4. The Triumph of Holiness
WE THINK of these words as spoken in the midst of a darkness which covered all the land, and which was but a faint type of that darkness apparent to our Lord, "a darkness which could be felt," the darkness of the sins of the whole world.
In the midst of this He stands sinless, alone. "Of the people there was none with Me." O! marvelous thought, God wearing human flesh, and amid all the millions of mankind Alone!
Much perplexity has been caused by these words of Jesus.
How, we are asked, can He, Who is so holy, say "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?"
How is it that elsewhere in Holy Scripture we are told that He was made a curse for us?
Let us try and meet this difficulty.
Our blessed Master is our representative upon the Cross; He is speaking as the Head of the Catholic Church; He is speaking for His brethren; the sinless for the sinful, the guiltless for the guilty; and if He says, "Why hast Thou forsaken Me?" it is because He has identified Himself with His guilty brethren.
When it is said that our Lord was made a curse for us, it is by the use of a figure of speech in which the penalty, the consequence of sin, is identified as it were with the cause of the penalty.
Our Lord indeed bore the penalty, and it is by a figure of speech that Scripture says He was made a curse for us, because where penalty is, there it is usual to find the curse which deserved the penalty. Nevertheless, He is the sinless one. The curse was ours. The penalty alone was His.
And then there is the great difficulty which comes to people's minds in regard to the whole question of the Atonement.
They wonder how it can be reconciled with the justice of God.
They say, "I could not possibly satisfy my displeasure toward a guilty person by having an innocent person suffer in the place of the guilty. I cannot conceive of myself as being reconciled to those who have been in the wrong because someone else is made to bear the consequences."
Well, that objection arises from an imperfect understanding, first, of the very Nature of God, and then of what God's work was in Redemption.
God is One. There is no antagonism between the Persons of the Holy Trinity. Whatever the Father does, the Son and the Holy Spirit do with Him. Whatever the Son does, the Father and the Holy Spirit do in cooperation with Him. Whatever the Holy Spirit does, in that the Father and the Son are also present, and the relation in which our Lord stands to His Eternal Father is such, that given this, that God was to be made man, it is necessarily the Son of God Who shall be incarnate.
God's Nature being what it is, and the truth of the eternal Trinity, the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit, being what the Church has received and teaches, it is inconceivable that the Father should have taken our flesh or that the Spirit of God should have taken it, because the whole work of the Incarnation and Redemption falls in with the distinctive relation of God the Son to the other Persons of the Holy Trinity.
Just as when God speaks, it is impossible that the Father should be heard except through the Son, Who is the mouthpiece of the Eternal Father, called in scripture the Wisdom of God and the Word of God.
And so whenever Almighty God teaches us (God being what He is in the threefold personality of His own Nature) it is of necessity that He manifest Himself through the sending forth of His Son, Who is His Word; and therefore when the Holy Trinity purposed to redeem man by uniting the nature of man to the Godhead, it was God the Son, necessarily, Who must assume our nature. There is no conflicting will as between the Father and the Son. The Son's will is the Father's will; the Father's will is His.
Again, when we hear this prayer; "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me," we should not think of it as if it meant a separation between the Father and the Son. Our Lord's manhood is here speaking and what His manhood feels is the terrible incongruity between the sin of His guilty brethren and the Divine Nature which He shares with the Father.
It is just as true that our blessed Lord shares with the Father His hatred of sin as it is that the Father shares in the Son's love for penitent sinners and His desire to redeem the world.
So in this saying let us think of the triumph of justice, the triumph of righteousness. Far from involving injustice, the Atonement is itself the triumph of justice.
Let us think of our Blessed Lord on the Cross hating sin as God, sharing perfectly with His Father the hatred of all that contradicts His Divine Nature, and determined to pay to the uttermost what is due from human nature which sinned, to God against Whom the sin is committed.
We must think not only of our Lord's love for the sinner, but of His hatred of sin; and that is brought out constantly in Holy Scripture, as for example in our Lord's stern words of denunciation against some of the churches in the Revelation of St. John; or in the case of others reproof mingled with praise; or His severity when He went into the temple and drove out the sellers and the buyers who profaned His Father's house, and said: "It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer, but ye have made it a den of thieves"; His indignation because of the hardness of men's hearts, in their hypocrisy keeping a strict sabbath and unwilling that He should stretch forth His hand to heal on the sabbath day; His severe denunciation against the Scribes and Pharisees and those who with pretence of keeping the law did not love God.
