Richard Sibbes 1577-1635
Extracts from ‘Christ’s Sufferings for Man’s Sin’
How Christ was not forsaken
1. He was not forsaken in regard of God’s love, for ‘My Father loveth me,’ saith he, John 3.35, ‘because I give my life for my sheep,’ John 10.11. God never loved Christ more than now, because He was never more obedient than at this present.
2. Nor in regard of union, for there was no separation of His divine nature from the human. There was a suspension of vision, indeed; He saw no comfort for the present from God, but there was no dissolution of union; for the divine nature did many things in this seeming forsaking. That was it which supported His human nature to sustain the burden of our sin and the wrath of God, as also that gave merit and worth of satisfaction to His sufferings.
3. Neither was this forsaking in regard of grace, as if faith, or love, or any other grace, were taken from Christ. Oh, no; for He believed, before He said, ‘My God, my God.’ Would He have committed His dearest jewel into the hands of God if He had not believed in Him?
How, then, was Christ forsaken?
1. In regard of his present comfort and joy. He could not else have been a sacrifice; for as we cannot suffer by way of conformity to Christ, unless there be some desertion, that we may know the bitterness of sin, no more could Christ have suffered for our iniquities had there not been a suspension of light and comfort from His gracious soul.
2. He was not only privatively deprived of all joy and happiness, but positively He felt the wrath and fury of the Almighty, whose just displeasure seized upon His soul for sin, as our surety. All outward comforts likewise forsook Him. The sun withdrew his light from above, and everything below was irksome to Him. He suffered in all the good things He had, body, soul, good name, in his eyes, ears, hands, &c. He was reproached, and forsaken of all comforts about Him. He had not the common comfort of a man in misery, pity; none took compassion upon Him; He was the very object of scorn.
In what respects was Christ forsaken?
1. First, because He was our surety, and we had stained our souls, and bodies too, offending God in both (but in soul especially, because that is the contriver of all sin, the body being but the instrument). Some sins we call spiritual sins, as pride, malice, infidelity, and the like; these touch not the body, yet are the greatest sins of all.
2. Secondly, if He had not suffered in His soul the sense of God’s displeasure why should He thus cry out, whereas the poor thieves that suffered by Him made no such exclamation? If He had suffered in body only, the sufferings of Paul and Moses had been more, for they wished to be separated from the joys of heaven out of a desire to promote God’s glory on earth. Therefore it was, He saith in the garden, ‘My soul is heavy unto death,’ Mat. 26.38.
Some will grant that Christ suffered in soul, but, say they, it was by way of sympathy, for there are sufferings of soul immediately from God, and sufferings by way of sympathy and agreement with the body, when the soul hath a fellow-feeling of the torments thereof; and so Christ suffered in soul indeed.
That is not all, beloved, but there were immediate sufferings, even of His soul also, which He groaned under. God the Father laid a heavy stroke upon that. He was smitten of the Lord, Isa. 53.4; and when God deals immediately with the soul Himself, and fills it with His wrath, no creature in the world is able to undergo the same. None can inflict punishment upon the soul but God only. Satan may urge and press arguments of discouragement, and affright us with God’s displeasure; but the inflicting of anger upon the soul issues immediately from the hand of the Almighty. We must here, therefore, consider God as a righteous Judge, sitting in heaven in His judgment-seat, taking the punishment of the sins of all his people upon Christ. There was a meeting together of all the sins of the faithful, from Adam to the last man that shall be in the world, as it were, in one point upon Him, and the punishment of all these was laid on His blessed shoulders, who suffered for them in both body and soul.
How could Christ be forsaken of God, especially so forsaken as to suffer the anger of His Father, being an innocent person?
1. I answer, first, the Paschal lamb was an innocent creature, yet if the Paschal lamb be once made a sacrifice, it must be killed. Though Christ were never so unblameable, yet, if He will stoop to the office of a surety, He must pay our debt, and do that which we should have done. If a prince’s son become a surety, though his father love him and pity him never so much, yet he will say, Now you have taken this upon you, you must discharge it.
2. Secondly, as in natural things the head is punished for the fault of the body, so Christ, by communicating His blessed nature with ours, made up one mystical body, and suffered for us.
Upon what ground should Christ become our surety?
1. Because He was able to discharge our debt to the uttermost. He was more eminent than all mankind, having two natures in one, the manhood knit to the Godhead.
2. Christ most willingly gave himself a sacrifice for us.
3. He was designed and predestinated to this office, yea, He was anointed, set out, and sealed for this business by God Himself; and is not this sufficient ground why He should become our surety? especially if we consider,
4. That Christ took the communion of our nature upon Him for this very end, that He might be a full surety, that His righteousness being derived to us, and our guilt to Him, God’s wrath might be satisfied in the self-same nature that offended. You see in societies and cities, if some people offend, the whole city is oftentimes punished. Though perhaps many are guiltless in it, yet by reason of the communion, all are punished. So likewise a traitor’s son, that never had any hand in his father’s sin, but behaved himself as an honest subject should do, yet, having communion with the person of his father, being indeed a piece of him, is thereupon justly disinherited by all law.
