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Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae
Isaiah 53

 

 

Verse 1

DISCOURSE: 966

MEN’S NEGLECT OF THE GOSPEL

Isaiah 53:1.— Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed!

WHEREVER we turn our eyes, we find much occasion for sorrow and lamentation. The miseries which sin has brought into the world, and which are daily multiplied by the follies and wickedness of man, have rendered this state a vale of tears, not only to those who most feel their weight, but to those, who, exempt from their pressure, are yet disposed to sympathize with their afflicted brethren. But there is one subject in particular, that affords matter for the deepest regret to every benevolent mind; it is, the unconcern, which men in general manifest for their eternal interests. This caused “rivers of tears to flow down the eyes” of David, and “great horror to take hold upon him.” It was on account of this, that Jesus, unmindful of the acclamations of surrounding multitudes, stopped to weep over the murderous Jerusalem. The Prophet Isaiah, laboured much to counteract this awful infatuation: but, except to a very few, who “were as signs and wonders” in the land, his efforts were unavailing; and he was constrained to take up this lamentation over them, “Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?”

For the fuller understanding of these words we shall inquire, What is the report here referred to? and what reception it meets with in the world?

I. What is the report here referred to?

When our Lord expounded the Scriptures to the two disciples in their way to Emmaus, he shewed them, that, according to the prophecies, “Christ ought to have suffered, and by sufferings to enter into his glory [Note: Luke 24:26-27.]. Indeed, that was the general testimony of all the prophets [Note: 1 Peter 1:11.]; and more especially is it opened to us in the chapter now under our consideration.

A more wonderful report never reached the ears of man. God was manifest in the flesh. The Son of God, “Jehovah’s Fellow [Note: Zechariah 12:7.],” not only assumed our nature, but, in our nature, died; “he became obedient unto death, even the accursed death of the cross.” To this he submitted for our sake, and in our stead; to expiate our guilt, and, by the sacrifice of himself, to reconcile us unto God. Well might the Apostle say, “Great is the mystery of godliness;” for indeed it almost exceeds the bounds of credibility.

But, strange as this report may seem, there never was any other so well authenticated, or established by such a variety of evidence. A series of prophecies respecting it, respecting not only the general outlines, but even the minutest, and most contingent circumstances of it, has been given to the Church during the space of four thousand years. Every one of these has been fulfilled; and that too by the very persons who laboured to the utmost to destroy the credit of the report itself. The typical representations of it also were so numerous that no human foresight could have contrived them, nor could any human power have caused a combination of such various, and, to all appearance, contradictory circumstances in one event. Without noticing therefore the miracles wrought in confirmation of it, we may well affirm that “it is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation.”

With respect to its importance, never was there any other report so universally interesting as this: for it is not confined to a single state or kingdom, but to all the kingdoms of the earth, and to every individual from Adam to the latest of his posterity. Nor does any thing less than their eternal salvation depend upon it: they, who welcome it, will find acceptance with God; and they, who reject it, will be “punished with everlasting destruction from his presence [Note: 2 Thessalonians 1:8.].” It is, in short, that Gospel, which “he that believeth shall be saved; and he that believeth not shall be damned [Note: Mark 16:16.].”

And what tidings were ever so replete with joy? The most signal deliverances, the most complete victories, the most glorious acquisitions, enhanced by every thing that can be supposed to exhilarate the mind, are no more, in comparison of this, than a twinkling star to the meridian sun. Even the angelic hosts, when they came to announce the wonderful event, proclaimed it as “glad tidings of great joy to all people.” None ever believed the news, but he was instantly liberated from all his fears and sorrows, and filled with “joy unspeakable and glorified [Note: 1 Peter 1:8.].”

Such then is the report referred to in the text: a report so marvellous, that it fills heaven and earth with wonder; so true, that we may as well doubt our own existence as entertain a doubt respecting it; so interesting, that all the concerns of time and sense are, in comparison of it, but as the dust of the balance; and so joyous, that it is a certain and inexhaustible source of happiness to all who receive it.

But that there are few who truly believe it, will appear whilst we shew,

II. What reception it meets with in the world?

If the estimate which men form of themselves were true, we should rather have to ask, “Who hath not believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord not been revealed?” For all imagine themselves to be believers; and, because they have been baptized into the name of Christ, they conceive themselves to be possessed of real faith. But I must say with the Apostle, “Examine yourselves whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves [Note: 2 Corinthians 13:5.].” To ascertain the point, I beg you to ask yourselves two questions, viz. How you obtained your faith? and, How it operates? Do not suppose that the faith of Christ is a bare assent to truths which you have been taught by your parents, or that it is that kind of conviction which is founded upon a consideration of evidence, such as you would feel respecting any common report which was substantiated to your satisfaction. True “faith is the gift of God [Note: Ephesians 2:8.].” In my text, the believing of this report is identified with “a revelation of Jehovah’s arm” to effect that faith: and true faith can result from nothing but the almighty power of God forming it in the soul. If ever you have “believed, it must have been through the operation of divine grace [Note: Acts 18:27.];” and that operation sought by fervent prayer — — — In connexion with that question, ask yourselves further, How your faith operates? Where it is real, “it works by love [Note: Galatians 5:6.],” and “overcomes the world [Note: 1 John 5:4.],” and “purifies the heart [Note: Acts 15:9.].” See then, Brethren, whether your faith produce these effects; for, if it do not, it is but “a dead faith,” “the faith of devils [Note: James 2:19.].” If you examine yourselves in this way, you will find that there is still the same occasion as ever for the complaint in my text. The prophet Isaiah adopted it in reference to those to whom he ministered. Our blessed Lord, notwithstanding he wrought so many miracles, was constrained to witness the same obstinate unbelief amongst his hearers [Note: John 12:37-38.]: and even the Apostle Paul, who was God’s instrument to plant so many churches, yet saw reason to declare that these words were still verified in his day [Note: Romans 10:16.]! And what must I say, my brethren? You can bear me witness that, from the first moment that I began to minister amongst you, this report has been faithfully delivered to you: but “Who hath believed our report?” In how few amongst you does it produce its proper effect, so as to demonstrate that God’s arm has indeed been revealed to you! Nay, I will even appeal to you, whether at this moment a true Believer, who shews forth his faith by his works, and lives altogether by faith in the Son of God, as having loved him, and given himself for him, be not at this very hour, just as in the prophet’s day, “a sign and a wonder [Note: Isaiah 8:18.].” Yes, such characters are still as “men wondered at [Note: Zechariah 3:8.]:” nor is it so in this place only, but in every place where the truth is preached with fidelity and power. And this is a proof, that the report in my text is but little credited even in this Christian land.

Now then let me address myself,

1. To those who think they believe—

Justly does the Apostle say, “All men have not faith [Note: 2 These. 3:2.].” And this he speaks, not of professed heathens, but of those who were joined to the Church of Christ. So, Brethren, I must say to you, “All are not Israel who are of Israel [Note: Romans 9:6.].” I entreat you not to take for granted that you are right; but bring your faith to the test. Inquire carefully into its origin and operation: for, if your faith be not “the faith of God’s elect,” it will only deceive you to your ruin. You all know how the Jews deceived themselves, by indulging a vain confidence, that because they were the natural descendants of Abraham, they were in a state of acceptance with God. And be assured, that the same fatal error obtains to a vast extent amongst us. If called to give a reason of the hope that is in you, how many are there who could only refer us to their birth of Christian parents, and their baptism into the faith of Christ? But that is no other reason than what a Mohammedan or a Hindoo might give for his hopes, and his professions. If you would not perish with the unbelieving world, I charge you, before God, to dismiss from your minds all such delusive expectations, and to seek from God that true faith which alone can sanctify and save the soul.

2. To those who really possess the faith of Christ.

Such, I doubt not, are to be found amongst you. Yes, some of you, I trust, can call God to witness, that you have again and again “fled to Christ for refuge as to the hope set before you,” and that you “count all things out dung for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus the Lord.” To you then I say, that God has conferred upon you the greatest gift that you can possess in this world. Crowns and kingdoms, in comparison of it, were no more than the dust upon the balance. In possessing real faith, you have obtained the forgiveness of all your sins. You have also within your own bosom a sanctifying principle, which shall progressively transform you into the very image of your God. And for you is reserved “an inheritance that is incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away.” What then will you render to the Lord for these great benefits? This do: Consecrate yourselves to God so wholly and entirely, that when the question is asked, “Who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed?” all who witness your life and conversation may point to you, and say, “That man carries his own evidence along with him: however I may doubt of others, I can entertain no doubt respecting him.’ This, my dear brethren, is what God expects from you. He expects that you should “shine forth as lights in the world, and so hold forth the word of life, as to prove to all, that we have not laboured in vain, or run in vain [Note: Philippians 2:15-16.].”


Verse 2-3

DISCOURSE: 967

THE CHARACTERS AND TREATMENT OF THE MESSIAH

Isaiah 53:2-3. For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness: and, when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

WE find in almost every branch of science, that truth can be discovered only by deep and serious investigation. If we rest in superficial inquiries, we shall be led into numberless and fatal mistakes. In what relates to religion more especially, an impartial examination is necessary, because the doctrines of revelation are confessedly repugnant both to the prejudices and passions of mankind. Yet, strange as it may appear, there is no other science, wherein men form their opinions on such slender information, as in that. The generality adopt the notions that are current in their day, without ever considering whether they be right or wrong: the natural consequence of which is, that, in many instances, they embrace error in preference to truth. This was too much the habit of the Jews in reference to their Messiah. Our Lord had cautioned them not to judge according to appearance, but to judge righteous judgment; nevertheless they paid more attention to received opinions than to the oracles of God. Had they searched the Scriptures, they might have found that their expected Messiah was to suffer as well as to triumph: but they, thinking only of a temporal deliverer, despised the low condition of Jesus, and made his humiliation a ground of rejecting him. That such would be their conduct, the prophet had foretold in the words before us; wherein he assigns the low estate of Jesus as the very ground, on which the united testimony of Prophets and Apostles should be discredited.

In the words themselves he sets forth,

First, Some marks and characters of the Messiah, and, Secondly, The treatment he should meet with in the world.

I. The marks and characters given of the Messiah were not only exceeding various, but apparently inconsistent with each other; and they were multiplied in the prophetic writings, in order that, when the Messiah should appear, there should be no room to question his divine mission; since the marks themselves could not have been combined by chance, nor would have been invented by any one, who had desired to impose upon the world.

Confining ourselves to those specified in the text, we observe, that he was to be obscure in his origin. This is intimated under the figure of “a root out of a dry ground.” The house of David had once flourished as the cedars of Lebanon; (he himself having been one of the most powerful monarchs upon earth) but now his family was reduced; insomuch that it was like “a root” or mere stump of a tree. Its situation too, like a “root in a dry ground,” was such, as not to afford any prospect that it should ever revive again. Our Lord, like a weak and tender sucker, sprang from this root, and was, to all outward appearance, unworthy of notice. Notwithstanding the prodigies that attended his birth, and the regard paid to them for a little while, “he grew up before him,” that is, before the Jewish people, in obscurity, working at the trade of his reputed father as a carpenter. This circumstance proved an offence, and a stumbling-block to the carnal Jews: when they heard his discourses, and saw the wonders that he wrought, they said, “Whence hath this man these things? and what wisdom is this which is given to him, that even such mighty works are wrought by his hands? Is not this the carpenter? And they were offended at him.” But, if they had duly considered their own prophecies, they would have seen, that his parentage and education were precisely such as had been foretold, and consequently were arguments in favour of his high pretensions.

Another mark exhibited in the text is, that he was to be mean in his appearance. The Jews expected a Messiah who should come with pomp, and whose magnificence should equal, if not surpass, that of any potentate on earth: and if Jesus had appeared in this manner, he would soon have been caressed and followed by the whole nation. But he neither possessed himself, nor promised to his followers, any of those things which are so captivating to a carnal heart. Instead of abounding in wealth, and having the great and nobles of the earth as his attendants, he was followed only by a few poor fishermen, and sometimes wanted the common necessaries of life, and even a place where to lay his head. Instead of affecting honour, he declined it, and withdrew himself, when they would have invested him with royal authority. Nor did he give his disciples reason to expect any thing in this world but reproaches, persecutions, imprisonments, and death. Thus was he destitute of all external recommendations; “there was no form nor comeliness in him, nor any beauty for which he was to be desired.” Now the Jews did not know how to reconcile his claims to Messiahship with his low condition: they could not divest themselves of their prejudices: they expected a temporal Messiah, and consequently concluded, that the meanness of his appearance was a very sufficient reason for considering him as an impostor. They therefore contributed to make him still more contemptible in the eyes of men, and thus, by reducing him to the lowest state of infamy, unwittingly fulfilled the counsels of God concerning him.

A third mark and character of the Messiah was, that he should be afflicted in his person; he was to be “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” To none were these words ever so applicable as to Jesus Christ. His whole life was a continued scene of labours, trials, temptations, sorrows. We read only once in the whole Scriptures, that he rejoiced in spirit; but frequently that he sighed, and groaned, and wept. The four last years of his life were almost wholly spent in sorrow. Not to mention his bodily labours and fatigues, or his watchings and fastings (though inasmuch as they exceeded all that ever were voluntarily endured by man, they might well be taken into the account) his other trials were greater than we can conceive. “The contradiction of sinners against himself” must have been inexpressibly painful to his benevolent mind. He had come down from heaven to give his own life a ransom for them; and was continually endeavouring to lead them to the knowledge of himself, that they might obtain salvation through him: he was working a series of the most stupendous miracles in confirmation of his word: he was labouring day and night for their sakes, making it his very meat and drink to accomplish the grand ends and purposes of his mission: yet, how were his labours requited? they cavilled at his words, ascribed his miracles to Satanic influence, and rejected the counsel of God against themselves. How grievous must this have been to him, whose whole soul was bent on their salvation! This caused him frequently to groan in spirit, and even to weep in the midst of his triumphant entry into Jerusalem. But there were yet other sources of grief, more afflictive, if possible, than this. Whence arose his agony in the garden, when his body was bathed in a bloody sweat? Whence those “strong cryings and tears,” with which he supplicated the removal of the bitter cup? Whence the heart-rending cry, which he uttered on the cross under the hidings of his Father’s face? Surely the vials of his Father’s wrath were poured out upon him; the debt which we had incurred, was exacted of him as our surety; the penalty due to sin was inflicted on his righteous soul; “the arrows of the Almighty stuck fast in him, and made his heart within him like melting wax.” There was yet another thing which must of necessity greatly aggravate his sorrows; namely, his perfect foresight of all that should come upon him. In mercy to us futurity is hid from our eyes; so that, however great our calamities be, we are comforted with a hope, that our state will soon be ameliorated. He, on the contrary, saw the crisis gradually approaching, and knew the full extent of those miseries which he was about to endure. What but the most unbounded love could carry him forward under such a load as this?

To the eye of sense indeed, this unparalleled “acquaintance with grief” would appear strange and unaccountable: but to the view of faith, it marked him as the chosen of God, the Redeemer of the world.

This subject will be yet more fully illustrated by considering,

II. The reception he met with—

One would scarcely suppose it possible, that such a person as our Lord should sojourn upon earth, and not be universally respected. His exemplary piety, his diffusive benevolence, his instructive discourses, and his blameless conduct, one would think, must conciliate the esteem of all; and that gratitude at least must bind to him many thousands, whose maladies he had healed, or whose friends he had relieved. But, to the shame of human nature be it spoken, all, whom he had benefited, seemed to have forgotten their obligations, and to vie with each other in rendering evil for good: so far from honouring him, they despised and rejected him, and even “hid their faces from him,” as not deigning to acknowledge him. There was no name so opprobrious, but they thought him deserving of it: they called him a glutton and a wine-bibber, a deceiver and demoniac. Before the high-priest they accused him of blasphemy: and before the Roman governor they charged him with treason; that so they might secure his condemnation, and have licence to treat him as an enemy both of God and man. The indignities offered him in the last hours of his life were altogether unparalleled: it was indeed the hour of Satan’s reign, and all the powers of darkness seemed to be let loose upon him. It appeared as if nothing could satiate their malice: not content to wait the issue of a legal process, they loaded him with all manner of insults and reproaches: they dragged him from one tribunal to another; they ploughed up his back with scourges, and compelled his judge to pass sentence upon him contrary to the convictions of his own conscience: they forced him, faint and macerated as he was, to bear his cross, till he even sunk under the weight; and, to complete the whole, they crucified him between two thieves; and continued their impious derision till the very instant of his dissolution. Nay, they were not even then satisfied; even after he was dead, they could not refrain from shewing their hatred of him: one of the soldiers, expressing doubtless the feelings of others as well as his own, officiously thrust his spear into his side: and all the chief priests and Pharisees made application to Pilate, that he would set a guard to watch that deceiver, as they called him, lest his disciples should come by night and steal him away, and report that he had risen from the dead. Thus did the whole nation “despise and reject him.” Every other part of the creation gave testimony to him: the wild beasts in the wilderness stood in awe of him; the fishes of the sea confessed his power; the winds and the waves obeyed his voice; the holy angels ministered unto him; the very devils acknowledged his divine mission: but men, the men too of his own nation, the very men whom he came to redeem, rejected him; “He came unto his own, and his own received him not.”

