AFTER our Saviour had commended His mother to His friend, the beloved disciple led her away. Jesus wished to have her removed from the harrowing sights and sounds; yet a new loneliness beat in upon His soul when she had gone. The very fact that He had seen her fortitude, made His desolation the more poignant when the incident was over. Then, about mid-day, the black clouds swept up the sky, and the earth grew cheerless and dim. The air was ominous with gloom, as when men await the shock of a mighty storm. This darkness is generally interpreted as the sympathy of nature with the Son of God. That is poetic and beautiful; but there is a profounder meaning in the black clouds of Good Friday. We must think how this gloom in nature must have affected the sensitiveness of Christ. When we are heavy-hearted we know that it helps us to have the sun shine: Jesus Christ must have responded to the sunshine even as we. So when to all the woes of Good Friday the sun hid his face and the earth grew dark, the spirit of Jesus must have sunk lower still. The blackness of an awful night was closing in upon His soul. He felt the sting of a terrible loneliness. Did even God care? "My God, my God," He cried, "why hast thou forsaken me?"
In the effort to extract from these words a theological meaning, their natural force has often been lost. They have a theological meaning, and I shall come to that later; but think now of the meaning which lies close to the surface.
I remember that one day when I went to see a man of strong faith who suddenly met overwhelming sorrow, he looked me straight in the eye, and said with a sob, "I doubt everything." I knew that his faith would come back. But I knew also that, for that black moment, his soul was in the nethermost hell. It was the moment when God did not seem to care--or, he wondered, was there a God at all? Perhaps almost every one who has gone through deep waters meets that stifling doubt. It may last but the twinkling of an eye, but all eternity seems to pass in that flash. That is the loneliness unspeakable. The King of men met that supreme doubt.
And this is not all. Jesus Christ was lonely in a way in which none of us can be lonely. We get a taste of loneliness when, as children, we are first sent away from home. Children, the first days at some distant school, suffer intensely. To pick up a trinket which is associated with the dear father or mother is to awaken thoughts too deep for tears. Then, when maturity comes, and the man starts on his work, the work takes the soul through desolate regions--regions of experiment, anxiety, failure. One feels oneself all alone, and the universe seems pitted against the feeble struggler. As the lump rises in the throat of the homesick child, so the desolation of all that is human tears at the heartstrings. Earthly fathers send their children out into the world, that the children may learn to stand alone, and at last do a full share of the world's work. So the Father in Heaven sent His only Son into the world to do a work which was altogether new. No one had ever passed that way before. The sights and sounds were gruesome, because all was unfamiliar. It was a loneliness transcending the loneliness of grief, transcending the loneliness of all human effort. It was the loneliness of the King of Kings suffering for His people.
So we come to ask the theological meaning of the agonizing cry, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" That is a shabby theology which tries to reduce the problem to a sum in arithmetic; and to say that because man had infinitely sinned, so God's justice required an infinite punishment, therefore because men could not pay the bill, the Son of God paid it for them, and God was appeased. Jesus Christ did higher and better things for us than that. He did not do things for us. He did them with us, in us.
Let us think again of the Cross as the Throne of the world, and of the Crucified Saviour as the King of Kings. It is characteristic of any king who has the kingly instinct that he speaks of the people whom he governs as his people. If any woe befalls them, it befalls him. The real king is, like David, a shepherd. He shares the life of his flock. It is not his living which they provide, but his life. Some rulers are thieves and robbers; the real ruler is so lost in the life of his people that all he has is theirs. David, Alfred, William of Orange, Lincoln, suggest what a ruler can be. Even so we get but broken lights of the ideal which became real in the life of Jesus Christ, the King of all.
As Jesus Christ looked about the world, as He went upon His task, He was gathering to Himself mankind. He gave the man who had never dared to tolerate himself the courage to believe in himself. Was it because Jesus was kind to him? Yes; but it was more than that. It was because this spotless Master made him know that he was in Christ and Christ was in him. Was the man a leper? Had people fled from him ever since the ghastly sickness fell on him? Was he cut off from humanity? Yes, but when Jesus came his way, He touched him. With electric swiftness the man felt the life of Jesus enter his sick soul, and into the health of Jesus came the pain of the lost and dreary years. It is no mechanical doctrine which I am telling you; but a story of the most real life, which you can read in the straight accounts of your New Testaments. Jesus Christ identified Himself completely with humanity.
He counted up no risks, real as the risks were. He had no selfish shrinking from what was foul and loathsome, though none as He hated uncleanness. It was the love passing all human dreams which made Him long to fuse His life with the life of humanity, so that ever since, humanity has been Christ, and Christ is humanity.
With this in mind, think again of the loneliest cry which ever passed human lips, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Who was the "me"? Not one poor sufferer, call Him what you will, either man or God. No; the "me" of this sobbing appeal was humanity in Christ. Even dying, Jesus allowed Himself no luxury of virtue uncontaminated. All the despair gathered about the Cross was the result of human failure and sin. The crimes, the injustices, the basenesses of Judea, of Rome, of the whole earth, saw their climax in the Cross. Christ, in spite of the world's badness, had loved it. He came to the world for the express purpose of loving it, even to the death--for His own sake and for His Father's sake. He had lost Himself in the world. He knew no boundary line where the vile world stopped and His spotless life began. They were one. He had given all. He had poured all His divine nature into the seething cauldron of humanity. He, the mightiest, had given omnipotence. Now, hear the cry again:
"My God, my God, hast thou forsaken me? Have I failed?"--that was His woe. Everything had been done which could be done. If Love like His would not help, then the world was lost for ever. No other appeal could be made. The topmost pitch of God's Love had been sounded. The cry came not only from the heart of the human Jesus, but from the heart of God. Had God, the Omnipotent, made a mistake in giving men their freedom? Would men ultimately persist in refusing Love and Joy? The doubt of the universe echoed in the cry. Earth and heaven were at stake. All human doubts and fears were as summer breezes compared with the crash of that wind, which seemed to be blowing the world to atoms.
Thus gaze upon the King on His throne! Never was such love on land or sea. He was lonely as we are lonely; only the loneliness swept by that little goal, and was lost in the unmeasured reaches of space. He was lonely for us. He might have failed; for Himself He cared not. His agony was that his failure meant our failure. Behold, what Love has been poured out for us. Never mother wept for her child, as Jesus our King wept for us, when He feared that we were lost. May we never forget that Love. With our lives may we thank Him for it. May we learn to love Him with all our minds, with all our hearts, with all our souls, with all our strength. At last may we love Him as He has loved us.