Christ In His Suffering, Trial, and Crucified by Klaas Schilder: Schilder, Klaas - Vol 3 - Christ Crucified: 20. Chapter 20: Christ Goes Out: God Goes On

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Christ In His Suffering, Trial, and Crucified by Klaas Schilder: Schilder, Klaas - Vol 3 - Christ Crucified: 20. Chapter 20: Christ Goes Out: God Goes On

TOPIC: Schilder, Klaas - Vol 3 - Christ Crucified (Other Topics in this Collection)
SUBJECT: 20. Chapter 20: Christ Goes Out: God Goes On

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Christ Goes Out: God Goes On

And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.


THERE are no pauses in the kingdom of heaven. Just as the floor in God’s work-room has not a single hiatus, so His labor is never interrupted. In the kingdom of heaven there is haste in everything. When one thing is finished, the next follows immediately. The one woe passes, and behold the other comes. The one benefit passes, and the other comes.

Now if this is a law of the kingdom of heaven for everyone who would breathe its atmosphere how much more must it be a law for the Great Worker of God’s world labor. Has He pronounced the “finished”? Has His working program been completed so far? Then there is only one question which is still a pious question to ask: namely, what now? The Servant has done His work and has also reported it. The report, too, has come to an end. What can God’s service require beyond this? Has He said: It is finished? If so, He is immediately caught in His own words, for He must immediately go on. There are no pauses. Lord, what next?

But He Himself knows, of course, what is pious. He stands ready for the new deed. Notice. This is what He does: He makes His departure from life the continuation of God’s work. Jesus’ departure becomes God’s progress. He immediately makes His own evening hymn the mid-day hymn of God.[1] This struggling Hero does this, and at once both stands and speaks in the abundant life. That is the life of God. No one lives in it really save God alone, God, who alone is immortal. And hence He utters the word of a created human being who stands in the midst of human life; He speaks aloud, He cries with a loud voice, He utters the word of God’s faithful day-laborers, for He Himself is God’s servant, who was hired “in the first hour,” and who will work until the last, and who will have no complaint to make when the payment is made. He now gives expression to the word of the person who stands on the mid-day heights of life. He says: Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.

[1] Reference to the preceding chapter, pp. 456, 462.

Perhaps there is someone who wonders and who asks himself: But is this really true? We understand each other, of course. The man who wonders in this way has heard the statement standing at the head of our chapter so often, and has learned it so well out of the little book in grammar school under the caption “The seven utterances from the cross” that he immediately attaches the idea of death to this text. All you have to do, is to ask him: Just what was it that Jesus said: Into thy hands, Father, I commend my spirit? The answer will come promptly: That was Jesus’ farewell speech. You can hardly expect Him to say: That was Christ’s farewell speech; and even less: That was the speech uttered at Christ’s continuation of the work. No, he will say: Jesus’ farewell address. Jesus’ last word. It is a particularly good answer, in fact, if he says: That was the last word spoken by the humiliated Christ.

And you will find that this brother will not easily relinquish his interpretation of the matter. Do not misunderstand him: he wants to exert all his effort, or rather he wants to exert no effort at all — for he finds this as natural as can be — in order to preserve his “edification.” Was it not an edifying word, he asks, the word with which Jesus took leave, the pia anima? And the association of his thoughts immediately calls up images of other death beds, the death beds of “dear ones.” He finds that it is not easy to forget the last words of a dying person, and by means of an appeal to this universally human experience he would protect this last utterance from the cross against those who would desecrate its atmosphere, its dominant tone of delicate tenderness. In other words, the man has staked off the cross by means of the death beds of dear ones. And now he asks you to pass all these dying people in order to create the proper mood for reaching the cross, and for accepting the last statement of Jesus. Now it may be that you want to protest mildly in your thoughts against this desired mood with a remark that Jesus does not die on the cross as others do on their beds. For, you add, these others all whisper, but Jesus cries out “with a loud voice.” Of course, the man knows that also. He has his answer. That loud voice, he says, proves that Jesus’ death is a deed; the Saviour was not yet exhausted; He could still cry with a loud voice. He was strong enough to live, you see, but He dies by a deed. The man has placed the death of Jesus under a caption, and he knows the paragraph in his book of dogmatics in which he can read about that “loud voice.” Meanwhile, he has not been shocked by that loud voice, has not been frightened by it, and he has for the moment lost the other paragraphs of his dogmatics. Hence he likes to call up that series of death beds for you, in order that you may devote a consecrated and reverent attention to the word “Jesus.” For our brother simply cannot be persuaded to relinquish his interpretation. All right, let that loud voice be a “strange” element in Jesus’ dying, but you certainly cannot deny that His last utterance from the cross is indeed a moving farewell address; it was a word which eloquently introduced and set off the moment of death. Would it not be better for us to extinguish the lights and meditate upon it by candle glow?

