The Declaration of the Completeness

 

Chapter 4 - Horatius Bonar

 


 

The fifty-third chapter of Isaiah is a prophetic vision of the cross.

The book of Leviticus had given Israel in detail the standing symbols which were all to be transformed into spiritual substances or verities in Christ crucified. And this chapter of the prophet gives a summary of these truths, in Levitical language, connecting them all with the seed of the woman, and His bruising upon the tree.

For more than three thousand years the "bruised heel" had been held up before the eye of the world, and specially of Israel (in their sacrifices), as their deliverance and hope. But now the inter-pretation is given in more explicit language. Its meaning, as expressing (in the varied details of this chapter) the transference of the sinner's guilt to the Surety; as setting forth also the mysteri-ous person of the Man of sorrows, and, under all this, revealing the deep free love of God to man,-is here proclaimed with a clearness and fulness such as had not hitherto been vouchsafed either to the patriarchs or to Israel. Nowhere is the work of the Messiah the sin-bearer more explicitly revealed. The just One suffering for the unjust is the theme of this prophetic burden.

Abruptly the prophet breaks forth in his description of Messiah, seed of the woman, son of Adam, son of Abraham, son of David: "He shall grow up before Him a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground." The soil and the air of earth are alike uncon-genial to this shoot from the stem of Jesse. Its affinities are all with a purer climate than ours.

He rises up in the midst of us, but not to be appreciated and honored; not to be admired, or loved. "He hath no form or come-liness; and when we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him." The light shineth in the darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not. "He is [the] despised and rejected [one] of men";
i.e. of all men, the most despised and rejected: for He came to His own, and His own received Him not.

Here is the beginning of His vicarious life ,-a life of reproach among the sons of men. "A Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief."

Whence all this life-long sadness? When angels visit earth, are they thus sor-rowful? Does the air of earth infect them with its troubles? Do they weep, and groan, and bleed? Are they assailed with the blasphemies of earth? If not, why is it thus? Why is the holy Son of God, from His childhood, subjected to this contempt, and bowed down beneath this burden? Why is the cup of gall and wormwood set beside His cradle? and why, day by day, in youth and manhood, has He to drink the bitter draught? Angels see the sights and hear the sounds of earth, as they attend us in their ministries, or execute the errands of their King: yet they are not saddened; nor, when they return to their dwellings of light, do they require the tears to be wiped from their eye, or the sweat from their brow. How can we account for the difference between Messiah and the angels, save the fact that His sin-bearing character made Him accessible to and penetrable by grief, in a way such as no angel could be?

The difficulty of such a case was obvious; and accordingly the prophet meets it in the next verse. It is
our griefs that He was bear-ing; it was our sorrows that He was carrying. These were the things that made Him the Man of sorrows. They that saw Him could not understand the mystery. They said, God has smitten him for his sins, and afflicted him for some hidden transgression that we know not. But, no; "He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes we are healed." The wounding, the bruis-ing, the chastening, and the scourging had their beginnings before He reached the cross; but it was there that they were all complet-ed by "the obedience unto death."

"The LORD [Jehovah] hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all"; or, bath made to rush or strike upon Him the punishment of us all.

"
It was exacted, and He became answerable,
And (therefore) He opened not His mouth.
As a lamb to the slaughter He is led;
And as a sheep before her shearers is dumb,
So He opened not His mouth.
From prison and from judgment He is taken,
And His generation (manner of life) who declareth?
"


These are the scenes
before the Cross; while He was on His way to it. He was dumb before His judges, because He had made Himself legally responsible for our debt or guilt. Nor was there any one to come forward and declare His innocence. He was carrying, too, our sins to the cross. After this we have the cross itself:

"
He was cut off out of the land of the living;
For the transgressions of my people He was stricken.
"


The sin-bearing of the cross is fully brought out here.There He hung as the Substitute, "the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God."

