plural) of their life are repeatedly fighting the fierce struggle of love and fear within the recesses of their souls.[1]

[1] This is an erroneous way of explaining one part of the Scriptures by another part. Gethsemane cannot be compared, for example, with 1Jn_4:18; but it can be compared, for example, with Heb_9:12; Heb_9:26; Heb_9:28 and Heb_10:7; Heb_10:10; Heb_10:12; Heb_10:14; Heb_10:20.

We may as well acknowledge immediately that such considerations also rob Gethsemane of its significance.

John’s utterance to the effect that there is no fear in love and that perfect love casts out fear was written for people and for all days. The statement is not relevant to the one Man on this one day of the Lord.

In man love, when it is perfect, can cast out fear. Exorcising fear, he throws himself, and all of his cares and sins into the arms of God. God is ready to receive him. Alas, for misery is his if he does not flee to the Father for refuge.

But God is not prepared to receive the Christ. God thrusts Him away.[2]

[2] As we indicated incidentally in the preceding chapter.

Such rejection of man by God, complete and conclusive, a rejection which even bars him from the sphere of “common grace”, never occurred on earth. It represents the flames of hell licking their way up into Gethsemane.

And the winds of God’s common grace do not blow the flames away from the Son of man. And that is why those flames of hell can actually reach the heart of the Son of man. Their tongues penetrate Jesus’ heart. And this never previously occurred in the world.

It will never occur again as long as the world remains the world. We know that as long as the world continues, there will be no unhindered perseverance of wrath, and no unhindered exodus of the curse.

Christ is fully conscious of the fact that the Father does not accept Him. The sacrifice of His lips is refused. All the smoke of the altar of His soul beats down to the ground.

In spite of that He may not take His hand from the altar for a second; the sacrifice must remain; the will to sacrifice must continue unabated also.

For that reason Christ must struggle with what He calls “the cup.” More particularly, with what he calls: this cup. Mark that demonstrative adjective. How often we have used it, and said “this cup”! Very often, however, the word “this” is a luxury unbecoming to our lips. For, although we continue to repeat such phrases as “this passion,” “this sorrow,” “this cup,” can we be sure that we really see the suffering as it actually is? Often our use of the modifier represents overstatement; and such overstatement curses us when God prepares the cup of suffering, and tells us: Drink ye! In order to use the words “this cup” authentically and sincerely we should have to know what is in it; whether is be filled with curse or blessing. We should have to see, not “any” cup, but this cup which God has filled with His specific intention.

Our use of the phrase “this cup” too frequently is applied to a vague significance, and, in that sense, is unwarranted. But there is no hint of a sweeping statement in Christ’s use of it in His prayer. His use of “this cup” is a reference to no other cup, neither in the sphere of actuality nor in that of possibility. This cup grieves Him. This particular one wounds Him fatally. This cup does that in this particular hour of the one day of the Lord.

The meaning of “this cup” can be no other than the fact that Christ finds the door of His Father’s house closed to Him. Now is the Son the lost Son.[1] He would arise and go to His Father, but the Father is not awaiting Him; the door of the heavenly mansion is closed. The Judge has barred Him from access.

[1] In the Dutch the Parable of the Prodigal Son is called the Parable of the Lost Son.

“There is no fear in love.” Love and fear, yes. There are two worlds. One is the world of heaven. There love is without fear. Casting out fear can have no meaning in heaven, for heaven is exalted above any need of it.

The other world is the world of hell. In hell there is no love in fear; there fear has sunk to a plane so low that it can not possibly communicate with love.

Christ Jesus is being bandied back and forth between these two worlds.

He fears, yes, and He dreads. But the will of love, the desire for communion, the longing for God inhere in His fearing. Hence He does not accept hell, and hell does not accept Him. True, hell desires to sift Him as wheat, for He must be quite different if hell is to swallow Him into its depths. Christ fears but His fear is not concerned to constantly cast out love, His fear does not sink down to that plane below the yearning for love. And such a Christ is simply incongruous in hell. Hell cannot accommodate itself to Him that way. He does not blaspheme love in each successive moment and that fact is incompatible with all that is demonic.

But heaven, on the other side, does not receive Him either.

This is a terrible hour; it represents a defeat of Satan but not yet a triumph for the victor. A terrible hour; hell refuses to receive this man, to envelop Him in its death; and He is also unwelcome to heaven. Present in this hour is a fear which still acknowledges love; absent from it, however, is a flourishing love which can rise above fear and abound there luxuriously. Therefore heaven has not yet arrived; therefore, heaven does not receive Him. Where are the friends whom this man befriended? Can they not see that He is in need? The answer is the same— they do not receive Him in the eternal tabernacles.

