Lord Christ, who didst enter into thy triumph by the hard and lonely way of the cross: May thy courage and steadfast loyalty, thy unswerving devotion to the Father’s will, inspire and strengthen us to tread firmly and with joy the road which love bids us to take, even if it leads through suffering, misunderstanding, and darkness. We ask it for thy sake, who for the joy that was set before thee endured the cross, despising the shame, O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer.
Daily Archives: March 29, 2013
O My chief good,
How shall I measure out thy bloud?
How shall I count what thee befell,
And each grief tell?
Shall I thy woes
Number according to thy foes?
Or, since one starre show’d thy first breath,
Shall all thy death?
Or shall each leaf,
Which falls in Autumn, score a grief?
Or can not leaves, but fruit, be signe
Of the true vine?
Then let each houre
Of my whole life one grief devoure;
That thy distresse through all may runne,
And be my sunne.
Or rather let
My severall sinnes their sorrows get;
That as each beast his cure doth know,
Each sinne may so.
Since bloud is fittest, Lord, to write
Thy sorrows in, and bloudie fight;
My heart hath store, write there, where in
One box doth lie both ink and sinne:
That when sinne spies so many foes,
Thy whips, thy nails, thy wounds, thy woes,
All come to lodge there, sinne may say,
No room for me, and flie away.
Sinne being gone, oh fill the place,
And keep possession with thy grace;
Lest sinne take courage and return,
And all the writings blot or burn.
–George Herbert (1593-1633)
The story of the salvation of the dying thief is a standing instance of the power of Christ to save, and of his abundant willingness to receive all that come to him, in whatever plight they may be. I cannot regard this act of grace as a solitary instance, any more than the salvation of Zacchaeus, the restoration of Peter, or the call of Saul, the persecutor. Every conversion is, in a sense, singular: no two are exactly alike, and yet any one conversion is a type of others. The case of the dying thief is much more similar to our conversion than it is dissimilar; in point of fact, his case may be regarded as typical, rather than as an extraordinary incident. So I shall use it at this time. May the Holy Spirit speak through it to the encouragement of those who are ready to despair!
Remember, beloved friends, that our Lord Jesus, at the time he saved this malefactor, was at his lowest. His glory had been ebbing out in Gethsemane, and before Caiaphas, and Herod, and Pilate; but it had now reached the utmost low-water mark.
Stripped of his garments, and nailed to the cross, our Lord was mocked by a ribald crowd, and was dying in agony: then was he “numbered with the transgressors,” and made as the offscouring of all things. Yet, while in that condition, he achieved this marvellous deed of grace. Behold the wonder wrought by the Saviour when emptied of all his glory, and hanged up a spectacle of shame upon the brink of death! How certain is it it that he can do great wonders of mercy now, seeing that he has returned unto his glory, and sitteth upon the throne of light! “He is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.” If a dying Saviour saved the thief, my argument is, that he can do even more now that he liveth and reigneth. All power is given unto him in heaven and in earth; can anything at this present time surpass the power of his grace?
It is not only the weakness of our Lord which makes the salvation of the penitent thief memorable; it is the fact that the dying malefactor saw it before his very eyes. Can you put yourself into his place, and suppose yourself to be looking upon one who hangs in agony upon a cross? Could you readily believe him to be the Lord of glory, who would soon come to his kingdom? That was no mean faith which, at such a moment, could believe in Jesus as Lord and King. If the apostle Paul were here, and wanted to add a New Testament chapter to the eleventh of Hebrews, he might certainly commence his instances of remarkable faith with this thief, who believed in a crucified, derided, and dying Christ, and cried to him as to one whose kingdom would surely come. The thief’s faith was the more remarkable because he was himself in great pain, and bound to die. It is not easy to exercise confidence when you are tortured with deadly anguish. Our own rest of mind has at times been greatly hindered by pain of body. When we are the subjects of acute suffering it is not easy to exhibit that faith which we fancy we possess at other times. This man, suffering as he did, and seeing the Saviour in so sad a state, nevertheless believed unto life eternal. Herein was such faith as is seldom seen.
