The Holy Suffer
by JOSEPH IRONS
Delivered in Grove Chapel, Camberwell, Lord's day Morning, September 7th, 1851
We are anticipating, beloved, an approach to the table of the Lord this
evening, to obey the dying injunction of our precious Christ, and commemorate
His sufferings. Now, I am anxious that this should not be a mere periodical
duty - that it should not be a kind of monthly confirmation of our membership
with the Church of the living God - that it should not be anything like
what the Pharisees of our day make it - a kind of monthly atonement for
four weeks transgressions and sins, including what they call a week
In reviewing, as I am about to do, the language of my text, pointing to Gethsemane s scene, to Calvary s scene, to Joseph s tomb, and the journey to Emmaus, I want my hearer s attention fixed and riveted on this one point - that there is no contingency, no uncertainty in the whole matter, but that it is what Jehovah s counsel had determined before to be done, and that consequently, the result is as certain as the matter of fact itself. The result!, Why, what result? say you. Why, the entire and eternal salvation of the whole Church of God. Now you know, I should never attempt to preach at all, if I were not allowed to preach these certainties. Send me out, to evangelize the world, as they talk about, and leave it all to free-will, chance, and the like! My hearers, I would sooner be an infidel tomorrow, than I would be so employed. I come to my Bible, and in my Bible I find the salvation of God, as sure as He can make it, as certain as omnipotent wisdom and infinite power can render it; therefore I must approach it as such.
Well now, having given you this lengthened exordium, we will come at once to the language of my text, and, first of all, take a view of the sufferer, and of His sufferings. "Thus it behoved Christ to suffer." Then we will take a view of the expediency - "it behoved" Him; and then we will go on to the triumph - "And to rise from the dead the third day." I confess I have oftentimes been astounded when reading of the ignorance of the disciples, and have had further confirmation and proof that none can perceive anything but by the Holy Ghost. But to think that the disciples, who were so intimate with Him, and so fond of Him that they would go with Him to prison and to death, and yet, after seeing His miracles, and hearing Him positively assert that He should be delivered into the hands of sinners, and be crucified, and that on the third day He would rise from the dead, and go before them into Galilee - it was all gone, as if the truths He had uttered had evaporated in the air - they were amazed and terrified when Jesus only accomplished what He told them He would do. Now we may see in that - do not let us blame the disciples more than ourselves - what unbelief does for us, and how frequently it disputes and questions the reality of the very things that have been promised, and the very promises that have been applied, the very promises too, that suit our condition. Oh! it is not for me; it is only the rising passions - it is only the feelings of human nature. God Almighty forgive us this sins of unbelief!
I. Now, first of all, let us take a view, as cursorily as we can, of the Sufferer and His sufferings. Who is this glorious person! What are His own essential, and high, and just pretensions? "It behoved Christ." Oh, then, it is the Christ of God, the anointed one, the covenant Head of His Church. What? He suffer! The co-equal, co-eternal Son of the Father to suffer, and suffer the things of which we shall presently have to speak! And did it behove Him so to do? Oh, beloved, let us for a moment take the balance of the sanctuary, and put our sufferings, however we may have complained of them, into one scale, and Christ s sufferings into the other, and you will see how the beam will sink, and we shall be obliged to join with Watts: -
Moreover, if we look at our sufferings, we may say as the prophet did, "I bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against him." (Micah 7:9) He lays His hand upon us frequently as a chastising rod, or if not that, for the purpose of calling into exercise all our graces. I do not find, in reading of the afflictions of Job, that there was anything laid to his charge as a reason why the Lord afflicted him, for He Himself declared that he was perfect and upright, "one that feared God and eschewed evil." Yet He put him to the test; so that we can neither view Job s afflictions as chastisements for the faults of children, nor yet as judicial punishments. The latter view his Arminian visitors took of them. They had better have kept themselves where they were, or locked themselves up in a dungeon, than go and torment a child of God with their questions. But we cannot regard them as judicial punishments, nor yet as chastisements for his faults, for God had declared that he was perfect and upright. Then why was it? Just to call forth the exercise of the graces in his personal experience; just as the apostle says, "The Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercies." The concluding part of Job s history shows that his afflictions were neither chastisements nor judicial punishments, but simply a putting of his graces into the crucible, that they might be tried and proved that they were genuine. I believe this is the case with the people of God in every age; that we are to have the graces tried in personal experience, by heavy afflictions, not unfrequently. But this could not be the case with our precious Christ. We are sinners, and may expect fatherly chastisements. Our precious Christ had no sin. He indeed was pure, perfect, holy, harmless, and undefiled, claiming affinity - do not overlook this - with His heavenly Father and with His brethren upon earth. His heavenly Father He addressed constantly by name, "O, Father, glorify thou me with thine own self, with the glory which I had with thee before the world was." (John 17: 5) And when He speaks of His Church, and her individual members, it is said, "He was hot ashamed to call them brethren." (Heb. 2:11) He calls them brethren, claims them as His kindred. This is the glorious Sufferer, of whom, the text says, "It behoved Him to suffer."