How could Christ take our sins upon him and not be defiled therewith?
He took not the stain of our sins, but the guilt of them. Now in guilt there are two things.
1. A worthiness and desert of punishment.
2. An obligation and binding over thereunto.
Christ took not the desert of punishment upon Him, from any fault in Himself; He took whatsoever was penal upon Him, but not culpable. As He was our surety, so He everyway discharged our debt, being bound over to all judgments and punishments for us.
Now we owe unto God a double debt.
1. A debt of obedience; and if that fail,
2. A debt of punishment.
And both these hath Christ freed us from: first, by obeying the will of his Father in everything; and secondly, by suffering whatsoever was due to us for our transgressions.
Some heretics that would shake the foundation of our faith, will grant Christ to be a Mediator to intercede for us, and a Redeemer to set us at liberty from slavery, &c., but not to be a surety to pay our debt, by way of satisfaction to God for us.
Let such remember, that God’s pleasure to redeem lost mankind, is not so much by way of power and strength, as by way of justice, and therefore it is said, Heb. 7.22,’Christ is become our surety;’and Paul, when he became a mediator to Philemon for Onesimus, a fugitive servant, did it by way of surety, ‘If he owe thee anything I will discharge it,’ Philem. 18; and Christ Jesus our Mediator, blessed for ever, so intercedeth unto God for us, as that He fully satisfies His justice for our offences.
Why was Christ thus forsaken of his Father?
1. To satisfy God for our forsaking of Him. Christ’s forsaking was satisfactory for all our forsakings of God. Beloved, we all forsook God in Adam, and indeed what do we else in every sin we commit, but forsake the Lord, and turn to the creature? what are all our sins of pleasure, profit, ambition, and the like, but a leaving of the fountain of living waters, to fetch contentment from ‘broken cisterns,’ Jer. 2.13.
2. But Christ was chiefly forsaken, that he might bring us home again to God, that there might be no more a separation betwixt His blessed Majesty and us.
Some shallow heretics there are, that would have Christ to be an example of patience and holiness in His life and death, and do us good that way only.
Oh no, beloved, the main comfort we receive from Christ is by way of satisfaction. There must be first grace, and then peace in our agreement with God. Sweetly, saith Bernard, “I desire indeed to follow Christ as an example of humility, patience, self-denial, &c., and to love Him with the same affection that He hath loved me; but I must eat of the Passover-Lamb, that is, I must chiefly feed on Christ dying for my sins.” So every true Christian soul desires to follow Christ’s obedience, humility, patience, &c., and to be transformed into the likeness of his blessed Saviour. Whom should I desire to be like more than Him, that hath done so much for me? But yet the main comfort I receive from Christ, is by eating His body and drinking His blood; my soul feeds and feasts itself most of all upon the death of Christ, as satisfying for my sins. And what a comfort is it that Christ being our surety, hath made full satisfaction for all our sins. Surely we shall never be finally and wholly forsaken, because Christ was forsaken for us. Now we may think of God without discomfort, and of sin without despair. Now we may think of the law of death, the curse and all, and never be terrified-why? Christ our surety hath given full content of divine justice for wrath and law, sin and curse, &c. They are all links of one chain, and Christ hath dissolved them all. Now sin ceaseth, wrath ceaseth, the law hath nothing to lay to our charge; death’s sting is pulled out. How comfortably, therefore, may we appear before God’s tribunal? Oh, beloved, when the soul is brought as low as hell almost, then this consideration will be sweet, that Christ was forsaken as a surety for me; Christ overcame sin, death, God’s wrath, and all for me; in Him I triumph over all these. What welcome news is this to a distressed sinner! Whenever thy soul is truly humbled in the sense of sin, look not at sin in thy conscience (thy conscience is a bed for another to lodge in), but at Christ. If thou be a broken-hearted sinner, see thy sins in Christ thy Saviour taken away; see what He hath endured and suffered for them; see not the law in thy conscience, but see it discharged by Christ; see death disarmed through Him, and made an entrance into a better life for thee. Whatsoever is ill, see it in Christ before thou seest it in thyself; and when thou beholdest it there, see not only the hurt thereof taken away, but all good made over to thee; for ‘all things work together for the best to them that love God,’ Rom. 8.28. The devil himself, death, sin, and wrath, all help the main; the poison and mischief of all is taken away by Christ, and all good conveyed to us in Him. We have grace answerable to His grace. He is the first seat of God’s love, and it sweetens whatever mercy we enjoy, that it comes from the fountain, God the Father, through Christ unto us. I beseech you embrace the comfort that the Holy Ghost affords us from these sweet considerations.