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The Agony —Ps xxii 1-11,

XXXI.
THE AGONY.

1 My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

Why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?

2 O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou nearest not; And in the night season, and am not silent.

3 But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.

4 Our fathers trusted in thee: they trusted, and thou didst deliver them.

5 They cried unto thee, and were delivered: they trusted in thee, and were

not confounded.

6 But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the

people.

7 All they that see me laugh me to scorn:

They shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying,

8 He trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him: Let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.

9 But thou art he that took me out of the womb;

Thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother's breasts.

10 I was cast upon thee from the womb: thou art my God from my mothers

belly.

11 Be not far from me, for trouble is near; for there is none to help.

Psalm Xx11.

ThIS is the Psalm of Psalms, in which 'Christ Jesus is evidently set forth' crucified among us. There is not a passage in the Old Testament, not even Isa. liii., in which 'the sufferings of Christ and the glory to come' are more fully delineated. What only, in a very secondary sense, could have applied either to David or to the Church, is here set before us, so that, while generally Christ is seen through David, it almost seems as if now David were only seen through Christ. We scarcely wonder that, when expounding this Psalm, Luther should have shut himself up for three days and three nights to be alone with its grand realities. In three stanzas (each of ten verses, ver. 11 forming a transition), the inward sufferings, the outward afflictions, and the 'fruit' of the great Redeemer's 'travail,' are described in language which alternately fills us with awe and with intense joy and praise. If we tremble when descending into the depths of His agony, we glory when the record of His conquests is opened before us. In the latter (vers. 22-31) the middle wall of separation between Jew and Gentile is seen to be broken down, the distinction between poor and rich is removed (ver. 29), and finally even the narrow boundaries of time are burst (vers. 30, 31). And over all this we write, Love. For us He humbled Himself, for us He died, for us He rose again, for us He sitteth and pleadeth at God's right hand. Alas! how unworthy are zve, but how glorious is He whose death is our life! So exact, indeed, is the portraiture of His sufferings as recorded by the Evangelists, and of the salvation of the world as connected with His resurrection, that, as one has aptly said, we seem to read, ' not so much prophecy, as history.' In meditating upon this Psalm it is not allowed us to enter fully into its mysterious depths, but between the lines do we everywhere read the words 'for us,' &nd, wondering and joying, take them as the key to unlock its untold treasures.

All at once, and without preparation, we descend into the .lowest depth. The light, or rather the lightning, which first breaks in upon the dense darkness, reveals Golgotha. The first utterance heard is one of the last sayings on the cross: 'My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me? far from my deliverance, the words of my roaring.' Yet not a cry of despair this, only one of agony and of longing. The heaviest burden, the burden which weighed down the Saviour, was neither physical suffering, nor, primarily, the malice and wrath of His enemies. It was a sense of His forsakenness on the part of the Father, consequent upon His bearing the accumulated guilt of His people. It was this which 'He feared,' and in reference to which finally He 'was heard' (Heb. v. 7). For He could not leave His soul in hell, neither could His Holy One see corruption. The believing soul which has in small measure realized the awfulness of guilt, and apprehended the wrath of a holy and righteous God as necessarily connected with it, has looked but a very short way into that abyss into which Jesus descended when His holy Person, which shrunk from sin, was burdened with the load of His people's guilt, and when the countenance of the Father was withdrawn. As if in sympathy, the sun veiled himself, and earth quaked in that tremendous hour when the guilt of the Church laid upon Jesus was nailed to the cross, and hung between earth and heaven. Nor was this merely an apprehension of the withdrawal of God. In His mediatorial capacity, in His inmost being as the Christ, Jesus felt Himself actually forsaken. Not even the Father's infinite love could lighten that burden. It was there; it was our burden; and it must be borne, in order to be borne away. In connexion with this central fact in the history of humanity, it may be noted, that because Christ came, no man could say that God has 'forsaken' him; nor would any dare to ask 'why hast Thou forsaken me?' But all this because Jesus was actually forsaken. Yet the repeated cry, ' My God, my God,' also indicates the firmness of His cleaving to the Father, and is in itself the pledge of His victory. Even then and there, and all the more there, it is 'my God, my God.' And through latest ages does this voice from the cross sound, waking the echoes in our hearts. Never can the stillness of death brood over our earth since that utterance of the dying Christ.

