"The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all."—Isaiah liii. 6.
HE Ethiopian statesman asked, "Of whom speaketh the prophet this?" One at least of his suppositions has been gravely adopted, and "some other man " been suggested as pointed at by the prophet. It has also been maintained that we have here an ideal picture of the righteous Israel in its relation to the rest of the world and to God. But I suppose that these solutions would generally be admitted to be failures, and that the wonderful picture of the suffering servant of God in this great chapter would generally be recognised as a portrait of an individual. If it be that, there is only one Individual in history of whom it is a likeness. The life and death of Jesus Christ—lived and died five hundred years after the very latest date to which anyone has assigned this prophecy—fit it feature by feature, tint by tint, as nothing else can. And the minute external correspondences between the prophet's vision and the Gospel story, important as these literal resemblances are, are mainly important as pointing onwards to the complete correspondence between the spirit and functions of the suffering servant of the prophecy and of the Jesus Christ of the Gospel history.
Now it is of prime importance to mark that the only office, if I may so say, which the prophet describes the Servant as filling is the function of suffering. He is neither Teacher, nor Conqueror, nor Lawgiver, nor, here, King; He is only a Sufferer. That is what the Saviour of the world has to be, first of all. The rabbis have a legend, far wiser than most of their follies, which tells how Messias is to be found sitting amongst the lepers at the gate of the city. The fable has in it the deep truth that He who saves the world must suffer with, and for, the world that He saves.
So I ask you to look at these great words of my text, in which the whole of this aspect of the Saviour's work is gathered into one pathetic symbol, " The Lord has made to light upon Him the iniquity of us all."
I.—Consider, then, first, the uersal burden.
Of course, the speakers in my text are primarily the penitent Jewish nation, who at last have learned how much at first they had misunderstood the Servant of the Lord. But the "we" and the "all" of our text may very fairly be widened out so as to include the whole world, and every individual of the race. Iniquity is the uersal burden of us all.
The fact that every man is a transgressor of the law of God is the prime fact of humanity, and the allimportant truth needed for the apprehension of the very rudiments of the Gospel. We shall never know what we need, nor be able to understand what Christianity, as gathered in Christ—who is Christianity— offers to do for us, unless our eyes are opened and our consciences made sensitive, to the unwelcome but undeniable truth, that we all "have sinned and come short of the glory of God."
I believe that almost all of the mistaken and unworthy conceptions of Christianity which have afflicted and do afflict the world are directly traceable to this—the failure to apprehend the radical fact affecting men's condition that they are all sinful, and therefore separated from God.
And so, dear brethren, knowing nothing at all about most of you, having never looked many of you in the face before, and very likely never being destined to any closer acquaintance with you, I come to you now to try to press upon you, to begin with, as the preliminary to all right understanding of Christian truth, and to our true attitude in regard to it, this fact, common to you and to me and to all our brethren, that we are all on the one platform of sinful men who have departed from the law and ways of God, and have thereby drawn down ruin upon ourselves.
There are differences immensely important in other respects between us, differences of culture, of talent, of opportunity; differences of outward life: some of us living respectable, decent, cleanly lives, full of many virtues and many graces; some of us, perhaps—for in such a multitude as are here gathered to night it is all but certain that there must be some—having done many a thing that, if it did not bring them within the grip of criminal law, at least sets them outside the decent, respectable classes of society. But, whatever may be the superficial differences, down below there is identity; and beneath all. varieties of garb and vesture, and all diversities of culture, intelligence profession, and all differences of degrees of civilization and of rank and position, wise man and fool, cultured man and savage, saint and criminal, loftiest and lowliest, all are alike in this, that they have sinned.
If there be any here to-night who have resisted convictions that have been working in their hearts, I pray that my rough, plain, poor words may reach them. It is no mere pulpit rhetoric in which I am indulging; and I am not speaking simply for the sake of thundering wrath over your heads, or of producing sensational effects, when I ask you to go into the dark chambers of your own hearts and to look how passions have rioted there, how the lusts of the flesh in some of us have darkened the light of the Spirit, how in all of us the word has been true even at our best and purest, "The God in whose hands thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, thou hast not glorified." You are at the bar, whether you know it or not, and God calls you to plead guilty or not guilty to this uersal indictment, "all"—and therefore thou—" have sinned." Sin is the uersal burden.
