In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them. In His love and in His pity He redeemed them; and He bare them and carried them all the days of old.--ISAIAH lxiii. 9.
On this very day, at this very hour, 1817 years ago, hung one nailed to a cross; bruised and bleeding, pierced and naked, dying a felon's death between two thieves; in perfect misery, in utter shame, mocked and insulted by all the great, the rich, the learned of His nation; one who had grown up as a man of low birth, believed by all to be a carpenter's son; without scholarship, money, respectability; even without a home wherein to lay His head--and here was the end of His life! True, He had preached noble words, He had done noble deeds: but what had they helped Him? They had not made the rich, the learned, the respectable, the religious believe on Him; they had not saved Him from persecution, and insult, and death. The only mourners who stood by to weep over His dying agonies were His mother, a poor countrywoman; a young fisherman; and one who had been a harlot and a sinner. There was an end!
Do you know who that Man was? He was your King; the King of rich and poor; and He was your King, not in spite of His suffering all that shame and misery, but just because He suffered it; because He chose to be poor, and miserable, and despised; because He endured the cross, despising the shame; because He took upon Himself to fulfil His Father's will, all ills which flesh is heir to--therefore He is now your King, the Saviour of the world, the poor man's friend, the Lord of heaven and earth. Is He such a King as YOU wish for?
Is He the sort of King you want, my friends? Does He fulfil your notions of what the poor man's friend should be? Do you, in your hearts, wish He had been somewhat richer, more glorious, more successful in the world's eyes--a wealthy and prosperous man, like Solomon of old? Are any of you ready to say, as the money-blinded Jews said, when they demanded their true King to be crucified, "We have no king but Caesar?--Provided the law-makers and the authorities take care of our interests, and protect our property, and do not make us pay too many rates and taxes, that is enough for us." Will you have no king but Caesar? Alas! those who say that, find that the law is but a weak deliverer, too weak to protect them from selfishness, and covetousness, and decent cruelty; and so Caesar and the law have to give place to Mammon, the god of money. Do we not see it in these very days? And Mammon is weak, too. This world is not a shop, men are not merely money-makers and wages-earners. There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in that sort of philosophy. Self-interest and covetousness cannot keep society orderly and peaceful, let sham philosophers say what they will. And then comes tyranny, lawlessness, rich and poor staining their hands in each other's blood, as we saw happen in France two years ago; and so, after all, Mammon has to give place to Moloch, the fiend of murder and cruelty; and woe to rich and poor when he reigns over them! Ay, woe--woe to rich and poor when they choose anyone for their king but their real and rightful Lord and Master, Jesus, the poor man, afflicted in all their afflictions, the Man of sorrows, crucified on this day.
Is He the kind of King you like? Make up your minds, my friends-- make up your minds! For whether you like Him or not, your King He was, your King He is, your King He will be, blessed be God, for ever. Blessed be God, indeed! If He were not our King; if anyone in heaven or earth was Lord of us, except the Man of sorrows, the Prince of sufferers, what hope, what comfort would there be? What a horrible, black, fathomless riddle this sad, diseased, moaning world would be! No king would suit us but the Prince of sufferers--Jesus, who has borne all this world's griefs, and carried all its sorrows--Jesus, who has Himself smarted under pain and hunger, oppression and insult, treachery and desertion, who knows them all, feels for them all, and will right them all, in His own good time.
Believing in Jesus, we can travel on, through one wild parish after another, upon English soil, and see, as I have done, the labourer who tills the land worse housed than the horse he drives, worse clothed than the sheep he shears, worse nourished than the hog he feeds--and yet not despair: for the Prince of sufferers is the labourer's Saviour; He has tasted hunger, and thirst, and weariness, poverty, oppression, and neglect; the very tramp who wanders houseless on the moorside is His brother; in his sufferings the Saviour of the world has shared, when the foxes had holes, and the birds of the air had nests, while the Son of God had not where to lay His head. He is the King of the poor, firstborn among many brethren; His tenderness is Almighty, and for the poor He has prepared deliverance, perhaps in this world, surely in the world to come--boundless deliverance, out of the treasures of His boundless love.
Believing in Jesus, we can pass by mines, and factories, and by dungeons darker and fouler still, in the lanes and alleys of our great towns and cities, where thousands and tens of thousands of starving men, and wan women, and children grown old before their youth, sit toiling and pining in Mammon's prison-house, in worse than Egyptian bondage, to earn such pay as just keeps the broken heart within the worn-out body;--ay, we can go through our great cities, even now, and see the women, whom God intended to be Christian wives and mothers, the slaves of the rich man's greed by day, the playthings of his lust by night--and yet not despair; for we can cry, No! thou proud Mammon, money-making fiend! These are not thine, but Christ's; they belong to Him who died on the cross; and though thou heedest not their sighs, He marks them all, for He has sighed like them; though there be no pity in thee, there is in Him the pity of a man, ay, and the indignation of a God! He treasures up their tears; He understands their sorrows; His judgment of their guilt is not like thine, thou Pharisee! He is their Lord, who said, that to those to whom little was given, of them shall little be required. Generation after generation, they are being made perfect by sufferings, as their Saviour was before them; and then, woe to thee! For even as He led Israel out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and a stretched-out arm, and signs and wonders, great and terrible, so shall He lead the poor out of their misery, and make them households like a flock of sheep; even as He led Israel through the wilderness, tender, forbearing, knowing whereof they were made, having mercy on all their brutalities, and idolatries, murmurings, and backslidings, afflicted in all their afflictions--even while He was punishing them outwardly, as He is punishing the poor man now--even so shall He lead this people out in His good time, into a good land and large, a land of wheat and wine, of milk and honey; a rest which He has prepared for His poor, such as eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive. He can do it; for the Almighty Deliverer is His name. He will do it; for His name is Love. He knows how to do it; for He has borne the griefs, and carried the sorrows of the poor.
