"He was despised and rejected by men — a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth." Isaiah 53:3-7
It has been supposed by many, that the sufferings of our Lord were rather apparent than real; or at least that his abundant consolations, and his knowledge of the happy consequences which would result from his death, rendered his sorrows comparatively light, and almost converted them to joys. But never was supposition more erroneous. Jesus Christ was as truly a man as any of us, and, as man, he was as really susceptible of grief, as keenly alive to pain and reproach, and as much averse from shame and suffering, as any of the descendants of Adam. As to divine consolations and supports, they were at all times bestowed on him in a very sparing manner, and in the season of his greatest extremity, they were entirely withheld. And though a knowledge of the happy consequences which would result from his sufferings, rendered him willing to endure them — it did not, in the smallest degree, take off their edge, or render him insensible to pain.
No, his sufferings, instead of being less — were incomparably greater than they appeared to be. No finite mind can conceive of their extent; nor was any of the human race ever so well entitled to the appellation of the Man of Sorrows, as the man Christ Jesus. His sufferings began with his birth — and ended only with his death.
In the first place, it must have been extremely painful to such a person as Christ — to live in a world like this. He was perfectly holy, harmless, and undefiled. Of course, he could not look on sin — but with the deepest abhorrence! It is that abominable thing which his soul hates. Yet during the whole period of his residence on earth, he was continually surrounded by it, and his sensibilities and feelings were every moment tortured with the hateful sight of human depravity. How much sorrow the sight occasioned him, we may in some measure learn from the bitter complaints which similar causes extorted from David, Jeremiah, and other ancient saints. They described, in the most striking and pathetic language, the sufferings which they experienced from the prevalence of wickedness around them, and often wished for death to relieve them from their sufferings.
But the sufferings of Christ from this cause were incomparably greater than theirs. He was far more holy than they, his hatred of sin incomparably more intense, and the sight of it proportionably more painful! In consequence of his power of searching the heart — he saw unspeakably more sin in the world, than any mere man could discover. We can discover sin only when it displays itself in words and actions. But he saw all the hidden wickedness of the heart, the depths of that fountain of iniquity, from which all the bitter streams of vice and misery flow! Every man who approached him was transparent to his eye. In his best friends — he saw more sin than we can discover in the most abandoned reprobates!
He saw also, in a far clearer light than we can do — the dreadful consequences of sin, the interminable miseries to which it is conducting the sinner — and his feelings of compassion were not blunted by that selfish insensibility which enables us to bear with composure the sight of human distress. On the contrary, he wasall sympathy, compassion, and love. He loved others as himself, and therefore felt for the sufferings of others as for his own! If Paul could say, "Who is weak — and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin — and I do not inwardly burn?" — then much more might Christ.
In this, as well as in a still more important sense, he took upon himself our griefs, and bore our sorrows. As he died for all, so he felt and wept for the sufferings of all. The temporal and eternal calamities of the whole human race, and of every individual among them — all seemed to be collected and laid upon him. He saw at one view — the whole mighty aggregate of human guilt and human wretchedness; and his boundless benevolence and compassion made it by sympathy — all his own.
It has been said by philosophers, that if any man could see all the misery which is daily felt in the world — he would never smile again. We need not wonder then that Christ, who saw and felt it all — never smiled, though he often wept.
We may add, that the total contrast between the Heaven which he had left, and the world into which he came — rendered a residence in the latter, peculiarly painful to his feelings. In Heaven he had seen nothing but holiness and happiness and love. In this world, on the contrary, he saw little but wickedness and hatred and misery — in ten thousand forms! In Heaven he was crowned with glory and honor and majesty, and surrounded by throngs of admiring, adoring angels. On earth, he found himself plunged in poverty, wretchedness, and contempt — and surrounded by malignant, implacable enemies!
