Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
I am the man that hath seen affliction by the rod of his wrath.The Shadow of the Cross (For Palm Sunday)
We celebrate Today an event that stands alone in the sacred life of Jesus, the solitary occasion on which He was publicly honoured and escorted into Jerusalem amid popular rejoicings the central Figure in a grand procession of triumph. Palm Sunday is a day of triumph, but still there is something sad even in the triumph, and so we take our text from Lamentations.
I. The Shadow of the Cross.—The week which opens with a triumph closes with a death and a burial; the brightness of Palm Sunday fades only too soon into the still, solemn quiet of Holy Week and the gloom of Good Friday. On Palm Sunday with the glad shouts of Hosanna ringing in our ears, the sight of the waving palms before our eyes, we are tempted to forget the life of sorrow. But even in His brief days of earthly triumph His Passion has already begun. He can read the future. Is it hard then to understand the 'affliction and misery' even in this very triumph? Think of that scene with the excited, rejoicing crowd, and in the midst the only sad face, His, to whom all this homage was being given. He knows how brief the triumph will be; what a terribly different scene will in a few short days be enacted by the walls of Jerusalem. And so as He rides along a dark shadow lies across the sunlit path before Him—the shadow of the cross—and Jesus sees it there.
II. The Attitude of the Disciples.—Look again. See His disciples full of joy and pleasure. It is a glad day for them. They think that at last He is going to assert His rights and be an earthly conqueror; that He will become King of Jerusalem and redresser of His country's wrongs. They love Him, these chosen ones. Will they ever forsake Him? Yet one of them is a traitor! He will betray his Master with a false kiss. It is that which hurts you more than anything when your best friend turns against you, one whom you have loved and trusted. Others may revile you, misjudge you, but when your bosom friend turns and curses you, that breaks the heart. Here was such an one, and Jesus knew it. And what of the other disciples? In His darkest hour, in His sorest need, they will all forsake Him and flee. When He stands before His murderers He will stand alone. And He knows it. Yet how He loves them, how He yearns over them in prayer! His 'little flock'. Ah, we may well remember His 'affliction and misery '.
III. Our Attitude.—Now shall we forsake Him in this Holy Week? Ah, we say, we could never be like Judas, or even like Peter and the others. Think again. When you are among those who serve Him, in the midst of waving palms and glad Hosannas, it is comparatively easy to be true. But when you are among those who jeer at religion, and the fear of God, and doing right, have you never felt ashamed of Him? Have you never denied Him? When He has asked you to share His cross have you ever rebelled against Him? Then let our past offences bind us closer to Him now, that we may learn through this Holy Week the lesson the cross will teach about sin and the way it may be overcome.
The Reason of Hope
We should inquire into this 'therefore'. It ought to be to us like a great gate of entrance into a king's house. If the logic fails here it fails everywhere. We must keep our eye upon the therefores of Divine and human reasoning and providence.
I. It is as if insanity suddenly emerged into sobriety, self-control, and a true spiritual realization of the meaning and purpose of things. The very memory of the gall and the wormwood makes me hope; I have had so much of them that there cannot be any more to have; it has been so terrible that now surely it is going to be summer-time and joy. This man handles life well. He is a true poet; he sees somewhat of the measure of things, and knows that at a certain time the dawn cannot be far off. I tell you I will number the hours and give you a forecast I have been here in this prison of gloom and doubt and desolateness one hour, two hours, three hours, all the winter, all the summer, all the winter again; it must now be not far from morning. We need those great prophetic voices. Sometimes we need the very biggest soul that ever lived, and we seem to need him every whit—all his brains, all his heart, all his music. He is not too much for us because our grief is so deep and so sensitive, and the whole outlook is a horizon of blackness, and darkness has no history and no measuring points.
This is where the religious element enters into life with great copiousness, and where it should be received with unutterable welcomes. This is not as if one human being were addressing another; the words certainly come through a human medium, but they bring a Divine meaning with them. Words have an atmosphere. It is the atmosphere that is, as we say, supernatural, Divine, transcendent.
II. The vital point in the text is the word 'therefore'; and it comes upon us suddenly, unexpectedly, it is as a flaming bush at the foot of the mountain, the mountain all grim barrenness.