No, we are not going to extinguish the lights. We are going to take up our position in the light of full day for, may we say it with your permission, brother, God’s sun has also just broken through the clouds. Moreover it is not true that Jesus’ last utterance spoken in humiliation was intended as a farewell statement. For Christ is not taking leave. His last word addressed to the people was a third utterance from the cross, and according to the structure present in the order of the seven utterances from the cross (see page 130), a farewell address directed to men at this time would profane the harmony of the series. By no means is He addressing the people here. He has sent His mother away. Yes, but surely a dying person characterizes himself by his last words. Again we must say that this is not “a dying person.” This is the Dying One, and at the same time the Living One. He has no need for characterizing His death and His life by an epitome, for He has no characteristic words; He transcends these on the one hand; and is far below these, on the other hand (see pages 462-63). In the last analysis He has no words which far transcend other words He has spoken. His last statement should not have a whit more of attention than do all those others which He spoke throughout His life. All His words are so full of the law of God, that they themselves naturally assume the character of that law. Now it happens that the law is terribly monotonous and uniform. Why? The law has not what people call an ultimatum. Human beings demand and ask things ten times without emphasis and without success; and then it does not help to repeat; and then, trying it an eleventh time, they speak with an ultimatum. Then, they say “they really mean it.” But the law, the Word of God, never utters such an ultimatum. God uses the same will in uttering His last word that He uses in uttering His first. Hence He speaks without any real variation of inflection. It may be that He employs inflection as a pedagogue to the souls (not because His own attention fluctuates, but because the attention others give Him changes), but He Himself does not impart more worth and more strength to one word than to any other that He speaks.

Christ’s speaking is similarly uninflected, similarly “monotonous.” His last statement is just as “ordinary” — or extraordinary — as His next to the last statement, His mid-day utterance, His morning greeting. All of His statements carry the same weight.

Therefore we may not listen to this last utterance from the cross with a mind full of the impressions of death beds alluded to a moment ago. To do so, is to spoil our thinking. We must not explain our Great Dead in terms of the little dead. What? Do we seek the Dead One among the dead? He is not here; He has entered into Hades in His own strength. Hence His dying statement must be interpreted solely in terms of Himself. In terms of Himself — and therefore of the Scriptures.

Consequently, that last statement does not wish to punctuate or emphasize His dying. Whoever could think that would be falling into the greatest theological error. He would be saying that the moment of Christ’s death is of greatest importance, even though that is doing violence to the fulness of God’s revelation. The moment of Christ’s death, independent of the course He took in its coming, means nothing. Independent of that, it has no content. It must be regarded as an extension of a condition which was, and the beginning of a condition which follows. Undoubtedly Christ’s dying has its own significance, but He who would emphasize the dying at the expense, for instance, of Christ’s preliminary processes of suffering the pain of hell, say, His conscious surrender, his permanent grief, has not understood essentially Christ’s dying and death at all. True, His death sheds His blood; but His giving His blood was also of the greatest importance. And the giving of that blood, if we set it rightly, took Him thirty-three years.

We just said that this last statement from the cross can be understood only in terms of the Scriptures which reveal Him to us. And what are we doing but following the Scriptures when we say that the last statement from the cross is not a dying utterance but a word of life. You know very well that this last statement is — to put it that way—a quotation. It is taken from Psa_31:5; Psa_31:7-8 :

Into thy hand I commit my spirit:

Thou hast redeemed me, O Lord God of truth.

* * *

I will be glad and rejoice in thy mercy:

For thou hast considered my trouble;

Thou hast known my soul in adversity;

And hast not shut me up into the hand of the enemy:

Thou hast set my feet in a large room.

