“Reproaches have broken my heart, so that I am in despair” (Psalm 69)
By Ian Hamilton, Editor
Reprinted from the March 2020 issue of The Banner of Truth Magazine
The imputation of our sin to the Lord Jesus Christ and the imputation to us of his spotless righteousness lies at the heart, and is the wonder, of the gospel. Without this gracious double imputation there would and could be no salvation. The Bible could not be any clearer: “For our sake he [God the Father] made him [our Lord Jesus Christ, God the Son, the Father’s eternally beloved] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). This much every Bible-taught Christian knows and believes.
There is, however, a danger that Christians must be alert to whenever we think about, sing about, preach about, or discuss the atonement. This danger surfaces sadly in many theological textbooks on the atonement. The atonement is treated accurately; double imputation and penal suffering are highlighted and shown to be the uniform teaching of the whole Bible. What is often missing, however, is a sense of the agony that consumed our Saviour when he was made sin for us.
It is this agony that begins to overwhelm the soul of God’s Son in the Garden of Gethsemane. As he contemplates the approaching, as yet unimaginable, agony, Jesus “began to be greatly distressed and troubled” (Mark 14:33). The language Mark uses to describe Jesus’ agony of soul is deeply evocative. As the shadow of the cross beings to penetrate his soul, Jesus is overwhelmed. He is sinking beneath the deep waters of the holy wrath of God (see Psalm 69). All the lights are going out. Soon only impenetrable darkness will be his friend (see Psalm 88:18).
We know that the physical suffering of Jesus are not to be the focal point of the Christian’s life of faith, though we should never forget the bloody whipping, bruising, spitting and scourging that the Saviour suffered for us. But we must endeavor never to reduce the suffering of our Saviour to a doctrine that can be clinically, even dispassionately, discussed or preached.
In The Shadow of Calvary Hugh Martin spends 15 pages (pp. 19-34) pondering the imputative suffering of Jesus. He asks the question,
Why should he quail and
tremble, filled with anguish
and amazement, not merely
by the prospect of the penalty
which this imputation will
ultimately bring, but in the
immediate sense of shame,
and the immediate endurance
of a sorrow, which this
imputation itself inflict? What
can there be in sin, when not
personally his own, that can
thus cause him to agonise in
pain and prayer, and offer
up supplications with strong
crying and tears?
Martin is simply making the point that the word of God so graphically makes as it leads us through the narrative of the Saviour’s betrayal, denial, arraignment, scourging, condemnation and crucifixion. It cost the Son of God in our flesh to be the propitiation for our sins. We can never fathom that cost, but we can meditate on it and never let the awfulness and dereliction of it to be evacuated from our understanding of it, or from our preaching of it.
This is why preaching Christ can never be a matter simply of getting the doctrine right. Of course we must get the doctrine right; but that doctrine must be conveyed with a deep sense of wonder and love. That will take the idiosyncratic form of our variegated humanity. No two men or women are alike. No two preachers will reflect the wonder of Christ’s suffering identically. However, it is surely impossible for the saving suffering of the Son of God to be preached rightly, or written about, without the throb of inexplicable wonder being felt.
Preaching has been well described as “expository adulation.” That adulation must especially suffuse the preaching of the cross. Perhaps the most passionate preacher I was ever privileged to sit under was temperamentally shy, never loud, and highly intellectual. That said, his preaching throbbed with the wonder of the Saviour. I felt at times I could taste the wonder.
In response to theological liberalism, and especially conservative Barthianism, evangelicals have rightly asserted that God’ truth is propositional. It is objectively true. Its truth is not shaped and styled by my experience of it. God’s word is true, always true, and never conditioned by the reception men give it. However, it would be wrong to drive a wedge between the propositional nature of God’s truth and the personal impact it seeks to have on our lives. When Paul wrote that God made Christ sin, who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God, he did so as a man who had tasted the saving, redeeming grace of God in the gospel. Paul’s letter throb with his personal, transformative experience of the cross of Christ.
Elizabeth C. Clephane wrote a hymn that was made popular by D. L. Moody in his evangelistic crusades during the latter half of the nineteenth century. There are some lines in it that often come into my mind:
But none of the ransomed ever
How deep were the waters
Nor how dark was the night
the Lord passed through
Ere He found His sheep that
“None of the ransomed ever knew how deep were the waters crossed.” Faith in Jesus Christ can never be clinical or dispassionate. Our trust and hope rest in a Saviour who embraced an unfathomable darkness of personal suffering to save sinners from a lost, Godless eternity. “Lost in wonder, love and praise” are words that should not only be sung, they should be felt.
Save Me, O God
To the choirmaster: according to Lilies. Of David.
Save me, O God!
For the waters have come up to my neck.a
I sink in deep mire,
where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters,
and the flood sweeps over me.
I am weary with my crying out;
my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim
with waiting for my God.
More in number than the hairs of my head
are those who hate me without cause;
mighty are those who would destroy me,
those who attack me with lies.
What I did not steal
must I now restore?
O God, you know my folly;
the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you.
Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me,
O Lord God of hosts;
let not those who seek you be brought to dishonor through me,
O God of Israel.
For it is for your sake that I have borne reproach,
that dishonor has covered my face.
I have become a stranger to my brothers,
an alien to my mother’s sons.
For zeal for your house has consumed me,
and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me.
When I wept and humbledb my soul with fasting,
it became my reproach.
When I made sackcloth my clothing,
I became a byword to them.
I am the talk of those who sit in the gate,
and the drunkards make songs about me.
But as for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord.
At an acceptable time, O God,
in the abundance of your steadfast love answer me in your saving faithfulness.
from sinking in the mire;
let me be delivered from my enemies
and from the deep waters.
Let not the flood sweep over me,
or the deep swallow me up,
or the pit close its mouth over me.
Answer me, O Lord, for your steadfast love is good;
according to your abundant mercy, turn to me.
Hide not your face from your servant,
for I am in distress; make haste to answer me.
Draw near to my soul, redeem me;
ransom me because of my enemies!
You know my reproach,
and my shame and my dishonor;
my foes are all known to you.
Reproaches have broken my heart,
so that I am in despair.
I looked for pity, but there was none,
and for comforters, but I found none.
They gave me poison for food,
and for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink.
Let their own table before them become a snare;
and when they are at peace, let it become a trap.c
Let their eyes be darkened, so that they cannot see,
and make their loins tremble continually.
Pour out your indignation upon them,
and let your burning anger overtake them.
May their camp be a desolation;
let no one dwell in their tents.
For they persecute him whom you have struck down,
and they recount the pain of those you have wounded.
Add to them punishment upon punishment;
may they have no acquittal from you.d
Let them be blotted out of the book of the living;
let them not be enrolled among the righteous.
But I am afflicted and in pain;
let your salvation, O God, set me on high!
I will praise the name of God with a song;
I will magnify him with thanksgiving.
This will please the Lord more than an ox
or a bull with horns and hoofs.
When the humble see it they will be glad;
you who seek God, let your hearts revive.
For the Lord hears the needy
and does not despise his own people who are prisoners.
Let heaven and earth praise him,
the seas and everything that moves in them.
For God will save Zion
and build up the cities of Judah,
and people shall dwell there and possess it;
the offspring of his servants shall inherit it,
and those who love his name shall dwell in it.
a 1 Or waters threaten my life
b 10 Hebrew lacks and humbled
c 22 Hebrew; a slight revocalization yields (compare Septuagint, Syriac, Jerome) a snare, and retribution and a trap
d 27 Hebrew may they not come into your righteousness