WE can only approach to an understanding of this word. A deep darkness has fallen upon the land. Nature, herself a suffering thing, is used to suffering. But before this spectacle of hideous misunderstanding, cruelty and injustice, she veils herself in darkness, as though to emphasize the sorrowful fact that the only unsympathetic creature when the Son of God was dying, was man, made in God's image. His son. During the hours in which the sun withheld his shining, Christ's soul was clouded as never before in His experience. This is not the first time that depression and sorrow of spirit have laid a heavy hand on Him. He has been always a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He has explored almost with eagerness the darkest corners of human experience, and fought those spiritual enemies [37/38] which try to destroy life with the weapons of discouragement, trepitude and despair. On each occasion--in the wilderness, on the mountain top, in Gethsemane--He has conquered. Now the victories of the past rise up to bless Him and to come to His rescue, as deep waters engulf Him and the flood swallows Him up. For three hours--the kind of hours that must have seemed like centuries--He waited for the storm that bowed his soul to hell to sweep by, trusting that sooner or later the light of heaven would come to His relief. But not until he was on the very verge of death did the clouds break, as a cry that was at once the means and token of his release, a wondering, pained cry, pierced heaven: "My God, my God, why didst Thou forsake Me?" In its presence the human mind at first is shocked--is this a fitting cry for the lips of God's Son?--then baffled; but at last our eyes become accustomed to the gloom that shrouds the mystery and we see a part, only a part, yet enough to make us bow our heads in reverence before it.
This strange exclamation of the dying [38/39] Lord tells us that the purest life is not exempt from the most devastating inner grief, and that spiritual conflict thickens with advancing years. We must not fall into the mistake of thinking that after a while we will fight our way clear, that the toil of the upward climb will cease while life on earth lasts. From first to last we must be warriors; the road winds up the hill all the way, nor is it any mark of displeasure on the part of God toward us if our bitterest experiences come toward the end of our mortal career. Doubt, depression, fear, may hedge us in at any moment and rob us of that joyous freedom that we claim as our Christian heritage. Christ did nothing to merit punishment, but because He entered the human family and lived in accord with God's will He was wounded with our stripes, and the moment of His supreme triumph was a moment of shadows and suffering. Our destiny cannot be essentially different from His, for He is our elder brother. He lived the sample Christian life. It must be quieting to our anxieties when we approach some fresh trouble to remember that He went through it all [39/40] and came out unscathed--nay, came out with the honour and glory that He found lying hidden beneath the shadows which enfolded Him. If toward the close of life joy flies, if we seem to break away from our anchorage and are tossed by seething waves on an untried sea, we shall find consolation in the knowledge that we are sharing Christ's experience, with whom all was well when all seemed lost. The mystery of lives shattered in their prime by disease or disaster is solved by the character of Christ's last experiences.
Sayest thou then to all who will to hearken--
'The saint's star grows not dim,
'But still through clouds that climb and deeps that darken
'Is visible to him,--
'Still when the sunset comes. He taketh order
'To whom the right belongs
'To send His own away across the border
'Silverly and with songs'?
Nay! God prepares His Kings for coronation
Not as might you or I,
And being wondrous, works His preparation
For Kingship wondrously.
 Not always in the triumph of the sainting
That which our hearts expect.
Tearfully, roughly, doubtingly, and fainting,
How many saints elect
Pass out from hence within the lifted curtain;--
Roughly into the smooth.
Doubtfully into the forever certain.
The circumfulgent truth!
Tearfully, tearfully, becoming tearless
When trouble's all but o'er,
Fainting when well they might at last be fearless
Seeing they touch the shore;
Questioning hard by the school unemulous
Where half our questions cease,
Scarcely a bowshot off their beds, and tremulous
Upon the verge of peace;
Head drooping just before the crown is fitted,
Eyes dim at break of day,
Feet walking feebly through the meadows wetted
With April--into May. [Tenebrae, by Archbishop Alexander.]
Those three hours of gloom-bound silence were hours of spiritual conflict. Faith was exercising its highest function, clinging to [41/42] God unaided by any other faculty. As an arm of fire striking across an Egyptian night the releasing cry went forth. It was the final blow in a royal battle.
You and I live our lives only for half they are worth." Man partly is and wholly hopes to be." When Jesus came to live as man, He lived it so thoroughly that he touched it at its farthest boundary. Its heights and its depths were explored so that when He had finished there was nothing left to endure, nothing to discover. His pain, like his joy, is not to be understood because He alone of the human race went through it. We can truly know only what we have gone through: community of experience is necessary for perfect sympathy. During those hours of darkness Christ was in a purgatory of pain--our purgatory into which He, without spot or blemish, entered, cleansing us. "With His stripes we are healed." At that moment the full weight of human sin, sin that was not His own and yet for that very reason all the more His own, pressed His soul down into hell.