"
And there was appointed Him a grave with the wicked,
But with the rich man was He in death.
"

There was assigned to Him a place with the wicked not only on the cross, but in His burial; He was condemned not only to die an ignominious death, but to have a like sepulchre. From this latter, however, He was delivered by the rich man of Arimathea, who unexpectedly came forward and begged the body, which would oth-erwise have been consigned to a malefactor's grave. He was "with the rich in His death"; that is, when He died, or after His death, when He was taken down from the cross.

"
Yet it pleased Jehovah to bruise Him,
He bath put Him to grief.
"


Jehovah was well pleased with His bruising,-nay, took plea-sure in bruising Him. Never was Messiah more the "beloved Son" than when suffering on the cross; yet Jehovah was "well pleased" to put Him to grief. Though the
consciousness of communion was interrupted for a time, when he cried, "Why has Thou forsaken me?" yet there was no breaking of the bond. There was wrath coming down on Him as the Substitute, but love resting on Him as the Son. Both were together. He knew the love, even while He felt the wrath; nay, it was the knowledge of the love that made Him cry out in amazement and anguish, "My God, my God, why hast Thou for-saken me?"

"
Thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin;"

or, more exactly, "a trespass-offering"; a sacrifice for willful, conscious sin. Of this trespass-offering it is written, "The priest shall make an atonement for him before the Lord, and it shall be forgiven him for anything of all that he hath done in trespassing therein" (Lev 6:7). The various offerings of the tabernacle and the altar all center in and cluster round the cross. It is THE SOUL that is here said to be the trespass-offering; implying that when the soul was parted from the body, when Christ commended His spirit to His Father, then the trespass-offering was completed. Atonement was made, once for all. Before the body of the Surety had reached the tomb, the great work was done. The lying in the grave was the visible and palpable sign or pledge of the work having been
already finished; and resurrection was the Father's seal from above set to the excellency of that completed sacrifice, and to the perfection of Him by whom it had been accomplished on the cross.

"
Upon the labor of His soul He shall look,
He shall be satisfied.
"


Christ, in the days of His flesh, often used language like this regarding His
soul: "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death" (Matt 26:38); "Now is my soul troubled" (John 12:27); "The Son of man came. ..to give His soul a ransom for many" (Matt 20:28); "The good shepherd giveth His soul for the sheep" (John 10:11); "I lay down my soul for the sheep" (John 10:15). Thus the life, the soul, the blood, are connected together; and with that which was accomplished by them in life and in death He is satisfied Whether it is Himself that is satisfied, or the Father, matters not. The truth taught is the same.

"
By His knowledge shall my righteous Servant justify many;
For He shall bear their iniquities.
"


It is the Father that here speaks. He calls Messiah, "My right-eous Servant," and proclaims that by giving the knowledge of Himself He shall justify many. The knowledge of Christ is that which secures our justification; the knowledge of Christ as the
sin-bearer: for it is added, as the justifying thing in this knowledge, "He shall bear their iniquities"; thus again linking justification with the cross, and the finished work there.
The last verse is very remarkable, as bringing out fully the Father's reasons for glorifying His Son; reasons connected entire-ly with the cross and the sin-bearing there:

"
Therefore will I divide Him a portion with the great,
And He shall divide the spoil with the strong,
Because He hath poured out His soul unto death.
And He was numbered with the transgressors;
And He bare the sin of many,
And made intercession for the transgressors.
"


So that the resurrection, with all the subsequent glory and honor conferred on Him, is the recompense and result of His jus-tifying work on the cross. On that tree of death and shame the work was FINISHED. There He poured out His soul; there He was numbered with the transgressors; there He bare the sin of many; there He made intercession for the transgressors, when He cried out, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." (1)

"It is finished" were His words as He died. The justifying work is done! If anything else besides this finished work is to justify, then Christ has died in vain.

"It is finished," He said, and gave up the ghost. "Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit"; and to the Father that spirit went. The Father received it; and in receiving it, bore testimony to the completeness of the work. The Roman soldiers, "perceiving that he was dead already," may be said to have testified to the completion of the work of pouring out His soul unto death. The taking down from the cross was another testimony. Joseph and Nicodemus were like the Levites carrying away the ashes from the altar. The burial was another testimony. The resurrection began the divine and visi-ble testimony to this same thing. The ascension, and "sitting" at the Father's right hand, were the attestations from above,-the heav-enly responses to the voice from the cross, "It is finished." All after this was the result of that finished work. The presentation of His blood was not to complete the sacrifice, but to carry out what was already done. The sprinkling of the blood (at whatever time that may have been done) was the application of the sacrifice, not the sacrifice itself.

