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New Tabernacle Sermons, Vol. 1, sermon 4 - VICARIOUS SUFFERING

By T. De Witt Talmage


      "Without shedding of blood is no remission."--HEB. ix: 22.

      John G. Whittier, the last of the great school of American poets that made the last quarter of a century brilliant, asked me in the White Mountains, one morning after prayers, in which I had given out Cowper's famous hymn about "The Fountain Filled with Blood," "Do you really believe there is a literal application of the blood of Christ to the soul?" My negative reply then is my negative reply now. The Bible statement agrees with all physicians, and all physiologists, and all scientists, in saying that the blood is the life, and in the Christian religion it means simply that Christ's life was given for our life. Hence all this talk of men who say the Bible story of blood is disgusting, and that they don't want what they call a "slaughter-house religion," only shows their incapacity or unwillingness to look through the figure of speech toward the thing signified. The blood that, on the darkest Friday the world ever saw, oozed, or trickled, or poured from the brow, and the side, and the hands, and the feet of the illustrious sufferer, back of Jerusalem, in a few hours coagulated and dried up, and forever disappeared; and if man had depended on the application of the literal blood of Christ, there would not have been a soul saved for the last eighteen centuries.

      In order to understand this red word of my text, we only have to exercise as much common sense in religion as we do in everything else. Pang for pang, hunger for hunger, fatigue for fatigue, tear for tear, blood for blood, life for life, we see every day illustrated. The act of substitution is no novelty, although I hear men talk as though the idea of Christ's suffering substituted for our suffering were something abnormal, something distressingly odd, something wildly eccentric, a solitary episode in the world's history; when I could take you out into this city, and before sundown point you to five hundred cases of substitution and voluntary suffering of one in behalf of another.

      At two o'clock to-morrow afternoon go among the places of business or toil. It will be no difficult thing for you to find men who, by their looks, show you that they are overworked. They are prematurely old. They are hastening rapidly toward their decease. They have gone through crises in business that shattered their nervous system, and pulled on the brain. They have a shortness of breath, and a pain in the back of the head, and at night an insomnia that alarms them. Why are they drudging at business early and late? For fun? No; it would be difficult to extract any amusement out of that exhaustion. Because they are avaricious? In many cases no. Because their own personal expenses are lavish? No; a few hundred dollars would meet all their wants. The simple fact is, the man is enduring all that fatigue and exasperation, and wear and tear, to keep his home prosperous. There is an invisible line reaching from that store, from that bank, from that shop, from that scaffolding, to a quiet scene a few blocks, a few miles away, and there is the secret of that business endurance. He is simply the champion of a homestead, for which he wins bread, and wardrobe, and education, and prosperity, and in such battle ten thousand men fall. Of ten business men whom I bury, nine die of overwork for others. Some sudden disease finds them with no power of resistance, and they are gone. Life for life. Blood for blood. Substitution!

      At one o'clock to-morrow morning, the hour when slumber is most uninterrupted and most profound, walk amid the dwelling-houses of the city. Here and there you will find a dim light, because it is the household custom to keep a subdued light burning: but most of the houses from base to top are as dark as though uninhabited. A merciful God has sent forth the archangel of sleep, and he puts his wings over the city. But yonder is a clear light burning, and outside on the window casement a glass or pitcher containing food for a sick child; the food is set in the fresh air. This is the sixth night that mother has sat up with that sufferer. She has to the last point obeyed the physician's prescription, not giving a drop too much or too little, or a moment too soon or too late. She is very anxious, for she has buried three children with the same disease, and she prays and weeps, each prayer and sob ending with a kiss of the pale cheek. By dint of kindness she gets the little one through the ordeal. After it is all over, the mother is taken down. Brain or nervous fever sets in, and one day she leaves the convalescent child with a mother's blessing, and goes up to join the three in the kingdom of heaven. Life for life. Substitution! The fact is that there are an uncounted number of mothers who, after they have navigated a large family of children through all the diseases of infancy, and got them fairly started up the flowering slope of boyhood and girlhood, have only strength enough left to die. They fade away. Some call it consumption; some call it nervous prostration; some call it intermittent or malarial disposition; but I call it martyrdom of the domestic circle. Life for life. Blood for blood. Substitution!

      Or perhaps the mother lingers long enough to see a son get on the wrong road, and his former kindness becomes rough reply when she expresses anxiety about him. But she goes right on, looking carefully after his apparel, remembering his every birthday with some memento, and when he is brought home worn out with dissipation, nurses him till he gets well and starts him again, and hopes, and expects, and prays, and counsels, and suffers, until her strength gives out and she fails. She is going, and attendants, bending over her pillow, ask her if she has any message to leave, and she makes great effort to say something, but out of three or four minutes of indistinct utterance they can catch but three words: "My poor boy!" The simple fact is she died for him. Life for life. Substitution!