Is this a “typical” dying utterance? Is this the kind of thing which those people whose death beds we have been asked to visit a moment ago are wont to whisper? No, you feel it at once. The person who is speaking here, is a man standing in the midst of life, who is rejoicing in the day of His deliverance. He is not a man standing in the narrow gate of death, in the cleft of the rock of His dying, for — He has just been set in a large place. But this is a new discovery, someone says, a discovery of a later time. That is not true. Even the old Jews understood it in this way. The remark has been made that these verses of Psalms 31 were prescribed in the rabbinical literature as a short evening prayer. Pupils in the schools had to pray this prayer before they went to bed, and in general every Israelite was advised to use it as an evening petition.[1]

[1] Strack-Billerbeck, Kommentaar zum Neuen Testament, volume 2,1924, p. 269.

But even if the Jews had not understood it in this way, we know that Christ Himself always understands His own psalms perfectly. By this we do not mean to say that He cannot use a statement derived from the Psalms, or some other Scriptural quotation, in such a way that it surprises us or causes us to wonder for a moment. On the contrary, Christ repeatedly in His Biblical references presents an interpretation of a statement in the Old Testament which far transcends the meaning of the poet, or of some other Biblical writer, which far exceeds the meaning of what such an author consciously had in mind. Every statement which Christ quotes becomes much more eloquent in His mouth than it had been on the lips of any other. He gets everything out of such a statement that is in it; He taps the whole of its riches. But now, the other side of the matter. When Christ quotes a Scriptural passage He never cuts loose from the core, the quintessence, the elemental sense in which that quoted passage was originally employed. Christ always says more, but He never says something different than His poets and prophets of the Old Testament said. Accordingly, if we can indicate that the poet of Psalms 31 was not in a specific sense thinking of death, when he composed this prayer, but of life, then we are thereby proving that the last utterance of Christ from the cross cannot be said in the first place to refer to Jesus’ approaching death. As we do this, we must keep the assumption in the foreground that the last statement from the cross in its profoundest significance must cling to the elemental reality which was the essence of the psalmist’s poem. If the question of death-or-life is a subordinate one in Psalms 31, and if God’s progress with His life and with His power is the predominant theme, then that must also be true of the passage cited in our text. Now it simply needs a little work to point out that such is actually the case in this Psalm. The poet of Psalms 31 is not thinking of the certainty of death. He is petitioning God, in fact, to prolong his life, to break the counsel of the enemies, and to protect him. He knows that he will certainly continue to enjoy the favor of Jahweh, and accordingly he sings a hymn of life. Now this poet says that he commits his spirit into God’s hands. By this he means that through a conscious act of faith, his eye fixed on the life-work he has still to continue, standing at a milestone which encourages him to go on, he, in his inner being, in the very basis of his life, commends his spirit to his Creator for governance and direction. It is a statement uttered not at the end, but at one of a number of milestones on his way.

A moment ago we pointed to the active deed involved in Christ’s committing his case to God (see chapter 12, pp. 262-263). Similar activity, purposiveness, and consciousness, is present in the statement of Psalms 31. The poet knows that his enemies are lying in wait to take his life. Overagainst that situation he convinces himself by an act of faith that his life is in God’s hands, and that consequently all those threats cannot cause him to doubt for a moment that his life will be prolonged for further service of God. Knowing that, he turns aside from his enemies, announces that the future is by no means uncertain to him, and performs that act of faith by which he places his life in its deepest essence in God’s hand.[1] In other words, he does not let himself be hampered by the enemies. They cannot really touch him. He simply goes on his way, and commends himself, looking to the life still coming, to the Father.

[1] The word “spirit” in Psalms 31 must be taken to mean “soul,” and this word, in turn, is to be explained as “life,” or the principle of life. More than that we may not try to find in it.

Hence this sense of life which is the theme of the poet of Psalms 31 must also be the theme of the last utterance from the cross. That, and all that is elementally related to it.