Pause, gaze upon Him a little longer; for when He is once in sight, we cannot help looking, till He vanishes out of our sight, as He did from the disciples at Emmaus. This glorious Person, the royal Sovereign, the holy Sufferer, is none other than the Creator of all worlds. What, the Creator suffer? Not in His Godhead; but the Creator of all worlds in union with His manhood, suffered for manhood. Heaven and earth were under His control; legions of angels were flying at His command, as He said, "I could pray to my Father, and He would send me twelve, legions of angels." But He would not have them, nor yet their assistance; for how then could the Scripture be fulfilled? said He. He is the King of kings, Lord of lords, the absolute Sovereign of all worlds; the orbs of light He balances in His hand; the powers of darkness He chains at His feet; myriads of angels He musters in array to do His own work, if it be to slay 185,000 Assyrians in one night; all things on earth are under His control as the absolute Sovereign. Yet this is the Sufferer - this glorious Person is to suffer. Why would no one be a substitute for Him? No one could have been. Angels of light were incompetent to the task - created beings could not undertake the work - it must be "the only-begotten Son of the Father, full of grace and truth," assuming humanity, "made a little lower than the angels," expressly for the suffering of death.
Well, now let us glance for a few moments at His sufferings. And where shall I begin? Shall I meet Him in the manger, and reckon His privations? Shall I meet Him on His flight from Herod s murderous edict, that His life may be preserved? Shall I meet Him in His disputation with the doctors in the temple? Shall I associate with Him for forty days in the wilderness, in open combat, fighting a duel with the devil, that He might be victorious and conquer him? Shall I view Him amidst the rage of the mob that would lead Him to the brow of the hill on which their city stood, to cast Him down headlong? Or shall I trace His steps to Gethsemane, and count the drops of blood that were squeezed through His holy pores when wrath Divine lay upon Him, and thence follow Him to Calvary, bearing His cross until He could bear it no longer, until I find Him transfixed, jerked into the socket of the cross, every limb distorted, until He cried, "All my bones are out of joint?" (Ps. 22:14) Shall I witness that stream of blood that flowed from the spear-wound in His heart, and think upon the cleansing efficacy of the water, and the atoning power of the blood, until I see Him bow His head and give up the ghost? He suffered. Heaven, earth, and hell, afflicted Him. Ah, my hearer, I am perfectly ashamed if ever a murmur or a repining should escape my lips under acute sufferings - though if anything under heaven will make a man groan and fret, the gout will - I am ashamed, when I look at the sufferings of my Lord, that ever a murmur should escape me, or that I should be fretful even for a moment. All the powers of darkness mustered in array against Him, because the old serpent s head was to be bruised. A promise to this effect had gone forth, or rather a threatening, that He should bruise his head. Satan could read Scripture; he knew his doom; he trembled at the approach of the Captain of our salvation; and, having tried every artifice to destroy Him before it came to the final combat in Jesus last sufferings, at length he was dragged out of his den to meet the Conqueror. I believe he never would have come out if he could have helped it; but he was dragged out of his den to receive the last bruise, which he will never forget to all eternity. There, with all the rage and malice which infernal spirits could put forth, was Jesus assaulted. He suffered the enmity that was put between Him and the old serpent; and, as if this were not sufficient, the carnal mind - that was enmity against God - mustered up all it forces. The high priests - always the worst of society to the present hour - the high priests