Salvation through Suffering, Not by It.
In my last lecture I endeavored to show that Jehovah himself came into the
world, and assumed a human nature, for the purpose of saving mankind, that
He clothed His Divine with a human nature in order to draw near to man
without destroying him; to meet him face to face on the same plane; and that
He clothed His Divine arm with an arm of flesh, and thus reached man, and
raised him up from the grave of spiritual death to immortal life. I
endeavored also to show that He did not come to pay a debt due to inflexible
justice, but to do a necessary work; the same in kind he commands us to do
for others, though infinitely beyond it in extent and importance. He came to
be a light unto the world; to be the way, the truth, and the life of men; to
sanctify them through the truth; to save them from their sins, and to give
them eternal life.
You will see at once that this view of the Lord’s work of redemption has a most important bearing upon the origin, nature, and necessity of his sufferings. If He came simply to do a work and not to pay a debt, which many suppose could only be paid in the coin of suffering, why did He suffer? If there was no anger to appease, no penalty to pay, where was the necessity for the manger, the obscure and humble life, the opposition and scorn, the trial, the mockings, the scourgings, the crown of thorns, the agony of Gethsemane, the cross, and the sepulchre?
If we can get a true idea of the work He really accomplished, we can hardly fail to see that there was no possible way of avoiding the sorrow, though, strictly speaking, it contributed nothing to our salvation. Let us try to understand what He actually did.
A Being of infinite love, wisdom, order, and purity, assumed a human nature that was utterly perverted. He assumed our fallen nature, as it existed in Mary, and according to our doctrines it was that which is called by the apostles, and in our own writings, the natural man. It was full of hereditary evils. It contained in it the germ of every evil. It was utterly opposite and hostile to the Divine life within, in every respect. It was repugnant to every principle and every form of Divine activity.
This is directly the reverse of the Romanist doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, and it may be supposed to imply the belief that the Lord sinned. But it does not. We distinguish carefully between evil and sin. Evil is the tendency only; sin is the voluntary carrying out of the tendency into act. Evil is the germ; sin the ripe fruit. We are all full of hereditary evils, physical, moral, and spiritual. But we are no more to blame for our hereditary moral tendencies than we are for resembling our parents physically; for having blue eyes or a narrow chest, and a tendency to consumption. Our Lord assumed a human, not a Divine nature, and that nature was full of evils.
There is a simple and unanswerable argument in favor of this truth. The apostle says, that “Our Lord was in all points tempted, like as we are, yet without sin.” Now it is impossible for any one to be tempted, unless there is some evil in his nature to appeal to. The Divine could not be tempted, because no evil could seem desirable in any way to Him who has love, order, wisdom, and infinite perfection. If both the taste and effect of intoxicating liquors are repulsive to me, I cannot be tempted to drink them. If I have no love for power and the honor of office, what temptation would there be to me in the offer of all the kingdoms of this world and the glory of them? None whatever. Thus we can see that the Lord could not have been tempted, if there had not been something in the nature which He assumed, some tendencies to evil, which made that, which is evil and false, seem desirable. But there is no sin in being tempted. The sin consists in yielding. That our Lord never did. He always said to the tempter: “Get thee behind me, Satan.” “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve.” There are other and more interior reasons for belief in the truth, that our Lord assumed a fallen nature, but this is sufficient for our present purpose.
Admitting, then, that the human derived from Mary was infirm, and full of hereditary evil, the origin and real cause of His sufferings become plain. They originated in the conflict between the Divine and the human natures. It was necessary for the Lord to assume a human nature, for there was no other mode of access to man. But this nature was perverted, and through it, all infernal influences gained access to Him, and He gained access to them. They flowed in, and excited all the evil propensities in the nature assumed from Mary, and He combated them from the Divine. The conflict was within Him. It was of the same nature as that which takes place within us, between good and evil principles, only it was immeasurably greater. Every person who sincerely and earnestly endeavors to live a good life, knows that his most terrible sufferings originate in this conflict. His evil desires cry aloud for gratification. But conscience lifts its warning voice, and truth reveals the terrible consequences which must result from their indulgence, and the good struggles against them. Hence the pain. It is not inflicted as a punishment. It is not suffered in payment of a debt, but it follows as a necessary consequence of the effort to put away the evil. The Creator Himself, for the purpose of gaining access to His children, clothes Himself with a nature similar to their own, and thus exposes Himself to the direst conflicts with evil, and suffers all the terrible pangs of the conflict, and He does it solely because the work of redemption can be accomplished in no other way. The suffering is unavoidable, from the nature of the work, and yet it is no part of the work, as I shall show.