'Therefore.' I have never seen the stars except in the darkness, therefore the night may have something to show me as well as the day—the night of loneliness and desolation and bitter sorrow. There may be a. star on purpose; one star in all the uncounted millions of stellar points was marked out as His star—as if the jewels starry were already appropriated and labelled, as if for personal acceptance and enjoyment.
III. Intellect grows, therefore character may grow. The little may become great, the weak may become strong, that which is far off may be brought nigh, and that which is barren may be fruitful. Yesterday's providence should be Today's prophecy, hope, and poem of assurance. And, said one who wrote that bitter chapter against the day of his birth, He hath been with me in six troubles and in seven He will not forsake me. Who can draw a line at six and say the Deity ends here, or here Providence finally stops? No one. I will take the whole six as meaning the culminating seven. God Himself is an odd number; He is One or He is Three: and He will deliver me out of the odd number of my affliction and sorrow. Seven shall not frighten the Trinity.
—Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. Iv. p. 88.
Reference.—III. 21.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xi. No. 654.
It Is of the Lord's Mercies
No text expresses more perfectly the old Puritan temper and faith than this: 'It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed'. The Christianity it uttered was not completely normal, but there were elements in it for lack of which our modern religion is suffering.
I. To begin with, the old Puritanism was profoundly aware of the tragical element in life, and met it fairly. That element remains with us, and science has brought it nearer. Whose heart has not fluttered at the sight of a telegram? The skies above us are charged with possibilities of tempest and destruction. We hold nothing securely. We walk continually by the edge of a precipice. We go to sleep knowing that next day may bring us news which will darken all the days to come. 'It is of the Lord's mercies' if it does not. These bolts strike us oftenest from an unclouded heaven, and make the very earth reel under our feet. So often is the lesson read that fear looks out even from innocent blue eyes of hope, and a nameless sudden chill falls on the most rapturous hours. How are we to master this? Not by the murder of nobler thought and sweeter instinct, not by the substitution of casual lusts for faithful affection, not through trampled and conquered love, but through victorious faith. There is enough in life to make us sober—to moderate moods of triumph, to teach us that there are worse things than death. The Puritans knew this; and they knew also that, strange as it seems, the Christian may realize peacefully that the things which are seen are temporal. Not by loving less, but by loving the creature in the Creator, are we fortified to take the worst that time can do, saying, 'The things which are unseen are eternal'. What came into this sphere of time may vanish from it; what we loved in God abides in God, and we go to find it. Thus after 'the wreckful siege of battering days' there often comes over the worn and furrowed face that blessed light of childhood, with its sure hope of happiness. Thus we may rise to say, 'Whom have I in heaven but Thee, and there is none on earth that I desire beside Thee,' and know the secret of loving God with heart and soul and strength and mind. Thus we may learn not merely to bless God for the stroke averted, but to bless Him in the moment of its falling; to arise at midnight and give thanks because of His righteous judgments.
II. This Puritan motto gives us the true viewpoint from which to apprehend the Cross. That form of Calvinism which sought to destroy humanism, and to treat the Church as a body whose members have no relation with the world, is dead. The doctrine that human nature was demonic, a doctrine which practically denied any lingering trace of the image of God, is no longer held anywhere. But modern teaching has largely swung to the opposite extreme. Men hear so much about God's need of them that they do not think as they should about their need of Him. People sit listlessly while the preacher tells of the Divine craving, but do not understand the terrible love of God:—
So great that saints dread more
To be forgiven than sinners do to die,
and they never will understand it till they cannot so much as lift up their eyes unto heaven—till they feel that it is of the Lord's mercies they are not consumed. As McLeod Campbell has said, this is a doctrine for all. 'The true protection from any limiting distinctions as to the forgiveness which we receive, and which we are to cherish and to manifest, is seeing ourselves in that light of truth in which we thankfully and with the utmost self-abasement cease from the hopeless task of weighing our own unworthiness by putting sins and ignorance into one scale, the ideal of good in the other, in order to raise our hope of mercy by taking from the demerit of our sin, and bless God that, taking the lowest ground, and as being the chief of sinners, we still find all our utmost need met in the forgiveness which the Gospel reveals.' The beginning and the end of Christianity is the death of pride.