In the first place, then, there is the active deed of faith. Christ’s word also is full of this thought. If we compare the several usages which the Greek has for the word “to commit” (“commit my spirit”) as found in the New Testament, we will see that in every case it means a conscious, active assertion of faith, in which, with faith in God, one commends some specific desire to Him, or leaves the decisive turn of one’s life in His hands. Thus we read of committing a certain task to someone (Luk_12:48), or of committing elders of the souls of believers to the Lord (Act_14:23; 1Pe_4:19), or of commending a number of Christians to God and to the word of His grace (Act_20:32), or, similarly, of entrusting and transmitting the content of preaching to faithful witnesses (2Ti_2:2), or of enjoining a command (1Ti_1:18). Christ, therefore performs an active deed. Yes, now we remember, He spoke in a “loud voice.”

A second matter now demands our attention. Just as the poet of Psalms 31, by committing Himself and all his own into God’s hands was virtually denying the assumed power of the enemies, and denying that they had any determinative influence on his life, so Christ also does the same. The enemies think that they have determined the course of the life of the Nazarene, but the faith of Jesus Christ says that God determines its course. He is just in every way. He has just humiliated the friends in His next to the last utterance from the cross. He spoke to God with them, above them, without them (see chapter 19, p. 455). Now the enemies are humiliated. He speaks with them, beyond them, without them. Now He raises the hymn of His continuation. They say: This is the end. He does not even look up, but announces to God: At this milepost, I want to pause a moment and direct a petition to Thee, as men are wont to do at milestones. Then we will go on together: Father, the work will go on.

Now if we relate the things we have gained in the preceding paragraphs to the whole, we have the significance of the last utterance from the cross. That which echoed from the cross was not the dull sound of death, but the sonorous song of life. “Ring clearly, ring loud,” hymn of life. The enemies think to have put Him to death but He who is here acts as though they did not exist. He negates them in a more sovereign way than the author of the psalm. Calmly and peacefully He says His evening prayer (see chapter 20, p. 471), He falls asleep until tomorrow, Father, until the new day. He pauses for a moment, prays, and then waits the morrow. “My times are in Thy hand.” This translated into the language of fulfillment means: “My Passover seasons are in Thy hand.” Just as the poet of Psalms 31 at bottom simply wishes to say that he is going to continue on his way with his eyes fastened on God, so Christ calls from the cross: I shall simply go on, my eyes fixed upon God.

This last statement, therefore, is not an emphasis of His dying, but quite the contrary, an affirmation of uninterrupted life. He is not singing a song of death to Himself, but without taking His attention from His death — we noticed that He was accommodating Himself to it! — and hence without suppressing or concealing the fact of His death, He proclaims the onward march of life. He puts the moment, the particular moment, in its proper position among all His “seasons.” Very simply He goes on His way, for He has understood God. Therefore God will take care of His spirit. He does not here, in the face of an inevitable death, try to find escape in the life of God, but He publicly declares that He will assert God’s life in everything which happens, and that therefore He in no sense needs “a refuge.” No, brother, you who have just returned from “a” death bed, you have not grasped the central significance when you, noting His loud utterance, reverently say: His death really is a deed. For if only we are willing to explain the vigor of His voice in the light of the vigor of His thoughts we can paraphrase His statement thus: His deed in this moment is to die; and He does this deed. His activity is primary; the dying is secondary. This is not a taking refuge in God, because He who flees “must die.” This is a service of God, and hence a dying, because the act of dying is scheduled for the program of this day. He is incomparably great: by faith He bears His capacity for work up to the moment of His dying and thus simply eats His daily meat. His meat is to do the will of the Father.

This, then, was Christ’s last statement in the state of humiliation. Is it not a meager manifestation, and a humble show? Michael is humiliating himself with the humble, and walks humbly before God and men. How very humble He is in his speaking. Oh yes, we know very well that the last word immediately becomes exceedingly great if we explain it according to the hermeneutics of as-if. For if we adopt that manner, we will treat it as if it were simply a word which He spoke, as though He spoke it first, as if it had nothing to do with an old man of the past, with the author of Psalms 31. But do you not find it to be true also that it is best in the moment of dying not to give expression to these as-if’s? His statement simply was not spoken by Him the first time it was spoken; it is a statement by and for all of us. That is the truth. But not everyone likes to believe that it is. We frequently meet with gross inconsistencies. The same people who would like to conduct us past the death beds of good Christians to put us “in the mood,” forget all those ordinary people the moment they think they have come close to the Christ. Once they are in the proper mood they listen to His dying statement, continue to look up to Him, but then remain standing with their backs turned to those ordinary people. And they think at every word they hear Him say: that is a statement of the Messiah, the Son of God, and that, accordingly, is the sublimest, the greatest, the most edifying possible of statements. Accordingly you find them saying all kinds of eulogistic things about this last utterance from the cross. In order to explain it they labor with weighty concepts. They begin to philosophize, or to theologize about the concept “spirit,” or about the notion of “committing” or “commending” the spirit. They have immediately forgotten the common people.