How great these sufferings were, we can never know. They surpassed all human comprehension, and all finite power to endure. They did not consist in His humiliation, or in the indignities offered to His person, and the pain inflicted upon him by the Jews. Thousands of men have been treated with more physical cruelty than He was. They have been put upon the rack, and when every fibre had been stretched, every joint wrenched, every nerve tortured to the extreme limit of physical power to bear, medical science has been taxed to keep up the failing powers that the agony might be prolonged as much as possible. Multitudes have endured poverty and privation; have been deserted by every friend; have been mocked, scourged, and crucified, and yet their suffering bore no comparison to the Lord’s.
What the Jews did to his body typified and represented what the whole infernal host strove to do to the Divine itself. He was assaulted with the same fierceness and malignity by all the infernal powers, that the Jews heaped upon His innocent head, and with inconceivably greater strength and fury. Every avenue to the Divine within was thronged with evil forces; every evil desire in the assumed humanity was aroused and excited to the most intense activity, as the Divine flowed down into the infirm human, and sought to put it off and substitute itself in its place.
There is but little said in the gospels concerning our Lord from His infancy until His entrance upon His public ministry. Do you suppose He was idle all this time? That cannot be. Our doctrines teach us that He “was about His Father’s business.” He was subduing all things unto Himself; He was undergoing the most cruel temptations. Every false principle and every evil affection that ever existed in a fallen humanity was awakened and passed through all its stages of progress from its rise to its entire subjection and expulsion. As Jehovah, He was infinite, and He must, therefore, have experienced every state that is possible to all finite beings. He saw every evil and every false principle in all its naked and hideous deformity and fearful consequences, and every evil left its sting. His human nature was subject to all the illusions of a fallacious good; to all the weariness, the doubt, the darkness, the disappointment, the despair that the whole body of humanity has suffered. You never suffered a pang which He did not. All generations, past and future, never did, and never will taste a sorrow which was not concentrated in the bitter cup He drained to the dregs. “He tasted death, for every man.”
When he came into the world the power of sin had culminated and was in the ascendant. Hell had risen up with the infernal hope of destroying heaven and dethroning the Lord Himself, and all its fiery billows dashed against Him. Infernal ingenuity exhausted its illusions and its strength in the attempt to make Him yield. Every natural evil was excited and made to hunger for its indulgence, its bread, and then the fallacious good was offered. Every lust for glory and dominion that ever burned in the heart of men or devils was aroused to its utmost strength, and its gratification promised. “The devil took Him up into an exceeding high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them, and said, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.” But he rejected them all. He fought against them all. He overcame them all. What awful conflicts must have raged within him? What sharp and terrible agonies must have rent His soul! What an inconceivable amount of the intensest pain must have been crowded into the few years He dwelt upon the earth. “Truly He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” In the light of this truth we can see whence originated the bloody sweat and awful agony of Gethsemane, and the despairing cry from Calvary. The death of the material body was nothing. That was not the life He gave for men. The life He laid down was the life of the infirm humanity He assumed from Mary. It was the death of all falsity. It was the utter despair of every evil desire. It was the same death that we must die before we can really begin to live. The glorification of His humanity is the perfect pattern of our regeneration, and renders it possible.
The Divine Life flowed down into the infirm human, as fast as it could bear its presence and reception; reversed and purified its inverted and disorderly forms, pushed off everything that was not perfectly homogeneous with itself, in substance and form, and replaced it with Divine Substances and forms. Thus every evil tendency, every false principle died; every impurity and imperfection was dissipated, and His humanity became Divine, became one with His essential being before the incarnation. He could now pour a new tide of life into the hearts of men. He could operate upon all spiritual beings, both good and evil, in a more direct and powerful manner than before. He could beat back the tide of evil that was coming in like an overwhelming flood, and threatening to swallow all men up. He could hold it for ever in abeyance, and bring His salvation near to men. He could perfectly attemper and adjust His Divine Life even to the lowest states of men, and thus help them to do what He had done, to overcome as He overcame, our hereditary or acquired evils. He could save man from his sins.