—W. Robertson Nicoll Ten Minute Sermons, p. 159.
References.—III. 22, 23.—J. Vaughan, Sermons (11th Series), p. 13. III. 23.—T. G. Selby, The Imperfect Angel, p. 64. A. Tucker, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xix. p. 323. III. 24.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. viii. No. 451. III. 27.—W. Brock, Midsummer Morning Sermons, p. 1. J. Thain Davidson, Forewarned —Forearmed, p. 19. III. 39.—H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 2216. III. 57.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxx. No. 1812. IV. 22.—Ibid. vol. viii. No. 480. V. 1.—A. P. Stanley, Sermons on Special Occasions, p. 310.
He hath led me, and brought me into darkness, but not into light.
Surely against me is he turned; he turneth his hand against me all the day.
My flesh and my skin hath he made old; he hath broken my bones.
He hath builded against me, and compassed me with gall and travail.
He hath set me in dark places, as they that be dead of old.
He hath hedged me about, that I cannot get out: he hath made my chain heavy.
Also when I cry and shout, he shutteth out my prayer.
He hath inclosed my ways with hewn stone, he hath made my paths crooked.
He was unto me as a bear lying in wait, and as a lion in secret places.
He hath turned aside my ways, and pulled me in pieces: he hath made me desolate.
He hath bent his bow, and set me as a mark for the arrow.
He hath caused the arrows of his quiver to enter into my reins.
I was a derision to all my people; and their song all the day.
He hath filled me with bitterness, he hath made me drunken with wormwood.
He hath also broken my teeth with gravel stones, he hath covered me with ashes.
And thou hast removed my soul far off from peace: I forgat prosperity.
And I said, My strength and my hope is perished from the LORD:
Remembering mine affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the gall.
My soul hath them still in remembrance, and is humbled in me.
This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope.
It is of the LORD'S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.
They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.
The LORD is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him.
The LORD is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him.
It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD.
It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.
He sitteth alone and keepeth silence, because he hath borne it upon him.
He putteth his mouth in the dust; if so be there may be hope.
He giveth his cheek to him that smiteth him: he is filled full with reproach.
For the Lord will not cast off for ever:
But though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies.
For he doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men.
To crush under his feet all the prisoners of the earth,
To turn aside the right of a man before the face of the most High,
To subvert a man in his cause, the Lord approveth not.
Who is he that saith, and it cometh to pass, when the Lord commandeth it not?
Out of the mouth of the most High proceedeth not evil and good?
Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?
Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the LORD.
Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens.
We have transgressed and have rebelled: thou hast not pardoned.
Thou hast covered with anger, and persecuted us: thou hast slain, thou hast not pitied.
Thou hast covered thyself with a cloud, that our prayer should not pass through.
Thou hast made us as the offscouring and refuse in the midst of the people.
All our enemies have opened their mouths against us.
Fear and a snare is come upon us, desolation and destruction.
Mine eye runneth down with rivers of water for the destruction of the daughter of my people.
Mine eye trickleth down, and ceaseth not, without any intermission,
Till the LORD look down, and behold from heaven.
Mine eye affecteth mine heart because of all the daughters of my city.
Mine enemies chased me sore, like a bird, without cause.
They have cut off my life in the dungeon, and cast a stone upon me.
Waters flowed over mine head; then I said, I am cut off.
I called upon thy name, O LORD, out of the low dungeon.
Thou hast heard my voice: hide not thine ear at my breathing, at my cry.
Thou drewest near in the day that I called upon thee: thou saidst, Fear not.
O Lord, thou hast pleaded the causes of my soul; thou hast redeemed my life.
O LORD, thou hast seen my wrong: judge thou my cause.
Thou hast seen all their vengeance and all their imaginations against me.
Thou hast heard their reproach, O LORD, and all their imaginations against me;
The lips of those that rose up against me, and their device against me all the day.
Behold their sitting down, and their rising up; I am their musick.
Render unto them a recompence, O LORD, according to the work of their hands.
Give them sorrow of heart, thy curse unto them.
Persecute and destroy them in anger from under the heavens of the LORD.