      About twenty-four years ago there went forth from our homes hundreds of thousands of men to do battle for their country. All the poetry of war soon vanished, and left them nothing but the terrible prose. They waded knee-deep in mud. They slept in snow-banks. They marched till their cut feet tracked the earth. They were swindled out of their honest rations, and lived on meat not fit for a dog. They had jaws all fractured, and eyes extinguished, and limbs shot away. Thousands of them cried for water as they lay dying on the field the night after the battle, and got it not. They were homesick, and received no message from their loved ones. They died in barns, in bushes, in ditches, the buzzards of the summer heat the only attendants on their obsequies. No one but the infinite God who knows everything, knows the ten thousandth part of the length, and breadth, and depth, and height of anguish of the Northern and Southern battlefields. Why did these fathers leave their children and go to the front, and why did these young men, postponing the marriage-day, start out into the probabilities of never coming back? For the country they died. Life for life. Blood for blood. Substitution!

      But we need not go so far. What is that monument in Greenwood? It is to the doctors who fell in the Southern epidemics. Why go? Were there not enough sick to be attended in these Northern latitudes? Oh, yes; but the doctor puts a few medical books in his valise, and some vials of medicine, and leaves his patients here in the hands of other physicians, and takes the rail-train. Before he gets to the infected regions he passes crowded rail-trains, regular and extra, taking the flying and affrighted populations. He arrives in a city over which a great horror is brooding. He goes from couch to couch, feeling of pulse and studying symptoms, and prescribing day after day, night after night, until a fellow-physician says: "Doctor, you had better go home and rest; you look miserable." But he can not rest while so many are suffering. On and on, until some morning finds him in a delirium, in which he talks of home, and then rises and says he must go and look after those patients. He is told to lie down; but he fights his attendants until he falls back, and is weaker and weaker, and dies for people with whom he had no kinship, and far away from his own family, and is hastily put away in a stranger's tomb, and only the fifth part of a newspaper line tells us of his sacrifice--his name just mentioned among five. Yet he has touched the furthest height of sublimity in that three weeks of humanitarian service. He goes straight as an arrow to the bosom of Him who said: "I was sick and ye visited Me." Life for life. Blood for blood. Substitution!

      In the legal profession I see the same principle of self-sacrifice. In 1846, William Freeman, a pauperized and idiotic negro, was at Auburn, N.Y., on trial for murder. He had slain the entire Van Nest family. The foaming wrath of the community could be kept off him only by armed constables. Who would volunteer to be his counsel? No attorney wanted to sacrifice his popularity by such an ungrateful task. All were silent save one, a young lawyer with feeble voice, that could hardly be heard outside the bar, pale and thin and awkward. It was William H. Seward, who saw that the prisoner was idiotic and irresponsible, and ought to be put in an asylum rather than put to death, the heroic counsel uttering these beautiful words:

      "I speak now in the hearing of a people who have prejudged prisoner and condemned me for pleading in his behalf. He is a convict, a pauper, a negro, without intellect, sense, or emotion. My child with an affectionate smile disarms my care-worn face of its frown whenever I cross my threshold. The beggar in the street obliges me to give because he says, 'God bless you!' as I pass. My dog caresses me with fondness if I will but smile on him. My horse recognizes me when I fill his manger. What reward, what gratitude, what sympathy and affection can I expect here? There the prisoner sits. Look at him. Look at the assemblage around you. Listen to their ill-suppressed censures and their excited fears, and tell me where among my neighbors or my fellow-men, where, even in his heart, I can expect to find a sentiment, a thought, not to say of reward or of acknowledgment, or even of recognition? Gentlemen, you may think of this evidence what you please, bring in what verdict you can, but I asseverate before Heaven and you, that, to the best of my knowledge and belief, the prisoner at the bar does not at this moment know why it is that my shadow falls on you instead of his own."

      The gallows got its victim, but the post-mortem examination of the poor creature showed to all the surgeons and to all the world that the public were wrong, and William H. Seward was right, and that hard, stony step of obloquy in the Auburn court-room was the first step of the stairs of fame up which he went to the top, or to within one step of the top, that last denied him through the treachery of American politics. Nothing sublimer was ever seen in an American court-room than William H. Seward, without reward, standing between the fury of the populace and the loathsome imbecile. Substitution!