Recollect, also, that he was surrounded by scoffers. It is easy to swim with the current, and hard to go against the stream. This man heard the priests, in their pride, ridicule the Lord, and the great multitude of the common people, with one consent, joined in the scorning; his comrade caught the spirit of the hour, and mocked also, and perhaps he did the same for a while; but through the grace of God he was changed, and believed in the Lord Jesus in the teeth of all the scorn. His faith was not affected by his surroundings; but he, dying thief as he was, made sure his confidence. Like a jutting rock, standing out in the midst of a torrent, he declared the innocence of the Christ whom others blasphemed. His faith is worthy of our imitation in its fruits. He had no member that was free except his tongue, and he used that member wisely to rebuke his brother malefactor, and defend his Lord. His faith brought forth a brave testimony and a bold confession. I am not going to praise the thief, or his faith, but to extol the glory of that grace divine which gave the thief such faith, and then freely saved him by its means. I am anxious to show how glorious is the Saviour””that Saviour to the uttermost, who, at such a time, could save such a man, and give him so great a faith, and so perfectly and speedily prepare him for eternal bliss. Behold the power of that divine Spirit who could produce such faith on soil so unlikely, and in a climate so unpropitious.
”“From a sermon of C.H. Spurgeon preached on April 7, 1889
[Shusaku] Endo locates the point of contact between Japanese life and the Gospel in what he observes, and has experienced personally, to be the essence of Japanese religious awareness. This he sees as the sense of failure in life and the subsequent shame and guilt that leave a lasting impact upon a person’s life. Such theological notions as love, grace, trust, and truth are intelligible only in the experience of their opposites. Endo sees them incarnate in the person of Jesus through his own experience of failure, rejection, and, most of all, ineffectualness. Only rarely has modern Christianity presented the story of Jesus as the one to whom those who had failed, were rejected, lonely, and alienated could turn and find understanding and compassion. Endo argues that it is our universal human experience of failure in life that provides us with an understanding of Christian faith in its depth.
–Fumitaka Matsuoka, The Christology of Shusaku Endo, Theology Today (October 1982) [emphasis mine]
In evil long I took delight,
Unawed by shame or fear,
Till a new object struck my sight,
And stopp’d my wild career:
I saw One hanging on a Tree
In agonies and blood,
Who fix’d His languid eyes on me.
As near His Cross I stood.
Sure never till my latest breath,
Can I forget that look:
It seem’d to charge me with His death,
Though not a word He spoke:
My conscience felt and own’d the guilt,
And plunged me in despair:
I saw my sins His Blood had spilt,
And help’d to nail Him there.
Alas! I knew not what I did!
But now my tears are vain:
Where shall my trembling soul be hid?
For I the Lord have slain!
A second look He gave, which said,
“I freely all forgive;
This blood is for thy ransom paid;
I die that thou may’st live.”
Thus, while His death my sin displays
In all its blackest hue,
Such is the mystery of grace,
It seals my pardon too.
With pleasing grief, and mournful joy,
My spirit now if fill’d,
That I should such a life destroy,
Yet live by Him I kill’d!
–John Newton (1725-1807)
In recent years Luther’s teaching on the atonement has been a subject of strong dispute. Some (mostly the Swedish interpreters) have stressed the ideas of “conflict” and “victory” in Luther’s discussions of atonement, arguing for a discontinuity between the Reformer’s own thinking and the “substitutionary” theory of later Protestant orthodoxy. Others have insisted that at this point Luther’s teaching differs in no essentials from that of his successors. One is well advised to tread carefully on entering the field of controversy; nevertheless, I make bold to submit that the interpretation of atonement in both Luther and Calvin can be understood as turning on the central and pivotal conception of a “happy exchange,” in which the believer’s sins are laid upon Christ and Christ’s own innocence is communicated to the believer. From this center, we may say, the Reformers’ thinking moves outwards to the various other soteriological concepts, including the two about which modern opinion is chiefly divided, namely, “victory” and “substitution.” First and foremost, the Christian is one who has been united with Christ so intimately that an exchange of qualities has somehow taken place.
