VICARIOUS EXPIATORY AND ATONING SUFFERINGS
"My God, My God, WHY hast Thou forsaken Me?" Mark 15:34
And yet once again. If man imagines that he has now fathomed or understood the Cross, he is reminded by the very fact, that this cry is a question that something, perhaps the mightiest and most marvelous of all the facts, eludes him, and defies his every attempt at final analysis. He is in the place of sin as to its final issue and in the place of sorrow in its abysmal depth, and yet now notes that while He states the fact that He is God-forsaken, He in the midst of the experience asks the question, "Why?" It is never recorded that He asked such a question before. Never again is there record of so strange a fact. In that withdrawal of the Divine presence, which is the issue of sin, and the depth of sorrow, there is the enshrouding of the Spirit of the Christ in a great and awful mystery of silence. If these infinitudes may be measured by the small standards of human individuality, it may be immediately declared that there is no experience of life through which men pass, so terrible as that of silence and of mystery, the hours of isolation and of sorrow, in which there is no voice, no vision, no sympathy, no promise, no hope, no explanation, the hours in which the soul asks why. The river, the darkly flowing river, how men dread it, and yet there is something more fearsome than the darkly flowing river. It is the mist that, rising from the river, wraps men round in its chill embrace, until they do not know where they stand, or where the river is. There is no agony for the human soul like that of silence. The perfect One, made sin, and suffering all sorrow, had reached that place of silence and of mystery. Who shall explain it? I cannot. When I am asked for a theory of the Atonement I always reply that in the midst of the mighty movement, the Lord Himself said "Why?" and if He asked that question, I dare not imagine that I can ever explain the deep central verities of His mystery of pain. Men stand outside the circle of that incomprehensible agony, they behold Him forsaken of God, at the uttermost issue of sin, in the deepest profundities of sorrow, in the mystery of an awful silence, and all this as they hear Him say, "My God, My God, WHY hast Thou forsaken Me?" (Mark 15:34) Let there be no attempt to penetrate further into that hallowed and awful realm.
And yet the subject of the sufferings of Christ cannot be so left. Standing overwhelmed in the presence of these sufferings, feeling increasingly man's utter inability to understand or explain, with a great sense of might and majesty overwhelming us, we hear the next words that pass His lips. "It is finished." (John 19:30) Immediately the heart sings a new song,—
“O Jesus, Lord ! 'tis joy to know
Thy path is o'er of shame and woe,
For us so meekly trod."
Thy path is o'er of shame and woe,
For us so meekly trod."
How in the depth of the darkness the mighty work was accomplished, men will never perfectly understand. Eternity cannot suffice for the unfolding of the dread mystery of the passion, but this is known, "He bare my sins in His body upon the tree," (1 Peter 2:24) He stood where man should have stood. The pains of hell that were man's portion, had gotten hold on Him, and man passes into the light of the heaven which was His by right, and which He brings to him.
Such were the sufferings of Christ, so far as we have been allowed to come near them in the inspired narrative. What have we seen? So little and yet so much. Unable to appreciate all the meaning of the words, yet great facts now shine in radiant revelation, and from the study we may make statements which constitute the evangel of hope and of power. These deductions may be expressed in old words, the theological words of our fathers. I pray God that we may restore them. I would not plead for the restoration of mistaken interpretation of the words, but that we may lay hold upon them in their true and infinite value.
Gazing then in astonishment at the sufferings of Christ, I declare them to have been vicarious sufferings, expiatory sufferings, atoning sufferings.
They were VICARIOUS SUFFERINGS, for He stood in man's place when He suffered. The penalty He bore had no relation to the life He lived. He stood connected with all human sin and failure, and seeing that He bore it, man is delivered from it.
They were EXPIATORY SUFFERINGS. Through what He bore, He exhausted human sin. He put it away, He made it not to be.
They were ATONING SUFFERINGS, in that through them He has dealt with all that separated between man and God. He has made possible the restoration of the lost fellowship, and man may henceforth live in communion with Him. We can arrive at perfection now (Matt. 5:48; Jude 24).
Thus has He solved the problems first suggested. By the way of that Cross, and by that way alone, God may be just, that is, true to Himself in nature; and justify the sinner, that is, place man into the position of one for whom sin is made not to be, and who is therefore clear from guilt.
The second problem is assuredly solved by the mystery of the Cross, as will be more fully seen when contemplating His resurrection. As He passes out of death, He comes into a new life which He may now communicate, and which is to be for paralyzed men a new dynamic and a new purity, in the power of which all life may be transformed, and all victories won.
Thus we have foregathered on the outer margin of that deep sea of sorrow through which the God-man wrought with God, though for a while in separation from the consciousness of His presence, a redemption which meets all difficulties, and solves all problems, and opens the kingdom of heaven to all believers.