      In the realm of the fine arts there was as remarkable an instance. A brilliant but hypercriticised painter, Joseph William Turner, was met by a volley of abuse from all the art galleries of Europe. His paintings, which have since won the applause of all civilized nations, "The Fifth Plague of Egypt," "Fishermen on a Lee Shore in Squally Weather," "Calais Pier," "The Sun Rising Through Mist," and "Dido Building Carthage," were then targets for critics to shoot at. In defense of this outrageously abused man, a young author of twenty-four years, just one year out of college, came forth with his pen, and wrote the ablest and most famous essays on art that the world ever saw, or ever will see--John Ruskin's "Modern Painters." For seventeen years this author fought the battles of the maltreated artist, and after, in poverty and broken-heartedness, the painter had died, and the public tried to undo their cruelties toward him by giving him a big funeral and burial at St. Paul's Cathedral, his old-time friend took out of a tin box nineteen thousand pieces of paper containing drawings by the old painter, and through many weary and uncompensated months assorted and arranged them for public observation. People say John Ruskin in his old days is cross, misanthropic, and morbid. Whatever he may do that he ought not to do, and whatever he may say that he ought not to say between now and his death, he will leave this world insolvent as far as it has any capacity to pay this author's pen for its chivalric and Christian defense of a poor painter's pencil. John Ruskin for William Turner. Blood for blood. Substitution!

      What an exalting principle this which leads one to suffer for another! Nothing so kindles enthusiasm or awakens eloquence, or chimes poetic canto, or moves nations. The principle is the dominant one in our religion--Christ the Martyr, Christ the celestial Hero, Christ the Defender, Christ the Substitute. No new principle, for it was as old as human nature; but now on a grander, wider, higher, deeper, and more world-resounding scale! The shepherd boy as a champion for Israel with a sling toppled the giant of Philistine braggadocio in the dust; but here is another David who, for all the armies of churches militant and triumphant, hurls the Goliath of perdition into defeat, the crash of his brazen armor like an explosion at Hell Gate. Abraham had at God's command agreed to sacrifice his son Isaac, and the same God just in time had provided a ram of the thicket as a substitute; but here is another Isaac bound to the altar, and no hand arrests the sharp edges of laceration and death, and the universe shivers and quakes and recoils and groans at the horror.

      All good men have for centuries been trying to tell whom this Substitute was like, and every comparison, inspired and uninspired, evangelistic, prophetic, apostolic, and human, falls short, for Christ was the Great Unlike. Adam a type of Christ, because he came directly from God; Noah a type of Christ, because he delivered his own family from deluge; Melchisedec a type of Christ, because he had no predecessor or successor; Joseph a type of Christ, because he was cast out by his brethren; Moses a type of Christ, because he was a deliverer from bondage; Joshua a type of Christ, because he was a conqueror; Samson a type of Christ, because of his strength to slay the lions and carry off the iron gates of impossibility; Solomon a type of Christ, in the affluence of his dominion; Jonah a type of Christ, because of the stormy sea in which he threw himself for the rescue of others; but put together Adam and Noah and Melchisedec and Joseph and Moses and Joshua and Samson and Solomon and Jonah, and they would not make a fragment of a Christ, a quarter of a Christ, the half of a Christ, or the millionth part of a Christ.

      He forsook a throne and sat down on His own footstool. He came from the top of glory to the bottom of humiliation, and changed a circumference seraphic for a circumference diabolic. Once waited on by angels, now hissed at by brigands. From afar and high up He came down; past meteors swifter than they; by starry thrones, Himself more lustrous; past larger worlds to smaller worlds; down stairs of firmaments, and from cloud to cloud, and through tree-tops and into the earners stall, to thrust His shoulder under our burdens and take the lances of pain through His vitals, and wrapped himself in all the agonies which we deserve for our misdoings, and stood on the splitting decks of a foundering vessel, amid the drenching surf of the sea, and passed midnights on the mountains amid wild beasts of prey, and stood at the point where all earthly and infernal hostilities charged on Him at once with their keen sabers--our Substitute!

      When did attorney ever endure so much for a pauper client, or physician for the patient in the lazaretto, or mother for the child in membranous croup, as Christ for us, and Christ for you, and Christ for me? Shall any man or woman or child in this audience who has ever suffered for another find it hard to understand this Christly suffering for us? Shall those whose sympathies have been wrung in behalf of the unfortunate have no appreciation of that one moment which was lifted out of all the ages of eternity as most conspicuous, when Christ gathered up all the sins of those to be redeemed under His one arm, and all their sorrows under His other arm, and said: "I will atone for these under my right arm, and will heal all those under my left arm. Strike me with all thy glittering shafts, O Eternal Justice! Roll over me with all thy surges, ye oceans of sorrow"? And the thunderbolts struck Him from above, and the seas of trouble rolled up from beneath, hurricane after hurricane, and cyclone after cyclone, and then and there in presence of heaven and earth and hell, yea, all worlds witnessing, the price, the bitter price, the transcendent price, the awful price, the glorious price, the infinite price, the eternal price, was paid that sets us free.

