Christ, a Man of Sorrows
by Edward Payson
"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 was all 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!
We must attempt to bring the scene more fully to your view. Come with us, a moment, to Calvary. See the meek sufferer, standing with hands fast bound in the midst of his enemies; sinking under the weight of his cross, and lacerated in every part by the thorny rods with which he had been scourged. See the savage, ferocious soldiers seizing with barbarous violence, his sacred body, forcing it down upon the cross, stretching and extending his limbs, and with remorseless cruelty forcing through his hands and feet — the ragged spikes which were to fasten him on it! See the Jewish priests and rulers watching with looks of malicious pleasure the horrid scene, and attempting to increase his sufferings by scoffs and blasphemies! Now contemplate attentively, the countenance of the wonderful Sufferer, which seems like Heaven opening in the midst of Hell, and tell me what it expressed. You see it indeed full of anguish — but it expresses nothing like impatience, resentment, or revenge. On the contrary, it beams with pity, benevolence, and forgiveness. It perfectly corresponds with the prayer, which, raising his mild, imploring eye to Heaven, he pours forth to God: "Father, forgive them — for they know not what they do!"
Christian — look at your Master, and learn how to suffer! Look at your Savior, and learn to admire, to imitate, and to forgive.
But why, it may be naturally asked: Why is this patient innocent sufferer thus afflicted? Why, in his life, in his death — is he thus emphatically a man of sorrows? To this question, our text returns an answer, and an answer which ought to sink deep into our hearts; for in it we are all most deeply interested: "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!" Isaiah 53:4-6.
Here, we see the true cause of our Savior's unparalleled sufferings. He was cut off, says the Prophet — but not for himself. He knew no sin — but he was made sin, made a curse for us. We have all strayed from the path of duty. Yes, you and I, and all our race, have forsaken the God who made us, and chosen the path that leads to Hell. God's violated law condemned us to die. Justice demanded the execution of the sentence. There was apparently no remedy. It is true that God, as our Creator and Father, was sufficiently inclined to spare us; but his holiness and justice forbade him to do it, unless a suitable atonement could be found. There was but one individual in the universe who could make such an atonement, and that being, prompted by infinite compassion, offered himself for this purpose. The Father, with equal love, accepted the offer.
To carry it into effect, the Son assumed our nature, and appeared on earth; and the bitter cup, which the divine law condemned us to drink — was put into his hand, and he drank it to the last drop! We were condemned to live a life of sorrow and pain — and therefore he lived such a life. We were condemned to shame and everlasting contempt — and therefore he hid not his face from shame and spitting. We were condemned to die under the curse — and therefore he died the accursed death of the cross. We were condemned to lose the favor and endure the wrath of God — and therefore Christ was forsaken by his Father in the agonies of death. We were condemned to perish without mercy — and therefore Christ had no mercy, no pity shown him in his last moments. We were condemned to remain under the power of death, until by satisfying divine justice, we could restore ourselves to life — and therefore Christ remained in the grave until he had made full satisfaction, and then resumed the life he had laid down. Thus he bore our sins, or, what is the same, the punishment of our sins in his own body on the tree — that we being dead unto sin, might live unto God.
What was the manner in which Christ was treated, when he thus came as a man of sorrows to atone for our sins? "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." How literally this prediction was fulfilled, we have already seen. Yet who but an inspired prophet would have predicted that such would be the reception of such a person, coming from Heaven on such a design? We would naturally expect that he would be received with the most lively emotions and demonstrations of grateful joy, by the beings whom he came to save.
Even after we were told that, instead of thus receiving, they rejected and condemned him — we would have expected that when they saw his lamb-like patience and meekness, and heard him praying for his murderers — they would have relented and spared him. And when this could not prevail, we would have hoped that the miracles which attended his crucifixion, and especially his resurrection from the dead — would convince them of their error, and cause them to relent. But none of these things, nor all of them united, could conquer the inveterate malice of his enemies!