of the Sanhedrim, and the mob that cried, "Away with Him, away with Him," all conspired to afflict Him. The villain that wielded the scourge, the wretch that plaited the crown of thorns to put round His temples, all combined to afflict Him. Oh, that our precious Christ may be endeared to our hearts, that we may forget all that pertains to ourselves, and have fellowship with His sufferings. And, as if all this were not enough, while hell vented its malice, and on earth, the carnal mind put forth its enmity, the Father frowned, and hid His face; all nature was convulsed, and while the Prince of sufferers the holy, immaculate Jesus, was to endure the rage of hell, the malice of earth, and the wrath of God, incensed justice demands full payment for the holy law of God, and Jesus volunteers to be the sufferer. Now take this into the account, that He not only suffered, but He did it voluntarily. He could have commanded legions of angels to rescue Him with one word; He could have escaped with one word, when the ruffian mob came into the garden to seize Him. He only had to say, "I am He," and they vent back immediately, and fell to the ground. Another "I am" would have sunk them to the bottomless pit. Another "I am" would have smitten them to everlasting perdition. But you see how the Scripture was to be fulfilled, "Thus it behoved Christ to suffer." He went forth voluntarily, to give His life a ransom for many.
I must dwell a moment longer on this scene of His sufferings, because there is one point in it that seems to me to exceed all others in point of cruelty; that is, He was reproached and insulted in the very agonies He suffered. There is something about humanity, even its worst state, that seems to recoil at such a thing. Among multitudes who have no grace - no religion, if they see a malefactor hang by the neck, having forfeited his life to the laws of his country, and justly, there is a shudder; there is a manifestation of pity. "Poor creature!" they cry. There is a degree of sympathy called forth from humanity at large. Not so with Jesus. They passed by Him, and wagged their heads at Him in ridicule; "Ah, thou that destroyed the temple, and buildest it in three days, come down from the cross and save thyself, and we will believe." Even the thieves cast the same in His teeth. They mocked, and reviled, and insulted Him in the midst of the agonies of death. Oh, precious Sufferer! Prince of sufferers! Lord of glory! And didst Thou really take my nature to bear all this for me? The frown of the Father, the sword of justice, the curse of the law, the malice and enmity of man, and the rage of devils - all were poured upon our precious Christ, to augment and to perfect His sufferings. Well might He exclaim, "All thy waves and thy billows have gone over me." (Ps. 42:7)
II. Now we will pass on to say a few words about the expediency or necessity of this. "Thus it behoved Christ to suffer." What had He done? Pilate said, "I find no fault in Him." The devil found no fault in Him when the moment came for him to tempt Him. The Pharisees were challenged by Him, "Which of you convinceth me of sin?" And He might well say with Paul, on an after occasion, "If I have done anything worthy of death, I am willing to die." But He had done nothing; He was without guilt, without sin, without capability of sin; for He was "holy, harmless, and undefiled, and separate from sinners." (Heb. 7:26) Yet it behoved Him to suffer. Why behoved Him? Just because Divine justice must be satisfied; inflexible justice must have all its demands, and there was none to pay but Himself; and having engaged in covenant for that express purpose, it behoved Him to suffer. When He condescended to use that expression in covenant engagement, set down by the Psalmist, " Lo, I come," (Ps. 40:7) He laid Himself under obligation, so that it behoved Him to suffer. In another portion of this very chapter He says unto His disciples, with whom He was talking on their journey to Emmaus, "Ought not Christ to suffer these