There hangs the Christ, a spectacle of woe, crucified by me, crucified for me! And what shall I render to the Lord for all His gifts to me? O amazing gift of grace, all too great for me to comprehend! Who could be unbelieving, or distrust the efficacy of that work, that had understood its character? To that cry of agony comes no response. An infinite distance, but only a distance, seems to separate 'the words of my roaring' from 'my deliverance.' There is deliverance, but far off. The cup must be drained to its last bitter dregs. O my sin, thou art the wormwood in the Redeemer's cup of suffering; O my guilt, thou art the cause of this distance of help! The cry is loud, like the ' roaring' of a lion (to which the term properly refers), yet articulate, bodying itself forth in the language of prayer, as 'the words of my roaring.' These 'words of roaring' were thus really words of intercession ; and the blood of our Abel, shed by fratricidal Cain, truly ' spake better things ;' not vengeance, but pardon and peace. And this cry on the cross was only the expression of the last and concentrated 'agony' which had long filled His soul, made it 'exceeding sorrowful, even unto death;' so that 'His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling to the ground.' 'From the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land,' but only ' about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice,'—with the 'words of roaring.' This seems also implied in ver. 2, where for the third time we meet the to us heartrending cry: 'O my God.' These words and these facts are ever present to us, whether for humiliation or for faith. He is ' the bread of life.'

It almost seems as if all the trees of the forest were trembling, and the ground itself shaken in which they are rooted, in the storm which bends the tree of life (vers. 3, 4, 5). All the promises and all their fulfilments had their root in Christ; all past dealings in mercy were covenant dealings, centring in Israel's Head and King (vers. 4, 5). Nay, all Thy praise flowed from Thy covenant faithfulness; and canst thou be silent now to Him in whom all is 'Yea and Amen?' The foundations of the earth are moved in the agony of this contest. The waters went over His soul. 'But Thou art holy, O Thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.' Holiness is not only purity; it is truth and faithfulness. As He 'dwelleth between the cherubim' (Ps. lxxx. 1, xcix. 1), so He inhabiteth the praises of Israel (the term and mode of expression being exactly the same). The covenant record of His dealings in grace with His covenant people is a song which never dies out nor is past. Upborne upon these songs as upon the wings of the cherubim, His prpsence is manifested in Israel. More especially is it here the record of the deliverance from Egypt, so typical of the great salvation, which prominentlystands forth (vers. 4, 5). And three times is the expression of trust here repeated, to indicate the dreadful character of the contest, the urgency of the need, and the greatness of the interposition. Trust, prayer, deliverance, and non-confusion, are here heaped upon each other to rear an Eben-ezer. Thou art holy—it cannot be: Thou didst manifest Thyself of old—it cannot be; the past, the present, Thyself declare it—it cannot be. Thus, He ' offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears;' and thus also we see our Christ, as it were, living through the history of Israel, and impressing Himself as a seal upon their records.

But yet deeper does the Divine Redeemer descend. In language of which Isa. liii. is the echo, He describes Himself: 'But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people,'—this, as if to explain how He seems to form an exception to the rule of Divine Help. Jesus has gone lower than man, by becoming the representative of humanity in its guilty and lost state. O my soul, if such views of Christ banish not all unbelief, break not all hardness, and melt not all coldness, thou hast never seen the cross nor beheld the Man. And most expressively is that term used for 'worm' which properly signifies the purple-worm, whose blood formed the dye for the royal purple. It was this which was used in the priestly garments (Ex. xxviii.), and in the ceremonial for cleansing the leper (Lev. xiv. 4). Our High Priest wears the priestly garment dyed in His own blood, and cleanses the leper with the same precious flood. The typical becomes all true. To the letter was the prophecy in vers. 7, 8 unwittingly fulfilled under the cross. The taunting words of them 'that passed by reviled Him, wagging their heads: He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now, if He will have Him,' have their counterpart in ver. 8: 'Roll upon Jehovah; let Him deliver Him; let Him help Him, for He' (Jehovah) 'had pleasure in Him' (the Christ). And yet this is most precious testimony, even on the part of His enemies, of His constant application to the Father. None of these could testify any evil of Him; even their false witness did not agree. They only testified to their own unbelief, just as in our low and false thoughts of Christ we testify only against ourselves. And what solemn and to them awful fulfilment of their taunt will be presented in that day! O kiss the Son, lest He be angry and ye perish from the way. Yet by much higher even than the terrors of the Lord, by the dying love of Jesus and the covenant-mercy of our God, do we beseech men to be reconciled unto God.