Christ is thrown back and forth between these two worlds. He is a man without a world. But can we, possibly, say that He is at least a child of the earth? No, there is not even that kind of naturalization for Him. The earth, and all things earthly, cannot maintain a separate position between the worlds of heaven and hell. All earthly things must conform themselves to the one world or the other; they are not self-sufficient.

Christ is the perfectly isolated one in this hour. That is why He cannot cast off the sorrow. He is living through the one hour that never obtained on earth, or in heaven, or in hell. He is experiencing the hour which never will be, neither on earth, nor in heaven, nor in hell.

O terrible hour! The casting out of fear cannot take place. Christ cannot leap into God’s protecting arms by an act of faith.

And He cannot gruesomely blaspheme against God, deny Him, cannot haughtily, superciliously stride past Him who sends out the fears. Consequently, the anguish remains.

God Almighty sends His fears into Jesus’ soul and does not want to be denied in these, not for a second, not for an eternity.

The one thing that is left for our faith to do is to acknowledge that Christ’s suffering is as great as the labor of His soul!

To labor against God is the work of hell. That is not Jesus’ work. To labor in cooperation with God is heaven. But in this moment the Father is not, at least not audibly, summoning Christ. The Father is silent.

Hence the suffering. Here is One whose nature desires to labor with God and for Him, and so achieve heaven’s law upon earth. But His status is like that of the Man of Sin who opposes God and accomplishes the law of hell upon earth. From this tension Christ’s suffering arises. The friction between the external and internal attitudes of Christ Jesus constitutes that suffering. That which is in Him is love. That which is outside Him draws Him away from the atmosphere, from the God, and from the sphere of love. A great gulf of separation is fixed between Christ’s inner being and His experience of external things.

But, behold: He prays. The prayer comes at the appropriate time. And Christ’s praying is more than an attempt to straighten what is crooked; it is itself the straightening. Christ’s prayer in Gethsemane is not merely a way by which He arrives at a genuine acceptance of what God so relentlessly sends against the Son: it is itself the genuine acceptance.

Observe that there are three elements ill Christ’s prayer.

The first element is the name of the Father; the second is the petition: if Thou be willing, remove this cup from me; the third is the return of the will of God. And that return is not one of spiritual abstraction. It represents the concrete longing of the soul. Not what the soul by virtue of its own inner life might desire must be done, but that which the Father by His eternal counsels would have, that must occur: Thy will be done.

These three elements of Christ’s prayer restore the proper balance to this completely warped and distorted world of suffering and sorrow.

By His use of the Father’s name Christ proclaims the natural relationship between God and Jesus, and He does that above all and in spite of all else. That natural relationship is this: Jesus’ desires and God’s are one. They merge; they harmonize. What father is there who would give his son a scorpion, when he asks for bread? By this element of His prayer, therefore, Christ names as primary the quintessential, unintermittent communion of love between God and Himself. He prays, but does so in faith. The matter of first importance is faith.

From the general (the relationship of love between the Father and His human soul) He proceeds to the particular (the dire need of that human soul which His spirit cannot comprehend). He opposes one element to another in sharp contrast. He names the great programme drawn up for the day of the Lord since old times—a programme which cannot admit division between the Father and the Child; and, over against it, He places this particular hour in which actuality does not correspond to that programme. Father, Father, listen now: appearance is not reality now. The cup, this cup, is filled with gall, Father. Can love be gall? What father gives his child gall to drink? A law other than that of love which binds Father and Son together has placed this cup before me. Father, Father!

This testimony of Jesus is true.

Justice must accrue to Him; the cup of passion is extended to Him not because of the relationship of love existing between the Father and Son but because of the law of Mediatorship.

At this time the experience of Mediatorship rests upon Jesus’ soul with a heaviness of sorrow. True, the consciousness of it had been present in His spirit for years. But now He discovers something not present before: being forsaken. Father, Father, why dost Thou forsake me? The Mediator’s being forsaken of the Father affects His office also. Father, all things are possible. I am Thy Son; cannot that fact be united with the office of Mediator; does the relation of the Mediator rule out that of the Child?

My Father——

Listen, for the third element follows: Not My will, but Thine, be done!