things, and to enter into His glory?" Ought not Christ? Well now, if you put it on the proper ground of suretyship and responsibility, you will see it must be so. Among mortals, when a man makes himself surety or substitute for another, and if that other fails, and is incapable of meeting the demands upon him, his surety ought to pay. According to the law, he ought to meet the demands; and if he had not the power to do so, he ought not to have engaged in the suretyship. Our precious Christ stood in that very position. He had made Himself, in covenant engagement, absolutely responsible for the pardon, and peace, and justification, and sanctification, and glorification, of His whole Church; it lay upon Him. I beg of you to lay proper stress upon these statements, because they turn contingency out of doors. The pardon, peace, justification, sanctification, and glorification of a poor ruined sinner has no more dependence upon him than it has upon angels or devils; it is all in Christ from first to last. I am quite sure, if it were trusted to me on the slightest terms possible, I should spoil it in half an hour, and ruin myself to all eternity. Therefore I rejoice in the responsibility of Christ, who gave Himself to stand in our place, in the presence and sight of the law, to appease stern justice. It pleased the Father to lay on Him all our iniquities; it pleased Him to bear our sins in His own body on the tree; and it pleased the Holy Ghost to set down our names as acquitted, accepted, justified, and to be glorified, in consequence of our union with Christ. If you look a moment at how He carried out His responsibility, you will see how it behoved Him to suffer. He declared during His ministry, "I came not to destroy the law, but to fulfil it;" "to carry it out, and accomplish it. "Heaven and earth shall pass away," he said, "but my word shall not pass away, nor a jot nor tittle of the law fail, till all be fulfilled." (Matt. 5:17,18) Then I have got nothing to fulfil in the way of merit. I thank and praise His glorious name that His Spirit has taught me to delight in the law of God after the inner man; but if I thought my salvation depended on a single act of obedience to the holy law, as an act of my own, I would lie down in despair this moment, and never cherish another hope. Blessed be God, our Jesus is "the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth." (Rom. 10:4) That solemn command of Jehovah to inflexible justice was fully executed upon Him, "Awake, O sword, against my Shepherd [you know that is Christ s title. He says, "I am the good Shepherd"], and the man that is my fellow, saith the Lord of Hosts " - my equal, my co-eternal Son. "Smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered;" (Zech. 13:7) or, as some render it, go free - be exempt. Well, this was done; and when stern justice sheathed its sword in the dear Redeemer s heart, it was but to hide it for ever from the objects of His love, that they should never feel its blow. The law closed its lid, and sealed it for ever. We are not now under the law, but under grace; and being delivered from it by the perfect work of Christ, under His own responsibility, it can neither bless us at all, nor curse us at all. Well, inflexible justice is fully satisfied. There are no more demands to make, and Christ s responsibility, maintained to the present hour, can never be abandoned.; for He is held responsible now to bring them all home to glory, and place them side by side with Himself on His throne, even as He has overcome, and has sat down with His Father on His throne.
So also it behoved Christ to suffer, that His transcendent love might be displayed. Having honoured law and justice, having honoured His covenant bond, and finished the work His Father gave Him to do, there remained nothing but the display of His transcendent immutable love. I want this fastened, if God will, upon your hearts and memories. You know the apostle John was led to say, by Divine inspiration, " We love Him." But how?