"It is finished!" He who makes this announcement on the cross is the Son of God; it is He who but the day before had said in the prospect of this consummation, "I have glorified Thee on the earth, I have finished the work which Thou gavest me to do." He knows what He says when He utters it; and He is "the faithful and true witness." His words are true, and they are full of meaning.

He makes this announcement before the Father, as if calling on Him to confirm it. He makes it before heaven and earth, before men and angels, before Jew and Gentile. He makes it to us. Listen, O sons of men! The work that saves is perfected. The work that jus-tifies is done.

The completeness thus announced is a great and momentous one. It is one in which all the ends of the earth have an interest. Had ought been left unfinished, then what hope for man or for man's earth? But it is begun, carried on, consummated; and no flaw is found it in; no part is left out; not a jot or tittle has failed. It is absolutely perfect.

This perfection or consummation proclaims to us such things as these: the completion of the Father's purpose, the completion of atonement, the completion of the justifying work, the complete-ness of the sin-bearing and law-fulfilling, the completeness of the righteousness, the completeness of the covenant and the covenant seal. All is done, and done by Him who is Son of man and Son of God; perfectly and for ever done; nothing to be added to it or taken from it, by man, by Satan, or by God. The burial of the Substitute does not add to its completeness; resurrection forms no part of that justifying work. It was all concluded on the cross.

It is so finished that a sinner may at once use it for pardon, for rest, for acceptance, for justification. Standing beside this altar where the great burnt-offering was laid and consumed to ashes, the sinner feels that he is put in possession of all blessing. That which the altar has secured passes over to him simply in virtue of his tak-ing his place at the altar, and thus identifying himself with the vic-tim. There the divine displeasure against sin has spent itself; there righteousness has been obtained for the unrighteous; there the sweet savor of rest is continually ascending from God; there the full flood of divine love is ever flowing out; there God meets the sin-ner in His fullest grace, without hindrance or restraint; there the peace which has been made through blood-shedding is found by the sinner; there reconciliation is proclaimed, and the voice that pro-claims it from that altar reaches to the ends of the earth; there the ambassadors of peace take their stand to discharge their embassy, pleading with the sons of men far off and near, saying, "Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us; we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God."

The resurrection was the great visible seal set to this complete-ness. It was the Father's response to the cry from the cross, "It is fin-ished." As at baptism He spoke from the excellent glory, and said, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased"; so did He speak, though not with audible voice, at the resurrection, bearing testimony thereby not only to the excellency of the Person, but to the completeness of the work of His only-begotten Son. The resur-rection added nothing to the propitiation of the cross; it proclaimed it already perfect, incapable of addition or greater completeness.

The ascension added to this testimony, and especially the sit-ting at God's right hand. "This man, after He had offered one sac-rifice for sins for ever, SAT DOWN at the right hand of God" (Heb 10:12). "When He had by Himself purged our sins, SAT DOWN on the right hand of the Majesty on high" (Heb 1:3). The standing p05-ture of the ancient priests showed that their work was an unfin-ished one. The
sitting down of our High Priest intimated to all heaven that the work was done, and the "eternal redemption obtained." And what was thus intimated in heaven has been pro-claimed on earth by those whom God sent forth in power of the Holy Ghost, to tell to men the things which eye had not seen nor ear heard. That "sitting down" contained in itself the gospel. The first note of that gospel was sounded at Bethlehem, from the manger where the young child lay; the last note came from the throne above, when the Son of God returned in triumph from His mission of grace to earth, and took His seat upon the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

Between these two extremities, the manger and the throne, how much is contained for us! All the love of God is there. The exceeding riches of divine grace are there. The fullness of that power and wisdom and righteousness, which have come forth, not to destroy, but to save, is there. These are the two boundary walls of that wondrous storehouse out of which we are to be filled throughout the eternal ages.