By this petition His trembling soul again builds the bridge of obedience and faith which can lead Him away from the passing experience of this one moment of the day of the Lord, and guide Him across it to the great programme of the one day of the Lord. And justice as well as love is a part of that great programme.

Love and—justice, yes. First, in the invocation of the prayer (“Father”), love is acknowledged and retained as the basic article of unity between Father and Son. Now, at the conclusion of the prayer, justice is acknowledged as the other basic article of the programme, and thus of all of the moments, of the day of the Lord.

Love—and—Justice. The Love of the Father and the Will of Justice, both are acknowledged. In this way Jesus interposes “this cup” (the passing experience) between the two fundamental principles of the day of the Lord: namely, infinite love and infinite justice.

He interjected the “moment” into the single “day”; He placed His personal struggle between the two pillars of love and justice; He interjected temporary experience into the eternally abiding. And this was for our preservation.

By this prayer Christ explained time in terms of eternity and not eternity in terms of time. He illuminated the moment by the day, and not the day by the moment. He brought that relationship about, not by the abstract erudition of the prophet, still less ... in this instance—by divine prescience, but by living, vital humanity. He achieved it by a labor which had to achieve the task of obedience from its rudiments upwards, and had to proceed from the depths of essential humanity and limitation. Yes, he had to proceed from a basis of human limitation, of short-sightedness. To use such terms is not to compare Jesus with other men, but is designed to stress the fact that He is looking upon things with the eyes of man, and not with those of God. This genuine humanity in His distressing labor is our salvation. What the Son, what the Word as God, does from eternity, Christ does now as man, and in time. Eternity and time, that which is and that which is becoming, the static and the moving, God’s virtues and the agonies of all time—these He is joining together in the one way that is pleasing to God.

Precisely because this task had to be performed without God’s assistance, because He had to accomplish in a state of forsakenness what had ever been done in fellowship with God, therefore this task represented—suffering! Have no fear, however. We are looking upon Jesus as the Christ. Yes, the eternal pressure of wrath weighs upon Him; but the perfect strength of His human soul, and the personal will of the eternal Son assert themselves against that pressure and permit Christ to be buoyed up precisely there where it bears most heavily upon Him. This tension, arising as it does from the opposition between the power asserting itself from within and that oppressing Him from without, this is the suffering.

No, it is not “the” suffering but “His” suffering. This suffering, this cup, and this moment.

There is no alternative for us at Gethsemane; we can only believe that the cause of Jesus’ suffering is the friction between time and eternity, between person and office, between the moment and time. At Gethsemane we witness a fatal disharmony between Jesus’ natural longing for God and this anti-natural rejection from the presence of God. Such rejection is anti-natural because it asserts the holy law of justice in His flesh and blood, in His soul and body, asserts it over against the sin of others. Besides, is not sin itself anti-natural?

If that was the cause of Christ’s anguish in the garden, Gethsemane is indeed a source of great blessedness to us. Take Jesus’ anguish out of the picture, if you will. But then the “atonement” He preached to us was nothing but a dispassionate hurrying through of a programme upon which Father and Son had agreed since eternity.

That was not the case. That which the counsel of God between the Father and Son from eternity had, in the tranquility of heaven, determined and fixed for this particular hour, now enters into the sensuous, living medium of time.

The hour in which the will of the Father and Son determined to lead the elect of God to Salvation was still the hour of the counsel of peace. Father and Son could treat to all that Gethsemane should be witness to, and could do so without any diminution of blessedness. Heaven and hell, grace and sin, blessing and curse, communion and forsakenness—all these the Father and Son considered, and without in any sense disturbing their blessedness.

This all entered into the medium of time and space in this hour, however. And we may ascribe our salvation to the fact that an exalted God did not in aloof and haughty abstraction run through a program mechanically and then announce the results from on high, but chose instead to enter into our human situation and to experience and suffer there the passion which He determined upon in a state of blessedness.

This complete humanity, this absolute restriction to the world of time and space, was a part of God’s counsel, too, of course.

Whoever wants to consider the seventy times seven blessednesses of God in connection with the seven sufferings of the world must remember that the seventy times seven sufferings of the man Jesus were once also obtained in the counsel of God.

In the hour of His adoration God’s static peace, exalted above the distress of actual life, and God’s living restlessness, which He suffered among us as man, merge before His face.

Only by seeing this relationship between time and eternity, only by seeing God’s absolute joy, and also His anguish as a human being, can we really get a glimpse of Jesus’ passion and of the miracle of our joys; so only can we become aware of the great “mystery of godliness” (1Ti_3:16).