Henry Law, 1858
"Anyone who is hung on a tree is under God's curse." Deut. 21:23
This is a dreadful sentence. It shows the misery of miseries—the inmost core of agony—the very soul of anguish—the sting of woe—despair's extremity. This sum of evil is the Curse of God.
When God blesses, sorrow is joy—pain has sweet ease—and burdens lose their weight. Beneath His smile, the bed of sickness is repose, and death's approach is welcomed. If He is absent, there is a void, which nothing can supply. But if He frowns, what horrors multiply! What shall be said, then, of that Curse, which is His uttermost display of wrath! Better, far better, not to have been born, than to meet this. O my soul, whatever be the cost, escape it.
With this resolve approach the text before us. The outside casket may seem rough, but it contains a precious jewel. "He, that is hanged, is accursed of God."
The meaning must be primarily sought. Mark, this is no statement, that criminals uplifted on a cross thereby pass into deeper guilt. There was, indeed, most extreme ignominy in this mode of death. It was the brand of utter loathing. But man's contempt entails not divine curse. Earth may abhor, while heaven approves. The cross could never be the cause of Curse. A saint might rise to heaven from that tree. It is not meant, then, that a man, by being hanged, becomes accursed of God.
This word describes not malefactors in the mass. It is particular. It has a prophet's voice. It is a Gospel-sign. It eyes exclusively the Crucified Jesus. It only tells the fact, that He, who came to bear God's Curse, should hang upon the tree. It pictures His especial mode of dying. A cross shall be the evidence, that Jesus thereon sustains the law's full threat.
Reader, this brings us to ponder closely the Lord's work. From all eternity it was decreed, that He should bear His people's sins. This is the essence of the covenant of peace. He willingly consents. The guilt is all transferred to Him. Each violation of the law is charged to His account. He stands the guilty one. Thus all His ransomed are released from blame. Their penalties—their curse—are wholly claimed, received, and borne by Him. A substitute suffers all, that they may suffer none.
These are the terms arranged in everlasting counsels. The Savior is to be a substitute. The saved are to be free, because He pays. The law remits no due. It takes all from another's hand. Jesus is a vicarious Curse.
Such is God's grace—such the Redeemer's love—such the simplicity of Salvation's scheme. This text, then, gives a signal mark, whereby the Curse-sustaining Surety shall be known. Already had a typal picture taught the truth. A brazen serpent, hanging on a pole, had shown the Savior hanging on a tree. But here plain words speak plainly. Hanging is now distinctly named. The voice cries, He, who is hanged, is the Curse of God. No doubt remains. It stands announced, that when the true Deliverer shall appear, upon the cross He shall expire. A pledge is given, too marvelous for man's invention—too clear for man to misinterpret.
If this should fail, faith loses her sure ground. If other death makes Christ its prey, Christ takes not the Curse away. The Gospel-fabric crumbles into dust.
But this fails not. Outside the city's gate, the cross is raised. To it the Lord is bound. On it He is upraised, a spectacle to God, to angels, and to men.
But wondrous steps lead to this wondrous end. It seemed, as though it could not be. While Israel's power remained supreme, the cross was not a Jewish malefactor's death. If Jesus die, then, by their rule, He will not die with pierced hands and feet. Stones will crush. But difficulties vanish before God's decree. The scepter, therefore, passes from the ancient people. The Roman law prevails. It must condemn and execute. But, when the Romans slay, they crucify. Hence Christ, sentenced by Pilate, is hurried to the tree. Hence on the cross He hangs. The prophecy is thoroughly fulfilled. And faith, pointing to Calvary, shouts, Our God is true—Jesus completely saves—"Anyone who is hung on a tree is under God's curse."
Reader, here for a moment take your meditative seat. But vain the cross, except the Spirit gild it with His light. Therefore send forth the fervent cry, 'Come, Holy Spirit, teach me the glory of Calvary's scene!'
The prominent truth is this. Jesus there hanging is the Curse of God.
Fully to realize the joy of this, we must distinctly understand the Curse. Whence springs it? What kindles this fierce flame? Disobedience is the one cause. If all men loved their God—if His one law ruled in each heart—beamed in each look—spoke in each word—moved in each step—then earth would not have known the name of Curse. The loving child, walking with God, would only bask in smiles, and feast on blessings.
But ah! how different is the case! In Adam's fall the human family pass into rebellion's realm. The fountain-head, being poisoned, only can send evil from it. Hence wrath arises. Hence the Curse thunders.
Reader, make this truth practical. For until ruin be discerned, Christ's shelter never will be sought. Boldly then ask, 'Is this Curse mine?'
Let God reply. Behold His mirror. View yourself therein. Take His true standard. Measure yourself thereby. Produce His faultless scales. There weigh yourself. The Spirit from His lofty throne thus speaks, "Cursed is every one, that continues not in all things, which are written in the book of the law, to do them." Gal. 3:10.