Christ was a sin-bearer from the [42/43] beginning. We can see the process dimly. At first as a gentle, spotless child, just waking to consciousness, He saw the small deficiencies in the home life, for there were no characters in the family at Nazareth save His that were not more or less incomplete and faulty. Do you remember the first time you were compelled to look upon the sin of a companion, such a sin as you had not even dreamed of? Oh, the shame, the pain of it! You feel it now as you recall that long distant experience. It seemed as though it were your own sin; it clung to you and denied you; it disturbed your dreams and greeted you in the morning as a mountain of sorrow--you had no idea that the world could be so wicked.
Well, this was what Christ went through, for He was in all points like as we are, actual sin excepted. His was the ordinary experience of life: little by little He came into touch with the vices and crimes of men. Each fresh revelation of shame made Him more truly the Sin-bearer, for so great was His sympathy, so sensitive His love, that each sin rested on His soul as though it [43/44] had been His own. No wonder that He joined the throng at Jordan and was baptized. His delicate conscience had the heaviest burden of all the multitude who sought the Baptist's ministrations. A parent enters into his child's public shame as if it were his own--it is his own, though he is without guilt. The grief of it, the pain of it, is more the father's than the son's. So we can comprehend how Christ gathered into His spotless life the sins of humanity; and the consequence He accepts,--the hiding of God's face. From experience too we understand how the evil-doing of others can disturb our peace with God. Sometimes when a dear one has gone far wrong, night descends and the darkness is impenetrable: all we can do is to trust and wait. Yes, after all, that agonized cry from the Cross is not shrouded in unintelligible mystery, a burden on the shoulders of naked faith: the common human experience, His and ours, leads us a short distance at least toward an understanding of it.
When in penitence for sin our souls are oppressed with a darkness that can change [44/45] wholesome sorrow into a diseased and morbid brooding, or when because of our repeated failures and disappointments we skirt the valley of despair almost ready to give up the fight, our hope is in the present consolation and support of the Sin-bearer. His sympathy abides; He knows the pain of depression--is there any greater?--and comforts us by ministering to our need out of His own victorious, but at the same time suffering experience. From the depths of the abyss He sounded--the abyss of a world's shame--He speaks to us. There is no human grief so deep, no human pain so extreme, that Christ does not speak up to us as from a still more profound experience of suffering. Sympathy never comes from above, always from beneath: it knows the whole story, and more. It is a rock that rises to meet our sinking feet. What surer word of cheer than that which says: "I know it all: have been through it and more. God did not fail me. Nor will He fail you now." It is thus that the Victor's victory is shared with others who are still in the thick of the battle.
 What consolation then, I say, to know that Christ has endured to the very limit, that the world of evil has exhausted itself on Him to no purpose other than its own discomfiture! It has no weapon to wield that He has not shattered, no pain to inflict which He has not conquered by undergoing it, no woe to mete out that He has not enriched Himself from. Christ has stored up a wealth of sympathy commensurate with human need, so that we can afford to wait, at least without dismay or confusion, even in the presence of seeming abandonment. "O Lord, in Thee have I trusted: let me never be confounded."
Let us pray that God will sustain us, console us, rescue us in those hours of depression and loneliness that may be ahead of us. Let us pray for our fellows whose lives are clouded by doubt, perplexity and despair.
O Sacred Head surrounded
By crown of piercing thorn!
O bleeding Head, so wounded,
Reviled and put to scorn!
Death's pallid hue comes o'er Thee,
The glow of life decays,
 Yet angel-hosts adore Thee,
And tremble as they gaze.
I see Thy strength and vigor,
All fading in the strife,
And death with cruel rigor,
Bereaving Thee of life;
O agony and dying!
O love to sinners free!
Jesu, all grace supplying,
Oh, turn Thy face on me.
In this, Thy bitter Passion,
Good Shepherd, think of me
With Thy most sweet compassion,
Unworthy though I be:
Beneath Thy cross abiding
Forever would I rest,
In Thy dear love confiding,
And with Thy presence blest.
Be near when I am dying;
Oh, show Thy cross to me:
And to my succor flying,
Come, Lord, and set me free.
These eyes, new faith receiving,
From Jesus shall not move;
For he, who dies believing,
Dies safely through Thy love.
OUT of the deep have I called unto thee, O Lord: Lord, hear my voice.
O let thine ears consider well the voice of my complaint.
If thou, Lord, wilt be extreme to mark what is done amiss, O Lord, who may abide it?
For there is mercy with thee; therefore shalt thou be feared.
I look for the Lord; my soul doth wait for him; in his word is my trust.
My soul fleeth unto the Lord, before the morning watch; I say, before the morning watch.
O Israel, trust in the Lord; for with the Lord there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption.
And he shall redeem Israel from all his sins.
IN the midst of life we are in death; of whom may we seek for succour, but of thee, O Lord, who for our sins art justly displeased?
Yet, O Lord God most holy, O Lord most mighty, O holy and most merciful Saviour, deliver us not into the bitter pains of eternal death.
Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts; shut not thy merciful ears to our prayer; but spare us, Lord most holy, O God most mighty, O holy and merciful Saviour, thou most worthy Judge eternal, suffer us not, at our last hour, for any pains of death, to fall from thee.