Living and dying, rising and reigning, he was still despised and rejected by men. Neither his miracles, nor his sorrows, nor his meekness, nor his patience — could shield him from hatred and contempt.
But what was his crime? What had he done? I answer, he was good — and went everywhere doing good; he dared to speak the truth; he reproved men for their sins, he testified to the world that its deeds were evil. Above all, he bore the image of God — of that holy God whom sinners hate. These were crimes never to be forgiven; crimes, for which nothing but his blood could atone; crimes, which in their view rendered him unworthy of that commiseration which men usually feel for the vilest malefactors when in the agonies of death.
Nor were those who treated him in this manner, worse than the rest of mankind. As in water face answers to face — so the heart of man to man. The truth of this assertion is abundantly proved by the manner in which all succeeding generations have treated Christ. He has always been despised and rejected by men — and he is so still. It is true, he has long since ascended to Heaven, and therefore cannot be the immediate object of their attacks. But his gospel and his servants are still in the world — and the manner in which they are treated, is sufficient evidence, that the feelings of the natural heart toward Christ are not materially different from those of the murderous Jews!
To sum up all in a word, it is certain that all who do not receive the instructions of Christ with the temper of a little child — reject him as a prophet. All who do not trust in his merits alone for salvation — reject him as a Savior. And all who do not habitually and sincerely obey his commands — reject him as a king. This being the case, the conduct of multitudes among us fully justifies us in asserting, that Christ is still despised and rejected by men.
Was Christ a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief? Then we need not be surprised or offended, if we are often called to drink of the cup of sorrows. We will find the world to be a valley of tears. This is one of the ways in which we must be conformed to our glorious Head. Indeed, his example has sanctified grief, and almost made it pleasant to mourn. One would think, that Christians could scarcely wish to go rejoicing — through a world which their Master passed through mourning. The path in which we follow him — is bedewed with his tears and stained with his blood.
It is true, that from the ground thus richly watered and fertilized — many choice flowers and fruits of paradise spring up to refresh us, in which we may and ought to rejoice. But still our joy should be softened and sanctified by godly sorrow. When we are partaking of the banquet which his love has spread for us — we should never forget how dearly it was purchased! "There's not a gift his hand bestows — but cost his heart a groan!"
The joy, the honor, the glory through eternity shall be ours — but the sorrows, the sufferings, the agonies which purchased them were all his own.
Was Christ wounded for our transgressions; were the iniquities of all his people laid upon him — then, surely, our iniquities shall never be laid upon us. He has borne and carried them away. He was made sin for us — that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. Away then, with all guilty unbelieving fears. Whatever your sorrows or trials may be — he knows by experience, how to sympathize with you.
Has your Heavenly Father forsaken you, so that you walk in darkness and see no light? He well remembers what he felt, when he cried, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!"
Has Satan wounded you with his fiery darts? He remembers how sorely his own heart was bruised when he wrestled with principalities and powers, and crushed the head of the prince of darkness.
Are you pressed down with a complication of sorrows, so as to despair even of life? The soul of Christ was once exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.
Are you mourning for the danger of unbelieving friends? Christ's own brethren did not believe in him.
Does the world persecute and despise you, or are your enemies those of your own household? Christ was despised and rejected by men, and his own relations stigmatized him as a madman.
Are you suffering under slanderous and unjust accusations? Christ was called a gluttonous man, and a drunkard, a friend of publicans and sinners.
Are you struggling with the evils of poverty? Jesus had nowhere to lay his head.
Do Christian friends forsake or treat you unkindly? Christ was denied and forsaken by his own disciples.
Are you distressed with fears of death? Christ has entered the dark valley that he might destroy death.
O, then, banish all your fears! Look at your merciful High Priest who has passed unto the heavens, and triumphantly exclaim with the apostle, "Who shall separate me from the love of Christ!"
"He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. 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. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. Yet it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer. After the suffering of his soul, he will see the travail of his soul, and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities." Isaiah 53.