Now it is far from us to deny that weighty words are appropriate here. For it is true indeed that a Scriptural statement in the mouth of Christ always receives its full significance, and we are glad to acknowledge that the use of the word “spirit” was not unadvised. We admit that coming as it does from Christ’s lips it means not. only natural life, but everything in Him that is conscious, that has a will, that motivates Him. And we also confess, consequently, that He commends Himself to the Father with His whole conscious life, with His whole mind, and with all His motive powers and drives.

But even if we accept all this, we need subtract nothing from the contention that the man who would excite the proper emotions in us by leading us past “ordinary” dead people, before we come to this great Dead, is quite inconsistent. For as we mentioned before, the moment this person arrives at the cross, he forgets all those other dead. Just that is his mistake; he suffers loss because of his own weak point. And, on the contrary, it is we, who have refused to come to Jesus’ cross through a proper “mood” it is we, who wanted to see the cross of Christ in its proper light, independently of all those other “cases of death” who, listening attentively to the utterance of Jesus’ mouth, naturally become concerned about all those other death beds, and all the “cases of death,” of the other believers. We make this beautiful discovery: Jesus’ dying statement is so very common that anyone who believes in God can and must repeat it after Him. Look, now all those death beds return to our line of vision, now, that is, when we look upon them in the light of Jesus. Moreover, it is not only death beds which we see before us, Please be quiet about all. your “escape” sentiment, the kind of sentiment which can excite tears only in the presence of death beds and chambers of mourning. For besides these nebulous dying chambers, all rooms of study in which faith is struggling against the arrogance of unbelief, all shops, all hospitals, all battlefields, all rooms of prayer, in short all places in which a human spirit seeks reinforcement in God now have their place in the line of vision of the dying Saviour. All these are included in the circle drawn by Christ’s last statement. He shows me those dying people, yes, but especially the living ones, and He tells me: Dying, I am one of them. For this is the miracle: Christ chooses a word which anyone can and must choose, and thus becomes one with the common man in His death. His last utterance from the cross is His last concealment.

We do well to think soberly about this. If we had had to choose a word which would be suitable to place on the lips of the dying Jesus, would we not have chosen a statement from Isaiah, from him who is called the eagle among the prophets? Or if not from Isaiah, certainly from messianic prophecies in general, or from a typically messianic psalm. But Christ chooses what we would call a “very ordinary psalm” one which in no respect is more, or more directly, Christological than any other text in the Old Testament. He chooses a Psalm which the theologians have not included in their lists of messianic psalms. The evening prayers of the little children of Israel and the dying cry of my Lord and my God — both these use the same text. We have found the child wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger. We have found the man bound in the prattle of children, and kneeling beside a little Jewish boy as he prays at his cradle. Together they repeat their evening prayers. The Lord’s Prayer became a child’s prayer after Him, but the form of His dying statement became a children’s prayer without Him. Good people, everyone can repeat what He expressed in His deepest humiliation.

There is a great difference, is there not, between this and that which He said to the Sanhedrin when He manifested Himself as the Son of man whom they should hereafter see seated upon the throne of God and coming with the clouds.[1] A great difference between this and that which He said only a few hours ago in His last service of the Word to the women of the city (see page 55). Yes, indeed, He is the Son of man, in speaking so positively and preaching so powerfully. But now He has condescended to the language of the Christian tanners of Thyatira, of the recruits of His army, of the toothless women in the hospital ward of the old people’s home. For once we had better omit the capital letter: he is the son of man. In the last analysis this statement means nothing more than: man. Not, it is true, that this name, just as every “quotation”—see what was said above — has a very specific and complete content when He uses it, but whoever has learned to understand Him in the light of that fulfillment will see Him as He is now in His emptiness, in His kenosis, in His concealment. It is almost enough to make one weep, seeing the dying Jesus this way, and leaving not as much as a single word which is suitable for embroidering on a banner. He is always difficult. He always keeps us a long way from that plane of vision from which Constantine the Great could find such beautiful inscriptions for a banner; for instance: in hoc signo vinces. He does things so very commonly.

