A Summary by Sosthenes of J.N. Darby’s ‘The Sufferings of Christ’
In this paper, written to the Editor of the “Bible Treasury”, Darby outlined four aspects of the sufferings of Christ.
- His sufferings at the hands of men.
- His sufferings at the hand of God.
- His sufferings in relation to the state of man.
- His sufferings in anticipation of His work on the cross
Christ’s Sufferings at the Hands of Men.
We have to distinguish Christ’s sufferings from man and His sufferings from God. He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. The world hated Him because He bore witness to the fact that the world’s works were evil. It hated Him before it hated His disciples. He was “light,” and he that doeth evil hateth the light, nor comes to the light, because his works are evil. In a word, Christ suffered for righteousness’ sake.
Christ’s Sufferings at the Hand of God.
Upon the cross, Christ also suffered from the hand of God. He was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him … It pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He hath put Him to grief; when He shall make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed. (Isa. 53:5,10) He who knew no sin was made sin for us, (2 Cor. 5:21) and then. He suffered the just for the unjust; (1 Peter 3:18). He suffered, not because He was righteous, but because we were sinners, and He was bearing our sins in His own body on the tree. As regards God’s forsaking Him, He could say, ‘Why hast Thou forsaken Me?’ (Psalm 22:1) In Him there was no cause. We can give the solemn answer: In grace He suffered the just for us, the unjust. He was made sin for us.
Thus at the hands of men, as a living man, He suffered for righteousness; at the hand of God, as a dying Saviour, He suffered for sin. It is most interesting to contrast these two characters of Christ’s suffering as expressed in the Psalms.
Christ’s Suffering for Sin
In Psalm 22 we have both His suffering from the hand of God (v. 1-11) and the sufferings at the hand of men (v. 11-21). At the height of His sufferings, God, His only resource, forsakes Him. This is the great theme of the psalm – the consequence of His bearing our sin, the wrath due to us. But He came to put sin away by the sacrifice of Himself. Hence the result is unmingled grace — nothing else. He drank the cup at His Father’s hand. God heard Him, and raised Him up and gave Him glory, because He had perfectly glorified Him as to sin. He is raised from the dead by the glory of the Father (Rom. 6:4). This name of His God and Father He immediately declares to His brethren, ‘I will declare thy name unto my brethren’ (Heb. 2:12).
God’s testimony was now of grace, and Jesus leads the praises of His redeemed. Now we have praise sung in all Israel, the great congregation, (v.25) ; then all the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the LORD (v.27).
Such is the effect of the cross. Sin was put away in the suffering and judgment on the cross. The judgment was borne, but passed away with its execution on the Victim. He had in grace substituted Himself; and when we appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, we will appear before the One who put away our sins. Indeed He will have come to fetch us, so that where He is, we may be also (John14:3). In a word, will be the One who suffered for sin, not for righteousness; and the effect, pure grace.
Christ suffered for sin that we never might. We are healed by His stripes. We do not partake in them, Christ suffered alone, as forsaken of God in wrath, so that we never should taste one drop of that dreadful, bitter, and to us insupportable cup.
Christ’s Suffering and Ours
We who believe have been given to suffer for His name. If we suffer, we shall also reign with him (2 Tim. 2:12). If we suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are we, and yet more blessed if we suffer for His name.
The difference of suffering for good and for evil is touchingly contrasted in Peter’s epistle; while both are attributed to Christ, we are warned against the latter. Suffering for righteousness may be our happy portion; suffering for sin, as regards the Christian, was Christ’s part alone.
Christ’s Sufferings in Relation to the State of Man.
We should note two other characters of suffering in our blessed Lord. Firstly, the sufferings in His heart of love due to the unbelief of unhappy man,
in John 11:35, at the tomb of Lazarus, He wept and groaned within Himself at seeing the power of death over the spirits of men, and their incapacity to deliver themselves. He also wept over Jerusalem, when He saw the beloved city about to reject Him in the day of its visitation. All this was the suffering of perfect love in a scene of ruin, where man’s self-will and heartlessness shut every avenue against the love, which was so earnestly working in its midst.