Happy would it have been if their contempt of Christ had terminated here: but, alas! it continued unextinguished and unabated, even after he had proved his divine mission by his resurrection from the dead, and had sent down the Holy Ghost to attest his word. They could indeed no longer vent their spleen against his person, because he was far above out of their reach; but they beat his messengers, reviled his doctrines, and opposed to the uttermost the success of his gospel. No means were left untried: they used every species of persecution, that they might deter men from embracing his religion: they excommunicated, imprisoned, and murdered his followers: and, though God was pleased to convert a remnant of them, the bulk of the nation contradicted and blasphemed the gospel, till they had filled up the measure of their iniquities.

But must we confine this accusation to the people of that age and nation? Alas! where is the nation that has not poured contempt on Christ? The Apostles and other disciples of our Lord went to every quarter of the known world, and preached Jesus as the Saviour of men: but in every place did the glad tidings meet with the same reception. Even where the word was most successful, the great majority rejected it with disdain. And how has it been received amongst us? Blessed be God! we are not left wholly without witness; but the generality despise and reject Christ, as much as ever the Jews did in the days of his flesh. He is not indeed exposed to their outrage; they cannot scourge and buffet him as once they did; but there are many other ways wherein they no less virulently express their contempt of him. With what pertinacity do many controvert the divinity of his person, the reality of his atonement, and the efficacy of his grace! And what is this but to deny the Lord that bought them? Again, what is more common than for persons to rely upon their own repentance and reformation for acceptance with God, instead of trusting simply in his blood and righteousness? and what is this, but to rob him of his glory, and exclude him from the office, which he came to execute? Can any thing be more contemptuous than this? Again, he has given us commandments, in obeying which we are to testify our regard to him, and to honour him in the world. But who yields to his authority? Who brings his thoughts and actions into captivity to his will? Is not the language of the generality at least, “We will not have this man to reign over us?” To what purpose is it to say, Lord, Lord! if we do not the things which he says? It is only to act over again the part of those who bowed the knee to him, und yet smote him on the face. Indeed, all despise him, who do not value him as they ought. If we viewed him in his real character, we should see a beauty in him for which he is to be desired; we should “behold his glory, as the glory of the only-begotten of the Father;” he would appear to us “fairer than ten thousand, and altogether lovely;” and the language of our hearts would be, “Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire besides thee.” But how few are there who thus “count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ!” Yet they, who do not thus regard him, have no just sense of his worth and excellence, and therefore in reality under-value and despise him.

We cannot better IMPROVE this subject than by observing—

1. What enmity there is in the heart of man against God!

The Apostle of the Gentiles has told us, that “the carnal and unrenewed mind is enmity against God.” This indeed is a hard saying: but we have abundant proof of the truth of it in the subject we have been considering. We have evidence enough of it in the general forgetfulness of God, and the opposition to his will which prevails in the world. But, in the instance before us, an experiment has been made; an experiment which removes all doubt, and proves indisputably, how men would treat God, if they had him in their power. God has, for the accomplishment of his own gracious purposes, condescended to clothe himself in human flesh, and to sojourn among men. He assumed nothing of the pomp and splendour of this world, that the attachment or aversion of men might the more evidently appear to arise from their discovery of his true character. He dazzled not their eyes by a full display of his Deity, but suffered the rays of it occasionally to appear, as their organs of vision were able to bear it. He admitted them so close to him, that they might easily contemplate his proper character, and form a rational judgment of his excellencies and perfections. By this he gave them an opportunity of testifying what were the dispositions of their minds towards him. And what was the result of the experiment? Did they love him, admire him, and adore him as God? Behold, they could “see no form nor comeliness in him.” On the contrary, they hated him, despised him, and crucified him as a male-factor. Nor was this owing to the violence of a few: the whole nation rose up against him, and put him to death. Now this shews us in the clearest light, what human nature is, and what enmity there is in the heart of man against God. And O! what a humiliating thought is it, that we should be even capable of such atrocious wickedness! If any one object, that this was done by the Jews; and that, if God were to come down amongst us, he would meet with a more suitable reception; we reply, That in whatever place he should appear, he would assuredly be treated in the same way: for indeed he does come; he comes to us in the preaching of his Gospel: he is truly, though not visibly, amongst us; for he has said, “Lo! I am with you alway, even to the end of the world:” yet, so far from admiring his beauty, and adoring his goodness, we scarcely bestow a thought upon him; yea, instead of seeking our happiness in him, and devoting ourselves wholly to his service, there is no possession so contemptible, but we prefer it before him, nor any lust so base, but we choose the indulgence of it rather than his favour.

Let this melancholy truth sink down into our hearts, and cause us to lothe ourselves in dust and ashes. Nor let us ever rest, till our enmity be slain, and our aversion to him be turned into reverence and love.

In contrast with this, let us next observe—

2. What love there is in the heart of God towards man!

Had God foreseen that his creatures would have instantly and universally adored him, we must have for ever marvelled at the love that induced him to become incarnate. But how transcendent does that love appear, when we consider that he foresaw the treatment he should meet with, and that, as he died for his very murderers, so he now invites to mercy the most contemptuous of his enemies! Let heaven and earth stand amazed! and let all flesh give thanks unto his holy name for ever and ever!


Verse 4-5

DISCOURSE: 968

THE TRUE CAUSE OF OUR LORD’S SUFFERINGS

Isaiah 53:4-5. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

WHATEVER difficulty there may be in ascertaining the precise import of some passages of Scripture, the fundamental doctrines of our religion are all so plainly revealed, that he who runs may read them. There is not any truth indeed, however strongly declared, which has not been controverted by those who exalt their own reason above the word of God. But to the humble mind, that is willing to receive instruction, and that looks to God for the teaching of his Spirit, the general doctrines of Christianity, and that of the atonement in particular, are as clear as the sun at noon-day. The wisdom of some has been so perverted, that they could not see any reference to Christ in this whole chapter. But no person that is not either blinded by prejudice, or intoxicated with the pride of human learning, can fail of applying the words of our text to him, “who died for our sins, and rose again for our justification.” The prophet spake not as a matter of doubtful disputation, when he declared the cause of the Messiah’s sufferings: but with the fullest confidence asserted, that “Surely he hath borne our griefs,” yea, “he died, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God.” In his words we may observe—

I. The apprehended cause of our Lord’s sufferings—

It was a commonly received opinion, that heavy afflictions were indications of God’s displeasure on account of some enormous sin.

This idea prevailed much among the Jews: their history abounded with instances of God’s immediate interposition to punish sin; from whence they inferred, that every signal judgment proceeded from the same cause. It should seem that they had adopted this uncharitable mode of judging respecting those on whom the tower in Siloam fell, or whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices, as though they were sinners above all others of their own nation [Note: Luke 13:2; Luke 13:4.]. On one occasion they openly avowed this principle, ascribing the blindness of a man who had been born blind, either to some peculiar wickedness in his parents, or to some heinous crimes, which he himself had committed in a former state of existence [Note: John 9:2.]. Indeed this sentiment was the foundation of all the dispute between Job and his friends: they argued on the presumption that no good man was ever left to endure very grievous trials; but that the wrath of God against hypocritical or audacious sinners would be visibly displayed in this world [Note: Job 4:7-9.]. This idea also obtained among the heathen world. When Paul, after his shipwreck on the island of Malta, was bitten by a viper which fastened on his hand, the inhabitants instantly exclaimed, “No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he hath escaped the sea, vengeance suffereth not to live [Note: Acts 28:4.].”

Now this construction was put upon the sufferings of our Lord. The people saw Jesus dying under a more accumulated weight of misery than ever had been endured by man. No one since the foundation of the world had been so universally execrated, or had met with so little compassion from his fellow-creatures. They therefore concluded, that God had marked him out as an object fit to have every species and degree of cruelty exercised towards him; “they esteemed him stricken, judicially [Note: This is the import of the words.] smitten of God himself.” What a shocking indignity was this! That they should not merely regard him as a sinner, but as the most atrocious sinner in the universe, who deserved to have a murderer preferred before him!

But this was both foretold by the prophets, and fully obviated by the occurrences of his life.

In two different Psalms, confessedly relating to Christ, it was foretold that his enemies would conspire against him, and vindicate their conduct towards him from this consideration, that God himself had pointed him out by his judgments as deserving every thing that could be inflicted on him: “All that hate me whisper together against me, against me do they devise my hurt. An evil disease, say they, cleaveth fast unto him: and now that he lieth, let him rise up no more [Note: Psalms 41:7-8.].” And again, “Mine enemies speak against me, and they that lay wait for my soul take counsel together, saying, God hath forsaken him; persecute and take him; for there is none to deliver [Note: Psalms 71:10-11.].” This vile imputation on his character therefore becomes, in this view, a testimony on his behalf; since it was ordained that such indignities should be offered to the Messiah; and in this, as well as in a thousand other instances, the Scriptures were literally accomplished in him.

But God provided a further antidote to this impression in the occurrences of his life. Even while his enemies were conspiring to take away his life, our Lord appealed to them respecting his own innocence, “Which of you convinceth me of sin [Note: John 8:46.]? And the very judge who pronounced the sentence of death against him, was constrained no less than three times to acknowledge publicly, that he could find no fault in him [Note: Luke 23:4; Luke 23:14; Luke 23:22.].

The supposed cause of our Lord’s sufferings being thus evidently founded in misapprehension and prejudice, we shall point out,

II. The real cause—

This is stated in general as originating in our wretchedness and misery.

St. Matthew, quoting the first words of the text, says, that they were accomplished when our Lord healed the multitudes of those who flocked around him [Note: Mutt. 8: 16, 17.]. And this was true, inasmuch as the maladies under which men groan, are the consequences of sin; and his removing of bodily disorders was emblematical of the spiritual diseases, which he also came to heal. But the evangelist must not be understood to say, that the prophecy related to nothing more than the sympathizing with the afflicted, and the healing of their disorders; for St. Peter, quoting the very same passage, declares that Jesus “bare, not our sorrows merely, but our sins, in his own body on the tree, and healed them by his stripes [Note: 1 Peter 2:24.].” Hence, then, we perceive that as sin had introduced all manner of temporal, spiritual, and eternal miseries into the world, it was for the removal of them that Jesus submitted to all the sufferings which were inflicted on him.

But mare particularly the prophet informs us that Jesus suffered,

1. For the expiating of our guilt—

It is certainly true, that, wherever suffering is endured by an intelligent creature, there guilt must have previously been either contracted, or imputed. The brute animals would never have felt pain, if they had not been subjected to it on account of man’s transgression [Note: Romans 8:20.]. Now our Lord himself “knew no sin;” and yet endured infinitely more from God, from men, and from devils, than ever had been inflicted on any human being. But he had undertaken to redeem us from the curse of the broken law. He had engaged to pay the debt, which a whole world of sinners had contracted; and so to discharge it, that not one farthing should ever be exacted of those who should trust in him. Here then was the true cause of all his sufferings. Is it asked, What it was that occasioned him such diversified and unutterable torments? We answer, Men and devils were the executioners; but our sins were the meritorious cause: “He was wounded for our transgresions, and bruised for our iniquities.” There is not a sin which we have ever committed, that was not “as a sword in his bones;” and it was only by his bearing of our sins in his own body on the tree, that the guilt of them, and the curse due to them, could be taken away from us. Nothing less than this sacrifice could satisfy the demands of divine justice. As for “the blood of bulls and of goats, it was not possible that they should take away sin:” nor could we remove it by any offerings we could bring: rather, therefore, than we should perish for ever, Christ laid down “his own life a ransom for us.”

2. For the effecting of our peace—

God was filled with indignation against his guilty creatures: nor could he, consistently with the honour of his moral government, be reconciled to his offending people, without manifesting in some way or other, his abhorrence of their evil deeds. What then should be done? What expedient should be found for the punishing of sin, and yet saving the sinner? Behold, the Son of God himself offers to become our substitute! “On me be their curse, O my Father: let thy sword awake against me, who am thy fellow: inflict their punishment on me, and let them go free; yea, be reconciled to them for my sake.” The offer is graciously accepted; and, agreeably to the prediction before us, “the chastisement of our peace was upon him;” so that God is now reconciled to every believing penitent: he embraces the returning prodigal in his arms, and feasts him with the richest tokens of parental affection. To this agrees the testimony of the great Apostle [Note: Colossians 1:20-22.]; and it is confirmed by the happy experience of multitudes in every age.

3. For the renovating of our nature—

As sin has incensed the wrath of God, so has it disordered all the powers of man. There is not a faculty either of body or soul, which is not filled with this dire contagion, and rendered incapable of exercising its proper functions to the glory of God. But the same expedient that was devised for the expiating of our guilt, and the effecting of our peace, was also the most proper for the renovating of our nature. The blood which Jesus shed upon the cross is as a balm, which heals the disorders of our souls, and restores to man the free and legitimate use of all his powers. This, no less than the foregoing, was a principal end of all his sufferings. Did he give his back to the smiters, so that they even “ploughed it up with scourges, and made long their furrows?” It was that “by his stripes we might be healed:” he gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people zealous of good works [Note: Titus 2:14.]. And it is worthy of observation, that St. Peter, quoting the text, omits all mention of other ends, and fixes upon this alone; “he bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead unto sin, might live unto righteousness; by whose stripes ye were healed [Note: 1 Peter 2:24.].”

It would be unpardonable, if, on such a subject as this, we did not lead you to consider,

1. What obligations we lie under to love the Lord!

If a fellow-creature should submit to excruciating torments for us, how deeply should we feel, and how gratefully acknowledge, our obligations to him! We should wonder at such a proof of affection even from the dearest friend or relative. What then shall we say to these tokens of love from one, to whom, in the whole course of our lives, we had shewn ourselves the most determined enemies? What shall we think of the Lord Jesus, leaving the bosom of his Father on purpose to endure these things for us; to endure all that men or devils could inflict, and all that our sins had merited? Shall we feel no grateful emotions rising in our bosom? Shall our hearts be still frozen and obdurate? O let us contemplate the wounds and bruises, the chastisements and stripes which he bare for us. Let us follow him through the whole scene of his sufferings, and say, with confidence and wonder, “Surely” it was all for me; to redeem me from destruction, to exalt me to glory. Base as human nature is, it could not long withstand the influence of such a sight: at the view of him, whom we have pierced, our unfeeling hearts would relent [Note: Zechariah 12:10.]; and constrained to admire the unsearchable heights and depths of his love, we should burst forth into acclamations and hosannas, “to him who loved us and gave himself for us.”

2. What obligations we lie under to put our trust in him!

What does the self-righteous Pharisee declare, but this? “I will not trust in the Lord Jesus: he was indeed wounded for my transgressions; but I despise the way of healing by his stripes; I can heal myself better by my own works; and I will rather wage eternal war with heaven, than owe my peace to the chastisement of another.” Can any thing exceed the ingratitude which such a disposition involves in it? As for all the mockings and revilings of the Son of God, when he hung upon the cross, they were as nothing in comparison of this, because they were vented through an ignorance of his real character; whereas we acknowledge him as our Saviour, and yet rob him of his glory, and make his death of none effect. Let us then turn from such conduct with abhorrence: let us look to him, that we may be “justified by his blood,” and experience the full efficacy of his atonement: so shall Jesus himself be “satisfied when he beholds this fruit of his travail,” and we shall be distinguished monuments of his love and mercy to all eternity.


Verse 6

DISCOURSE: 969

THE MEANS OF MAN’S RESTORATION TO GOD

Isaiah 53:6. 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.

