By Clovis G. Chappell
"That I may know . . . the fellowship of His sufferings." Weymouth gives this translation: "I long to share His sufferings." Paul is here leading us into the very innermost sanctuary of his heart. He is revealing to us the supreme passion of his life. He is letting us know what is his one great ambition. "I long," he says. And knowing what a mighty man he was we lean eagerly forward that we may hear the word that comes from his lips. For we are keen to know what is the dearest desire of this brave heart.
And as we listen this is the perplexing word that comes to us: "I long to share in His sufferings." How startlingly strange that longing is. We are half ready to wonder if we have heard aright. And when we realize that we have, we instinctively think of the words of the Roman governor, Festus: "Paul, thou art beside thyself. Much learning doth make thee mad." We wonder if Festus was not right after all. Isn't Paul a bit insane?
"I long to share in His suffering." It sounds like madness to many of us because it is so foreign to our own deepest desires. Had Paul said, "I long for a place of honor; I long that my presence should elicit the applause of the world and call forth the crowns of the world"; had he said this, we could easily have understood him. Had he expressed a longing for a place in the hall of fame, had he said, "My one desire is that the world shall keep sacred my memory," he would have been easily understood by us. We would have said "This is very natural and very human." But that is not what he says. This is his strange language: "I long to share in Christ's sufferings."
Had Paul said that he longed to escape pain and anguish and sorrow we might also have understood him. Had he said, "I long to escape the penalty of sin even though I live in sin," many of us could have appreciated this desire. For there are always those who, while they do not yearn especially for deliverance from sin, do yearn to be saved from its penalty. They do not desire to be saved from the sowing of tares, but they want to be saved from the reaping of the harvest. They do not pray for deliverance from the broad road, but they desire that this broad road terminate at the gate of Heaven instead of at the gate of destruction. Had this man said that he desired to escape hell everybody could have sympathized with him. But that is not his desire.
What he said was entirely different. "I long," he says, "to share in the sufferings of Christ; I long to weep as He wept; I long to sympathize as He sympathized; I long to travel life by His road; I long to pass through His Gethsemane and to climb His Calvary and to share in my finite way in His Cross." It is an amazing desire. What is its secret?
Why could Paul truly say such a word as this? In the first place, he could not say it because it was natural for him. There had been a time when he had given utterance to such a statement it would have been grossly false. When Paul rode out from Jerusalem on his way to Damascus, for instance, he longed for anything else more than he longed to share in the sufferings of Christ. It required a marvelous change. It required an absolute transformation to bring Paul to the place where he was able to give utterance to this high and heroic sentiment. He was not possessed of such a longing by nature.
Nor did Paul long to share in the sufferings of Christ because he looked upon these sufferings as trivial. Few men have ever understood the sufferings of Christ as did Paul. He had an appreciation of their intensity and of their bitterness far beyond most other men. He understood as few have ever understood the physical agonies of the Cross. Paul was a great physical sufferer himself.
But he knew what we sometimes forget, that infinitely the deepest pain of Jesus was not physical. Had there been nothing involved in His crucifixion but physical agony then we are forced to acknowledge that many of His followers have endured the same kind of pain with a fortitude to which He was a stranger. His agony was from another source. He suffered because He was made "to be sin for us, who knew no sin." He suffered in that "he was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities." It was this fact that wrung from Him that bitterest of all cries, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"
Nor did Paul possess this desire because he longed for pain in itself. Paul was not a calloused soul. Few men have ever been more sensitive to pain. He had no more fondness for being shipwrecked than you and I have. He had no more pleasure in being stoned, in being publicly whipped, in being thrown into dark dungeons and stenchful prison cells than you and I have. He no more delighted in being ridiculed and ostracized than you and I would delight in these things. Paul took no more pleasure in hunger and cold, in peril and nakedness, in agony and tears than you and I would take in them.
Yet we find him longing to share in the sufferings of Christ. Why did he long for this strange privilege? There are two reasons. He longed to share in Christ's sufferings, first, because he genuinely and passionately loved Christ. If you have ever at any time truly loved anybody you will be able to understand this longing of Saint Paul. It is the nature of love to always seek either to spare or to share the pain of the loved one.