"Because He first loved us," "Greater love hath no man than this that he lay down his life for his friends." But Jesus laid down His life for His enemies - for strangers afar off from Him by wicked works. Oh, what love! And even while we were rebelling and warring against Him, and seeking death in the error of our ways, nothing could move His love. With regard to His creatures it is sometimes the case, that the old adage is true, "The hottest love is soonest cold;" it is sometimes the case that this, or that, or the other affair, has turned love to hatred; and I know one or two of our poets has said as much of God, but I do not believe their lies. Wesley talks about God s love turning to hatred, unless people take care to husband it, and make the best they can of it. I do not believe one word of it. "I have loved thee," says Jehovah, "with an everlasting love." (Jer. 31:3) I cannot put anything between everlasting - I cannot split the word - I cannot mutilate it; Jesus, it is said, having loved His own that were in the world, He loved them to the end. Now go to the end, and see whether you can find an end to His love. All glory to His name, it is the privilege of His believing family to use the exultation of Paul, "He loved me, and gave Himself for me." Now what I want - and God Almighty bless the word to this end - is that every one of you that is born of God should be able to adopt that language, and look on Jesus as He is upon His throne with the eye of faith, and then looking round on all His followers upon earth, shout, "He loved me." I take His own words - they are very precious - "I knew thou wouldst deal very treacherously with me," He says, "because thou art a transgressor from the womb;" (Isa. 48:8) but there is His love, His immutable love. My hearer, while I am stating these things as strongly as I can, believe me - and if you do not, you are likely to be damned, and to die in unbelief - believe me, there is not a hope for any child of Adam, but in this one principle, the eternal, immutable, immovable love of Jehovah, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. "He loved me, and gave Himself for me."
Now just go on to mark that this transcendent love is His glory in heaven; it is that which He is adored for, by glorified spirits already round the throne, And how readily, and cheerfully, and loudly, will you and I join in the shout when we get there - "To Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and made us kings and priests unto God." (Rev. 1:5,6)
III. Just go on to mark the triumph of which my text speaks, in a few words, "That He should rise from the dead the third day." This will finish the matter. We have already noticed the astonishing darkness and ignorance of the disciples, that they should not expect it, and look for it, There were just one or two good women who went very early in the morning; but all the disciples were sorrowing and sighing, as if Christ s ministry were at an end, and everything was over. That seems to have been just like the stupid manner in which they had snugged themselves down. But Jesus meets them on their journey to Emmaus, and opens their understanding to understand the Scriptures, then He says, "Ought not this to be the case?" Did I come forth from my Father as a mere pretence? Do you imagine for a moment that I submitted to the ignominy, persecution, suffering, and death, at an uncertainty, and for no express purpose? The thing is done. "I have finished the work which my Father gave me to do, and now I have abolished death." That was the promise. Glory be to His name; I had said by His prophet before, "O death, I will be thy plague - O grave, I will be thy destruction." (Hos. 13:14) Having torn out the sting of death, the apostle is directed by the Holy Ghost to exult, "O death, where is thy sting?" (1 Cor. 15:55) What! was it left in Jesus heart, or drowned in His precious blood? It does not remain; the sting is gone. I want here a word of consolation, if God will, for those who, "Through fear of death, are all their lifetime subject to bondage." (Heb. 2:15) This is no uncommon thing. Humanity clings to life naturally - humanity is naturally fond of it - but faith is to triumph over the fear of death. If Christ has abolished it, the sting of it does not exist. But you say, how is it Christians die? It is no such thing; they only pass through - we have the Psalmist s word for it - "the valley of the shadow of death." What has become of death? It is abolished; for "Christ has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel." (2 Tim. 1:10) ( Now, beloved, let me remind you, that when you and I have finished our course, and kept the faith, and come to the close of our career, and have just to step out of time into eternity, we have no real terrors to meet, we have no sting to endure - it is gone - it is abolished - it is only "the valley of the shadow of death" we have to pass through. Death is a chilly, pale messenger, whose visage human nature does not quite like; but it is a pale messenger sent to welcome us to a Father s house sent to invite us and bring us home, that we may enter into the joy of the Lord. I know this is not the view which poor human nature takes of it. Human nature, as I have already hinted at, shrinks and shudders from it; what is faith to say in the prospect of home, in the prospect of glory? Why, Paul seems to have got over this, for he says, "When this tabernacle is dissolved, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." (2 Cor. 5:1) Where is the gap? Where is the grave? It is abolished - it is gone. He says, "Absent from the body, present with the Lord." But where is the gap? I repeat. Where is the terror? Where is the grave? "Oh," says he, "it is abolished." He has abolished death. Oh, beloved, if you and I could but live hourly up to this point, and live in sweet enjoyment of the presence and smile of death s conqueror, and death s destroyer, how we might smile at sickness and sorrow, and open graves and tolling bells, and all the rest of the paraphernalia of this dying state, and rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.