THE lost state of man by nature, and his recovery through the blood of Christ, are the two principal doctrines of our religion. If we would ascertain the comparative importance of all other doctrines, we must judge of them by the relation which they bear to these: and consider those as most important, which serve most to illustrate and confirm these fundamental points. Moreover, these two should always be considered in their relation to each other; for it is by the atonement that we see the depth of our depravity, and by our depravity we see the necessity and excellency of the atonement. By considering them apart, we are in danger of falling into despondency or presumption: but, by uniting our views of them, our sorrows are moderated with hope, and our confidence is tempered with humility. When God tells us, “O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself;” he immediately adds, “but in me is thy help.” Thus also the prophet, in the words before us, first sets forth our apostasy from God, and then declares the means provided for our restoration to him. These two points we propose for our present consideration:

I. Our apostasy from God—

The comparison which the prophet institutes between us and sheep straying from their fold, forms a humiliating, but just, picture of our fallen state. Sheep are prone to stray, if not watched and restrained by the shepherd: and, when separated from the flock, they proceed farther and farther, without ever tracing back their steps to the fold. Now the whole race of mankind may be considered as a flock, whose duty and happiness it is to live under the care of the good Shepherd. They should hear his voice, and follow his steps, and feed in his pastures, and trust in him for protection. But the whole flock is scattered over the face of the earth: all have departed from the fold of God, and are wandering from him, none considering, Whence am I come? or, Whither am I going? or, How shall I find my way to God again? They reflect not on the dangers to which they are every moment exposed, nor on the infinitely greater happiness they might enjoy, if they would obey the Shepherd’s voice.

What the prophet has thus illustrated by a comparison, he afterwards, as is usual in all the prophetic writings, declares in plain and express terms.

Mankind have all turned aside from God and his ways into paths of their own choosing. One has chosen the way of open profaneness. To follow the bent of his own carnal inclinations, to walk at liberty in the pursuit of pleasure, to join in convivial company, to be a spectator of every vain amusement, to gratify his passions with every sensual enjoyment, this is the happiness which he affects, nor does he desire any other heaven than this: could he but ensure a continuance of these delights, with health and vigour to enjoy them, he would attain the very summit of his ambition. Another prefers the way of worldliness. He has not any great taste for what are called the pleasures of life: he desires rather the more retired comforts of a family; to provide for whom employs all his solicitude. In prosecution of his plans for their support, he engages with assiduity in his daily work: “he rises up early, and late takes rest, and eats the bread of carefulness;” and looks for all his recompence in beholding the increase of his fortune, and the advancement of his dependents. Every thing is made subservient to the promotion of his temporal interests; nor has he a wish or thought beyond them.

Another, scorning perhaps the sordid vices of the sensualist, and elevated, by means of easy circumstances, above the cares of the worldling, or desirous perhaps to compensate for the irregularities of his former life, chooses the less beaten track of religious formality. He wishes to be regarded as a person of correct manners, and of virtuous conduct. To set an example to those around him, and to be proposed as a pattern to the rising generation, is a far higher gratification to him, than to riot in dissipation, or to amass riches. With these views he is attentive to all the external duties of religion: his prayers, such as they are, are regularly performed in the Church, the family, and the closet. A portion of the Scriptures is read at stated seasons: his servants are instructed: his children are catechized: and his hand is stretched out to relieve the poor and needy. In short, nothing is omitted that may elevate him in the eyes of others, and serve as a foundation for self-complacency. This he supposes to be God’s way, when, in fact, it is, as much as either the worldling’s or the sensualist’s, a way of his own: for, in all this, there is nothing of brokenness of heart and contrition, nothing of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, nothing of devotedness to the glory of God: and, in proof that this is their own way, and not God’s, it may be observed, that they will proceed no farther than will consist with their own humour, and reputation in the world: whereas, if they really intended to do God’s will, they would do it in every thing, without any regard to consequences, or any secret reserves.

We mean not to say that there is no difference with respect to these ways; for certainly a state of formality is incomparably better than either worldliness or profaneness; but they are all evidences of our apostasy from God; and any one of them will expose us to his just and heavy displeasure.

That such is indeed the state of man, is abundantly confirmed by other passages of holy writ. St. Paul proves it by a variety of citations collected together; and infers from it, that “every mouth must be stopped, and all the world become guilty before God.” St. Peter quotes the very words of the text as applicable to every individual saint before his conversion to Christ. And we are all taught to adopt them for our own use, when we say in our Liturgy, “We have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep; we have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts.”

Well might we have been left to wander till we had fallen a prey to the roaring lion that seeketh to devour us. But God, in compassion to our souls, has sent his only dear Son to seek us out, and to be,

II. The means of our restoration to him—

We are apt to imagine, that, if we have not committed any gross sin, we have no reason to apprehend the divine displeasure. But we should recollect that a state of apostasy from god is the root and summit of all sin. The poor senseless sheep may be pitied, but cannot be blamed, for wandering from the fold, because they are unconscious of any obligation to abide under the direction of their shepherd. But our criminality in departing from God is exceeding great. Blind as we are to spiritual truths, we yet know that there is a God, whom we ought to love and serve. We know that, to live without him in the world, or to serve him only with our lips while our hearts are far from him, is an insult to his majesty, and a violation of his commands. Yet these are the ways which we have chosen for ourselves in preference to those, which he has marked out for us in his word. What need we more to criminate us in his sight? What need we more to draw down upon ourselves his wrath and indignation? The particular acts of sin which any commit, are only so many branches proceeding from this root, and so many ways of manifesting our aversion to him. There may indeed be degrees of guilt in respect of them; but in respect to the general habit of our minds, we are all alike; we are wilful, deliberate, and determined apostates from God: we have cast off our allegiance to him: we have made our own will the rule, and our own honour or interest the end, of all our actions: we have lived to ourselves, and not unto him: in a word, we have, as far as depended on us, banished God from the universe, and been a God unto ourselves. This is “the iniquity of us all.”

What might have been expected, but that God should abandon such an impious race, and give them over to everlasting destruction? yet behold, instead of leaving us to ourselves, he provided a way for our restoration to his favour. He took, not merely our particular transgressions, but the whole mass of iniquity, that had accumulated from the beginning to the end of time, and laid it on his Son. As all the iniquities of all the children of Israel were transferred to the scape-goat under the law, that he might bear them away into a land of oblivion, so were all the sins of the whole human race transferred to Christ, that, having borne the curse due to them, he might take them all away from us for ever. This was the plan, which infinite wisdom contrived for the pardoning of sin in consistency with the divine perfections. Had the Governor of the universt received his apostate creatures to favour without any atonement, it might have appeared a light matter to transgress against him; and he himself might have seemed indifferent about the rights of justice, and the honour of his government. But, by providing such a substitute, he at once discovered his abhorrence of iniquity, and shewed himself just, while he should justify those that believe in Jesus. Doubtless this was done with the consent and concurrence of his Son; for otherwise it had been an act of injustice to him; but it was nevertheless a fruit of the Father’s love, and an expedient devised by him for the salvation of a ruined world; an expedient never sufficiently to be admired, the theme of men and angels to all eternity.

How this operates to counteract our apostasy may easily be seen. In the state of man two things were to be remedied, the guilt of his departure, and his propensity to depart: and the same remedy was found effectual for both. By the death of Jesus in our stead, our guilt is cancelled, and justice itself is satisfied on our behalf. Moreover the gift of the Holy Spirit is procured for us, that by his operations, our nature may be changed, and we may be brought to delight as much in the ways of God as ever we delighted in the ways of sin. It is true, the very best of men have within them still a proneness to wander; and, if left to themselves, they would yet again depart from their good shepherd: but this is not their wish, as once it was; nor can they for a single day be absent from him without pain and sorrow, yea, without a determination instantly to return to him, and to watch more carefully against the beginnings of declension from him. St. Peter himself tells us, that, as this was the intent of our Saviour’s death, so it is also its uniform effect: “he bare our sins in his own body on the tree:” do we ask for what end he bare them? it was, “that we, being dead unto sin, might live unto righteousness.” The apostle then adds, “By whose stripes ye were healed.” Do we enquire, wherein this healing consists? he tells us; “For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls [Note: 1 Peter 2:24-25.].”

In order that we may make a suitable improvement of this subject, let us,

1. Adopt the confession of the prophet

How justly he represents our fallen state, is but too evident both from Scripture and experience. We say not that all have lived in open immoralities, or, that all have despised the ordinances of religion. God forbid. There doubtless are many, who, in their outward deportment both towards God and man, have been comparatively blameless, yea, exceeding amiable and praise-worthy. But we must recur to the former accusation, and comprehend all under the awful character of apostates from God. And is there one amongst us that will presume to deny the charge? Did the prophet include himself in the accusation, and shall we plead innocence? Did St. Paul say, respecting himself and all the other Apostles, that they all had been “once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures,” and shall we exalt ourselves above them? Let us rather beg of God to shew us the depth of our depravity, and to humble us in the dust under a sense of our departure from him. And let us not rest in general confessions, saying, “All we have gone astray;” but let “every one” of us search out the particular way to which “we have turned, and go to God, saying, Thus and thus have I done. This must of necessity precede our return to God; or rather, it is the first step of our return. But, if we be too proud to acknowledge our apostasy, if we yet remain ignorant of our guilt and danger, let us not wonder, if we be left to depart from him, till our separation become irreparable and eternal.

2. Having adopted from our hearts the confession of the prophet, let us proceed to imitate the conduct of our God

Behold what the Father did, when no other way remained for our restoration to his favour: he took all our iniquities, and laid them on the head of his own Son. Thus must we also do, if we would have them removed from our own souls. We must come, not with a few of our most heinous sins, but with all, with the entire guilt of our apostasy from God; and, as guilty and self-ruined creatures, without help or hope in ourselves, must lay them on the head of Jesus: we must not account any so great, as to doubt whether we may transfer them to him, or any so small, as to think we can atone for them ourselves; we must carry all to him, that we may be “justified by his blood, and be saved from wrath through him.” We must resemble the penitent under the law, who, while he presented his offering that was to be sacrificed in his stead, laid his hands upon its head, and confessed over it his sins. Let us only be like-minded with God in this particular, and lay our iniquities on his dear Son, and we have nothing to fear. Our past transgressions shall be forgiven; and our present propensities shall be healed: we shall be brought home on the shoulders of our exulting Shepherd, and shall lie down beside the clear streams, till called to follow him to his pastures above, where we shall be “one fold under one Shepherd” for evermore.


Verse 7

DISCOURSE: 970

CHRIST’S BEHAVIOUR UNDER HIS SUFFERINGS

Isaiah 53:7. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened, not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.

THE preaching of Christ crucified has in every age been the great means of converting men to God: nor is there any passage of Scripture, which may not, by a judicious exposition of it, be improved either for leading us to Christ, or for instructing us how to honour him in the world. But it is scarcely possible for any one to read the chapter before us, without having his thoughts led to Christ in every part of it. It is rather like a history than a prophecy, since every thing relating to him is so circumstantially described, and, instead of being enveloped in obscurity, is declared with the utmost plainness and perspicuity. The portion of it selected for our present consideration was signally honoured of God to the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch, who, on his return from Jerusalem, was reading it in his chariot: God sent his servant Philip to unfold to him the mysteries contained in it: and Philip, having at his request seated himself in the chariot with him, “began at the same Scripture and preached unto him Jesus [Note: Acts 8:27-28; Acts 8:32; Acts 8:35.].” May the same divine energy accompany our ministrations, while we lead your attention to that adorable Saviour, and point out to you both his sufferings, and his behaviour under them!

I. Let us contemplate the sufferings of Jesus—

At the first view of this passage we should be led to expatiate upon the greatness of our Redeemer’s sufferings: but there is a very important idea contained in it, which, though obscurely intimated in our translation, might with propriety be more strongly expressed: the prophet informs us that Jesus was to be afflicted in an oppressive manner, as a man is, who, having become a surety for another, is dragged to prison for his debts. This sense of the words would more clearly appear, if we were to translate them thus; “It was exacted, and he was made answerable [Note: Bishop Lowth.].”

Agreeably to this idea, instead of dwelling on the intenseness of his sufferings, we shall rather speak of them as vicarious.

We, by sin, had incurred a debt, which not all the men on earth or angels in heaven were able to discharge. In consequence of this, we must all have been consigned over to everlasting perdition, if Jesus had not engaged on our behalf to satisfy every demand of law and justice. When he saw that there was none able or willing to avert from us the miseries to which we were exposed, “his own arm brought salvation to us [Note: Isaiah 59:16.].” As Paul, interposing for the restoration of Onesimus to the favour of his master whom he had robbed, said, “If he hath robbed thee, or oweth thee aught, put that on mine account; I Paul have written it with mine own hand, I will repay it,” so did our Lord, as it were, address his Father on our behalf; that a full compensation being made for our iniquities, we might be restored to the divine favour.

Jesus having thus become our surety, our debt “was exacted of him, and he was made answerable” for it. The demands of justice could not be relaxed. However desirous the Father himself was that man should be spared, the honour of his government absolutely required that the violations of his law should be punished. On whomsoever guilt should be found, whether on the principal or the surety, it must be marked as an object of God’s utter abhorrence. Not even his only dear Son, if he should stand in the place of sinners, could be exempt from the penalty due to sin. Hence, when the time was come, in which Jesus was to fulfil the obligations he had contracted, he was required to pay the debt of all, for whom he had engaged; and to pay it to the very utmost farthing.

It was by his sufferings that he discharged this debt. Let us only call to mind the sentence originally denounced against sin, and we shall see that he endured it in all its parts. Were our bodies and our souls doomed to inconceivable misery? He sustained, both in body and soul, all that men or devils could inflict upon him. Was shame to be a consequence of transgression? Never was a human being loaded with such ignominy as he; “the very abjects mocking him incessantly, and gnashing upon him with their teeth [Note: Psalms 35:15-16.].” Were we to be banished from the presence of God, and to have a sense of his wrath in our souls? Behold, Jesus was “bruised by the Father” himself; and experienced such bitter agonies of soul, that the blood issued from every pore of his body; and he who had sustained in silence all that man was able to inflict, cried out by reason of the darkness of his soul, and the inexpressible torment that he suffered under the hidings of his Father’s face. Were we subjected to a curse? He was, by the special providence of God, doomed to a death, which had long before been declared accursed; and was given up into the hands of the Romans, in order that he might, in the strictest sense, “be made a curse for us [Note: Crucifixion was not a Jewish, but a Roman punishment.].” Finally, had the decree gone forth, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die?” He filled up the measure of his sufferings by death, and effected our deliverance by “giving his own life a ransom for us.” It may be said indeed, that we had deserved eternal misery; whereas that which he endured was but for a time. This is true; nevertheless there was no defect in his payment; because his temporary sufferings were equivalent to the eternal sufferings of all the human race; equivalent, as far as related to the ends for which they were inflicted, to the honour of the divine perfections, and the equity of God’s moral government. Indeed, the value of his sufferings infinitely surpassed all that ever could have been endured by man: if the whole world of sinners had been suffering for millions of ages, the demands of the law would never have been satisfied; eternity itself must have been the duration of their torments: but the dignity of Christ’s nature, as God over all, stamped an infinite worth on all that he did and suffered. Hence his death was a full, perfect, and sufficient propitiation for the sins of the whole world: in the hour of his death he “blotted out the handwriting that was against us, nailing it to his cross.” Thus was our debt wholly cancelled; and “there now remains no condemnation to them that believe in him.”

Having this glorious end in view, he exhibited, throughout the whole of his sufferings, the most wonderful magnanimity in,

II. His behaviour under them—

Nothing can exceed the beauty and propriety of the images, by which our Lord’s patience is here illustrated. As a sheep, when the shearer is stripping it of its clothing, makes neither noise, nor resistance; and as a lamb sports about even while being driven to the slaughter, yea, and licks the very hand that is lifted up to slay it, so our blessed Lord endured all his sufferings silently, willingly, and with expressions of love to his very murderers.