Of what is contained in this treasure-house we know something here, in some small measure; but the vast contents are beyond all measurement and all conception. The eternal unfolding of these to us will be perpetual gladness. Apart from the excellency of the inher-itance, and the beauty of the city, and the glory of the kingdom, which will make us say, "Truly the lines have fallen unto us in pleas-ant places," there will be, in our ever-widening knowledge of "the unsearchable riches of Christ," light and replenishment and satis-faction, which, even were all external brightness swept away, would be enough for the soul throughout all the ages to come.

The present glory of Christ is the reward of His humiliation here. Because He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross, therefore God hath highly exalt-ed Him, and given Him the name that is above every name. He wears the crown of glory, because He wore the crown of thorns. He drank of the brook by the way, therefore he has lifted up the head (Psa 110:7).

But this is not all. That glory to which He is now exalted is the standing testimony before all heaven that His work was finished on the cross. "I have finished the work which Thou gavest me to do," He said; and then He added, "Now, 0 Father, glorify Thou me with Thine own self, with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was" (John 17:4,5).

The proofs of the completeness of the sacrificial work upon the cross are very full and satisfying. They assure us that the work was really finished, and, as such, available for the most sinful of men. We shall find it good to dwell upon the thought of this completeness, for the pacifying of the conscience, for the satisfying of the soul, for the removal of all doubt and unbelief, and for the production and increase of faith and confidence.

There are
degrees of rest for the soul, and it is in proportion as we comprehend the perfection of the work on Calvary that our rest will increase. There are depths of peace which we have not yet sounded, for it is "peace which passeth all understanding"; and into these depths the Holy Spirit leads us, not in some miraculous way, or by some mere exertion of power, but by revealing to us more and more of that work, in the first knowledge of which our peace began.

We are never done with the cross, nor ever shall be. Its wonders will be always new, and always fraught with joy. "The Lamb as it had been slain" will be the theme of our praise above. Why should such a name be given to Him in such a book as the Revelation, which in one sense carries us far past the cross, were it not that we shall always realize our connection with its one salvation; always be look-ing to it even in the midst of glory; and always learning from it some new lesson regarding the work of Him "in whom we have redemp-tion through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace"? What will they who here speak of them-selves as being so advanced as to be done with the cross, say to being brought face to face with the Lamb that was slain, in the age of absolute perfection, the age of the heavenly glory?

Thou fool! Dost thou not know that the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ endureth for ever, and that thou shalt eternally glory in it, if thou are saved by it at all?

Thou fool! Wilt thou not join in the song below, "To Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood"? Wilt thou not join in the song above, "Thou was slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood"? And dost thou not remember that it is from "the Lamb as it had been slain" that "the seven spir-its of God are sent forth into all the earth"? (Rev 5:6). (
2)

It is
the Lamb who stands in the midst of the elders (Rev 5:6), and before whom they fall down. "Worthy is the Lamb" is the theme of celestial song. It is the Lamb that opens the seals (6:1). It is before the Lamb that the great multitude stand clothed in white (7:9). It is the blood of the Lamb that washes the raiment white (7:14). It is by the blood of the Lamb that the victory is won (12:11). The book of life belongs to the Lamb slain (13:8). It was a Lamb that stood on the glorious Mount Zion (14:1). It is the Lamb that the redeemed multitude are seen following (14:4); and that multitude is the first-fruits unto God and unto the Lamb (14:4). It is the song of the Lamb that is sung in heaven (15:3). It is the Lamb that wars and over-comes (17:14). It is the marriage of the Lamb that is celebrated, and it is to the marriage-supper of the Lamb that we are called (19:7,9). The church is the Lamb's wife (21:9). On the foundations of the heavenly city are written the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb (21:14). Of this city the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple (21:23). Of that city the Lamb is the light (21:23). The book of life of the Lamb, and the throne of the Lamb (21:27; 22:1,3), sum up this wondrous list of honors and dignities belonging to the Lord Jesus as the crucified Son of God.