But, further, the evil that we do, going forth from us as deed, comes back upon us as guilt. Flung up, as it were, into the heavens, it falls back again on the head of the man that cast it. And so my text speaks of a recoil of the evil. "The Lord hath made to fall upon" some one " the iniquity" that had been audaciously cast up in the face of the heavens, as in scorn. "If 'twere done when 'tis done 'twere well 'twere done quickly," but seeing that it only begins when "'tis done," it is an awful thing to commit the smallest evil. The recoil of the gun bruises blue the shoulder of the man that fires it; and all our evil deeds, according to the old proverb about curses, " come home to roost." There is guilt, and there is habit, and there is the uneasy, or worse, the silent and seared conscience; and there is the disturbance of the relation to God, and there is the flight of peace from the heart, and there is the onward look that says, " If there is a future it is a future of retribution, and every transgression and disobedience shall receive its just recompense of reward." Is not that a burden for us to carry ?—the weight of evil pressing upon us, in its consequences, of guilt, disturbance, irritated or paralyzed conscience, and the foreboding that if we get what we deserve we shall get but a bitter weird. "Bread eaten in secret is pleasant," but it turns to gravel that breaks the teeth of the eater.
And so, dear brother and friend, we are all staggering under this burden. We forget it, we deny it, we will not look over our shoulders to see how big it is, we try to find refuge and rest in all manner of palliations and excesses, but there the fact remains, and those of you who are least aware of the weight that is pressing upon you are the most weighed down by it. The creatures that live at the bottom of the doleful sea, fathoms deeper than plummet has ever sounded, have to bear a pressure upon their frames all inconceivable by us men who walk upon the surface of the earth. And the deeper a man goes in the dark ocean of wrongdoing and wrongbeing, the heavier the weight of the compressed atmosphere above him, crushing him in. And yet, like those creatures that crawl on the slime, miles down in the dreary sea, where no light has come, they know not the weight that rests upon them, and never have dreamed of how blessed it is to walk in the lighter air with the sun shining above them. There are some of you, grovelling down at the bottom of the ocean, to whom the liberty and illumination, the lightness and lightsomeness of the pure life which is possible, would seem miraculous.
Now, dear brethren, if these things which I have thus imperfectly touched upon be at all true, then it seems to me that the fact of uersal sinfulness, with all its necessary, natural, and inevitable consequences, must be the all-important fact about a man. What we think about sin will settle all our religious ideas. If we pooh-pooh it, then we shall not want a Saviour. A man that will say wise things to us will serve our turn. If we rightly understand how heavy the burden is, and how impotent we are to get rid of it, then we shall not be ready to believe in the doctrine of every man his own redeemer, but we shall want, not merely a Saviour that talks to us, however wise and sweet and tender may be His words, or a Saviour that walks before us an embodied realization of the ideal humanity, but we shall want a Saviour that does something for us, and puts out of the way, somehow or other, that black load under which we are staggering. The appeal to the understanding is less powerful to bring men to a perception of Christ's redeeming work than that to the conscience. Once get a man to feel, as I pray God that you may feel, " I am a sinful man in Thy sight," and his heart will cry out for one who shall be to him all that no human being can be, even the Lord of his salvation and the Deliverer from his burden. What we think about our own sin will settle the form of our religious belief.
II.—And so, in the second place, I ask you to look at the one bearer of the burden.
"The Lord hath made to light upon Him the iniquity of us all." Now I want you to observe that> in the compass of three verses of this chapter, there are seven distinct, emphatic, and harmonious utterances, all bearing on the one thought of the vicarious suffering of the Lord Jesus Christ. Hearken!
(1) "He hath borne our griefs." (2) "And carried our sorrows." (3) "He was wounded for our transgressions." (4) "He was bruised for our iniquities."
(5) "The chastisement of our peace was upon Him."
(6) "With His stripes we are healed." And they are all gathered together in the final word of my text— "The Lord hath made to light upon Him the iniquity of us all."
I venture to say that if these words, in the variety of their metaphor and the fulness of their description, do not teach the gospel that Jesus Christ bore in His sufferings the sins of the whole world, and bore them away, language has no meaning. Nothing could be more emphatic, nothing more reiterated, full, and confident than this sevenfold presentation of the great truth that He lived and suffered and died for us because He suffered and died instead of us.
"The Lord hath made to meet on Him the iniquity of us all." He bore the burden. I am not going to argue; my business is to preach to-night; and, as I have said, if your consciences have at all grasped the gravity and depth of the fact of your own individual sinfulness, you want little more to predispose you to the joyful acceptance of that thought that the burden may be lifted off your shoulders and laid on One who is mighty to save. Jesus Christ bore our sicknesses and our pains, according to the first of these sevenfold utterances, and one of our evangelists gives us at least one aspect in which that is true, when he points to His sympathy with men's physical necessities, and how, by taking these into the hands of His sympathy, He relieves the sufferers from them. All through that pure and lovely life He knit Himself most closely by the might of a sympathy, all the fuller because of His purity, to the most impure and sinful of men. Only those who have known what innocence suffers in compelled association with vice can, however faintly even they may do it, imagine what it was to Jesus Christ to walk amongst men with that righteous soul vexed with the evil around Him, as we might feel the touch of some rough and hard substance if the toughened skin of our palms were stripped off them. It was pain to Christ to sympathize. It was pain to Christ to dwell amongst men. His healing was done at the cost of sorrows; He wept before He could say, "Lazarus! Come forth!" He sighed ere He could say, "Eph pha tha! be opened!" No tear that Ho wiped away on earth but appealed to the fountain of tears within Himself; and no sorrow that He comforted but Himself bore. For is it not always the case that we must feel the evil we alleviate? and can any man be a comforter and a helper except at the price of taking into his own consciousness and experience the sorrows that he would alleviate? Much more, the one brother of us all, who has entered into relations with every human heart, had to bear, by that which in Him we almost degrade when we call it by the hackneyed name of sympathy, the burdens that He bore away.