Twice is his silence noticed in the text, because it indicated a self-government, which, under his circumstances, no created being could have exercised. The most eminent saints have opened their mouths in complaints both against God and man. Job, that distinguished pattern of patience, even cursed the day of his birth. Moses, the meekest of the sons of men, who had withstood numberless provocations, yet, at last, spake so unadvisedly with his lips, that he was excluded, on account of it, from the earthly Canaan. And even the Apostle Paul, than whom no human being ever attained a higher eminence in any grace, broke forth into “revilings against God’s high-priest,” who had ordered him to be smitten contrary to the law. But “there was no guile in the lips of Jesus;” nor did he ever once open his mouth in a sinful or unbecoming manner. On one occasion indeed he expostulates with his God and Father, “My God, my God! why hast thou forsaken me?” But herein he did not express the smallest degree of impatience, or of murmuring against God. As a man, he could not but feel, and as a good man, he could not but bewail, the loss of the divine presence; and in this complaint he has shewn us the intenseness of his own sufferings, and the manner in which every good man ought to plead with God in an hour of distress and trouble. Nor did he ever utter any vindictive threatenings against his enemies. He foretold indeed the destruction which they would bring upon themselves when they should have filled up the measure of their iniquities: but this he did with tears and sorrow of heart, not to intimidate them, but to express his affection for them. His silence before the tribunal of Pilate was not a stubborn or scornful silence, but a meek and dignified resignation of himself to the will of his blood-thirsty enemies. How easily could he have retorted all their charges upon them, and put both his judge and his accusers to shame! But his time was come; and he would not but that all the prophecies should be accomplished in him. Moreover, when he was smitten unjustly before the very seat of justice, he made no other reply than this; “If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why smitest thou me?” Thus, in the midst of all the cruelties and indignities that could be offered him, he never once uttered an angry, a vindictive, or an unadvised word.

Indeed there was not only a submission, but a perfect willingness, on his part, to bear all that he was called to suffer. When first he became our surety, and it was proposed to him to assume our nature for that purpose, he replied, “Lo, I come, I delight to do thy will, O my God; yea, thy law is within my heart [Note: Psalms 40:6-8.].” When Peter would have dissuaded him from subjecting himself to the miseries which were coming upon him, our Lord rebuked him with a just severity, as the very first-born of Satan; since none could more effectually do the part of Satan, than he, who should attempt to divert him from his purpose of suffering in the place of sinners. “With great earnestness did he desire to eat the last passover with his disciples,” and “to be baptized with his bloody baptism;” yea, and “was greatly straitened till it should be accomplished.” He might easily have escaped, when Judas with a band of soldiers came to apprehend him in the garden; but, notwithstanding “he knew all things that were coming upon him,” he voluntarily went up to them, and asked them, whom they sought: and, after lie had shewn them by one exercise of his power that he could easily have struck them all dead upon the spot, even as Elijah had done before him [Note: John 18:6.], he gave himself up into their hands, stipulating however for his disciples (as he had long since done in effect with his heavenly Father for us), “If ye seek me, let these go their way.” At the time of his death also, to convince the people that his nature was not exhausted, he with an exceeding loud voice committed his spirit into his Father’s hands, shewing thereby, that no man took his life from him, but that he laid it down of himself: and the evangelist particularly marked this by saying, “He yielded up,” or, as the word means, he “dismissed his spirit [Note: Matthew 27:50 . ’ αφῆκε τὸ πνεῦμα.].”

In the midst of all his sufferings he abounded in expressions of love to his very murderers. When he came within sight of that infatuated, that malignant city, instead of feeling any resentment, he wept over it, and pathetically lamented the invincible obstinacy which would shortly involve it in utter ruin. Many, even thousands of its blood-thirsty inhabitants, were interested in that intercessory prayer, which he offered on the very eve of his crucifixion; the blessed effects of which were fully manifested on the day of Pentecost. While he yet hanged on the cross, instead of accusing them to his Father, he prayed for them, and even pleaded their ignorance in extenuation of their guilt; “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” And after he had risen triumphant from the grave, he still manifested the same unbounded compassion, directing his disciples to make the offers of salvation first to that very people, who had treated him with such consummate cruelty [Note: Luke 24:47.]; and to assure them, that the blood which they had shed was ready to cleanse them from the guilt of shedding it.

Such was the behaviour of our blessed Lord, every way suited to his august character, and calculated to promote the great ends of his mission: for while, by his sufferings, he paid the penalty that was due from us, and thus “finished transgression, and made an end of sin,” he fulfilled also the obedience which the law required, and “brought in for sinners an everlasting righteousness [Note: Daniel 9:24.].”

This subject, replete with wonder, affords us,

1. An occasion for thankfulness

Let us for a moment endeavour to realize our state before God. We have sinned against him: we have multiplied our transgressions: they are more in number than the stars of heaven, or the sands upon the sea shore. We owe to God a debt of ten thousand talents; and are unable to pay the least farthing towards it. What if we exert ourselves to serve God better in future? If we could live as angels in future, we could make no satisfaction for our past transgressions: the not continuing to increase our debt would not discharge the debt already incurred. But we cannot help adding to the score every day we live. What then should we do, if we had not a surety? Where should we hide ourselves from our creditor? How should we contrive to elude his search, or to withstand his power? Alas! our case would be pitiable indeed. But adored be the name of our God, who has “laid help upon One that is mighty!” Adored be that Jesus, who undertook to pay the price of our redemption, and who says, “Deliver him from going down to the pit, for I have found a ransom [Note: Job 33:24.].”

To view our situation aright let us consider ourselves, like Isaac, already devoted to death, and the arm of God himself uplifted to inflict the fatal stroke. When there seemed no prospect whatever of deliverance, mercy interposed to avert the impending ruin: and Jesus, like the ram caught in the thicket, offered himself in our stead [Note: Genesis 22:13.]. And shall we be insensible to all his love? Will not “the very stones cry out against us, if we should hold our peace?” O then “let them give thanks, whom the Lord hath redeemed, and delivered from the hand of the enemy.”

But this subject affords us also,

2. A pattern for our imitation

The delivering of us from destruction was by no means the only end of our Saviour’s suffering: he further intended to “leave us an example, that we should follow his steps;” that as he, “when reviled, reviled not again, and when he suffered, threatened not, but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously; so we and all his disciples, should walk according to the same rule.” And how excellent is such a disposition! how incomparably more glorious does Jesus appear, when “giving his back to the smiters, and his cheeks to them that plucked off the hair, and when he hid not his face from shame and spitting,” than any of the heroes of antiquity riding in their triumphal car, and dragging captive princes at their chariot wheels! If then we would be truly great, let our first victory be over our own spirit. Let us “possess our souls in patience,” that, “patience having its perfect work, we may be perfect and entire, lacking nothing.” “If our enemy hunger, let us feed him; if he thirst, let us give him drink; that by so doing we may heap coals of fire on his head,” not to consume him, but to melt him into love. Let us “not be overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good [Note: Romans 12:20-21.].” Difficult, no doubt, this conduct is: but can we want an inducement to it, when we reflect how Christ has loved us, and given himself for us? Should we think it much to forgive our fellow-servant a few pence, when we have been forgiven ten thousand talents? Let us remember that all our professions of faith, if we be destitute of this love, are vain and worthless. “If we could speak with the tongues of men and angels, or had faith to remove mountains,” or zeal to endure martyrdom, yet if we wanted the ornament of a meek, patient, and forgiving spirit, we should be “only as sounding brass, or as tinkling cymbals.” God has warned us, that, as the master seized his unforgiving servant, and cast him into “prison till he should pay the utmost farthing;” “so will he also do unto us, if we forgive not from our hearts every one his brother their trespasses [Note: Matthew 18:35.].” Let us then set Christ before our eyes: let us learn of him to forgive, not once, or seven times, but seventy times seven; or, to use the language of the Apostle, let us “be kind one to another, tender-hearted, forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven us [Note: Ephesians 4:32.].”


Verse 8

DISCOURSE: 971

OUR LORD’S TRIAL AND EXECUTION

Isaiah 53:8. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken.

IT has been generally thought, especially among heathen writers, that if virtue could be set before the eyes of men, and exhibited by some pattern of perfect excellence, it would conciliate the esteem of all, and be held in universal admiration. But Socrates entertained a very different opinion: he thought that if any person possessed of perfect virtue were to appear in the world, his conduct would form so striking a contrast to that of all around him, that he would be hated, despised, and persecuted, and at last be put to death; because the world could not endure the tacit, but keen reproofs, which such an example must continually administer. Experience proves that the opinion of this great philosopher was founded in a just estimate of human nature. Such a light did come into the world: “it shined in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not:” the workers of iniquity hated the light, and endeavoured to extinguish it, though their malicious attempts served but to make it burn with brighter lustre. The Lord Jesus was none other than virtue itself incarnate; and his enemies abundantly justified the opinion of Socrates; for they combined against him, and treated him with unexampled cruelty, and slew him. The extreme injustice of their conduct towards him is strongly marked in the words before us; which, on account of their intricacy, we shall explain, and, as replete with useful instruction, we shall improve.

I. To explain them—

Commentators have differed much in their interpretation of the former clauses of the text; some referring them to the exaltation of Christ, and others to his humiliation. According to the former, they import that God would raise him from the dead, and give him an inexpressible weight of glory, together with an innumerable seed, who should, as it were, be born to him. But we very much prefer the interpretation that refers them to the trial and execution of our Lord: for, in this view, they form an evident connexion between his behaviour under the indignities offered him [Note: ver. 7.], and his burial in the grave of a rich man [Note: ver. 9.]. A learned prelate [Note: Bishop Lowth.] translates them thus; “He was taken off by an oppressive judgment; and his manner of life who would declare?” According to this view of the words, they particularly specify the injustice, which, under a legal form, should be exercised towards him, and the want of that, which was, in every court of justice, the privilege of prisoners, the liberty of calling witnesses to testify on his behalf. Our Lord himself refers to that custom in his answer to the high-priest [Note: John 18:20-21.]; “I spake openly to the world: and in secret have I said nothing: why askest thou me? Ask them which heard me, what I have said to them: behold, they know what I said.” St. Paul also, when before Festus and Agrippa, complained that his adversaries withheld from him the testimony, which their knowledge of him qualified them to give: “My manner of life from my youth know all the Jews, who knew me from the beginning (if they would testify) that after the straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee [Note: Acts 26:4-5.].” A further confirmation of this sense of the words arises from the manner in which they are cited by an inspired writer: St. Luke, quoting the very passage before us, says, “In his humiliation his judgment was taken away;” and, “who shall declare his generation [Note: Acts 8:33.]?” Now though the latter words are the same as in the text, yet the former vary considerably from it; and seem to determine this to be the true scope of the whole; namely, that the most common rights of justice should be denied to our Lord at the time of his trial.

The history of our Lord is but too just a comment on this prophecy: for surely there never was a person treated with such flagrant injustice as he. His enemies, unable to lay any thing to his charge, suborned false witnesses, that they might take away his life by perjury: and when these agreed not in their testimony, they laid hold of an expression used by him some years before, and put a different construction upon it from what he ever intended, in order to found on that a ground of accusation against him. They dragged him from one tribunal to another in hopes of obtaining sentence against him: and when the governor, after repeated examinations, declared that he could find no fault in him, they would not suffer him to pass such a sentence as law and equity demanded, but in a tumultuous and threatening manner, compelled him to deliver him up into their hands, and to sanction their cruelties by his official mandate. The particular injustice, which we are more immediately called to notice, was, that they never once summoned any witnesses to speak on his behalf. If they had permitted the herald, as on other occasions, to invite all who knew the prisoner to give testimony to his character, how many thousands could have disproved the accusations of his enemies, and established his reputation on the firmest basis! What multitudes could have affirmed, that, instead of usurping the prerogatives of C ζsar, he had miraculously withdrawn himself from the people, when they sought to invest him with royal authority: and had charged them to be as conscientious in giving to C ζsar the things that were C ζsar’s, as unto God the things that were God’s! And while these invalidated the charges of treason and sedition, how many myriads could have borne witness to his transcendent goodness! How might they have said, “I was blind, and he gave me sight; I was deaf, and he unstopped my ears; I was dumb, and he loosed my tongue; I was lame, and he invigorated my limbs; I was sick, and he restored me to health; I was possessed with devils, and he delivered me from their power; I was dead, and he raised me to life again.” Possibly some might have been found, who had not lost all remembrance of his kindness, provided they had been suffered to speak on his behalf: but, as on a former occasion, the chief priests had excommunicated the blind man for arguing in his defence [Note: John 9:22; John 9:34.], so now did they intimidate all, insomuch that none dared to open their lips in his favour. Even his own disciple, who had promised the most faithful adherence to his cause, forsook him in this extremity, and, through fear of their threatened vengeance, denied, with oaths and curses, that he even knew the man.

Having prevailed by dint of clamour, the Jews led him forth to execution, that he might be “cut off out of the land of the living.” But no Jewish punishment was sufficiently cruel to satiate their malice: they therefore, notwithstanding their rooted hatred of a foreign yoke, voluntarily acknowledged their subjection to the Romans, that they might be gratified with seeing him die by the most lingering, painful, and ignominious of all deaths, a death which none but slaves were ever suffered to endure.

Who that had seen the universal and invincible determination of the Jewish people to destroy him, must not have concluded, that he was one whose unparalleled iniquities had excited their just abhorrence? Who, on being told that there was not one found upon the face of the whole earth to speak a word on his behalf, must not have been persuaded that he suffered for his own transgressions? But though the testimony of man was not formally and audibly given at the bar of judgment, there was abundant proof, that he suffered, not for his own sins, but for ours. There was a remarkable concurrence of circumstances to establish his innocence, not only in spite of their efforts to prove him guilty, but, in a great measure, arising from them. The endeavours of the chief priests to bring false witnesses, clearly shewed that they had no just ground of accusation against him. Had any person been able to impute evil to him, it is most probable that Judas would have done it, and would have brought it forth in vindication of his own conduct: but he, so far from justifying his own treachery, restored to the chief priests the wages of iniquity, affirming that he had betrayed innocent blood: and they, unable to contradict him, tacitly acknowledged the truth of his assertion, bidding him look to that as his concern. Pilate not only declared repeatedly that he could find no fault in him, but that neither was Herod able to lay any thing to his charge. He even came forth before them all, and washed his hands, in token that the guilt of condemning that just person should lie on those who had demanded his execution, and not on him who had reluctantly consented to it. The thief upon the cross, reproving his contemptuous companion, attested the innocence of Jesus, saying, “We indeed suffer justly; but this man hath done nothing amiss.” If he be thought an incompetent witness, because he spake not from his own knowledge; we affirm that his testimony was so much the stronger, because it was founded on common report, and therefore was not the testimony of a mere individual, but of the Jews in general. To these we may add the testimony of the Centurion, who had been stationed to superintend the execution. He had seen the dying behaviour of this persecuted man; he had seen that, immediately before his death, he had cried with a loud voice, manifesting thereby that he willingly surrendered up his soul, while his body was yet strong and vigorous: he had been witness to that supernatural darkness during the three last hours of our Saviour’s life; he had felt the earthquake at the moment of his departure from the body; and by these, as well as other circumstances, he was convinced of Jesus’ innocence, and exclaimed in the hearing of the people, “Truly this was a just man, this was the Son of God.” Thus evident was it in the midst of all the obloquy that was cast on Jesus, that he was not stricken for any transgressions of his own.

Our iniquities were the true occasion of all the calamities that he endured. How far, and to what extent, he may be said to have suffered for the transgressions of those who shall never be numbered amongst “God’s people,” is a point not easy to determine, nor at all necessary to inquire into. In some sense it is undeniable, he died for all, and was “a propitiation, not for our sins only, but also for the sins of the whole world:” and if it be asked, who brought him from heaven? who betrayed, condemned and crucified him? we answer, We: the Jews and Romans were the instruments, but “our transgressions” were the true and only cause, of all his sufferings. Nor can the importance of this truth be more strongly marked than by the frequent repetition of it in this short chapter. Indeed, if this be not borne in mind, we may be affected with the recital of his history, as we should be with the history of Joseph, or any other pathetic story; but we shall be for ever destitute of those benefits, which his vicarious sufferings were intended to impart.