And the same is brought out in the prophet Isaiah. We seem to see our blessed Master Himself before us carrying out His perfect vindication on the Cross: "I have trodden the wine-press alone, and of the people there was none with Me, for I will tread them in My anger and trample them in My fury; their blood shall be sprinkled on My garments and I will stain all My raiment, for the day of vengeance is in Mine heart." It is to our Lord that we may ascribe the words "My fury," the "day of My vengeance." They witness to our Lord's hatred of sin, to His hatred of the very least sin.
His will that every sin committed, from the first man to the last man who shall live, shall be atoned for, and shall have its punishment, brings Him before us here on the Cross, trampling under foot the sins of all mankind, dyeing His raiment in blood, treading the wine-press alone.
Do you not see then the difference? There is no contradiction between the Father and the Son. The Father's love gave that Son to the world, and so in His love for the Father, the Son carried out that vengeance for sin which Father, Son and Holy Ghost, being God, cannot but feel, and in our Lord's execution of it justice is vindicated.
We are unwilling to suffer for the guilty, but here it is God Himself clothing Himself in our nature, and God Himself executing righteousness and exacting the full measure of justice in the punishment of sin by bearing in man's nature that punishment Himself.
O! the love of God, the wisdom of His plan, the majestic beauty of that sacrifice offered on Calvary!
Under the consideration of this Word, we may think of a trial which falls heavily upon the Church of God, and which perhaps more than any other suffering draws us under the shadow of this mysterious dereliction of our Lord upon the Cross. I mean the loss of outward Communion between the East and the West, and between the rest of the West and ourselves. There are certain parallels between the unfathomable sorrow of our Lord in His dereliction, and the sorrow which has thus fallen upon the members of His Mystical Body, which we may here fittingly consider.
(1) In our Lord's loss of consolation upon the Cross He was deprived of what by reason of the union of His Manhood with the Godhead was His by right. He Who is Light of Light, the Effulgence of the Father's Glory, was left in darkness. (2) The cause of this darkness and of the anguish of our Lord's soul was human sin. (3) Yet great as was the agony of soul expressed in the cry, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" we know that there was no moment's loss of that Personal union which forevermore unites our Lord's Human Nature to the Nature of God.
Now so it is in the sorrow which grows out of the loss of outward Communion between portions of the Catholic body. (1) It is the forfeiture of a joy and consolation which by right should belong to every Catholic, a source of strength in every trouble, a spring of courage and enthusiasm in every work for God. (2) This loss is the result of human sin. It is our Lord's will that we should be one, expressed in His prayer, "That they all may be one; as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us--that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me" (St. John xvii. 21). It is also our Lord's will that no soul should perish: "He would have all men to be saved." It is His will that we should be holy: "Sanctify them through Thy truth." "For their sakes I sanctify Myself." But as human sin may defeat God's purpose for our salvation, as human sin hinders the complete realization of holiness in the Church, so it ought not to surprise us that it should have prevented the perfect realization of unity for which our Lord prayed, having first prayed our sanctification. (3) But sad as this loss is, and humbly as it is to be deplored, we know that it in no way touches the Sacramental life which in spite of such outward estrangement binds all the members of the Mystical Body to Christ their Head, and in Him binds them to each other. For ourselves this knowledge is the result of experience so convincing that could we bring ourselves to doubt it, there would no longer remain in the realm of spiritual experience anything that we could trust.
So let us look to Him, as we bear in the sense of isolation our part of the penance due to sin. While we thank Him that He has not cut us off from the Faith and the Sacraments of His Church, let us not shrink if He calls us to bear some portion of His suffering on the Cross.
Gaze then to-day upon that figure against the background of supernatural darkness; look into that adorable Face and see in Him the purity, the truth, the righteousness of God.
Then look at yourself and see your need of that righteousness, and to-day, with bended knee and bowed head, give thanks to Him who took upon Himself the first and the great penance for our sins, and Who invites us to share in His indignation against all unrighteousness.