The Death Of The Cross

The last acts of the suffering obedience of our adorable Redeemer are couched in the words of the apostle, “And became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” (Philippians 2:8) The death of Christ was the fulfilment of the purpose for which he came into the world, which was, “to give himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour.” (Ephesians 5:2) “Now once in the end of the world hath he appeared, to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” (Hebrews 9:26) The sufferings, bloodshedding, and death of the Lord Jesus Christ were a sacrifice offered for sin, and are therefore spoken of as a propitiation (Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 1 John 4:10) and an atonement. (Romans 5:11)

But in a sacrifice two things are absolutely necessary:

1. That the blood of the victim should be shed, for “without shedding of blood is no remission:” “It is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul;” (Leviticus 17:11) and 2. That the victim should die; for death being the penalty of disobedience, (Genesis 2:17; Ezekiel 18:4) the sacrifice offered as an atonement for sin cannot be complete without the death of the victim. In the sacrifice of himself, offering up his sacred humanity on the altar of his Deity, the blessed Lord accomplished these two essentials of a propitiatory offering.

1. His blood was shed upon the cross—the actual living blood of his sacred humanity. It is therefore called “the precious blood of Christ as of a lamb without blemish and without spot,” (1 Peter 1:19) and “his own blood.” (Acts 20:28; Hebrews 9:12) It was precious as flowing from his sacred humanity; precious, as stamped with all the validity and merit of Deity; precious in the sight of God as a sweet-smelling savour; and precious in the hearts of his people as cleansing them from all sin. Sin is an evil so dreadful, so hateful and abhorrent to his righteous character, so provoking to his justice and holiness, that God could not pardon it unless an atonement were made adequate to its fearful magnitude. Thousands of rams and ten thousands of rivers of oil could not atone for sin. Did all men consent to give their firstborn for their transgression, the fruit of their body for the sin of their soul, (Micah 6:7) all could not suffice to outweigh the magnitude or sin. Lebanon is not sufficient for a burnt offering. Nothing short of the blood of the only-begotten Son of God could be an atonement of sufficient worth, of equivalent value.

2. But the death of the victim was also required. He who freely and voluntarily stood in the sinner’s place must die in his room, or the substitution could not be effectual Here then, we see the mystery of the death of Jesus. There was no natural mortality in that sacred humanity which the Lord assumed in the womb of the Virgin. And yet he took a nature which could die by a voluntary act. The whole of his obedience in his state of humiliation was voluntary. Therefore the last act of it was as voluntary as the first the death on the cross as much as the assumption in the Virgin. The Lord’s own words are decisive here: “Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life that I may take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.” (John 10:17,18)

The very merit of his obedience unto death whereby it became capable of being imputed for righteousness to the church of God consisted mainly in two things: the dignity of the obedient Sufferer and the voluntariness of the sacrifice as an act of obedience to the will of God. Had our blessed Lord not been God, and that as the eternal Son of God, There would have been no merit in his sufferings, bloodshedding, and death. As the brightness of God’s glory and the express image of his Person, as his co-eternal Son he thought it not robbery—no unhallowed, disallowable claim, to be equal with God; (Philippians. 2:6) and therefore the very infinity of Deity itself attached to his words and works so as to stamp efficacious merit upon them. It was not because his humanity was perfect that it was meritorious. Had his humanity been as perfect as it was, if Deity were not in conjunction with it, no merit could have been attached to it any more than there was merit in the obedience of Adam, or in that of an angel. But being God as well as man, the merit of Deity was stamped upon all the acts of the obedient suffering humanity, so that, as we have sometimes said, Godhead was in every drop of his precious blood.

Again, if the life of the blessed Lord had been violently taken away, contrary to his will, where would have been the obedience unto death? Had he been killed, so to speak, by the cross—had died because he could not help dying, had his life been violently torn from him, where would have been the laying down of his life as the last act of his voluntary obedience? What power could man have had over him? Had he so willed, he could have freed himself from the hands of his enemies. Therefore he said unto Pilate, “Thou couldest have no power at all against me except it were given thee from above.” (John 19:11) And again, “Thinkest thou that I cannot pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53) When, then, the band of men and officers from the chief priests came to take him with lanterns, and torches, and weapons, he freely “went forth” to yield himself up; but when he said, “I am he,” or rather, as the words literally mean, “I AM,” the glory of his eternal Deity so flashed forth, that “they went backward, and fell to the ground.” (John 18:3-6)