Now we can see that this suffering was not imposed upon him by an exacting and inflexible justice. It was no compensation for a violated law. It was not inflicted by one person upon another. Infinite love and mercy took it upon itself. Between Jehovah and His children, who were on the point of breaking away from all conjunction with Him, and consequently from all true life and blessedness, there lay those terrific conflicts and unspeakable agonies, and He did not shrink from them, as we know infinite love could not. He came in the fullness of time. He took the burden of our sins upon Himself. He bore them in His own body. He tasted every bitter ingredient in the cup of human suffering. His heart was pierced with your sorrows and mine. He trod our path. He tasted our cup. He laid down His life that He might help us to lay down ours. He took it again, that He might assist us in gaining ours, and remove every obstacle that hinders our reception of eternal life from Him. It was mercy, not justice, that demanded this. It was the all-pitying heart of infinite love that drained the cup. There is no angry and inexorable father in the background. There is no exchange of so many souls for so much misery. Our heavenly Father, touched with infinite pity, clothes Himself with our fallen humanity, and through that, combats and overthrows our spiritual enemies, clears away every obstacle; comes to us to save us from our sins.
You will observe that this places the necessity for our Lord’s sufferings upon an entirely different ground from the common theology. That declares that they were the penalty demanded by the Father and suffered by the Son; this affirms that they were the necessary consequence of the work He performed. The one declares that the Father punished the Son instead of the sinners; the other that He Himself came to save the sinner, regardless of the suffering that must attend the assumption and glorification of the nature He assumed; one doctrine declares, that punishment is the end of His coming, as the only means of saving men, the other that it was entirely incidental. One doctrine primarily regards the penalty of sin, the other the sin itself.
The question, then, naturally arises, What did His sufferings effect? if they did not pay the debt due to a violated justice, what did they contribute to human Salvation? I answer, Much, in Many ways, but nothing in the way commonly supposed.
They set forth in the clearest and most forcible manner the nature and extent of the Divine love. There are innumerable ways in which love can manifest itself. The whole universe manifests the love of the Lord. Our friends declare their love for us by speech and deed, but never so forcibly and clearly as by suffering for us. “Greater love bath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” If we have an abundance, it is easy enough to give. When the heart is full of love, it is painful not to show it by word and deed. But when we forego our own delights, suffer ignominy and pain and the most cruel torments, and even death itself, for others, without any expectation of return, we give the highest test of our love. We prove that it is pure, unselfish, and the strongest principle within us, and it would seem impossible for any human being to be unaffected by it.
Suppose it was now made known to you for the first time, that some one, from pure love to you, had watched over you with the most untiring assiduity; had omitted no occasion to do you a service; had suffered privation, pain, ignominy; had labored for your good; had fought and overcome your enemies; had denied himself in everything, and taken upon himself every suffering that he might save you from sorrow; could you remain entirely unmoved by it? And if, at the same time, you should discover that you had been acting contrary to his will, and doing all in your power to oppose him; would not your heart be filled with shame and sorrow? How, then, can we fail to be affected by the Lord’s love for us, when we see what He has suffered for us from pure mercy? Bring it home to yourself as a distinct fact, that God Himself loves you with such an unselfish, infinite love; that He has voluntarily suffered what no merely human being could suffer, that He might save you from your sins, from the cause of all your sufferings, and bestow upon you eternal and perfect blessedness! Can you remain unaffected by such a view of the Divine character?
The common doctrine divides the Divine being into two persons. One is the embodiment of inflexible justice, is full of wrath against man. The other is all love and mercy; and thus the mind becomes distracted between fear and love. The one is looking out for His law, and His offended majesty, and the consistency of His character; and the other, not solely for the sinner, but somewhat for His own glory. There is a strange mingling and confusion of character and motive, and action. The idea of the Divine love, of the love of one being, and of one alone, the perfectly pure and unselfish love for man, does not stand out clear and distinct, as the only motive in the Divine mind, and consequently the effect, which such a conception of the Divine character must produce, is dissipated and lost.
But the doctrines of the New Church divest the subject of every other consideration and motive than infinite love, and that love dwells in one Being alone, and it rests upon man alone; seeks man’s good alone, works for him alone, with infinite wisdom and power; and never fails to do, at whatever cost of suffering may be necessary, all that infinite wisdom and power can do, to save and bless him. One being does not suffer to save him from the wrath of another. But his Creator comes to him through the fiery path of sorrow, that He may deliver him from death, that He may draw him to His infinite heart, and pour into him the blessings of eternal life. When this truth lies plain and clear in your own mind can it fail of its effect? Would it not do more to make you ashamed of sin, to fill your heart with sincere repentance, to lead you to shun every evil as a sin against the Lord, to put your trust in Him, and to do all in your power to assist Him in carrying out His purposes of love towards yourself and all men, than any motives of fear, or purchase, or vicarious suffering, to satisfy some legal technicality? I can conceive no motive more powerful to lead us to obey the Divine commandments and to live an unselfish and heavenly life.