Of course, this understanding of Luther’s thought would not settle present-day controversies, for it is not incompatible with either of the two main rival theories, nor even with a combination of both. Neither is it incompatible with Calvin’s threefold scheme of “Prophet, Priest, and King” (a scheme of which, in any case, he makes very little use), since Christ does not exercise these offices in any “private capacity,” but rather communicates their benefits to believers. Perhaps we may say that the notion of “exchange” belongs to the presuppositions of atonement, as the Reformers understood it, whilst the detailed outworking of the doctrine demands the use of further categories.
That the notion is indeed fundamental to the Reformers’ thinking could be demonstrated by many passages from the works of both.
Luther speaks explicitly of this “happy exchange” (frÃ¶hlich Wechsel) in the German version of the Treatise on Christian Liberty. The soul and Christ are united like bride and bridegroom. They become one flesh, and everything they possess is shared in common. “What Christ has is the property of the believing soul, what the soul has becomes the property of Christ.” A similar passage occurs in the Larger Commentary on Galatians (though worded differently in RÃ¶rer’s MS.): “So, making a happy exchange with us (feliciter commutans nobiscum) he [Christ] took upon him our sinful person, and gave us his own innocent and victorious person.” These passages can readily be matched in Calvin’s Institutes: “Who could do this [i.e., win salvation for men], unless the Son of God should become also the Son of Man, and so receive what is ours as to transfer to us what is his?” And again: “He was not unwilling to take upon him what was properly ours, that he might in turn (vicissim) extend to us what was properly his.” The same pattern of thought recurs in both the Reformers when they speak of the Lord’s Supper; as, for instance, in Luther’s Treatise on the Blessed Sacrament, and the fourth book of Calvin’s Institutes. What exactly it is that is “exchanged” is made perfectly clear in each of these passages: namely, Christ’s righteousness is exchanged for the believer’s sin.
–Brian A. Gerrish
St. Bernard was so terror-stricken by Christ’s sufferings that he said: I imagined I was secure and I knew nothing of the eternal judgment passed upon me in heaven, until I saw the eternal Son of God took mercy upon me, stepped forward and offered himself on my behalf in the same judgment. Ah, it does not become me still to play and remain secure when such earnestness is behind those sufferings. Hence he commanded the women: “Weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children.” Lk 23, 28; and gives in the 31st verse the reason: “For if they do these things in the green tree, what shall be done in the dry?” As if to say: Learn from my martyrdom what you have merited and how you should be rewarded. For here it is true that a little dog was slain in order to terrorize a big one. Likewise the prophet also said: “All generations shall lament and bewail themselves more than him”; it is not said they shall lament him, but themselves rather than him. Likewise were also the apostles terror-stricken in Acts 2, 37, as mentioned before, so that they said to the apostles: “0, brethren, what shall we do?” So the church also sings: I will diligently meditate thereon, and thus my soul in me will exhaust itself.
”“Martin Luther (1483-1546)
Philosophers have measured mountains,
Fathomed the depths of seas, of states, and kings,
Walked with a staff to heaven, and traced fountains:
But there are two vast, spacious things
The which to measure it doth more behoove:
Yet few there are that sound them: Sin and Love.
Who would know Sin, let him repair
Unto Mount Olivet; there shall he see
A man so wrung with pains that all his hair,
His skin, his garments bloody be.
Sin is that press and vice, that forceth pain
To hunt his cruel food through every vein.
Who knows not Love, let him assay
And taste that juice, which on the cross a pike
Did set again abroach; then let him say
If ever he did taste the like.
Love is that liquor sweet and most divine
Which my God feels as blood; but I, as wine.
–George Herbert (1593-1633)
And so we come to Good Friday, day of the Passion and crucifixion of the Lord. Every year, placing ourselves in silence before Jesus nailed to the wood of the cross, we realize how full of love were the words he pronounced on the eve, in the course of the Last Supper. “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many” (Mark 14:24). Jesus willed to offer his life in sacrifice for the remission of humanity’s sins. Just as before the Eucharist, so before the Passion and Death of Jesus on the cross the mystery is unfathomable to reason. We are placed before something that humanly might seem absurd: a God who not only is made man, with all man’s needs, not only suffers to save man, burdening himself with all the tragedy of humanity, but dies for man.