Oh, sad hearts and suffering! Anxious and weary ones! Look to the cross this day! There hung your king! The King of sorrowing souls, and more, the King of sorrows. Ay, pain and grief, tyranny and desertion, death and hell, He has faced them one and all, and tried their strength, and taught them His, and conquered them right royally! And, since He hung upon that torturing cross, sorrow is divine, god-like, as joy itself. All that man's fallen nature dreads and despises, God honoured on the cross, and took unto Himself, and blessed, and consecrated for ever. And now, blessed are the poor, if they are poor in heart, as well as purse; for Jesus was poor, and theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the hungry, if they hunger for righteousness as well as food; for Jesus hungered, and they shall be filled. Blessed are those who mourn, if they mourn not only for their afflictions, but for their sins, and for the sins they see around them; for on this day, Jesus mourned for our sins; on this day He was made sin for us, who knew no sin; and they shall be comforted. Blessed are those who are ashamed of themselves, and hate themselves, and humble themselves before God this day; for on this day Jesus humbled Himself for us; and they shall be exalted. Blessed are the forsaken and the despised.--Did not all men forsake Jesus this day, in His hour of need? and why not thee, too, thou poor deserted one? Shall the disciple be above his Master? No; everyone that is perfect, must be like his master. The deeper, the bitterer your loneliness, the more are you like Him, who cried upon the cross, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" He knows what that grief, too, is like. He feels for thee, at least. Though all forsake thee, He is with thee still; and if He be with thee, what matter who has left thee for a while? Ay, blessed are those that weep now, for they shall laugh. It is those whom the Lord loveth that He chasteneth. And because He loves the poor, He brings them low. All things are blessed now, but sin; for all things, excepting sin, are redeemed by the life and death of the Son of God. Blessed are wisdom and courage, joy, and health, and beauty, love and marriage, childhood and manhood, corn and wine, fruits and flowers, for Christ redeemed them by His life. And blessed, too, are tears and shame, blessed are weakness and ugliness, blessed are agony and sickness, blessed the sad remembrance of our sins, and a broken heart, and a repentant spirit. Blessed is death, and blessed the unknown realms, where souls await the resurrection day, for Christ redeemed them by His death. Blessed are all things, weak, as well as strong. Blessed are all days, dark, as well as bright, for all are His, and He is ours; and all are ours, and we are His, for ever.
Therefore sigh on, ye sad ones, and rejoice in your own sadness; ache on, ye suffering ones, and rejoice in your own sorrows. Rejoice that you are made free of the holy brotherhood of mourners, that you may claim your place, too, if you will, among the noble army of martyrs. Rejoice that you are counted worthy of a fellowship in the sufferings of the Son of God. Rejoice and trust on, for after sorrow shall come joy. Trust on; for in man's weakness God's strength shall be made perfect. Trust on, for death is the gate of life. Endure on to the end, and possess your souls in patience for a little while, and that, perhaps, a very little while. Death comes swiftly; and more swiftly still, perhaps, the day of the Lord. The deeper the sorrow, the nearer the salvation:
The night is darkest before the dawn; When the pain is sorest the child is born; And the day of the Lord is at hand.
Ay, if the worst should come; if neither the laws of your country nor the benevolence of the righteous were strong enough to defend you; if one charitable plan after another were to fail; if the labour-market were getting fuller and fuller, and poverty were spreading wider and wider, and crime and misery were breeding faster and still faster every year than education and religion; all hope for the poor seemed gone and lost, and they were ready to believe the men who tell them that the land is over-peopled--that there are too many of us, too many industrious hands, too many cunning brains, too many immortal souls, too many of God's children upon God's earth, which God the Father made, and God the Son redeemed, and God the Holy Spirit teaches: then the Lord, the Prince of sufferers, He who knows your every grief, and weeps with you tear for tear, He would come out of His place to smite the haughty ones, and confound the cunning ones, and silence the loud ones, and empty the full ones; to judge with righteousness for the meek of the earth, to hearken to the prayer of the poor, whose heart he has been preparing, and to help the fatherless and needy to their right, that the man of the world may be no more exalted against them.
In that day men will find out a wonder and miracle. They will see many that are first last, and many that are last first. They will find that there were poor who were the richest after all; the simple who were wisest, and gentle who were bravest, and weak who were strongest; that God's ways are not as men's ways, nor God's thoughts as men's thoughts. Alas, who shall stand when God does this? At least He who will do it is Jesus, who loved us to the death; boundless love and gentleness, boundless generosity and pity; who was tempted even as we are, who has felt our every weakness. In that thought is utter comfort, that our Judge will be He who died and rose again, and is praying for us even now, to His Father and our Father. Therefore fear not, gentle souls, patient souls, pure consciences and tender hearts. Fear not, you who are empty and hungry, who walk in darkness and see no light; for though He fulfil once more, as He has again and again, the awful prophecy before the text; though He tread down the people in His anger, and make them drunk in His fury, and bring their strength to the earth; though kings with their armies may flee, and the stars which light the earth may fall, and there be great tribulation, wars, and rumours of wars, and on earth distress of nations with perplexity--yet it is when the day of His vengeance is at hand, that the year of His redeemed is come. And when they see all these things, let them rejoice and lift up their heads, for their redemption draweth nigh.
Do you ask how I know this? Do you ask for a sign, for a token that these my words are true? I know that they are true. But, as for tokens, I will give you but this one, the sign of that bread and that wine. When the Lord shall have delivered His people out of all their sorrows, they shall eat of that bread and drink of that wine, one and all, in the kingdom of God.