But this view of the Lord’s sufferings not only sets forth His love in the strongest manner, but it magnifies the law, and shows that the difficulty in the way of man’s salvation was not a merely technical or legal difficulty, but a real one, originating in the Divine order, and inhering in the essential nature of man. The common doctrine of vicarious suffering is, practically, only a scheme to evade the penalties of a Divine law while seeming to obey it. It assumes that no law can be maintained without penalties, and that it is of no essential consequence whether the penalty falls upon the transgressor or not, if only the full tale of suffering is inflicted. This implies that the relation between sin and its penalties is entirely arbitrary; but if it is, the supposition is absurd that it was necessary for the Lord to come into the world and endure such extreme suffering to effect man’s salvation. The same arbitrary power that affixed the penalty could have set it aside. But, according to our doctrine, the penalty grows out of the violation, in the same way that pain follows the violation of physical laws. There was, therefore, no way of saving man from the penalty but by saving him from sin; and there was no way of saving him from sin but by bringing the Divine life in direct contact with his diseased nature, and Infinite Wisdom saw no other way of doing that than the one revealed to us in the Gospel. The law, therefore, cannot be set aside or compromised by any substitution or evasion. The original declaration stands as immutable as God Himself. “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” Sin is death. The Lord came to save us from sin, and therefore from death; and His life, as it is recorded in the gospels, shows us, as clear as the sun in the heavens, that there is no escape from spiritual death but in escaping from sin, in overcoming evil in ourselves. Our path to heaven, like His, lies through self-denial, through a life of devotion to others, through Gethsemane and Calvary.
The doctrines of the New Church also show far more clearly than any others that the Lord suffered for us. According to the prevalent doctrines He suffered for the Father as much, if not more, than He did for us, and there is often added the consideration of His own glory. He suffered, it is said, to satisfy the demands of the law; but, according to our view, he suffered solely for us, not by way of substitution, not because there must he so much suffering for so much sin, but because the Work He had to do involved the suffering. The principle is exactly the same as we see exemplified in human life every day. We suffer for others, not because God has decreed that there shall be so much suffering in the world to indemnify Him for a violated law, and if one endures it another escapes it, but because we cannot help others without it. We labor for them and grow weary; we think for them, we watch over them, and try to protect them from evil with much painful interest. So far as we succeed in lifting their burdens from them, in keeping them in the way of truth and duty, our labor and weariness are not in vain. How much we suffer for our children; how much our parents suffered for us.
If you had been shipwrecked, and were lying upon a desolate shore, dying of hunger and cold, and some dear friend should reach you after incredible labor and pain, bringing you food and clothing; if he should carry you to his own home, and wait upon you with untiring assiduity until you regained your health, you could say with perfect truth that he had suffered for you, and that if he had not suffered, your life could not have been saved. So Christ suffered for us; and if he had not suffered and died no sinner could have been. saved.
And yet His sufferings did not save us. They, contributed nothing essential to our salvation; and those who place their hopes of heaven upon that ground alone will be sorely disappointed. It may seem like a direct contradiction to say that Christ suffered for us; that if he had not suffered no sinner could have been saved, and yet that his sufferings contributed nothing essential to our salvation.
But it is not.
This is one of those important central points on which great principles turn, and become great truths or great errors. It is, therefore, worthy of our careful consideration. The point is this: While suffering is necessary to our salvation, it contributes nothing essential to it. It was what our Lord did for us that saved us, and not what He suffered. Suppose He could have assumed a human nature and glorified it, without suffering, He could have brought His life and power down to us in the same way, and with the same saving efficacy that He has now; for it would have been the same life, and would have operated in the same way. His sufferings make it no more powerful, and no less. They do not affect the result in any way. If His sufferings and death were a penalty which He paid for sin, in man’s stead, as is commonly supposed, then they were the important and only essential thing in the work of man’s salvation. But if He came to remove our sins, to heal our spiritual diseases, to open our eyes, to give strength to our palsied limbs, to raise us up from spiritual death by infusing His own life into us, it was the life we received that saved us, and not the pain it caused Him to do the work. If, as the Scriptures declare, He conquered our spiritual enemies, rescued us from their power, and dispersed them, it was His victory over death and hell that redeemed us, and not the agony of the conflict. If a soldier in battle, seeing a sword raised to cleave down his friend, should interpose his own arm and receive the blow, it would not be the loss of his arm that saved the life of his friend, but the stopping of the blow. He would suffer long and painfully, he might become a cripple for his whole life; but his sufferings and privation did not save his friend, though he could not save him without suffering. If he could have parried the blow with his own sword the effect upon his friend would have been the same. The Lord did this service for us. He came between us and the infernal powers that were destroying us. He received the blows aimed at humanity in His own bosom—blows which He could sustain, but which we could not, and thus He saved us from their fatal stroke. And though the sufferings were terrible beyond all human comprehension, yet they did not do the work of our salvation. It was His shielding us from the blow that saved us.