Having explained the words before us, we shall endeavour,

II. To improve them—

We may well learn from them, in the first place, to guard against the effects of popular prejudice and clamour

Never was the power of prejudice so awfully manifest as on this occasion. The chief priests and rulers had only to raise an outcry against Jesus, and the unthinking populace adopted their views, and carried into effect their most inhuman purposes. It was quite sufficient to stigmatize Jesus with some opprobrious name, and all his virtues were obscured, all his benevolent actions were forgotten; and the common forms of justice were superseded for his readier condemnation. Thus it is also at this day with respect to his Gospel. We profess indeed, as Christians, to reverence the name of Christ; but there is precisely the same hatred to his Gospel in the hearts of carnal men, as there was to his person in the hearts of those who nailed him to the cross. His followers are now, no less than in former ages, “a sect every where spoken against.” Some name of reproach is given them; and that is sufficient to put every one on his guard against them, and to render them objects of general scorn and contempt. Their sentiments are misrepresented; opinions and practices are imputed to them without any just foundation; nor can any innocence of conduct, any excellence of character, any exertions of benevolence secure them a candid and impartial judgment. We easily see what ought to have been the conduct of the Jews, before they proceeded to inflict such miseries on our adorable Saviour: they should have compared his character with the prophetic writings; and examined the evidences he adduced in support of his pretensions. Had they done this, they would never have “crucified the Lord of glory.” Thus should we also do with respect to his Gospel. Instead of condemning it unheard, we should give it an attentive and patient hearing. We should then bring what we hear to the touchstone of divine truth, and, by comparing it with the sacred oracles, endeavour to ascertain how far it is worthy of our belief. Such conduct would be reasonable, even if the Gospel affected our happiness only in this present life: but when we consider that our everlasting salvation also depends on our acceptance of it, surely we must be inexcusable indeed if we will not bestow this attention on a concern of such infinite importance. On the other hand, if, like the Bereans, we search the Scriptures daily, to see whether things be as they are represented to us, we doubt not respecting the issue of such an inquiry; we shall soon believe the Gospel, and enjoy its richest blessings. Let us not then suffer our judgment to be warped by prejudice, or our inquiries to be stopped by popular clamour. If any people be objects of general odium on account of their religious sentiments and conduct, let us not hastily conclude that they are wrong; lest peradventure we “be found fighting against God,” and “reject the counsel of God against ourselves.” The opposition made to them may perhaps be rather considered as a presumption in their favour; because the true religion, and its most strenuous advocates, have in every age been maligned and opposed. The just medium is, neither to reject nor receive any thing without a diligent and impartial examination; but “to prove all things, and hold fast that which is good [Note: 1 Thessalonians 5:21.].”

This subject may further teach us,

2. To expect injuries from the hands of an ungodly world.

The Scripture has plainly told us that we must suffer with Christ in order that we may reign with him. Nor did our Lord conceal this truth from his followers: on the contrary, he was peculiarly solicitous that they should bear it in mind; “Remember,” says he, “the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord: if they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you [Note: John 15:20.].” It is certain, therefore, that we must be conformed to our Saviour’s image, and, like him, be made perfect through sufferings. If we think to resemble him in holiness, and yet to escape the cross, we shall find ourselves disappointed in the issue. We must either violate our conscience by sinful compliances, or bear reproach on account of our singularity. We may indeed, by a long course of exemplary conduct, put to silence the ignorance of foolish men [Note: 1 Peter 2:15]: but our fortitude will be tried; nor can we hope that God will make our enemies to be at peace with us, till our ways have long been pleasing in his sight, and our fidelity have been proved by many painful and victorious conflicts. It is worthy of observation, that St. Peter makes this very improvement of our Lord’s sufferings: “Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind [Note: 1 Peter 4:1; 1 Peter 4:12-13.].” He goes further still; and bids us “not think it strange if we should be tried with fiery trials, as though some strange thing happened unto us; but rather to rejoice, inasmuch as we are partakers of Christ’s sufferings, that, when his glory shall be revealed, we may be glad also with exceeding joy.” Let us then take up our cross daily, and follow Christ. Let no fear of man deter us from a conscientious discharge of our duty. Let us “remember him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest we be weary and faint in our minds.” And if we have reason to expect, that, like him, we shall even be “cut off out of the land of the living” for our adherence to the truth, let us cheerfully “suffer with him, that we may also be glorified together.”

There is yet one more improvement which, above all, it behoves us to make of this subject — — — It powerfully speaks to all of us this salutary admonition.

3. Let that be a source of grief to you, which was an occasion of such misery to Christ

Can we recollect that every transgression of ours inflicted a wound on the sacred body of our Lord, yea and caused the deepest agony in his soul, and yet review our past lives with indifference? Shall not rather the experience of every day fill us with shame and contrition? And shall not sin appear so hateful in our eyes, that we shall henceforth turn away from it with indignation and abhorrence? We are informed that David, when three of his worthies had cut their way through the Philistine hosts, and, at the most imminent peril of their lives, had brought him water from the well of Bethlehem, forbore to drink of it, and poured it out before the Lord with this reflection; “Is not this the blood of the men that went in jeopardy of their lives [Note: 2 Samuel 23:15-17.]?” However much he had thirsted for it, he was deterred by this consideration from even tasting it. And shall not we, when tempted to gratify any unhallowed appetite, call to mind what it cost our Lord to redeem us from it? However strong may be our thirst for sin, shall not the remembrance of our having so often drank it with greediness abase us in the dust? And shall we not in future put away the cup from our lips, saying, ‘This is the blood, not of a mere man who jeoparded his life, but of God’s only Son, who actually died for me? Was he crucified for me once, and shall I now crucify him afresh? Did he shed his precious blood for me, and shall I tread him under foot, and count his blood an unholy thing? How shall I do such wickedness, and sin thus against my God and Saviour?’ This were indeed a good improvement of the subject before us: this were to answer the great end of all Christ’s sufferings; since “he gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify us unto himself a peculiar people zealous of good works.” This too beyond all things would evince us to be the very “people of God, for whose transgressions he was stricken.” Let this effect then be visible amongst us. So, when we ourselves shall stand at the tribunal of our Lord, our lives shall testify on our behalf; and the judge of quick and dead shall say, “I know that ye feared me, seeing that ye put away from you the accursed thing, which my soul hated.”


Verse 9-10

DISCOURSE: 972

THE FATHER’S CONDUCT TOWARDS THE INNOCENT JESUS EXPLAINED AND VINDICATED

Isaiah 53:9-10. He made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief.

THE accomplishment of the prophecies is one of the strongest arguments for the truth of Christianity. The predictions which relate to the great Founder of our religion are so numerous and so minute, that they could not possibly have been dictated by any but Him, to whom all things are naked and open, and who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will. The very smallest circumstances of our Lord’s death, even such as were most unlikely and insignificant, were pointed out with as much accuracy as those which were most important. What could be more unlikely, than that he should be crucified, when crucifixion was not a Jewish but a Roman punishment? and yet that was foretold by David hundreds of years before Rome was built. What could be more unlikely than that, if he were crucified, he should not have his legs broken, when that was the customary way of hastening the end of those who were crucified, and they who were crucified with him were actually so treated? yet it was foretold fifteen hundred years before, that “a bone of him should not be broken.” What more insignificant, than that the soldiers should part his garment, but cast lots for his vesture? yet that, with many other things equally minute, was circumstantially foretold. So, in the text, his honourable interment after his disgraceful death is predicted: “his grave,” as the words may be translated, “was appointed with the wicked; but with the rich was his tomb.” Now, if we consider the treatment which Jesus was to meet with, it was necessary that such events as could not be foreseen by human wisdom, or accomplished by man’s device, should be foretold; because such a concurrence of circumstances, all happening exactly according to the predictions concerning him, would fully vindicate his character, and manifest that all which he suffered was according to the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God. Notwithstanding he was innocent and spotless in himself, yet he was to be treated as the vilest of malefactors: nor was he to be persecuted and put to death by men only, but to be an object also of the Divine displeasure. Therefore it was foretold by the prophet in the text, that, “although [Note: The word “because” should be translated “although.” See Bishop Lowth’s version, which removes all the obscurities from this passage. If this subject were treated separately, and not in a series of Sermons on the chapter, the first and last clauses of the text should he omitted.] he had done no violence, neither was there any deceit in his mouth, yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him, and to put him to grief.”

From these words we shall take occasion to consider, first, The innocence of Jesus; secondly, The conduct of the Father towards him; and thirdly, The reasons of that conduct.

I. Let us consider the innocence of Jesus—

The declaration of our Lord’s innocence is here peculiarly strong: it is not merely asserted, That he did no violence, but it is taken for granted as a thing which could not admit of one moment’s doubt; “although he had done no violence.” And indeed, well might it be taken for granted; for, if he were not innocent himself, he could not be a propitiation for our sins: if he had in the least deviated from the perfect law of God, he himself had needed an atonement for his own sins, as much as we for ours. Under the ceremonial law, the lamb that was to be offered in sacrifice at the passover was solemnly set apart four days before, in order that it might be examined; and, if it had the least spot or blemish, it was not worthy to be offered. To this St. Peter refers, when he calls our Lord “a Lamb without blemish, and without spot:” and it should seem that our Lord’s entrance into Jerusalem just four days before the passover, and the strict examination of him before Pilate and the chief priests, were intended to fulfil that type. In reference to the same, St. John says, “He was manifested to take away our sin; and in him was no sin;” for if there had been any in him, he could not have removed ours.

The text sets forth his innocence in two particulars; “he did no violence, neither was there any deceit in his mouth.” Deceit and violence are the fruits of wisdom and power when abused: and alas! wisdom is but too often employed in devising mischief, as power is in executing it. Our Lord was endued with wisdom; for “in him were hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge:” and he was possessed of power; for all nature, animate and inanimate, was under his control; but he never abused either for the purposes of deceit or violence. On the contrary, he employed his wisdom in confounding his captious adversaries, and in explaining the mysteries of his kingdom to his followers: and his power he exerted in working miracles upon the bodies of men, and in effecting the conversion of their souls. Who can read any of his discourses without acknowledging, as they did of old, that “he spake as never man spake?” who that hears him commanding the unclean spirits with authority, and rebuking the winds and the sea, must not immediately confess, that “no man could do these things except God were with him?” Sometimes indeed he answered differently from what we might have expected; as when he told the young man to “enter into life by keeping the commandments:” but this he did, because he knew that the young man’s heart was proud of his great attainments, at the same time that it was glued to his earthly possessions. This therefore was the way, not to deceive, but to undeceive him, by discovering to him the sinfulness of his heart: whereas, if he had told him at once, that the way to enter into life was by believing in him, he would indeed have given a more explicit answer to the question; but he would have left him wholly ignorant of his own corruptions, and would have exposed him thereby to the tenfold danger of making, like Judas, an hypocritical profession. So our Lord may appear to have done violence when he beat the armed men backward to the ground by his word. But this was done in pity to their souls: it was the very way to convince them, that they were about to seize the Lord’s prophet; and thereby to make them desist from their purpose. If they were Jewish soldiers, as doubtless they were, because they were sent by the chief priests and elders, and Pilate was not yet acquainted with their intentions, they could not but have heard the history of the prophet Elijah, who struck dead two different companies of men, consisting of fifty each, who came to apprehend him. Now our Lord struck them to the ground to bring that to their remembrance: and when they would not desist, he resigned himself into their hands. He healed also the high-priest’s servant, whose ear Peter had cut off: and, as he had once before rebuked his disciples, when they would have called fire from heaven to destroy a Samaritan village that had refused him admission, so now he told them, that “all who took the sword, should perish with the sword.” Indeed, if there had been any deceit in Jesus, Judas would gladly have discovered it, as a justification of his own treachery; and if there had been any violence in him, his numerous and watchful enemies would not have failed to lay it to his charge. But, so far was he from using deceit or violence himself, that he has engaged to deliver his people from all, who, in either of these respects, should attempt to injure them: “He shall redeem their souls,” says David, “from deceit and violence [Note: Psalms 72:14.].”

It appears then that his innocence in every respect stands unimpeached; “he was just such an high-priest as became us, holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners.” Nor was he more clear in the sight of men, than he was in the sight of God; for “he did always those things which pleased his Father:” and thrice did his Father, by an audible voice from heaven, declare him to be, “his beloved Son, in whom he was well pleased.”

But, however innocent he was, however free both from violence and deceit, yet he was not dealt with as innocent either by God or man: for, as his own countrymen treated him with the utmost barbarity, so even his heavenly Father acted towards him, as if he had been the greatest of all criminals; as we shall see by considering,

II. The conduct of his Father towards him—

We must acknowledge that there is something inexpressibly awful, and deeply mysterious, in the declaration before us: nevertheless it will be found literally true, that, notwithstanding the complacency and delight which the Father must of necessity have taken in the immaculate Jesus, “it pleased the Lord to bruise him.”

That his heavenly Father did inflict punishment upon him, even these words indisputably prove; as also do the words which immediately follow; “he hath put him to grief.” There is also in other parts of Scripture abundant evidence to confirm it: for, all that either men or devils did, was not only by his permission, but by his express commission. The Father “spared not his Son, but delivered him up;” and though the Jews took him, and by wicked hands crucified and slew him, yet St. Peter says, he was delivered up “by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God.” And indeed, how otherwise shall we account for his agony in the garden! If it was produced by devils, still they “could have had no power against him, except it had been given them from above.” And what shall we say to that bitter lamentation which he uttered upon the cross! The complaint arose, not from any pains of body, but from the desertion and wrath which his soul experienced from his heavenly Father: then the Father “bruised him.” This expression alludes to the holy incense mentioned in Exodus: “The Lord said unto Moses, Take unto thee sweet spices with pure frankincense, and thou shalt beat some of it very small, and put of it before the testimony in the tabernacle of the congregation, where I will meet with thee; and it shall be unto you most holy [Note: Chap. 30:34, 36.].” Before these spices could ascend up to God as incense, or be worthy to be laid up in the tabernacle, they were to be “beaten very small:” and in the same manner was Jesus to be bruised, before the incense of his merits could be accepted, or his own person be received into the tabernacle of the Most High. This was by far the most distressing part of our Saviour’s sufferings; nor could we account for his behaviour under them, unless we believed, that they were inflicted by his heavenly Father: for many martyrs have endured all that men could inflict, not only with resignation, but with joy and triumph: but here we see no less a person than the Son of God exceeding sorrowful, even unto death, at the very apprehension of his sufferings: we hear him crying for the removal of the bitter cup, and bewailing in the most pathetic manner the intenseness of his agony.

Nor did the Father bruise him only, but, as the text intimates, took pleasure in bruising him: “It pleased the Lord to bruise him.” The word which is here translated, “it pleased,” includes in it an idea of complacency, and is strongly expressive of pleasure: the import of it is much the same with that which the Apostle uses, when he says, “With such sacrifices God is well pleased: in conformity with which idea, Jehovah is said to smell a sweet savour from those sacrifices which prefigured the crucified Jesus. Indeed, the same idea, though not so expressly asserted, is supported and confirmed by many other passages of Scripture. In the very verse following the text, we are informed, that the Father gave him promises on the express condition that he should endure his wrath for man; that “when he should make his soul an offering for sin; he should see a seed, and should prolong his days;” that is, that, on condition of his bearing the wrath due to sinners, many should be everlastingly saved through him, and with him. In another place we are told that “God sent his Son into the world for this very end, that he might be the propitiation for our sins;” that is, that he might bear the punishment due to them: St. Paul also says, that “Christ was made sin, that is, a sin-offering, for us:” and again, that “he was made a curse for us:” all of which passages shew that God sent him into the world on purpose to bruise him. And when the time should come for executing upon his Son all that he was ordained to suffer, the prophet represents the Father as feeling a complacency in the very net: “Awake, O my sword, against my Shepherd, against the man that is my fellow, saith the Lord of hosts.” We may further observe, that the Father had from the beginning delighted in the sacrifices which were offered, became they were types of that sacrifice, which Christ in due time should offer upon the cross. When Noah came out of the ark, he built an altar, and offered a burnt-offering upon it; and then we are told, “The Lord smelled a sweet savour.” So, at the very time that our Lord was bruised, the Father was pleased with it; for the Apostle says of Christ, that he “gave himself an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour;” plainly implying, that as God was pleased with the offering of beasts by Noah, and with the savour of the incense which was composed of bruised spices, so he was pleased with the offering of his own Son, while he was yet consuming with the fire of divine wrath. The Father has moreover exalted Jesus in consideration of his having endured the sufferings which he had appointed him. The Apostle having set forth Christ as obedient unto death, even the death of the cross, adds, “Wherefore God hath highly exalted him, and given him a name above every name.” In the same manner, every blessing which the Father bestows upon mankind is given as the purchase of Christ’s blood, and as the reward of his obedience unto death. Redemption includes every blessing of the covenant; every evil we are delivered from, and every good which we are ever to possess: and this the Apostle ascribes wholly to the efficacy of Christ’s blood; “We have redemption,” says he, “through his blood:” and another Apostle says, “Ye were redeemed with the precious blood of Christ.”