My friends, think of a noble prince, educated with care and tenderness in his father's court, where he heard nothing but sounds of pleasure and praise, and saw nothing but scenes of honor and magnificence — sent to labor as a slave in a rebellious province, where himself and his father were hated and despised! Think of a person of the most delicate and refined taste, going from the bosom of his family and the magnificent abodes of a polished city — to spend his life in the filthy huts of the most degraded and barbarous savages, and compelled daily to witness the disgusting scenes of cruelty and brutality which are there exhibited! Think of a man endowed with the tenderest sensibilities — compelled to live on a field of battle, among the corpses of the dead and the groans of the dying, or shut up for years in a madhouse with wretched maniacs, where nothing was to be heard but the burst of infuriated passions, the wild laugh of madness, and the shrieks and ravings of despair! Think of these instances, and you will have some conception, though but a faint one . . .
of the scenes which this world presented to our Savior,
of the contrast between it and the Heaven he left,
of the sorrows which embittered every moment of his earthly existence,
and of the love which induced him voluntarily to submit to such sorrows.
Another circumstance which contributed to render our Savior a man of sorrows, and his life a life of grief — was the dreadful reception he met with from those whom he came to save! Had they received him with that gratitude and respect which he deserved, and permitted him to rescue them from their miseries — it would have been some alleviation of his sorrows. But even this alleviation was in a great measure denied him. Some few, indeed, received him with affection and respect, though even they often grieved him by their unkindness and unbelief; but by far the greater part of his countrymen, he was treated with the utmost cruelty and contempt! Many of them would not allow him even to remove their bodily diseases, and still greater numbers were unwilling that he should save them from their sins. Now to a noble, sensitive, pure mind — nothing is so cutting, so torturing as such conduct.
To see himself despised, slandered, and persecuted with implacable malice, by the very beings whom he was laboring to save; to see all his endeavors to save them, frustrated by their own incorrigible folly and wickedness; to see them by rejecting him, filling up to the brim their cup of criminality and wrath, and sinking into eternal perdition within reach of his vainly-offered hand — to see this, must have been distressing indeed! Yet this Christ saw all this. Thus he endured the contradiction of sinners against himself; and how deeply it affected him, we may infer from the fact, that though his own sufferings never wrung from him a tear — he once and again wept in the bitterness of his soul over rebellious Jerusalem, exclaiming, "O if you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace — but now it is hidden from your eyes!"
Another circumstance that threw a shadow of gloom and melancholy over our Savior's life, was his clear view, and constant anticipation of — the dreadful agonies in which it was to terminate. He was not ignorant, as we happily are, of the miseries which were before him. He could not hope, as we do, when wretched today — to be happier tomorrow. Every night, when he lay down to rest — the scourge, the crown of thorns, and the cross, were present to his mind! And on these dreadful objects, he every morning opened his eyes, and every morning saw them nearer than before. Every day was to him like the day of his death — of such a death too, as no one has ever suffered before or since. How deeply the prospect affected him, is evident from his own language: "But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed!" Luke 12:50
Such are the circumstances which prove that our Savior was, during life — a man of sorrows.
Of the sorrows of his death — we shall say nothing. The bitter agonies of that never-to-be-forgotten hour, the torturing scourge, the lacerating nails, and the racking cross — we shall pass in silence. Nor shall we now bring into view the tenfold horrors which overwhelmed his soul — rendering it exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death. These we have often attempted to describe to you — though here description must always fail. Enough has been said to show the justice of that exclamation which the Prophet utters in the person of Christ: "Behold and see, all you who pass by — if there is any sorrow like my sorrow! Reproach has broken my heart, and I am full of heaviness. I looked for some to pity — but there was none; for comforters — but I found none!"
What was our Savior's conduct under the pressure of these sorrows? "He was oppressed and afflicted — yet he opened not his mouth. He was brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent — so he opened not his mouth." Never was language more descriptive of the most perfect meekness and patience! Never was prediction more fully justified by the event, than in the case before us. Christ was indeed led as a lamb to the slaughter. Silent, meek, and unrepining — he stood before his butchers, as innocent and as patient as a lamb. No murmurs, no complaints, no angry recriminations escaped from his lips. If they were opened, it was but to express the most perfect submission to his Father's will, and to breathe out prayers for his murderers!
Yes, even at that dreadful moment, when they were nailing him to the cross — when nature, whose voice will at such a time be heard, was shuddering and convulsed in the prospect of a speedy and violent death; when his soul was tortured by the assaults of malignant fiends, and his Father's face hidden from his view — even then he possessed his soul in patience to such a degree, as to be able to pray for his murderers!