Now observe, that He has not only abolished death, so that you and I have only to go through the valley of the shadow of it; and the Psalmist says, I shall only pass through it, I shall not stay there; it will not do for me to stay in it, I will only pass through the valley of the shadow. Immortality connected with eternal glory is secure; we shall end with certainty. How often have I dwelt in your hearing upon the beautiful phrase, "Glory, honour, and immortality." They just sum up eternal life. These three words have really delighted me; I have sometimes sucked more honey out of them than I have known how to partake of "Glory." We sometimes sing, "Who can tell what glory is?" We shall enter into it to be glorified with Christ; the honour that belongs to all the saints, the honour of sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty, the honour of kings and priests - to reign with Christ for ever. But what will glory be? What will the honour be, if immortality once breaks upon them? When you come to add the third word, "immortality" - life immortal, bliss immortal, all is secure, for He has brought life and immortality to light. All glory to His name, there is not one part or feature of the grand plan of redemption or salvation but He has made it as secure as God can make it; there is no one part left contingent; there is not a loop hole for an Arminian to put his finger in at all; there is not a single part away or defective, or concerning which there can be any possibility of failure; "for," says He, "all that the Father hath given me shall come unto me; and him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out." Immortality is secure. Let me for a moment indulge in imagination; let me conceive it possible that amidst the glorious throng around the throne, surrounded by angel hosts, millions of ransomed souls made clean in the blood of Christ, and robed in His in righteousness, shouting their hallelujahs before the throne in the consummation of bliss - only imagine that some Arminian could march in with a black placard, exhibiting upon it one word, "Mortality." All heaven would be hung in mourning; the inhabitants would weep; God himself would be disappointed, and the pillars of His throne would shake. But no; there is immortality stamped upon all that is realized in the realms of bliss.
More than all this. Our glorious Sufferer, our mighty Conqueror, that has risen from the dead, because "it was not possible that He should be holden of death," now holds possession. We have a common, vulgar technicality, that "possession is nine points of the law," but with Him it is all ten points. He holds possession. You know He is represented as the Forerunner, who hath entered and taken possession for us. (Heb. 6:20) He said to His disciples concerning this possession which He holds so securely, "I go to prepare a place for you, and a place for you, and a place for you." Do you think He means you? Have you got the assurance in your heart, "I go to prepare a place for you, and I will come again to receive you unto myself, that where I am there ye may be also?" (John 14:2,3) Oh! this thought, the sweet, the cheering thought, that our glorious covenant Head is holding possession of my very mansion for me; holding possession of my crown, and waiting to put it on; holding possession of my harp; holding possession of all the bliss I am to realize with Him to all eternity. We may well put the three words together again, "Glory, honour, and immortality," which constitute eternal life. They must turn Christ out of heaven before they can refuse me admission; and this is upon His own saying, "Where I am, there also shall my servants be." He will not have a refusal. Oh I the blessedness of a secure and certain salvation exhibited in the sufferings of Christ, completing the work the Father gave Him to do, and securing everlasting felicity for all the Church of God.
May the prospect cheer your hearts, and the evidence of interest in this precious suffering Christ gladden your souls, and call your faith into lively exercise, that you may go forth cheerfully without the camp bearing His reproach, expecting after the cross the crown, and after having fellowship with His sufferings, to be partakers of His glory.
May He command a blessing on these few hints, and His dear name shall have all the glory.