Now did the Father give promises to his Son on the express condition of his suffering! Did he send him into the world on purpose that he might suffer? Did he delight in other sacrifices merely as typical of those sufferings? Did he declare, that the offering up of his dear Son was an offering of a sweet-smelling savour? Did he exalt Christ for his sufferings? and does he continually bestow the richest blessings on his very enemies as a reward of those sufferings? Did he do all these things, and shall we not acknowledge that the sufferings of Christ were pleasing to him; or, to use the words of the text, that it pleased the Lord to bruise him?

However, we must not imagine that the mere act of inflicting punishment on his only dear Son could be pleasing to him: No: “He delighteth in mercy;” and “judgment is his strange work:” he is averse to punish even his enemies; and much more his own Son. But there were very sufficient reasons why he should be pleased with bruising his own Son; to illustrate which we shall consider,

III. The reasons of the Divine conduct—

If we expect to account for every thing, we shall soon reject the whole of revelation: God never intended that we should; nor indeed is it possible. We know that an ignorant peasant is not able to search out the reasons upon which a profound statesman acts; nor could he even comprehend them, if they were laid before him: and shall we wonder if there be some mysteries in the revelation and in the providence of God which we cannot explore, and which perhaps, if unfolded ever so clearly, would be far above our comprehension? Is not God far more exalted above us, than we can be above our fellow-creatures? We must therefore proceed with great humility and reverence, when we presume to investigate the reasons by which the all-wise God is actuated, especially in subjects so deeply mysterious as this which we are now contemplating. However, we will attempt to assign some reasons for his conduct.

He was pleased when he bruised his Son, first, because the bruising of him was pleasing to his Son. As the Father did not take pleasure in inflicting punishment, so neither did the Son in enduring it, for itself; the punishment, considered separately from its consequences, was equally grievous to him who inflicted, and to him who bore it. But Jesus thirsted for the salvation of men; he knew that it could not be accomplished consistently with the rights of justice and truth, unless he should become their surety: he was well aware of all that he must undergo, if he should stand in the place of sinners; yet he cheerfully undertook it; “Then said he, Lo, I come; I delight to do thy will, O my God; yea, thy law is within my heart.” And when the time for his sufferings was fully arrived, he drew not back, but said, “Thy will be done;” and “for the joy that was set before him” of redeeming so many millions from destruction, “he willingly endured the cross, and despised the shame.” He reproved Peter as an agent of Satan himself, when he attempted to dissuade him from his purpose: “Get thee behind me, Satan, thou art an offence unto me.” And, when the time drew nigh, he so longed for it, that “he was quite straitened till it could be accomplished.” And therefore, as the Father knew how pleasing it would be to his Son to have the iniquities of mankind laid upon him, he himself found pleasure in laying them upon him: it gave him pleasure to put the finishing hand to that which had been agreed upon between them, and thus to make him “the author of eternal salvation” to all his people.

Another reason may be this: God was pleased with bruising his own Son, because it would prove so beneficial to man. We are not to imagine that the Son loved us more than the Father; for the Father expressed as much love in giving his Son, as the Son did in giving himself; the Father testified his compassion as much in laying our iniquities on his Son, as the Son did in bearing them in his own body on the tree. The whole work of salvation is the fruit of the Father’s love: he pitied us when we fell; he in his own eternal counsels provided a Saviour for us before we did fall, yea, before we were brought into existence. He saw how inconceivably miserable we must have been to all eternity if left to ourselves: he therefore covenanted with his Son, and agreed to pardon us, to give us peace, to adopt us for his children, to restore us to our forfeited inheritance, and to exalt us to glory, if he would, by substituting himself in our place, remove the obstacles which prevented the exercise of his mercy towards us. When therefore these counsels were nearly executed, the Father was pleased with putting the bitter cup into the hands of his Son, because it would henceforth be taken out of the hands of all those who should believe in Christ; none should perish but through their obstinate rejection of this Saviour; and all, who would embrace him, would be exalted to far higher glory than they would ever have obtained, if they had never fallen.

A third reason we may assign is this; the Father was pleased with bruising his own Son, because it would put great honour upon the divine law. We cannot but suppose that God must be concerned for the honour of his own law, because it is a perfect transcript of his own mind and will. Now this law had been violated and dishonoured by the transgression of man: if the sanctions of the law were not enforced, the law itself would be set aside; or, if the sanctions were enforced, still the punishment of the offender would never repair the dishonour done to the law, and the contempt he had poured upon it. But by the sufferings of Jesus “the law was magnified and made honourable.” The majesty of the law was manifested in having the Son of God himself subject to it: the authority of the law was established in that its penalties were inflicted even on the Son of God, when he stood in the place of sinners; and therefore no sinner could hope thenceforth to transgress it with impunity: the purity of the law was declared, in that nothing less than the blood of the Son of God could expiate any transgression against it: the justice of the law was held forth, in that it did not relax one jot or tittle of its demands even in favour of the Son of God. Now when the divine law was to be so magnified by the voluntary sufferings of the Son of God, we cannot wonder that the lawgiver should be pleased; especially as the majesty of the law was more fully manifested, its authority more firmly established, its purity more conspicuously declared, and its justice more awfully displayed by means of the sufferings of the Son of God, than it could have been by the everlasting obedience of angels, or the everlasting misery of the whole human race.

The last reason we shall assign is this; the Father was pleased with bruising his own Son, because he himself was thereby transcendently glorified. God cannot but delight in the manifestation of his own glory: nor did he ever manifest it in such bright colours, as while he was bruising his own Son. When Judas went out to betray his Master, “Now,” said Jesus, “the Son of man is glorified, and God is glorified in him.” In that awful hour, the divine perfections, which seemed, as it were, to be at variance, were made to harmonize, and to shine with united splendour. We are at a loss what to admire most; the inflexibility of his justice which required such a sacrifice, or the heights of his love which gave it; his inviolable truth in punishing sin, or the extent of his mercy in pardoning the sinner; the holiness of his nature in manifesting such indignation against iniquity, or his wisdom and goodness in providing such a way of deliverance from it. Every attribute of the Deity is incomparably more glorified than it could have been in any other way; mercy shines in the way of satisfying the demands of justice, and justice in the way of exercising mercy. This view of the Deity was not more new to man, than it was to the angels in heaven; and when a ray of this glory shone forth at the incarnation of our Lord, the angels burst forth in joyful acclamations, and sang, “Glory to God in the highest.” Since then the bruising of our Lord tended so much to the manifestation of the divine glory, no doubt the Father was well pleased with it.

We might assign more reasons, if it were necessary; but we trust that these are sufficient for the justifying of the Father’s conduct towards his Son. If, as has been shewn, the Father saw that the bruising of his Son would be pleasing to his Son, beneficial to man, honourable to his law, and glorious to himself, it can surely be no imputation on the Father’s character to say, “It pleased him to bruise his Son.”

Amidst the many reflections which naturally arise from this subject, such as the greatness of the Father’s love (in that “he spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all”), and the danger of unbelief (in that, if we yield to it, the Father’s wrath will infallibly fall on us [Note: Mark 16:16.]), and others too numerous to mention, we shall confine our attention to one; namely,

How great must be the evil of sin!

We have seen the immaculate Jesus bruised under the weight of his Father’s wrath, and his Father pleased with bruising him; and from whence did this arise? From the evil, the dreadful evil, of sin. Sin had introduced confusion into the divine government; sin had set the divine perfections at variance: sin had dishonoured the divine law: sin brought the Son of God from heaven: sin put him to death: and, had he not died, sin would have sunk us all into the lowest abyss of misery for ever. Sin reduced God himself to the necessity of delighting either to punish us, or to bruise his own Son. What must sin be, when such are the effects arising from it! And yet how lightly do we think of it! how unconcerned are we about it! But did our Surety think lightly of it, when he cried, “My God, my God! why hast thou forsaken me?” Did the Father think lightly of it, when he was bruising his own Son? and do they think lightly of it who are now receiving the wages of it in hell? If nothing less than the blood of Christ could expiate it, is it a small evil? If it crushed even HIM with its weight, though he had none of his own to answer for, shall we find it easy to bear, who are so laden with iniquities? Let us but look at sin one moment as it appears in the death of Jesus; let us recollect that he was God equal with the Father; and that yet he almost sunk under the load; let us recollect this, I say, and we shall surely begin to tremble, lest we should lie under the weight of it for ever. We never shall see sin aright, till we view it in the tears and groans, the blood and agonies, of the Son of God: for there at once we behold both the evil, and the remedy of sin; there at once we learn to fear and hope, to weep and rejoice. If we look at sin in any other view, we may dread its consequences: but we shall never hate its malignity. But if we view it in the dying Jesus, we shall be delivered from the fear of consequences, because the guilt of it was expiated by him; and we shall begin to lothe it as a hateful and accursed evil. This is the only source of ingenuous, evangelical repentance; nor till we “look on Him whom we have pierced, shall we ever mourn aright for sin, or be in bitterness for it, as one that is in bitterness for his first-born.” Let us then look at sin in this light, and we shall soon be like-minded with the Father; we shall be pleased with the sufferings of Jesus; they will be our hope, our plea, our joy, our boast; and we shall exultingly say with the Apostle, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”


Verse 10

DISCOURSE: 973

CHRIST’S DEATH A CONDITION OF OUR SALVATION

Isaiah 53:10. When thou shall make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.

THERE are in the Holy Scriptures many apparent contradictions, which, when properly understood, are perfectly consistent with each other. The redemption of our souls is continually represented as the freest gift of God: yet the very term redemption implies that a price is paid. But here is no real inconsistency; because that, which to us is as free as the light we behold, or the air we breathe, was dearly purchased by our blessed Lord; and the Apostle himself combines these ideas, saying, “We are justified freely by God’s grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” The truth is, that eternal life is the gift of God through Jesus Christ: but, before it could be thus freely given consistently with the divine perfections, it was necessary that an atonement should be made for sin: and, in order to the liberating of the debtor, the debt must be discharged by his Surety. Hence, when our Lord undertook to save us, a condition was imposed upon him, and the promise of success in his undertaking was suspended on his performance of that condition. The words before us lead us to consider,

I. The condition imposed—

To understand the true nature of this condition, it is necessary that we should advert to the offerings that were made under the law. If any person had sinned, even through ignorance, he was bound to bring an offering in order to make atonement for his sin. This offering was to be a bullock, or a male or female kid, or a lamb, according to the quality of the offender. He was to lay his hands upon the head of the offering, in token that he confessed himself to be deserving of death, and that he transferred his guilt to the creature that was to suffer in his stead. The creature was then killed; its blood was poured out at the foot of the altar, some of it having been previously put upon the horns of the altar; and then its fat was burnt upon the altar: and God smelling a sweet savour from it, accepted it on behalf of the offerer.

Now this will shew what Christ was to do. He had undertaken to save man: he must therefore come and put himself in the place of man; and present himself before God to suffer all that was due to our transgressions. But whereas the animals could suffer only in body, he was to suffer both in body and soul, and to present his whole person a sacrifice for sin. In consideration of this sacrifice every sinner in the universe was to have liberty to transfer his guilt to him, and, on so doing, to find acceptance with God through him. Thus he was to become the sinner’s substitute, or, as the Apostle expresses it, “to be made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”

But what necessity was there for any such condition? Why must God’s only dear Son become a man, and offer up himself a sacrifice for sin? To answer this important inquiry, we observe, first, that man, having once transgressed the law of God, could never afterwards be justified by obedience to it. The law denounced a curse against transgressors, but made no provision for their restoration to the Divine favour. It made no mention of repentance or amendment; it spake nothing of pardoning mercy; it simply required obedience, and inflicted the penalty of death on the disobedient. From that time “there could not be any law given whereby we might have life; for if there could, God tells us, that verily righteousness should have been by the law.” If therefore man ever was to be saved at all, there was a necessity that some other plan should be devised, whereby the law should take its course and yet the trangressor be rescued from condemnation. This could not be done unless a proper substitute for man could be found, who should at once satisfy all the demands of law and justice, and bring in a righteousness that should be transferable to man for his justification before God. Hence, in the next place, arose a further necessity for the death of Christ, namely, that there was none other found in the whole creation, who was capable of undertaking so great a work. As for “the blood of bulls and of goats, it was not possible that that could take away sin:” “nor could any man redeem his brother,” or even himself. If an angel, or all the angels of heaven, had attempted it, they must have failed: for in the very first instance they must have suffered eternal death. This was the penalty due to sin; and if it had been inflicted on them, they must have been in the state of the fallen angels to all eternity, seeing that there never would come a time, when it could be said, that the law was fully satisfied. Besides, their obedience to the law, even supposing it to have been meritorious in the sight of God (which it could not be, because, “after having done all that was commanded them, they would be only unprofitable servants”), they could merit only for themselves: the righteousness of a mere creature could never have been so excellent as to deserve eternal happiness and glory for a sinful world. We do not indeed presume to limit God, and to say what he might or might not have done, if he had pleased. But according to the light given us in the Scripture we are warranted to say, that, if any lesser sacrifice would have answered all the purposes of his glory and of man’s salvation, he never would have sent “the man that was his fellow.” He would not have given his Son out of his bosom to die for us, if the death of a mere creature would have sufficed. This leads us to notice a further ground of Christ’s sacrifice, which was, that in it there was a sufficiency for the salvation of the whole world. Christ being God as well as man, there was an infinite value in his sufferings; his sufferings for a time were equivalent to the sufferings of the whole world to all eternity. There was also an infinite value in his obedience; so that it could merit, not for himself only, but for others, yea, for all the myriads of sinners who should trust in it. The penalty of the law being inflicted on him, Divine justice was satisfied; and scope was opened for the exercise of mercy. The sinner’s debt being paid, the sinner could be discharged in perfect consistency with God’s truth and holiness.

Hence then it was that “help was laid upon One so mighty;” and that such a condition was imposed upon him.

As to what is said of the Father “making his soul an offering,” the words may be translated either in the second or the third person: if in the second, they relate to the Father’s laying of our iniquities upon his Son; if in the third (as they are in the marginal translation, which we rather prefer), they relate to Christ’s voluntarily making himself an offering.

But in addition to what we have spoken concerning the nature and necessity of the condition imposed on Christ, it will be proper that we state, in few words, what the condition itself implied. It implied, that there is no salvation but by the blood of Christ. It has before been observed that such a condition would never have been imposed, if man could have been saved by any other means: and this is confirmed by that express declaration of the Apostle, “There is no other name given under heaven, whereby we can be saved, but the name of Jesus Christ.” It implied further, that every sinner must actually present, as it were, to God the blood of Christ, as his only plea for mercy and acceptance. He must put his hand on the head of his offering, confessing his desert of death, renouncing every self-righteous hope, and trusting simply in the sacrifice once made upon the cross. Lastly, it implied, that this one offering, thus presented, shall be available for the very chief of sinners. God’s end in sending his Son was, not only to save man, but to glorify himself in man’s salvation. It is true, that all his perfections are glorified in the salvation of the most righteous: but the efficacy of this atonement, together with God’s love in providing, and his mercy in accepting it, are more conspicuous, in proportion as those interested in it are redeemed from deeper condemnation. To have imposed such a condition for the purpose of saving a few only of the more worthy characters, would have given us reason to apprehend, either that the mercy of God was very limited, or that there was not a sufficiency in the Redeemer’s merits for the redemption of more atrocious sinners. But as these apprehensions are false and groundless, we may consider the very condition itself as importing, that the offering of Christ should be accepted for all that would trust in it.

Such was the condition imposed on God’s only dear Son, when he undertook to mediate for fallen man: “He must make his own soul an offering for sin,” and die in the stead of those whom he would redeem.

The benefit arising from his performance of that condition is seen in,

II. The promises suspended on it—

Those specified in my text refer to three things; the furtherance of man’s welfare; the advancement of Christ’s glory; and the accomplishment of the Father’s eternal purposes.