Sin itself must have been a continual source of sorrow to the Lord’s mind. He was calmer than righteous Lot in Sodom. Still He was distressed by sin. He looked about upon them with anger, being grieved at the hardness of their hearts (Mark 3:5).
The sorrows, too, of men were His in heart. He bore their sicknesses, and carried their infirmities. (Isa. 53:4) There was not a sorrow nor an affliction that He did not bear on His heart as His own. In all their afflictions He was afflicted. (Isa. 63:9).
Christ’s Sufferings in Anticipation of His Work on the Cross
“Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour.” (John 12:27). The other characteristic was the anticipation, when it was time for Him to look at death. He could not take His part with the excellent of the earth, and bring them into real and permanent blessing, without first going through death – death as the wages of sin, for even the excellent of the earth were sinners.
And for Him death was death — all dark, without one ray of light even from God. Perfect obedience was needed, and (blessed be God) it was found in Him.
- Man’s utter weakness
- Satan’s extreme power
- God’s just vengeance, alone, without one sympathy
- Christ forsaken of those whom He had cherished
- The rest of men His enemies
- The Messiah delivered to Gentiles and cast down
- The judge washing his hands of condemning innocence
- The priests interceding against the guiltless instead of for the guilty
- Man would not have the Deliverer
He anticipated death, and all it meant to His soul; He looked for deliverance. He could not wish for, nor fail to fear, the forsaking of God and the cup of death that He had to drink. He was heard in that He feared (Heb. 5:7). That was truth, and true piety.
He took the cup just as it was being brought to Him, though He would take it from none but His Father’s hand. The tempter now returns to try Him with all that was dreadful for His soul. Above all, He had persevered in His obedience and work to the end. If the Lord was to effect salvation in the wretched race, He must be, not a mighty living powerful Deliverer, but a dying Redeemer. It was the path of obedience and the path of love.
We find Him with His Father, occupied with the cup He was about to drink, and His obedience shone out in perfection. God was not forsaking Him yet; He was conversing with His Father about the cup of His being forsaken of God. “Father, save me from this hour. But for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify thy name” (John 12:27).
He got His answer to obedience to death, an answer of real and complete victory. It was the widespread opening out of the God’s revelation of love, even though in it the world had been judged. But all was closing in in Gethsemane. We read of His sweat as drops of blood, and see the power of darkness and the Lord’s deep agony expressed in a few mighty words. But His obedience was perfect. The tempter was utterly foiled; the Name of Jesus sufficed to make his agents go backward and fall to the ground. As far as they were concerned, and as far as Satan’s power went, He was free. But the Father had given Him the cup to drink, and He freely offered Himself to drink it, showing the same unweakened power as ever. He in blessed, willing obedience now takes the awful cup itself from His Father’s hand! Never can we meditate too much upon the path of Christ here.
Love brought Him to the cross, without the present joy of a ministration of love. He was not dealing with man, but suffering in obedience, under the hand of God, in man’s place and for man. He endured unmingled, unmitigated suffering – God’s forsaking. All His sorrow was the direct fruit of love — He felt for others, about others. What must He have felt about those who took away the key of knowledge, and entered not in themselves, and hindered those that were entering? Righteous indignation is not sorrow, but the love that gives birth to it.
He felt the violation of every delicacy that a perfectly attuned mind could feel. What broke in upon every delicate feeling of His nature as a man! Men stood staring at Him as He suffered. Insult, scorn, deceit, efforts to catch Him in His words, brutality and cruel mocking, He bore it all in a divinely patient spirit. He was deserted, betrayed, and denied — “I looked for some to take pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but I found none” (Psalm 69:20) Reproach broke His heart. He was the song of the drunkards.
Jehovah knew His shame, His reproach, and His dishonour. All His adversaries were before Him; but He endured it all. All sorrow was concentrated in His death, where neither the comfort of active love, nor the communion with His Father, could provide any alleviating sweetness, or be for a moment mingled with that dreadful cup of wrath. His royal glories were given up. Now He has been received up with a better and higher glory from His Father’s hand. He always had this glory, but now He has entered into it as Man.