One of the sweetest stories in our American literature, I think, is that of "The Wife" told by Washington Irving. You remember it. It has been re-enacted a thousand times over. A man of wealth has lost his fortune. He is heart-broken over it, not on his own account but on account of his wife. She has been tenderly nurtured. He is sure that poverty will break her heart. But he has to tell her. The lovely home in the city must be given up. They must move to a cottage in the country. He enters upon the hard ordeal. It is his Gethsemane. But to his utter amazement he finds his wife more joyous, more genuinely happy in the midst of this trying experience than he has ever known her to be before. What is the secret? She is in love with her husband and loving him, it is her keenest joy to be able to share his sorrow with him.
The wife of the southern poet, Sidney Lanier, was just such a one as Irving's heroine. You will recall what a long hard fight Lanier had with sickness and poverty and what a tower of strength through it all was the gentle and tender woman who loved him.
"In the heart of the Hills of Life, I know Two springs that with unbroken flow Forever pour their lucent streams Into my soul's far Lake of Dreams.
Not larger than two eyes, they lie, Beneath the many-changing sky And mirror all of life and time, --Serene and dainty pantomime.
Shot through with lights of stars and dawns, And shadowed sweet by ferns and fawns, --Thus heaven and earth together vie Their shining depth to sanctify.
Always when the large Form of Love Is hid by storms that rage above, I gaze in my two springs and see Love in his very verity.
O Love, O Wife, thine eyes are they,
My springs from out whose shining gray
Issue the sweet celestial streams
That feed my life's bright Lake of Dreams.
Oval and large and passion-pure
And gray and wise and honor-sure;
Soft as a dying violet-breath
Yet calmly unafraid of death.
Dear eyes, dear eyes and rare complete-- Being heavenly-sweet and earthly-sweet, --I marvel that God made you mine, For when He frowns, 'tis then ye shine!"
Now, what was there in the seeming frown of God to make the eyes of love shine? It was just this: they were alight with the joy that comes when love is privileged to share the pain of the beloved.
I heard a grizzled old soldier who was an officer in the Civil War tell of a raw recruit who came into his regiment. This recruit was awkward and uncouth and unattractive. He seemed to be little more than an incarnate blunder. He would stumble and fall down over his own musket. Naturally he was the butt of many jokes. He was the laughing stock of all his comrades. But this officer said that he tried to befriend him. But if the uncouth fellow appreciated his efforts to help him he never said so. He seemed as awkward in expressing himself as he was in all other respects.
"One night," said this officer, "we were sleeping without tents and it was bitter cold. I shivered under my blanket till I went to sleep. When I waked in the morning, however, I was warm. Then I noticed, to my astonishment, that I was sleeping under two blankets instead of one. I looked about me for an explanation. A little way off was this gawky, green, uncouth soldier striding back and forth with the snow pelting him in the face. He was waving his thin arms as he walked to keep from freezing to death. That soldier died a few days later. He died from the exposure of that night. But a smile was on his face as I sat beside him." Now, why did the soldier smile? You know. He was rejoicing that he was able to spare and to share the suffering of his friend.
"I long to share in His sufferings." That is the language of love. To one who does not know love it will forever be a mystery. But to the lover it is easily comprehensible. Any real mother can understand it. Down in Tennessee a few years ago a mother was out riding with her little boy. The horse took fright and ran away. The buggy was wrecked. The mother escaped without injury. But the little lad was so crippled that he was never able to sit up again.
Now, before this tragic accident the mother of this little wounded boy had been very active in the life of her Church and community. But with the coming of this great sorrow she had to give up all outside work. She gave herself instead night and day to the nursing of her boy. At times she would hold the little fellow in her arms for almost the whole night through. At last, after three years, the angel of release came and the patient sufferer went home. And there were those in the community who said, "I know that his mother will grieve. Yet his home-going must be a bit of a relief."
But what said the mother when the minister went to see her? She met the preacher at the door and as love's sweet rain ran down her face she did not say anything about being relieved at all. But this is what she said: "Oh, Brother, my little boy is gone and I can't get to do anything for him any more." Why, it was the grief of her heart that the little fellow had gone out beyond the reach of her hand where she could no longer have the joy of offering herself a living sacrifice upon the altar of his need. She longed to continually share in his suffering.
