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The Mystery of Suffering.
THE SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST.
“ It became Him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all
things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.”—HEBREWS ii. 10.
T HAVE already offered you one or two sug1 gestions tending to show that perfection of character was produced, and could only be produced, by means of suffering. I propose now to take a concrete example—viz., the character of Christ. In the present sermon I shall give you a slight sketch of His sufferings. In the next sermon we will endeavour to trace their effect in bringing about His perfection.
Well, to begin with, Christ was poor. The trade to which he was apprenticed would be anything but lucrative in a small village like Nazareth. The house in which he dwelt would be no better than the houses of artisans in Nazareth at the present day, which consist of but one room, serving at once for shop, kitchen, and bedroom : they are lighted only by the door, and are almost destitute of furniture. Thus, for thirty years Christ lived in one of the smallest houses, of the most disregarded village, of the most despised province, of a conquered land. His poverty must have caused Him suffering, not so much because of the privations it involved, as because it induced His contemporaries to despise His teaching. In those days, to be poor was to be contemptible. Hillel had said so, and that was enough. “ Is not this the carpenter ?” asked one. “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth.?” inquired another. “Out of Galilee ariseth no prophet,” said a third. All were agreed that it was absurd to look for moral or religious instruction from a man of such low extraction and such mean surroundings. Christ would be constantly reminded that His social position was the greatest barrier to His usefulness in the world.
Again, He suffered from the physical pains that flesh is heir to. In common with the fallen sons of the Father, He had to earn His bread by the sweat of His brow; and such earnings must sometimes involve pain. Christ suffered, too, like other men — and more than most men — from hunger and thirst, from exposure to heat and cold, from sleepless nights, and from the numberless and nameless ills that arise from a delicate constitution. We might have guessed that He could not be physically strong. There are souls that consume the bodies in which they dwell. Severe mental conflict and intense moral earnestness are rarely, if ever, combined with perfect health. Christ at any rate, we find from our New Testaments, was weak and frail. For example, He was weary with His journey to Samaria, and sat on the well to rest; but the disciples were not fatigued—they went away directly to buy food. In one of their discussions the Jews said to Him, “Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham ?” They did not guess, owing to His worn and wasted appearance, that He was little more than thirty. He fainted under the burden of the cross; but the other prisoners did not faint. He died, moreover, more quickly than was usually the case; so that when the soldiers came, according to custom, to put an end to His torture, they found Him already dead.
choly in other respects may be a man's life, if only he have a happy home. In that case, in spite of all his troubles, his is an enviable lot. However isolated and worried he may feel when in the outside world, if there be somewhere a spot which he calls home, and which really deserves that name, then he is a happy man. Though his lot may have been cast in a desert, yet it is a desert that contains an oasis, to which he can constantly return. There are to be found sparkling streams and refreshing shade; and there the wayworn, footsore traveller may rest and be refreshed. There, for a little season, the weary can find repose and the sorrowing sympathy. There, by the subtle power of love, burdens are lightened, disappointments are alleviated, and the saddest heart is cheered. I imagine there would be many more madmen and suicides in the world than there are, were it not for the blessedness of home. But Christ was homeless. “The foxes have holes,” He said, “ and the birds of the air nests; but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head.”
Once more. Christ suffered from intellectual, moral, and social isolation. He was very little appreciated by any one, and entirely misunderstood by all. He felt that He was born to a
godlike work. A mysterious purpose lay in His heart, which was to lead the Father's fallen sons to glory. The very nature of this purpose would, as Dr Young remarks, make Him more keenly susceptible, and more eagerly desirous for sympathy. But in regard to the one great object of His life, He stood entirely alone. The Pharisees and Scribes, and the upper classes generally, opposed Him, not only on account of His poverty, but also on account of His doctrines. He had kind words for the publicans and harlots, but none for them. The common people at first heard Him gladly; but when they found He had no intention of improving their earthly circumstances, they became dissatisfied. As Christ put it, they only followed Him because of the miracle of the loaves. They wanted bread for the body, not food for the mind. His own relations, too, were an obstacle in His path. “Not even His brethren believed on Him." Christ must have suffered inexpressibly in seeing how little spiritual good He was accomplishing. His very disciples seemed to make no progress. They understood Him as little at the end of His ministry as at the beginning. For example, Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father.” He did not perceive that Christ's whole life had been one prolonged