      That is what Paul means, that is what I mean, that is what all those who have ever had their heart changed mean by "blood." I glory in this religion of blood! I am thrilled as I see the suggestive color in sacramental cup, whether it be of burnished silver set on cloth immaculately white, or rough-hewn from wood set on table in log-hut meeting-house of the wilderness. Now I am thrilled as I see the altars of ancient sacrifice crimson with the blood of the slain lamb, and Leviticus is to me not so much the Old Testament as the New. Now I see why the destroying angel passing over Egypt in the night spared all those houses that had blood sprinkled on their door-posts. Now I know what Isaiah means when he speaks of "one in red apparel coming with dyed garments from Bozrah;" and whom the Apocalypse means when it describes a heavenly chieftain whose "vesture was dipped in blood;" and what Peter, the apostle, means when he speaks of the "precious blood that cleanseth from all sin;" and what the old, worn-out, decrepit missionary Paul means when, in my text, he cries, "Without shedding of blood is no remission." By that blood you and I will be saved--or never saved at all. In all the ages of the world God has not once pardoned a single sin except through the Saviour's expiation, and He never will. Glory be to God that the hill back of Jerusalem was the battle-field on which Christ achieved our liberty!

      The most exciting and overpowering day of last summer was the day I spent on the battle-field of Waterloo. Starting out with the morning train from Brussels, Belgium, we arrived in about an hour on that famous spot. A son of one who was in the battle, and who had heard from his father a thousand times the whole scene recited, accompanied us over the field. There stood the old Hougomont Chateau, the walls dented, and scratched, and broken, and shattered by grape-shot and cannon-ball. There is the well in which three hundred dying and dead were pitched. There is the chapel with the head of the infant Christ shot off. There are the gates at which, for many hours, English and French armies wrestled. Yonder were the one hundred and sixty guns of the English, and the two hundred and fifty guns of the French. Yonder the Hanoverian Hussars fled for the woods. Yonder was the ravine of Ohain, where the French cavalry, not knowing there was a hollow in the ground, rolled over and down, troop after troop, tumbling into one awful mass of suffering, hoof of kicking horses against brow and breast of captains and colonels and private soldiers, the human and the beastly groan kept up until, the day after, all was shoveled under because of the malodor arising in that hot month of June.

      "There," said our guide, "the Highland regiments lay down on their faces waiting for the moment to spring upon the foe. In that orchard twenty-five hundred men were cut to pieces. Here stood Wellington with white lips, and up that knoll rode Marshal Ney on his sixth horse, five having been shot under him. Here the ranks of the French broke, and Marshal Ney, with his boot slashed of a sword, and his hat off, and his face covered with powder and blood, tried to rally his troops as he cried: 'Come and see how a marshal of French dies on the battle-field.' From yonder direction Grouchy was expected for the French re-enforcement, but he came not. Around those woods Blucher was looked for to re-enforce the English, and just in time he came up. Yonder is the field where Napoleon stood, his arm through the reins of the horse's bridle, dazed and insane, trying to go back." Scene of a battle that went on from twenty-five minutes to twelve o'clock, on the eighteenth of June, until four o'clock, when the English seemed defeated, and their commander cried out; "Boys, can you think of giving way? Remember old England!" and the tides turned, and at eight o'clock in the evening the man of destiny, who was called by his troops Old Two Hundred Thousand, turned away with broken heart, and the fate of centuries was decided.

      No wonder a great mound has been reared there, hundreds of feet high--a mound at the expense of millions of dollars and many years in rising, and on the top is the great Belgian lion of bronze, and a grand old lion it is. But our great Waterloo was in Palestine. There came a day when all hell rode up, led by Apollyon, and the Captain of our salvation confronted them alone. The Rider on the white horse of the Apocalypse going out against the black horse cavalry of death, and the battalions of the demoniac, and the myrmidons of darkness. From twelve o'clock at noon to three o'clock in the afternoon the greatest battle of the universe went on. Eternal destinies were being decided. All the arrows of hell pierced our Chieftain, and the battle-axes struck Him, until brow and cheek and shoulder and hand and foot were incarnadined with oozing life; but He fought on until He gave a final stroke with sword from Jehovah's buckler, and the commander-in-chief of hell and all his forces fell back in everlasting ruin, and the victory is ours. And on the mound that celebrates the triumph we plant this day two figures, not in bronze or iron or sculptured marble, but two figures of living light, the Lion of Judah's tribe and the Lamb that was slain.

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