There is a uniqueness not only about the sufferings and about the Person, but also about the life of Christ. This apparent lowness, this constancy of struggle; this humility of birth and absoluteness of dependence upon God from the manger of Bethlehem to the cross of Calvary, are characteristic of the 'Man of sorrows' (vers. 9, 10). And there is peculiar emphasis in the expression: 'Thou art my God from my mother's belly.' We remember the history of His incarnation and the song of Mary, and it is most significant that the reference is only to His mother, with still higher application to His Father who is in heaven. The mystery of birth and of dependence becomes unique and becomes sanctified in the birth of the Second Adam: not like the first Adam from the earth by the word of His power, but from woman by the Spirit of His grace; not under sin as we are, but ' holy, harmless, undefiled by sin.' And now by the mystery of His incarnation, which held to God, does this One Man, forsaken by man, and alone against men, and alone for men, cling alone to God (ver. 11). Thus the mystery of His incarnation becomes, as it were, fulfilled, or completely opened, applied, and verified in His sufferings and death. A unique Person, a unique birth, a unique life, unique sufferings, a unique death, clinging with every fibre to humanity, clinging with every thought and feeling to Divinity,—true Man and true God, our Covenant-Head and His CovenantMediator. O 'the faithful saying, worthy of all acceptation;' O 'the mystery of godliness into which angels desire to look ;' O the great ' mystery of godliness : God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory!'

1. 'Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.' We are in full view of the Redeemer, crucified for us. The accursed tree has become the tree of life. Two considerations are here of primary importance,—His perfect righteousness and His entire substitution. By His perfect obedience in suffering and in doing, He discharged the debt, and brought in everlasting righteousness. By His substitution He took our place, and lifted us to His place. Christ became the representative Israelite, the true son of David, the King of Israel; nay, the second Adam. And now the way into the Holiest of all is open to us. The work is finished; all has been endured and done; and 'God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.' So far as He is concerned, there is neither let nor hindrance. This day let me avail myself of this wondrous provision of His grace; and since ' the Spirit and the bride say, Come,' let me come, believe, and live.

2. What infinite depth of love was this which moved our Saviour thus to sound the depths of untold agony! There was no claim on our part; nothing but misery to call forth compassion. Yet He loved us and gave Himself for us. This free outgoing of His love, this full manifestation of His grace, is the ground on which, guilty and lost, we are warranted in approaching Him. In the sufferings of Jesus I read my awful guilt, and also my free invitation to receive a pardon which His love has provided and His righteousness has procured. 'The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth from all sin.' Tears, sorrow, penitence, effort on our part, could never have availed to remove the guilt. Then, when Israel had destroyed itself, Jehovah was our help. He interposed, and interposed Himself. He gave Himself, and wholly gave Himself. To doubt now were to doubt Him—to make Him a liar. O that this height and depth, this length and breadth of love, were ever present to my heart! Alas, how cold and insensible am I! Let me go anew to Calvary, and with the women stand afar off. And can eternity itself suffice to sing the praises of such redeeming love?

3. Yet this day must I make practical application of the blood of the cross. I will come anew and wash away all my stains, as if I had never come before. Broken and contrite in heart, will I there seek pardon and peace. Putting, yet not in unbelief, my ' finger into the print of the nails,' I will adore 'my Lord and my God.' 'My soul shall rejoice in God my Saviour,' and 'I will love Thee, Jehovah my strength.' Yea, by word and deed, in heart and life, by work and patience, will I show forth the praises of Him who hath brought me out of darkness into His marvellous light.

AH Head, so pierced and wounded,

So full of pain and scorn;
Ah Head, in jest surrounded

With a sharp crown of thorn;
Ah Head, once wreathed with glory,

And bright with shining rays,—
Now mocked and scorned,—before Thee

I bow in silent praise.

O Lord, my soul's true Lover,

What bliss dost Thou bestow
By making me discover

My weal in Thy sad woe!
Grant then that I may ever

Abide, O Lord, in Thee;
Nor let e'en death dissever

My faithful soul from Thee!

Hymnologia Christiana.