Thus truly was he “brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7) What heart can conceive, what tongue express what his holy soul endured when “the Lord laid upon him the iniquities of us all”? In the garden of Gethsemane, what a load of guilt, what a weight of sin, what an intolerable burden of the wrath of God did that sacred humanity endure, until the pressure of sorrow and woe forced the drops of blood to fall as sweat from his brow. The human nature, in its weakness recoiled, as it were, from the cup of anguish put into his hand. His body could scarce bear the load that pressed him down; his soul, under the waves and billows of God’s wrath, sank in deep mire where there was no standing, and came into deep waters where the floods overflowed him. (Psalm 69:1,2) And how could it be otherwise when that sacred humanity was enduring all the wrath of God, suffering the very pangs of hell, and wading in all the depths of guilt and terror? When the blessed Lord was made sin (or a sin-offering) for us, he endured in his holy soul all the pangs of distress, horror, alarm, misery, and guilt that the elect would have felt in hell for ever; and not only as any one of them would have felt, but as the collective whole would have experienced under the outpouring of the everlasting wrath of God. The anguish, the distress, the darkness, the condemnation, the shame, the guilt, the unutterable horror, that any or all of his quickened family have ever experienced under a sense of God’s wrath, the curse of the law, and the terrors of hell, are only faint, feeble reflections of what the Lord felt in the garden and on the cross; for there were attendant circumstances in his case which are not, and indeed cannot be in theirs, and which made the distress and agony of his holy soul, both in nature and degree, such as none but he could feel or know.

He as the eternal Son of God, who had lain in his bosom before all worlds, had known all the blessedness and happiness of the love and favour of the Father—his own Father, shining upon him, for he was “by him as one brought up with him, and was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him.” (Proverbs 8:30) When, then, instead of love he felt his displeasure, instead of the beams of his favour he experienced the frowns and terrors of his wrath, instead of the light of his countenance he tasted the darkness and gloom of desertion—what heart can conceive, what tongue express the bitter anguish which must have wrung the soul of our suffering Surety under this agonising experience? {2} A few drops of the wrath of God let down into the conscience of a child of God have made many a living soul cry out, “While I suffer thy terrors I am distracted; thy fierce wrath goeth over me; thy terrors have cut me off.” (Psalm 88:15,16) But what is all that Job, Heman, Jeremiah, or Jonah experienced, compared with the floods of anguish and terror which all but overwhelmed the soul of our blessed Lord? We therefore read of him in the garden, when the first pangs of his agony came on, that he “began to be sore amazed, and to be very heavy;” and this made him say to his three disciples, who were to be eye-witnesses of his sufferings, (1 Peter 5:1) “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.” (Mark 14:33,34) So great was that load that his human nature must have sunk beneath the weight his body and soul been rent asunder, but for four sustaining props: the power of his Deity, for though that purposely did not display its strength, it remained in firm union with his sacred humanity; the help and support of the Holy Ghost sustaining his human nature under the load laid upon it; the joy set before him, which enabled him in the prospect to endure the cross, despising the shame; (Hebrews 12:2) and the strengthening of the ministering angel sent from heaven. (Luke 22:43) Thus supported and sustained, our gracious Redeemer sank not in the deep waters, but, as our great High Priest, “offered up prayers and supplications, with strong crying and tears, unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared” (Hebrews 5:7) not as some have foolishly thought and said, fearing the miscarrying of his undertaking, or that he should sink into hell, but because he feared his heavenly Father with the reverence of a Son for filial fear, with every other grace, was in the heart of Jesus as his treasure. (Isaiah 11:2,3)

Let us ever bear in mind that the sufferings of the holy soul of Jesus were as real, that is, as really felt, as the sufferings of his sacred body, and a thousand times more intense and intolerable. Though beyond description painful and agonising, yet the sufferings of the body were light indeed compared with the sufferings of the soul. It is so with the saints of God themselves, when the Lord lays judgment to the line and righteousness to the plummet in their conscience, and lets down a sense of his anger and displeasure into their soul. What is all bodily suffering compared to a sense of God’s displeasure and the arrows of his wrath sticking in the conscience? So it was with our great High Priest, when both as sacrificer and sacrificed, alike priest and victim, he was bound with the cords of love and obedience to the horns of the altar. (Psalm 118:27) Surely never was there such a pang since the foundations of the earth were laid as that which rent and tore the soul of the Redeemer when the last drop of agony was poured into the already overflowing cup, and he cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Nature herself sympathised with his sorrow, and was moved at his cry, for the earth shook, the sun withdrew his light, and the graves yielded up their dead. Yet thus was redemption’s work accomplished, sin atoned for and blotted out, the wrath of God appeased, everlasting righteousness brought in, and the church for ever reconciled and saved.

When, then, the Lord had been fully baptized with his baptism of suffering and blood, when he had drunk the cup of sorrow and anguish to its last dregs, and had rendered all the obedience which the law demanded and the will of God required he cried out with a loud voice that heaven and earth might hear, “It is finished!” and then, and not till then, he meekly bowed his head, laid down his life, as the last act of his voluntary, suffering obedience, and gave up the ghost.

From Chapter Four from the book ‘Meditations on the Sacred Humanity of the Blessed Redeemer’ – By J. C. Philpot

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