[1] Christ on Trial, chapter 7, p. 138 f.

In terms of what we have said, we cannot agree with those who in this connection allude to Joh_10:18, where Christ says: “No man taketh it (my life) from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.” Some say that Christ by crying aloud in committing His spirit into the Father’s hand by His own act is proving to the world that He has the power to lay down His own life. We do not agree with this opinion. Naturally we admit the fact that Christ voluntarily and in virtue of His own power laid down His life and commended His spirit to the Father. But we deny that He is at this moment saying that to the world. For the seventh word on the cross also represents concealment. Can anyone say that the poet of Psalms 31 also had the power to lay down his life?

Do we mean that the death of Christ is not a deed? By no means; but we believe this not so much because of the letter of His dying utterance, as because of the fact that He at this time gave expression to a word of life, a word which He can use every day, and which He as a faithful interpreter of Psalms 31, and as one persisting in prayer, we may believe, prayed and said several times. Christ could make this statement as often as He was about to fall asleep, as often as He had to preach a sermon, perform a miracle, conduct an argument, or flee from persecutors because His hour had not yet come. How often do we not read: “His hour had not yet come.” In another form, that is what Psalms 31 also says: “My times are in Thy hand.” In such critical hours as those in which Christ consciously prepared for sleep or moved from one region of the country to another, passing those who cast their stones and those who drew their swords against Him, He gave Psalms 31 its normal explanation: Into Thy hands, Father, I commend my spirit. For the situation of the poet was also fulfilled in Him at such times. Again, therefore: Not the letter of the word “to commit” but the spirit in which He utters this word, the spirit and the letter together make it clear to us that He continues His deeds by the work of His death.

No, do not overlook this strong will to conceal in this dying utterance. Now it becomes our turn to say to the brother who spoke to us a moment ago: Revere the attitude of this dying man. Who can say? Perhaps Mary and John prayed precisely the same prayer that same Friday night before they went to bed. It may be that bystanders caught up that last statement and told it to the mother and the disciple. And then you need but give free reign to your fancy a moment in order to picture this situation before you: Someone tells of the last statement of Christ; a second adds that it is a text from the holy books; a third goes to look up the text and finds it; they read the psalm in John’s house; he is giving fitting attention to the needs of the intimate group. They sing and pray this. Naturally all this is mere imagination; we know that. But we also know that it seeks nothing extraordinary. Psalms 31 was very suitable for the house-congregation of the scattered sheep of Jesus.

When you have understood well that Jesus’ dying utterance issues from His ministration of the office for three years, you will appreciate that Christ’s death is the deed, and that it seeks a prolongation of everything which has happened in that which still must happen. By this last utterance He relates His dying to the feast of the Passover. He repeated the psalm in His prayer when He assumed His office. Then He was driven of the Spirit into the wilderness — to meet the devil. Now again He repeats that prayer. Immediately He is driven of the Spirit into death —to meet the angels of God.