Thus the glory of heaven revolves round the cross; and every object on which the eye lights in the celestial city will remind us of the cross, and carry us back to Golgotha. Never shall we get beyond it, or turn our backs on it, or cease to draw from it the divine virtue which it contains.

The tree, be it palm, or cedar, or olive, can never be indepen-dent of its roots, however stately its growth, however plentiful its fruit. The building, be it palace or temple, can never be separated from its foundation, however spacious or ornate its structure may be. So, never shall the redeemed be independent of the cross, or cease to draw from its fullness.

In what ways our looking to the cross hereafter will benefit us; what the shadow of that tree will do for us in the eternal kingdom, I know not, nor do I venture to say. But it would seem as if the cross and the glory were so inseparably bound together, that there cannot be the enjoyment of the one without the remembrance of the other. The completeness of the sacrificial work on Calvary will be matter for eternal contemplation and rejoicing, long after every sin has been, by its cleansing efficacy, washed out of our being for ever.

Shall we ever exhaust the fullness of the cross? Is it a mere stepping-stone to something beyond itself? Shall we ever cease to glory in it (as the apostle gloried), not only because of past, but because of present and eternal blessing? The forgiveness of sin is one thing; but is that all? The crucifixion of the world is another; but is that all? Is the cross to be a relic, useless though venerable, like the serpent of brass laid up in the tabernacle; to be destroyed perhaps at some future time, and called Nehushtan? (2 Kings 18:4). Or is it not rather like the tree of life, which bears twelve manner of fruits, and yields its fruit every month, by the banks of the celestial river? Its influence here on earth is transforming; but even after the transformation has been completed, and the whole church perfected, shall there not be a rising higher and higher, a taking on of greater and yet greater comeliness, a passing from glory to glory; and all in connection with the cross, and through the never-ending vision of its wonders?

Of the new Jerusalem it is said, "The
LAMB is the light [or lamp] thereof' (Rev 21:23). The Lamb is only another name for Christ crucified: so that thus it is the cross that is the lamp of the holy city; and with its light, the gates of pearl, the jasper wall, the golden streets, the brilliant foundations, and the crystal river, are all lighted up. The glow of the cross is everywhere, penetrating every part, and reflected from every gem; and by its peculiar radi-ance transporting the dwellers of the city back to Golgotha, as the fountainhead of all this splendor.

It is light from Calvary that fills the heaven of heavens. Yet it is no dim religious light: for the glory of God is to lighten it (Rev 21:23); and its light is "like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper-stone, clear as crystal; and there is no night there, and they need no candle, neither light of the sun, for the Lord God giveth them light" (Rev 22:5). Yes, we shall never be done with the cross and the blood; though, where all are clean and perfect in every sense, these will not be used for purging the conscience or justifying the ungodly.

It is the symbol both of a dying and of a risen Christ that we find in the Revelation. The "lamb as it had been slain" indicates both. But the prominence is given to the former. It is the slain Lamb that has the power and authority to open the seals; implying that it was in His sin-bearing or sacrificial character that He exer-cised this right, and that it was His finished work on which this right rested, and by which it was acquired. It is as the Lamb that He is possessed with all wisdom and strength,-"the seven horns and the seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God" (Rev 5:6); the Holy Spirit, or the Spirit of omniscience and omnipotence.

The Lamb is one of His special and eternal titles; the name by which He is best known in heaven. As such, we obey and honor and worship Him; never being allowed to lose sight of the cross amid all the glories of the kingdom. As such we follow Him, and shall follow Him eternally, as it is written, "These are they that fol-low THE LAMB withersoever He goeth" (Rev 14:4).





(1) In these words, "they know not what they do," He is speaking as the sin-offering, which was specially for sins of ignorance.
(2) Thirty times does the word Lamb, as Christ's heavenly name, occur in the Apocalypse; bringing perpetually before the redeemed in glory the cross and the blood, as if to prevent the possibility of our losing sight of CHRIST CRUCIFIED.