So Paul wanted to share in the sufferings of Christ because he loved Christ. Then he wanted to share in the sufferings of Christ, in the second place, because he knew that suffering was involved in being like Christ. You may suffer and yet be un-Christlike, but no man can be Christlike and fail to suffer. If you ever, by the grace of God, become a partaker of the divine nature you must also inevitably become a partaker of His sufferings.
To be Christlike is to suffer for the very simple reason that Christ cannot be what He is and fail to suffer in and for a world like ours. What is the nature of Christ? Christ is like God. Christ is God. "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father." But what is God? There are many definitions. There is only one all comprehensive and all inclusive definition. That is that sentence of pure gold that fell from the lips of the apostle that leaned upon the bosom of his Lord. "What is God?" I ask this man who had such a wonderful knowledge of Him. And he answers, "God is love."
Now since God is love He must suffer. He cannot look upon the lost and ruined of this world without grief. He cannot behold the tragic quarrel of man with Himself without taking it to heart. There is nothing more true nor, in the deepest sense, more reasonable than this tender sentence: "In all their afflictions He was afflicted." Our afflictions must afflict Him because "His nature and His name is love."
J. Wilbur Chapman tells how he one night explored the slums of New York with Sam Hadley. About one o'clock in the morning they separated to go to their own homes. Dr. Chapman said he had not gone far before he heard Mr. Hadley saying, "Oh! Oh! Oh!" And he looked back to see his friend wringing his hands in deepest agony. He hurried to his side thinking that he had been taken suddenly ill. "What is the matter?" he asked. And the great mission worker turned his pain-pinched face back toward the slums out of which they had come and said, "Oh, the sin! Oh, the heartache! Oh, the wretchedness! It will break my heart. It has broken my heart."
Now, just as Christ cannot be Christ and not suffer in a world like ours, so He cannot be Himself and fail to make a sacrificial effort to save this world. What says the gem of the Gospel? "God so loved the world that He gave." What was the song that abidingly made Paul's heart to pulsate with heavenly hallelujahs? Just this: "He loved me and gave Himself for me." Love grieves. It does more. It serves. Love beholds the city and weeps over it. But it is not satisfied with that. It also goes to the Cross for that city over which it weeps. Sam Hadley wrings his hands in grief over the wretched in New York's slums, but he does more. He goes to their rescue.
So when Paul said, "I long to share His sufferings" he meant, "I long to be, in the truest sense, like Him. I long to see the world through His eyes. I long to feel toward men as Christ feels toward them. I long to sacrifice for them in my finite way as He sacrificed for them." And what was the outcome of this longing? There are some ambitions that God cannot gratify. To do so would only mean our impoverishment and our ruin. But such is not the case here. God graciously granted the satisfying of this longing of Saint Paul.
Listen to the testimony to the truth of that fact from his own lips. "I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live. Yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." Again he says, "For to me to live is Christ." That is, "For to me to live is to reproduce Christ. For to me to live is for Christ to live over again in me." In a most profound and vital sense he has come to share in the divine nature.
Having come to share in the divine nature he is privileged also to share in His sufferings. His ministry is a daily dying. He is a man of great heaviness and continual sorrow. The secret of his pain is this: "I fill up that which is behind of the sufferings of Christ in my body." In sharing thus his Master's sufferings he shared with him in His work of bringing salvation to men. To-day we could better spare many a nation than we could spare this one single man.
And now we are going to gather about this altar where we shall remember together the suffering love of Jesus Christ. As we take the bread and wine we are going to be reminded of the broken body and shed blood of our Lord. And I trust that as we think upon His love and upon His sacrifice for ourselves we shall come to be possessed with the holy longing of this great apostle. May we too be able to say, "I long to share in His suffering." This high longing is possible for every one of us through the riches of His grace. And it is possible in no other way. Therefore, let us gather round this table with this song within our hearts:
"Thy nature, gracious Lord, impart; Come quickly from above, Write thy new name upon my heart, Thy new, best name of Love."