Oh! solemn word! But it is plain as solemn. Hear it, you sons of men. Sift carefully its several parts. What is written in this edict-book? The terms are brief and exact. They ask for love to God—to man. This is the one demand—and this must reign in every movement of the heart from cradle to the grave. All thought must flow in one broad channel—love. All words must sound one echo—love. All works must have this spring—this course—this end. Exception there is none. This rule's enclosure holds our total race. No rank ascends above it. No poverty descends below it. Gold cannot purchase license. Poverty cannot evade. Talent and learning cannot frame excuse. All, who have breathed life's breath, from Adam's day to this hour—all, who shall breathe, until the Lord's return—are under the distinct command of love. If there be failure in one single thought, the law is broken, and the Curse accrues.
But eyes are slow to open to this giant-truth. Could silly earth be one wide scene of unconcern, if this reality were felt? Could giddy crowds thus laugh and sport, if once they saw the hand of Curse upon them?
Reader, perchance you fondly reason, The law is broken, but the Curse will not fall on me. My pleas are many. They will land me on some rock. Well, then, produce your pleas. The law says, 'Give me unsullied love', and points to your defects. You cannot deny guilt, and thereby you allow the Curse to be your due. But you reply, 'I erred in early days, with unformed mind and thoughtless heart'. Be it so—early transgression is transgression still, and therefore you are Cursed. You add, 'but I was sorely tried. Could human nature stand, when so assailed?' The law knows nothing of an extenuating cause. To err—be the occasion what it may—to err is to be Cursed.
But perhaps you plead your penitence—your broken-heart—your streaming eyes—your smitten breast—the floor worn out by your knees. Can penitence recall the past, or undo what is done? It cannot. Offence remains offence, and each offence is Curse.
Do you betake yourself to cries, and humbly supplicate mercy—reprieve—space for reform! Do you say, Let me commence my course afresh—blot out the debt, and let me enter on a new career! It cannot be. Past deeds have earned their wages. The wages must be paid, and they are Curse.
Reader, do not evade this reasoning. Whatever be your age or state, to this point you are brought—in self—by nature—by your own deed—you stand accursed of God. There is no hour, in which love has not failed. Therefore each hour has linked you to the Curse.
But perhaps you ask, 'What is this Curse?' You feel no present wrath. The canopy of heaven is bright above. Shelter, and food, and friends, abound. Unnumbered comforts cheer your path. It may be so. But this present will not be always present. The future is drawing near. Death presses at your heels. And judgment follows death. Then sin's deserts must be received. And the deserts are Curse.
Do you still ask, 'What is the Curse?' Words cannot fully tell. Thought cannot grasp the magnitude. No images can paint the boundlessness of this anguish. But it cannot fall short of this. God puts forth all His might—stirs up His utmost strength—strains every effort—all for one purpose—to assert His majesty—to avenge His broken law—to heap perdition on the offender's head. In brief, the Curse is Hell. Ah! what is here implied! Conscience is tortured by the undying worm. Remorse inflicts unmitigated stings. Memory upbraids with bitterest reproach. The body writhes in all intensities of pain. Each sense gapes, as inlet of agony. God is far off. Blackness of darkness thickens all around. Satan insults. Wretched companions deepen the horror by their wails. The woe increases by full knowledge of eternal hopelessness. Years will roll on, but misery will be misery still. Ages will follow ages, but respite will not dawn. The present will be ever present, an infinity of suffering. Such is an outline of the Curse—just—merited—and sure. It must be. The broken law demands it. It will be. God's truth declares it.
But why is this picture drawn? The purpose is to endear the tidings of escape. The motive is to magnify the glorious truth, ""He who is hung on a tree" even Jesus "is accursed of God." The desire is, to win all thoughts to Him—the substituted Curse.
With this intent let us return to Calvary. The cross is there erected. The mighty God-man is dragged to it. The nails affix Him, and He there expires. Thus He becomes the Curse of God. Thus the whole vengeance falls on Him. He there bears all the anguish, which would have been His people's doom, if they had tossed forever on flame-beds. No grain of misery is withheld. No pity spares Him. The Curse—the dreadful Curse—the total Curse—in all its boundless length and breadth, pours its whole weight upon Him.
Surely, then, all, who are contained in Christ, may now confront the law. Let it bring forth their guilt. They own the justice of the charge. Let it cry, 'Take my Curse'. They point to Jesus taking all. The plea is valid. They cannot suffer what their Surety has first borne. They are secure and free, simply because He has endured for them.
Believer, will you not live beside the cross! Can you withdraw your eyes! Read its clear language. Take its rich comfort. Clasp its full joy. Doubt not—be verily assured—that it absorbs your Curse. Drink its deep streams of peace. And bless your precious Lord, who thus vicariously saves. Give all your heart—give all your life—to Him. Is He not worthy! Think, that, without His love, your endless state would have been endless Curse. Think, that, through His curse-bearing death, your present state is blessing—your eternal home is glory.