The furtherance of man’s welfare entirely depended on Christ’s performance of this condition. He could never have “seen a seed,” nor could one of all the human race ever have been saved, without it. Our Lord himself both confirms and illustrates this by a beautiful comparison. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground, and die, it abideth alone: but, if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit [Note: John 12:24.].” But by dying he was to obtain a people whom he was to have for ever as his “purchased possession.” It had been foretold respecting him that “a seed should serve him; that all the ends of the earth should remember themselves and turn unto him; and that they should be counted to him for a generation [Note: Psalms 22:27; Psalms 22:30.].” By conversion they were to stand related to him as his children, as being begotten by his word and Spirit, and as receiving through him a heavenly inheritance. These he was to “see.” And behold, while he was yet in the very act of offering himself, he did see the earnest and first-fruits of his future harvest: in the very hour of death he converted the dying thief, and took him that very day to dwell with him in Paradise, as a monument of his victorious grace, and of his redeeming love. Nor had he long poured out his soul, when lo, another convert was born to God! No sooner did the Centurion, who had been ordered to superintend the execution, behold the manner of his death, and the signs and wonders that attended it, than he exclaimed, “Truly this was a righteous man, this was the Son of God!” In the space of a few days thousands confessed his power, and through the operation of his Spirit, became sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty. Soon the handful of corn cast on the top of the mountains sprang up like the piles of grass for number, and the cedars of Lebanon for strength [Note: Psalms 72:16.]. Even to the present hour his family is increasing in every quarter of the globe: and soon the time shall arrive, when “a nation shall be born in a day,” and that word of his shall be literally fulfilled, “I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me.” And when all the number of his elect shall have been gathered to him in successive ages, he will come and summon them all into his presence, that he may rejoice in them, and they in him, for ever and ever.

The advancement of his own glory was to be another fruit of the accomplishment of his engagements: “He shall prolong his days.” This cannot relate to him as God, seeing that his divine nature necessarily exists in one unsuccessive eternity. But as man and as Mediator, he was to “prolong his days” in a state of glorious advancement, as a reward for terminating his days on earth under such circumstances of humiliation and abasement. This also had been foretold in the inspired volume; “he shall live; his name shall endure forever; his name shall be continued as long as the sun; and men shall be blessed in him; all nations shall call him blessed [Note: Psalms 72:15; Psalms 72:17.].” Again, in another Psalm, “Thou preventest him with the blessings of goodness; thou settest a crown of pure gold upon his head. He asked life of thee, and thou gavest it him, even length of days for ever and ever [Note: Psalms 21:1-5.].” Accordingly, in spite of the stone, the seal, the watch, he rose triumphant, and ascended up far above all principalities and powers, and sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. There shall he remain seated on his glorious throne, the one source of blessedness to all his creatures, till he shall come in the clouds of heaven, and take them to himself, that they may be one fold under one Shepherd for evermore. But all this glory was conditionally promised: he was first to become “obedient unto death, even the death of the cross; and then he was to be highly exalted, and to have a name given him above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ was Lord, to the glory of God the Father [Note: Philippians 2:8-11.].”

The accomplishment of his Father’s eternal purposes was to be yet a further part of his reward: “The pleasure of the Lord was to prosper in his hands.” The pleasure of Jehovah, yea, his chief delight, is to save sinners. This was the end he proposed to himself in his eternal counsels, when he entered into covenant with his dear Son. He has given proof of this, in that he has sworn, “he has no pleasure in the death of a sinner, but rather that he should turn from his wickedness and live.” “He willeth that all should be saved and come to the acknowledgment of the truth:” and, with respect to his elect, “it is his good pleasure absolutely to give them the kingdom [Note: Luke 12:32.].” Nor, if we would entreat him to convert and save our souls, can we use any more suitable expressions than those of the Apostle, who prays, “that he would fulfil in us all the good pleasure of his goodness [Note: 2 Thessalonians 1:11.].” But his sending of his Son, in order “that whosoever believeth in him might not perish, but have eternal life,” is such an evidence of his love to sinners, as supersedes the necessity of any other proof, and must fill the universe with everlasting wonder and astonishment.

Now, as before the incarnation of Christ, the salvation of men was effected by the Father, so, since the coming of Christ, it has been carried on more immediately by the Son. During the first four thousand years of the world the work of conversion went on but slowly; there were few, very few, who experienced the saving efficacy of divine grace. But, when the office of rescuing sinners from the power of Satan came to be devolved on Jesus, then, according to the stipulation in the text, “the pleasure of the Lord was to prosper in his hands.” And how marvellously has it prospered, notwithstanding all the opposition of men and devils! There is not a day, an hour, a moment, wherein he is not beholding with joy the success of his endeavours: the ignorant are enlightened, the weak established, the doubting comforted, and all the hosts of the redeemed prepared for glory: nor shall his success be ever interrupted. To the latest period of time he shall go forth conquering, and to conquer, till all his enemies be put under his feet, and all his ransomed ones be seated on thrones of glory.

And now what should we learn from this subject? Surely we must see in it,

1. How difficult a work is the salvation of man!

Was there no other way whereby it could be effected? Could there be no remission without shedding of blood? And must that blood be the blood of God’s only Son? Must he take our nature and offer himself without spot to God, before our peace could be made, or a way be opened for our restoration to happiness! Go, then, ye careless ones, who think all anxiety about the soul superfluous; go read the terms of this covenant; and see whether the salvation of man be so easy to be effected as you have hitherto imagined: see what a stupendous effort of wisdom and love was necessary before there was even a possibility for one of us to be saved! and, if such exertions were necessary on the part of the Father and of Christ, do ye suppose that there is no occasion for exertion on your part? Did Christ purchase for you not merely an exemption from death and hell, but also from all solicitude about your eternal interests? — — — Yea, rather, do not his labours for you shew how you ought to labour for yourselves! Awake, then, from your slumbers, and work out your salvation with fear and trembling. You feel the need of labouring for the bread that perisheth; begin then to labour in good earnest for that which endureth to everlasting life, which the Son of man will give you.

2. Next observe, How wonderful was the love of Christ in undertaking such things for the effecting of your salvation!

When God declared that he had no pleasure in sacrifices and burnt-offerings, and that he must have a far nobler sacrifice than that of beasts to satisfy the demands of his justice, the Saviour instantly undertook for us, saying, “Lo, I come to do thy will, O God; I delight to do thy will, however painful the consequences of it may be to myself; yea, thy law is within my heart.” He perfectly knew what it was to make his soul an offering for sin: he did not undertake it hastily, or without being apprised of the full extent of his engagements: but, foreseeing all the shame and misery that he must endure for our redemption, he undertook to effect it; nor ever receded, till he had accomplished all that was needful for it. Never can we sufficiently admire this astonishing love. O let us fix our minds upon it, and labour, if possible, to comprehend its heights and depths! Though “it passes the knowledge” of men and angels, yet shall our meditations on it be sweet, and our sense of it an antepast of heaven itself.

3. Lastly, How cheerfully should we submit to any conditions for his glory, who submitted to such conditions for our good!

What is it that our God requires of us? It is simply this; that we should repent, believe, obey. And shall such conditions appear hard? If God had required that, in order to our final happiness, every one of us should endure the miseries of hell a thousand years, we ought to have embraced his offers of salvation with gratitude and joy; for, what are a thousand years in comparison of eternity? But when he only enjoins us to repent of those iniquities, for which the Saviour died; and to believe in him, whom the Father has set forth for a propitiation; and to obey his precepts, which are holy, just, and good; shall these injunctions be thought grievous? Shall we turn our back upon him, saying, “If I cannot be saved without all this trouble, I will not be saved at all?” Well indeed might Jesus, when the conditions of our salvation were proposed to him, have replied, “No; if man cannot be saved on lower terms than these, let him perish. But what lower terms could we wish for? Yea, what is there in all our duties, which does not tend even to our present happiness? Let us then embrace the Gospel with all thankfulness: and let us cheerfully comply with all that God has required of us, knowing assuredly that he is faithful who hath promised, and that our labour shall not be in vain in the Lord.


Verse 11

DISCOURSE: 975

THE MEANS OF OUR JUSTIFICATION BEFORE GOD

Isaiah 53:11. By his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.

IT is not possible to conceive a more difficult question for unenlightened reason to resolve, or one in the resolution of which mankind are more deeply interested, than this, How shall a sinner be justified before God? Every man feels himself a sinner, and has, in a greater or less degree, a sentence of condemnation within his own bosom. And the more he considers his state, the more he feels an anxiety to know how he may escape the punishment he deserves, and secure the favour of his God and Judge. The words before us remove all doubt upon this subject: they represent Christ as God’s servant, sent and commissioned for this very end, to justify sinners by the knowledge of himself; and, while they thus declare the means of our justification, they specify also the ground of it; for however gratuitous this blessing is, as it respects us, it is altogether procured for us by the vicarious sacrifice of the Son of God.

Let us consider, then,

I. The means of our justification before God—

Christ is the person spoken of throughout this whole chapter: and here, as in the preceding chapter [Note: ver. 13.], he is denominated God’s “servant.” This title belongs to him only in his mediatorial capacity; for in his own nature, Christ is one with the Father, in glory equal, in majesty co-eternal. The appellation of “righteous,” which is here applied to him, is of peculiar force in this connexion. He was eminently righteous above every creature in earth or heaven. Of fallen men, “there is none righteous, no, not one.” And though the angels are holy, yet is their righteousness not originally of, and from, themselves; it is the gift of God: nor is it immutable, seeing that many have fallen from it; and the preservation of those who maintain their first estate, is also the effect of God’s distinguishing grace: but Christ is essentially, eternally, and immutably righteous. Moreover, angels are righteous for themselves alone; but Christ is righteous for us, having fulfilled all righteousness with the express view to impute that righteousness to us, that so we may have a righteousness wherein to appear before God, and God may be just in justifying us [Note: Romans 5:19; Romans 3:26.]. The particular application of the term “righteous” to him as justifying sinners, shews, that it is to be understood in this extent, and as equivalent to that name which is elsewhere given him, “The Lord our Righteousness.”

To “justify” sinners is the work assigned him by the Father. It is his office to take even the most sinful of the human race, and so to purge them from all iniquity that they may stand before God without spot or blemish, and be regarded by him as though they never had sinned at all. This is a work which none other can perform; nor, if God had not revealed a way in which it might be done, could we have conceived it possible that such a marvellous work should ever be accomplished.

By what means he makes us partakers of this blessing, we are told in the words before us; it is “by or through the knowledge of himself;” he enables us to behold him as he is revealed in the Scriptures, and leads us to embrace him as our all-sufficient portion. Knowledge in general has its seat in the understanding only; but the knowledge of Christ is seated both in the understanding and the heart. Hence, in order to be justified by Christ, we must not only view him as appointed of God to save us, but to this theoretical knowledge we must add the approbation of our hearts: we must have such a full persuasion of our inability to save ourselves, and of his sufficiency to save us, as determines us to renounce all dependence on an arm of flesh, and to glory in him alone. This is the knowledge of which our Lord speaks, when he says, “This is life eternal, to know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent:” and it is by this alone that any sinner can be justified.

Now by bringing men thus to know him and believe in him, he has justified many in all ages, and is yet daily communicating to thousands the blessings of salvation. It is true that, in comparison of the ungodly world, the justified have been but few in number, a little flock, a small remnant: but in the last day, when they shall all be collected together, they will be numberless like the stars of heaven, or the sands upon the sea shore. Nor is any one, however vile, excluded from the hope of justification, provided he be willing to embrace this Saviour. On the contrary, if all the people in the universe would but look to him for the ends and purposes for which he is revealed in the gospel, they should instantly experience in their souls what the wounded Israelites experienced in their bodies when they looked to the brazen serpent in the wilderness: they should be delivered from all the fatal consequences of their sins, and be endued with spiritual and eternal life.

To mark more clearly the connexion between the means and the end attained by them, it will be proper to advert to,

II. The ground of our justification—

The way appointed for our restoration to the divine favour is not a mere arbitrary institution of the Deity: there is a fitness in it, and a suitableness which deserves peculiar notice. It may be asked, Whence comes it that a knowledge of Christ should be the means of a sinner’s acceptance with God? What has Christ done, that he should be authorized to justify sinners by means so inadequate to their end? In other words, supposing these means effectual to their end, what is the ground on which they become so? To these questions the text affords us a precise and satisfactory answer.

The vicarious sacrifice of our blessed Lord has been repeatedly insisted on in the foregoing parts of this prophecy; and here it is again spoken of as the ground on which he justifies those who believe in him. For the elucidating of this point let two things be considered;

First, The sacrifice of Christ removes all the, obstacles to our salvation. When man had fallen, there were many things which seemed to render his restoration impossible. The law, which he had broken, denounced a curse against him; nor could the lawgiver, however desirous he might be to rescind his decree, revoke his word consistently with his own perfections: his justice demanded satisfaction for the breach of the law; his holiness rendered it necessary that he should shew his utter abhorrence of sin; and his truth was pledged for the execution of the sentence which he had annexed to the violation of his commands; and therefore there seemed no alternative for God, no hope for man. But Christ, in becoming our surety, and bearing our iniquities in his own body, removed all these difficulties at once: he magnified the law by enduring its penalties, and made it honourable by fulfilling its commands: he also satisfied the demands of his Father’s justice, truth, and holiness, and afforded to the whole creation a most awful proof, that sin could never be committed with impunity. There was, indeed, yet one more impediment to man’s recovery. Man, haying once fallen, had lost that righteousness which qualified him for the enjoyment of his God. But this also was removed in the very same way; for Christ’s obedience unto death not only rendered our salvation consistent with the rights of law and justice, but constituted also a righteousness which was capable of being imputed to us; and procured for us the Holy Spirit, by whose almighty agency we are renewed after the divine image in righteousness and true holiness. Thus every obstacle to our salvation being removed by the death of Christ, that death may properly be called the ground of our justification.

But, in the next place, the sacrifice of Christ has obtained for him a right to justify whom he will. We are often said to be “bought with a price;” and it is particularly specified, that the price paid was, the blood of Christ [Note: 1 Peter 1:19.]; yea, that “God purchased the Church with his own blood [Note: Acts 20:28.].” Now it is obvious, that he who purchases any thing, has a right to the thing purchased, as soon as ever he has paid the price. Thus then has Christ a right to us as “his purchased possession.” Moreover, Christ is represented as a surety who has discharged our debt; who may therefore demand our liberty, and deliver us out of the hands of our adversary, who threatens to cast us into prison. Nor is this all: for, as has been observed on a foregoing part of this prophecy, God had bound himself by covenant to give him a seed; and had promised that, “if he would lay down his soul an offering for sin, the pleasure of the Lord should prosper in his hand.” Christ therefore, having fulfilled his part of the covenant, may claim the fulfilment of the Father’s engagements, and, by virtue of the authority committed to him, may reveal himself to sinners in order to their eternal salvation. Thus, whether we consider the justification of sinners as obtained for them, or Imparted to them, the death of Christ must be acknowledged as the true and only ground of it.

These points being so fully opened in other parts of this chapter, we may wave any further discussion of them, and propose for adoption such a line of conduct as shall ensure to every one the blessing here spoken of.

1. Let us read the Scriptures with care and diligence—

The Holy Scriptures are the only fountain of divine knowledge. They are a kind of map, whereby we may find our way through this trackless desert, and arrive in safety at our Father’s house. Our Lord says, “Search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life, and they are they which testify of me.” Let us then not merely read them, but attend particularly to the testimony which they bear to Christ. Nor let us peruse them in a cursory manner, as though they needed no study or investigation; but rather let us examine them with deep attention, as we would a will or testament by which our title to a large inheritance was to be determined. What a succession of hopes and fears would arise in our breast, when we read in such a will the passages that appeared prosperous or adverse; and what diligence should we use to make our title clear! How glad should we be to consult those who could give us information on the subject, and what a deep impression would their opinion make upon our minds, particularly if it were grounded on authentic records, and established cases! Such is the way in which we should search the holy oracles for ourselves, and hear them expounded to us by others: nor should we ever rest till we can prove out of them, by indisputable evidence, our right and title to the heavenly inheritance. Happy would it be for us, if we sought the knowledge of Christ! we should soon be guided into all truth: and be made wise unto salvation through faith that is in Christ Jesus.