Christ’s death recalls the accumulation of sorrows and evils that beset humanity of all times: the crushing weight of our dying, the hatred and violence that again today bloody the earth. The Lord’s Passion continues in the suffering of men. As Blaise Pascal correctly writes, “Jesus will be in agony until the end of the world; one must not sleep during this time” (PensÃ©es, 553). If Good Friday is a day full of sadness, and hence at the same time, all the more propitious a day to reawaken our faith, to strengthen our hope and courage so that each one of us will carry his cross with humility, trust and abandonment in God, certain of his support and victory. The liturgy of this day sings: “O Crux, ave, spes unica” (Hail, O cross, our only hope).”
O all ye, who pass by, whose eyes and mind
To worldly things are sharp, but to me blind;
To me, who took eyes that I might you find:
Was ever grief like mine?
The Princes of my people make a head
Against their Maker: they do wish me dead,
Who cannot wish, except I give them bread:
Was ever grief like mine?
Without me each one, who doth now me brave,
Had to this day been an Egyptian slave.
They use that power against me, which I gave:
Was ever grief like mine?
Subject to foreign motion, lose their own,
And being by others hurried every day,
Scarce in a year their natural form obey ;
Pleasure or business, so, our souls admit
For their first mover, and are whirl’d by it.
Hence is’t, that I am carried towards the west,
This day, when my soul’s form bends to the East.
There I should see a Sun by rising set,
And by that setting endless day beget.
But that Christ on His cross did rise and fall,
Sin had eternally benighted all.
Yet dare I almost be glad, I do not see
That spectacle of too much weight for me.
Who sees Gods face, that is self-life, must die ;
What a death were it then to see God die ?
It made His own lieutenant, Nature, shrink,
It made His footstool crack, and the sun wink.
Could I behold those hands, which span the poles
And tune all spheres at once, pierced with those holes ?
Could I behold that endless height, which is
Zenith to us and our antipodes,
Humbled below us ? or that blood, which is
The seat of all our soul’s, if not of His,
Made dirt of dust, or that flesh which was worn
By God for His apparel, ragg’d and torn ?
If on these things I durst not look, durst I
On His distressed Mother cast mine eye,
Who was God’s partner here, and furnish’d thus
Half of that sacrifice which ransom’d us ?
Though these things as I ride be from mine eye,
They’re present yet unto my memory,
For that looks towards them ; and Thou look’st towards me,
O Saviour, as Thou hang’st upon the tree.
I turn my back to thee but to receive
Corrections till Thy mercies bid Thee leave.
O think me worth Thine anger, punish me,
Burn off my rust, and my deformity ;
Restore Thine image, so much, by Thy grace,
That Thou mayst know me, and I’ll turn my face.
”“John Donne (1572-1631)
Listen to it all.
O Christ, who by the thorns pressed upon thy head hast drawn the thorns from the sorrows of this world, and given us a crown of joy and peace: Make us so bold as never to fear suffering, nor to suffer without cheerfulness in thy service; to the glory of thy holy name.
The ancient and saintly fathers and theologians have contrasted the living wood with dead and have allegorized that contrast this way: From the living wood came sin and death; from the dead wood, righteousness and life. They conclude: do not eat from that living tree, or you will die, but eat of the dead tree; otherwise you will remain in death.
You do indeed desire to eat and enjoy [the fruit] of some tree. I will direct you to a tree so full you can never eat it bare. But just as it was difficult to stay away from that living tree, so it is difficult to enjoy eating from the dead tree. The first was the image of life, delight, and goodness, while the other is the image of death, suffering and sorrow because one tree is living, the other dead. There is in man’s heart the deeply rooted desire to seek life where there is certain death and to flee from death where one has the sure source of life.
–Martin Luther, “That a Christian Should Bear his Cross With Patience,” 1530