But turn for a moment from the sweet mysteries of His healing and comforting life to the darker mysteries of its close, and there see in how real, how tragic, how awful, and how unique a fashion the load of sin was laid on Jesus Christ. I know of no theory which redeems the story of Gethsemane and Calvary from the charge of being the history of a man whose courage collapsed when it came to be tested, except that which sees in the agony beneath the olives, in the bloody sweat, in the awful and pathetic words with which He appealed to His friends: "My soul is compassed about with sorrows even unto death," an element far more mysterious and awful than the mere shrinking of humanity from death. Surely, surely, the Lord and the Master, in the strength of whose name feeble women and tremulous virgins and little children have gone to the pyre and the scaffold and the lions, as to a feast, did not exhibit all that agitation and tremor and shrinking, only because He was afraid of the death that belongs to all men. Ask yourselves how reverence for Jesus Christ will survive in the face of the story of His last hours, unless, as we listen to Him crying, "My God! My God! why hast Thou forsaken Me," we hear the cry of Him who before His shearers was dumb, but opened His mouth at last in that mysterious complaint in which filial obedience and utter desolation are so strangely blended, because "the Lord hath made to light on Him the iniquity of us all"? The icy waters of that baptism with which He was baptized were fed from the black fountains of human corruption, and the only explanation of the fact of Christ's passion is found in the recognition that therein He was bearing the sins of the whole world.
Remember that although my text speaks of that burden as being laid upon Him by the Lord, we are not to suppose that, therefore, it was not assumed by Him by His own loving volition. He bore our sins because He would. The Lord laid them upon Him; therefore the sacrifice appointed by God is accepted of God; but He chose to suffer, and He willed to die, because he loved thee, and me, and every soul of sinful men. There is the secret of the power of the Gospel. Brethren, a Christianity without a Christ whose death is the world's light and life, is a Christianity without power.
We hear a great deal to-day about the social side of Christian truth, and about the application of the principles of Christianity to the masses, with all of which I am in the fullest accord. Only let us begin where the Bible begins, and it begins with the sacrifice which heals the individual conscience. It is of no use to tinker at men's miseries unless you deal with men's sins; and there is only one thing that deals with men's sins, and that is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It is of no use beginning with masses, begin with the individual. It is of no use preaching the applications of the Christian system to social life, unless you have laid deep the foundations which the Bible lays—Jesus Christ died for every man, and in His death has taken away the guilt and penalty and broken the power of sin. Begin there, and all else will follow. Begin anywhere else, and you will be like a man that commences his house at the chimney instead of the foundation; you will never build anything that will stand.
III.—And so, lastly, mark the men that are freed from the burden.
"He hath made to meet upon Him the iniquity of us all." Yes! and yet it is possible for a man included in the " all" to have to stagger along through life under his burden, and to carry it with him when he goes hence. "Be not deceived, God is not mocked," says the foremost preacher of the doctrine that Christ's death takes away sin. "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. Ever man shall bear his own burden." So your sins, taken away as they are by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, may yet cling to you and crush you. There is only one way, dear brethren, by which the possibilities open to all men by the death of Jesus Christ may become the actual experience of every man, or of any man—and that is, the simple laying your burden, by your own act of quiet trust, upon the shoulders of Him that is mighty to save.
I suppose it is not fashionable now to read "Pilgim's Progress"—more's the pity! But you remember, I daresay, enough of it to know where the pilgrim got rid of his burden—viz., at the Cross. Dear friend, a weight far too heavy for you to carry will cleave to you like a clinging curse, and will crush you down at last. The burden of sin, the burden of guilt, the burden of an evil conscience, the burden of separation from God which is the true death, the burden of future judgment—is your back fit to carry all that? Well, then, why do you not turn yourself to Him and say—
My soul looks back to see
The burden Thou didst bear,
When hanging on the cursed tree,
And knows her guilt was there.
Most of you know that strange and infinitely pathetic picture that represents the Jewish scapegoat, panting, wounded, ready to die, on the salt margin of the sea of Death, whither it has been hounded, with the sins of a nation upon its head. The solitude, the sorrow, the suffering of Jesus Christ are faintly shadowed by that. Lay your hand on the head of the Sacrifice, and say, " Behold! I put my sin where God has put it, on the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world!"