But while we thus read the Scriptures,

2. Let us pray for the teaching of the Holy Spirit—

To unenlightened man, the Scriptures are “a sealed book;” nor, however learned he may be in other sciences, can he attain the knowledge of Christ, unless the Holy Spirit shine into his heart to give him that knowledge [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:6.]. If we look at a sun-dial, we may understand the use and import of the figures; yet can we not attain a knowledge of the time unless the sun shine upon it. So it is with respect to the word of God: we may understand the general meaning of the words; yet can we not receive its spiritual instructions, unless we have that “unction of the Holy One, whereby we may know all things.” The words of Christ “are spirit and life;” and a spiritual discernment is necessary in order to a just apprehension of their import [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:14.]. St. Paul had studied the Scriptures diligently, but could never find Christ in them, till the light shone upon him from heaven, and the scales fell from his eyes. The Apostles had been instructed by our Lord himself between three and four years; and yet could not enter into the truths which the prophets and Christ himself had declared, till “he opened their understandings to understand the Scriptures.” Nor, with all our advantages, have we any more power to comprehend his truth; for he expressly tells us, that “no man knoweth either the Father or the Son, except the Holy Spirit reveal him unto us [Note: Matthew 11:27.].” Hence for the attainment of divine knowledge we are directed to combine a dependence on God’s Spirit with our own researches; “If thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; if thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God; for the Lord giveth wisdom; out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding [Note: Proverbs 2:3-6.].” Let us then not presume to separate what God has thus united, but pray with David, “Open thou mine eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.”

There is yet another direction, which it is of infinite importance to attend to, namely,

3. Let us guard against self-righteousness—

There is no evil that cleaves more closely to our nature than self-righteousness. We are always wanting to be justified by some other way than that proposed in the text. Like Naaman, if some great thing were required of us, we should gladly do it; but when it is said to us, “Wash and be clean,” “Believe and be saved,” we turn away in disgust. The very simplicity of this fundamental truth offends us. Were we told that we must work diligently, and become godly in order to obtain justification, we should think the direction safe and proper: but the Scripture account of the way of being justified is directly opposite to this: St. Paul says, that “to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness [Note: Romans 4:5.]:” and this appears so strange, that men cannot, and will not, admit it. But the Apostles themselves could not obtain justification in any other way, than by renouncing all their own righteousness, and by going as ungodly and perishing sinners unto Christ, that they might be accepted through him alone. This is affirmed by St. Paul himself, who says, “We, who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified [Note: Galatians 2:15-16.].” Let us then guard against every species and degree of self-righteousness, and look for justification solely through the knowledge of Christ, and by faith in his all-atoning sacrifice.

4. Let us, however, be careful to shew forth our faith by our works—

Because we say, That we are not to work at all with a view to obtain justification by our works, but that we must accept justification freely as ungodly and perishing sinners, must we be understood to say, That men need not to work at all, but are at liberty to continue ungodly? No; by no means. We maintain the absolute necessity both of diligence and universal godliness: we only deny to these things the office of justifying the soul. We declare to all, that they must be daily “working out their salvation with fear and trembling,” and that “faith without works is dead.” Let this then be borne in mind; There is, and can be, but one way of a sinner’s justification before God, and that is, by the knowledge of Christ, and faith in his name: but this free salvation, so far from giving any licence for sloth and wickedness, is the strongest incentive to holiness, and the greatest possible obligation to good works. Let us then shew forth our faith by our works. In this way we may be justified by our works, even as Abraham and Rahab were [Note: James 2:21; James 2:25. compared with Romans 4:2-3; Romans 4:6.]; that is, we may evince the reality of our faith, and the sincerity of our hearts. Thus shall we assign to faith and works their proper offices, and adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things.


Verse 12

DISCOURSE: 976

THE FRUIT OF CHRIST’S DEATH AND INTERCESSION

Isaiah 53:12.—Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

IT is at this time, as it has also been in all former ages, an objection frequently urged against the true disciples of Christ, that few, if any, of the wise and noble embrace their sentiments. When our blessed Lord himself ministered on earth, it was asked with scornful triumph, “Have any of the rulers and of the Pharisees believed on him?” But, if we confess, with the Apostle, that “not many wise, not many mighty, not many noble are called,” we must resolve the difficulty into the sovereign will of God, who has “chosen the foolish and weak things of the world, to confound the wise and mighty, and the base and contemptible things of the world, to bring to nought things that are, that no flesh should glory in his presence.” There is, however, a period fixed in the divine counsels, when the great and mighty, as well as others, shall become obedient to the faith: and to that event the prophet directs our attention in the text. According to the present translation indeed the Lord Jesus is represented as dividing the spoil in concert with the great: but it should rather be translated, “I will divide him the great for a portion, and he shall divide the strong for a spoil [Note: See Vitringa in loc. or Bishop Lowth.].” Agreeably to this sense of the words, we are led to view him as a victorious monarch triumphing over all the potentates on earth, and both seizing them for his spoil, and enjoying them for his portion.

In illustrating this passage, it will be proper to consider,

I. The promise made to Christ—

The conversion of the world to Christ is a frequent subject of prophecy: whole chapters are occupied in describing it [Note: Isaiah 49, 60.]: we are told that the power of godliness shall one day pervade all ranks of people “from the least even to the greatest;” and that kings will account it their highest honour to be “the nursing-fathers of the Church, and queens her nursing-mothers.” This was fulfilled in part in the Apostles’ days, when many persons of rank and power embraced the truth. But it was yet further accomplished in the time of Constantine, when the Roman empire professed subjection to the Gospel; and the religion of Christ became the established religion of the world. Since that time the chief princes of Europe have called themselves by the name of Christ, and wished to be esteemed his followers. It is true indeed that far the greater part of them have only called him Lord, Lord, while they have had no desire to do the things which he commands: still, however, their very professions of regard to his name are sufficient to shew what we may expect, when God shall make bare his arm, and go forth in the chariots of the everlasting Gospel, conquering and to conquer. The time shall come when “Christ shall have dominion from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth; when all kings shall fall down before him, and all nations shall serve him [Note: Psalms 72:8-11.].”

But the terms in which this promise is expressed deserve a more minute attention. The kingdom of Christ, considered as “a portion which the Father divides unto him,” is the Father’s gift; but, as “a spoil which Christ divides unto himself,” it is the fruit of his own conquests. In both these views we must regard the conversion of men to Christ. None, whether high or low, learned or unlearned, ever yield themselves up unfeignedly to him, but in consequence of their having been already given to him by the Father: “they make not themselves to differ; nor has one, more than another, aught, which he has not received.” “As none can come unto Christ, except the Father draw them,” so none will come to him, except God have both given them to Christ, and afterwards given to themselves an inclination and desire to be the Lord’s. Nor is this a mere speculative truth; it lies at the very root of all religion: we never can be duly humbled till we see ourselves destitute of all will and ability to serve the Lord; and acknowledge from our hearts, that “it is God alone who giveth us either to will or to do” that which is good. Till then, we can never in sincerity refer all the glory of our salvation to God alone: we shall, of necessity, be assuming part of it to ourselves. Our Lord expressly mentions this truth no less than seven times in his intercessory prayer [Note: John 17.], which he uttered in the presence of his disciples. What greater proof of its importance can be given? And how needful is it for us also to remember it in all our addresses at the throne of grace!

It is further noticed in the text, that the conversion of men is also a fruit of the Redeemer’s conquests. As Canaan, though given to Abraham and his posterity, was to be gained by the sword, so we, however given by the Father to Christ, must be rescued by force out of the hands of our enemies: if Christ will possess us as “a portion,” he must take us as “a spoil.” The god of this world had usurped a power over us, and, like a strong man armed, kept us under his controul. It was therefore necessary that Christ, who was “stronger than he, should overcome him, and take from him the armour wherein he trusted, and divide the spoils [Note: Luke 11:22.].” Accordingly he engaged with all the powers of darkness, and, “by death, destroyed him that had the power of death, that is, the devil.” On his cross “he spoiled principalities and powers, and made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it.” In his ascension “he led captivity itself captive;” and thus delivered us from the power of his great adversary. Not that his warfare is yet accomplished, though the form of it is altered; for he has still to subdue the rebellion of our hearts. We ourselves are up in arms against him: and, when driven out of one strong hold, we flee to another, till he has cast them all down, and swept away every refuge of lies. We yield not, till his arrows are fixed deeply in our hearts; we submit not, till he has “made us willing in the day of his power.” Never, till his right hand and his holy arm have gotten him the victory, are our “thoughts and desires brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.”

By these united means then is Christ’s kingdom to be extended: nor, when once they are combined, shall all the powers of earth and hell withstand their influence. However desperate the condition of any may appear, though they should have sold themselves to work iniquity, and become in a peculiar sense, “the lawful prey” of Satan, yet shall they be rescued, like Lot, from their victorious captors [Note: Genesis 14:14-16.]. This very difficulty is both stated and answered by the prophet: “Shall the prey be taken from the mighty, or the lawful captive delivered?” Yes; “Thus saith the Lord, Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible shall be delivered: for I will contend with him that contendeth with thee, and I will save thy children [Note: Isaiah 49:24-25.].”

Previous to the accomplishment of this promise, Christ was to purchase the Church with his own blood: “he was to make his soul an offering for sin, and, after that, to see a seed” given to him for a portion [Note: ver. 10.]. Such was the tenour of the covenant which the Father entered into with his Son. But the prophet, foreseeing this work of Christ, as it were already completed, speaks of it as if finished; and states the execution of his part of the covenant, as the ground, on which he might expect the accomplishment of the Father’s part towards him.

In further investigating this promise, it will be proper more fully to consider,

II. The grounds on which the fulfilment of it may be certainly expected—

The Lord Jesus has fulfilled his part of the covenant entered into with the Father. His death and intercession comprehend the whole of that work, which He was to perform on earth and in heaven for the redemption of man. And, they being virtually accomplished from the foundation of the world, our blessed Lord had a right to his purchase, and a claim upon the Father’s honour for the performance of the engagements stipulated on his part.

In this view, the death of Christ is first mentioned in the text; “Therefore will I divide him a portion, because he hath poured out his soul unto death.” But it was not sufficient that Christ should die: he must die in a particular manner, and for particular ends. Was an atonement necessary to reconcile the Father to us? His death must be sacrificial. Was everlasting shame the portion we had merited? His death must be ignominious. Was it necessary for the honour of God’s government that sin should be punished in the sight of the whole universe! His death must be judicial. Now it was in this very manner, and for these very ends, that Jesus died. The sacrifices under the law had their blood shed, and poured out at the foot of the altar: and Jesus, our sacrifice, shed his blood from every pore of his body, and “poured out his soul unto death.” To mark the ignominy that he was to endure for us, “he was numbered with transgressors” of the most atrocious character, and crucified between two thieves; as though, instead of being the Lord of glory, he was the vilest of the human race. And, lastly, to make full satisfaction to Divine Justice, he died under a judicial sentence, bearing in his own person the load of our iniquities, and enduring the curse and condemnation due to the whole world.

Here then is one ground on which we may expect assuredly the conversion of sinners to him. Has he fulfilled his covenant engagements in every part, and shall the Father violate his engagements to him? Has he performed his work, and shall he not receive his wages? Has he paid down the price, and shall he not enjoy his purchased possession? Were multitudes expressly given to him on purpose that he might redeem them; and shall they never partake of his redemption? Was he himself exalted far above all principalities and powers, and entrusted with gifts that he might bestow them on the rebellious; yea, was all fulness of blessings committed to him on purpose that he might impart them, in rich abundance, to his ransomed people, and will he not exercise his power for these ends? We may be assured, that if there be any faithfulness in God the Father, or any power in the Lord Jesus Christ, there shall be “a gathering of sinners to our adorable Shiloh.” The rich and powerful, as well as the poor and weak, shall turn unto him; they shall submit to his government, and devote themselves to his glory.

The other ground, on which the increase and aggrandizement of Christ’s kingdom may be expected, is the intercession of Christ; “Therefore will I divide him a portion, because he made intercession for the transgressors.” The intercession of Christ was that part of his work which he was to carry on in heaven, after he should have finished the work which was committed to him on earth. The high-priest, who typically represented Christ, was first to kill the sacrifice, then to carry the blood within the vail, and sprinkle it upon the mercy-seat, and then to burn incense before the mercy-seat: nor, till this last ceremony was performed, was the rest of any avail: it was not till after he had covered the mercy-seat with the clouds of incense, that he had any authority to bless the people. Thus was our Lord, not only to offer himself as a sacrifice for sin, and to enter into heaven with his own blood, but he was to make intercession for us at the right hand of God. This was stipulated between the Father and him as one part of the condition, on which the conversion of sinners was to depend; “Ask of me, and I will give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the utmost parts of the earth for thy possession [Note: Psalms 2:8.].” Now the prophet, seeing this part of Christ’s office, as it were, already fulfilled, declares its efficacy towards the salvation of men, and represents it as another ground for the performance of the Father’s promise. In this view the intercession of Christ is often mentioned in the Holy Scriptures. It is put altogether on a par with the death of Christ as the procuring cause of our salvation: it is said, “He died for our sins, and was raised again for our justification [Note: Romans 4:25.].” In one place a decided preference is given to it, as being, if possible, even more influential toward the acceptance of men than the death of Christ itself; “Who is he that condemneth? it is Christ that died, yea, rather that is risen again., who also maketh intercession for us [Note: Romans 8:34.].” His death is spoken of as effecting nothing without; “If Christ be not risen, we are yet in our sins; and they, who are fallen asleep in Christ, are perished [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:17-18.]:” nor is this all: his sufficiency for the wants and necessities of his people is represented as turning upon this hinge, and as standing altogether upon this ground; “He is able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them [Note: Hebrews 7:25.].” Let his intercession then be considered in this view: did the Father hear him always when he was on earth, and will he not hear him now that he is in heaven? Did Moses, a sinner like ourselves, arrest, as it were, the arm of Omnipotence, and avert God’s vengeance from the idolatrous Jews [Note: Exodus 32.], and shall not the prayers of Jesus prevail for us? Did the efficacy of his intercession appear on the day of Pentecost in the conversion of thousands, and shall it not be further manifested in the salvation of all whose cause he pleads! Surely, if we have but faith to believe, we may already see “the glory of the Lord risen upon the Church, and the Gentiles coming to her light, and kings to the brightness of her rising.”

Let us then learn from this subject two things; the importance of Christ’s mediation, and the security of all who are interested in it

1. The importance of Christ’s mediation—

On this every thing depends: without this, there never had been a gleam of hope for any, whether rich or poor. Satan would have retained his power over us, and would have been to all of us, as it were, the jailer, to carry us to prison, and the executioner to inflict upon us the judgments we deserve. But because Christ poured out his soul unto death, our souls shall live for ever: because he was numbered with transgressors, we shall be numbered with the saints: because he bore our sins, we shall never have one sin laid to our charge: because he liveth to make intercession for us, we shall receive all the blessings of grace and glory. Let us then make his work our trust, our confidence, and our plea. Let us urge it with the Father on our behalf, that we may be given to Christ as his portion, and enjoyed by him as his spoil. Nor let us be discouraged by the thought that we are transgressors, as though the greatness of our transgressions were any bar to our acceptance; for, it is for transgressors that he intercedes; and, if we feel ourselves to be of that number (provided we hate and turn from our transgressions) we may be well assured, that our iniquity shall not be our ruin. “Be wise therefore, O ye kings, be instructed, ye judges of the earth: kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way [Note: Psalms 2:12.].”

This subject may yet further shew us,

2. The security of those who are interested in Christ’s mediation—

The believer’s security depends not on the perfection of his own work, or the fidelity of his own promises, (for who does not see continual reason to lament his own imperfections and unfaithfulness?) but rather on the perfection of Christ’s work, and the faithfulness of God. And who can find a flaw in either? What is there that Christ has not done for the complete redemption of our souls? Or who ever trusted in God and was confounded? Let us not fear then though earth and hell conspire against us. Let us rather adopt the triumphant language of the Apostle, “Who is he that shall lay any thing to our charge? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea, rather that is risen again, who also maketh intercession for us.” We may rest satisfied that he is faithful, who hath promised; and that, as the heroes of old hung up their trophies in the temples of their gods, so Christ will take us to heaven as the fruit of his victories, the everlasting monuments of his power and grace. Let us then “hold fast the beginning of pur confidence firm unto the end.” Let us “believe in the Lord; so shall we prosper; let us believe his prophets; and so shall we be established.”

 


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Bibliography Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Isaiah 53:4". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/shh/isaiah-53.html. 1832.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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