Take another illustration, for I wish to make the principle clear: Suppose, as sometimes happened in the early history of our country, your children had been captured by savages, and carried to some remote place, and enslaved by them. Your parental love leads you to follow them and strive to rescue them. You leave your comfortable and pleasant home; you convert, it may be, all your property into money, that you may not want the means to purchase or bribe every necessary power to aid you; you travel over steep and rugged mountains, and through pathless woods; you cross dangerous streams; you endure hunger and cold; you sink down, exhausted with the fatigue of the search; you rise up again and brave every danger; you fight many battles with wild beasts and more ferocious savages; you sacrifice everything you possess, and, in the end, your labors and sacrifices are crowned with success. You find your children, and with desperate energy you smite their captors and rescue them from their power, and return with them to your home. But your strength is wasted, your constitution is broken, and you never recover from the diseases caused by your exposure and fatigue. Now, what saved your children? Was it the fatigue, and hunger, and cold, and the terrible suffering of that long march, and your many furious conflicts with the savage captors of your children? Not in the least. Suppose you could have made the journey without any fatigue; suppose you could have overcome every obstacle and every enemy without any exposure or pain. Would you not have saved your children as effectually, as you did with so much suffering? But man is so constituted that he cannot undergo such hardships and unnatural exposure without pain and terrible suffering. The suffering is therefore necessary. The children cannot be saved without it, and yet you can see that it contributes nothing to their rescue.
So it was with our Heavenly Father; His children had been seized by a savage foe, and carried into a hopeless bondage. Their eyes had been put out, and all their spiritual powers had been paralyzed, and they were on the verge of death. He had made every effort to save them; He had sent letters and messengers to tell them how they might escape and find their way home, but all His efforts were of no avail. Finally, he goes Himself. He employs the only possible means of reaching them. He endures inconceivable agonies; lays down his life for them, and thus effects their ransom. Was it His sufferings, or His reaching them with His omnipotent arm, clothed with flesh, that saved them? There can be but one answer. His sufferings did not conduce in the least to the effect, but salvation was not possible without them.
It is very natural to say that we are assisted or saved by the sufferings of those who give their strength and lives for us. They are the first and most prominent things that strike us, but it is only an apparent truth; and when we construct theories of the Divine character and motives and methods of operation upon these appearances, they lead us as far astray as it would to form our theories of the universe upon the appearances of the heavenly bodies. The constant and eternal truth is, that we are helped or saved by others only by what they do for us; the assistance and life they bring to us.
The doctrines of the New Church do not therefore diminish, in the least, the merits of the Lord in effecting our salvation, but rather magnify and place them in a clearer light, and trace them to their true cause. They teach as explicitly as words can express a truth, that the Lord became a sacrifice for us, and they teach how He became one. He was not sacrificed by the Father, as a substituted offering. He sacrificed Himself. “I lay down my life for the sheep,” He says; “No man taketh it from Me. I lay it down of myself.” The sacrifice did not save -us, but He never could have reached us without making it. While our doctrines admit, to the fullest extent, all that the scriptures teach concerning the greatness of His sufferings and the absolute necessity for them, and the effect a true knowledge of their nature and cause must have upon the heart, when they are correctly understood, they avoid all the difficulties which attend the theory of vicarious sufferings; of a transfer of character, and a substituted righteousness. They preserve intact the Divine unity. God Himself came; the nature He assumed was called the Son. He glorified it, at the expense of inconceivable agonies; His love, His Divine, infinite, all-pitying love for man, moved Him to do it. He rescued us from inevitable death; He poured His life into the heart of humanity, and now He heals all our spiritual diseases, when we obey His prescriptions. His life becomes our life when we voluntarily receive it. He saves us from our sins, and consequently from their penalty. His righteousness becomes our righteousness, when we receive His truth into our understandings and life, as the sun’s light becomes our light when we open our eyes to its reception. He dwells in us, and we become one with Him, and partakers of His own peace and blessedness, so far, and only so far as we love Him. Thus we have a doctrine of salvation in perfect harmony with the Divine Unity, the Divine love and wisdom, with inflexible justice, with the whole tenor of Scripture, and with the demands of enlightened reason; a doctrine which reconciles all contradictions, and justifies the ways of God to man.