However, it is only in His thoughts that He connects Good Friday and Easter. Had it not been so, He would no longer have been in concealment. He conceals from all unbelieving people the role of the book of the pure reason of God, according to which His death has its extension in life, its continuation in the Passover. He has more Rights than anyone else, for He has fulfilled the covenant of works; nevertheless He declares Himself now to be a needy one. He is in the justification, He has the right to eternal life, right to all power in heaven and on earth. His rights are sealed in the sixth utterance on the cross: It is finished. But this sixth utterance is not followed by a demand for His wages. It is followed by a prayer for protection. Accordingly, He commits His spirit into God’s hands. No, He does it in the manner of a child. He commends His spirit into the Father’s hands. Now the hand of God when alluded to in the Bible is always a figure of power and strength; it is a figure of strength over which human beings have no command. Thus He comes utterly emptied and without any manifestation of sovereignty at all, to surrender Himself to the Father. He surrenders Himself according to the spirit, and that in the last analysis means that He sinks back to the beginning of creation. Now He hovers about in space. The Will, the Good Pleasure, blows Him, the created being, wherever God listeth. As He Himself sees it He is being absolutely surrendered to the highest, to the only Sovereign. For that reason He now speaks again in the imperfect tense. For the perfectum of the sixth utterance, He expresses the imperfect of the seventh. We pointed out a moment ago that the perfectum (see chapter 19, p. 456) — perfect time — refers to the condition of rest, that it manifests the completed task, that it designates the soul as being in a state of peace, and as being, to that extent, an image of God’s own peace. It is finished — that is what He said then. But now He utters His trembling word in the imperfect tense.[1] Now He stands at the threshold of a new beginning. He must take up the thread of His life again. He assigns His spirit to the Father’s hands. Hardly has the Servant done His task, before He asks a new assignment. He had reached His milestone. Perfectum. Now He goes on around the bend. Here a new vista is opened before Him. God, be gracious to my soul,[2] but I must go on . . . God cannot wait, not a day, not an hour.

[1] In all the versions of the text.

[2] In the sense of Question 12, Heidelberg Catechism.

Say now, is not this last utterance of the Christ a judgment? It is a judgment by which He condemns every biased accentuation of His dying which would do injustice to the spiritual process which has issued in His death, but without which His dying would not be a positive thing. Precisely by uttering a final word which had been in His heart also each time He reached a milestone in His onward march, He proves that His departure is God’s progress. The Nazarene dies; but the Creator of heaven and of earth simply goes on. The wheel of the triumphant chariot of God moves steadily on; and God’s onward marches do not pause in front of the funeral procession of the Nazarene. Where is the schedule, where the program of the continuous kingdom of heaven?

A great significance lies in the fact that Christ utters a word of life in His dying hour, for He confesses by that means that He is already in the ascendancy. He professes in this way that He is already emerging from the lowest shafts of humiliation, and that He, having arisen from “the second death,” now is already ascending to heaven. On His way from hell to heaven, He must do what every pilgrim does: He strengthens Himself in His God, confesses His God, and performs the act of the moment.

The statement He uttered also contains a judgment for us. How often the church marvels at the “circumstances” surrounding Christ’s dying, without — and this is the beginning of the error — relating the manner of Jesus’ death organically to the course of Christ’s life. Can it really be that after so many centuries of Christendom, after these hundreds of years of preaching, we are no farther than — a heathen? The heathen to whom we are referring at present is the centurion, captain of a hundred. He paid careful attention to this strange victim of the cross, he reflected sensitively on the manner of His death, and thus came to say that this was something most unusual.[3] He brought it as far as lay within his power; he had been allowed to see the dying, but the life had not given him the key by which to explain the riddle of the death. Alas, we often resemble this poor pagan. We permit ourselves to be moved by the manner of the death of Jesus and, whether we know all “Pieta’s” or not a single one, it is often true that we look upon His death independently of His life. Then we are much perturbed. But we have no more than that pagan had. May God at such times be gracious to us all.

[3] This will be discussed further later.

Yes, indeed, He judges us. He judges our instituting stages in the Roman Catholic Churches, and seven Lenten weeks in our Protestant churches. He does not condemn our watching and our listening to His suffering. We can never do that too much. But He condemns our attitudes. Seven times we are moved by the dying Saviour, but we are not moved by the living Kurios another seven times. It is that which He objects to in us. And if you are in dead earnest about the assurance that the last wish of a dying person is sacred to you, do what He commanded you, and repeat His words after Him. Give expression to a statement of life, to a living utterance, for that is also the way He concluded His preliminaries. As for the rest, He desires greatly the hour in which He may draw the curtain to His last act. As He mounts the throne for the Last Judgment, He will say to the Father for the last time: Father, into Thy hands I commend my created spirit.

Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit . . . And now almost all people most naturally say: Thereupon the curtain fell. But He said: The curtain rises to the new act. The angels take up their positions to look on. Then He stood in the full light, He, the dramatis Persona.