Herman Witsius on the death of Christ

7 09 2008

[Excerpt from Sacred Dissertations on the Apostles’ Creed, Volume II]

“O what stony, what adamantine hearts must we have, who can write, and read, and hear, and think of all these sufferings [of Jesus Christ] without being dissolved into sorrow, without melting into sighs and tears! When the history of Abel cruelly murdered by his brother Cain, or that of Joseph sold by his brethren, or that of David fleeing from Absalom, or that of a worthy martyr singing praises to Christ amidst horrible tortures, or when even a skillfully composed tragedy representing a scene of fictitious distress, is exhibited to our view, we sometimes feel ourselves so much affected that it is with difficulty we can restrain our tears. And shall we not be so moved by the unutterable agonies of Christ, our Brother, our Husband, our Lord and our God, — agonies which, although perfectly innocent, he so cheerfully sustained on account of our sins, from a principle of unbounded love to our souls — shall we not at least be so moved by these agonies, as sincerely to deplore them, and to burn with holy revenge against his enemies!

I do not require you, however, Christian, to be touched with that natural commiseration towards Christ, with which common humanity teaches us to regard the children of adversity. Christ himself forbade the daughters of Jerusalem to indulge in wailing and lamentation of that sort. And without doubt, it is far more unbecoming now, when, having emerged from all his distresses, and having perfected the work of our salvation, he enjoys his glorious reward in the highest heavens.

Nor would I have you to indulge your indignation against the Jews in the same way with Clovis, King of the Franks, of whom it is said, that when he had heard the Bishop of Rheims recite the history of our Lord’s passion, he exclaimed; ‘Had I been there with my Franks, I should soon have dispatched that impious rabble.’ Divine justice inflicts sufficient punishment on that wretched nation, which, after so many myriads of them had been miserably slain, and after their land had been smitten with a curse, have wandered for so many ages, having no certain habitation, exiles from their own country, rejected by God and despised by men, enduring that wrath which comes upon them to the uttermost; until, when the fulness of the Gentiles is brought in, they also shall at last through Jesus obtain eternal salvation and happiness.

It is better, deeply to lament thy sins, by which thou wast the author and cause of all the agonies of Christ; such is the effect of the Spirit of grace. It is better, that contemplating in Christ as in a glass, the punishments due to thy transgressions, thou shouldst be filled with amazement, and confess that thou, even thou, deservest to be torn in soul as well as in body by the strokes of Divine justice; — to be finally expelled, bearing thine own sin, from the society of the godly, whom thou hast so often offended by ill-advised words and deeds, and from the city of God, the heavenly Jerusalem, the general assembly and church of the elect, whose names are written in heaven; — to be divested of all your garments, covered with nothing but shame and disgrace, and made a mocking-stock to men and devils; — to be esteemed a candidate for the cursed cross; — to be treated by all with every species of indignity, and, amidst the pains of death, to receive no refreshing draught, no consolation whatever; — to be constantly surrounded with a band of devils and guarded for eternal torments; — in fine, fully to experience the whole bitterness of every kind of death without end and without intermission. Consider this, mourn and lament.

It is better for thee, finally, to be inflamed with a holy desire of revenge against thy sins, and to repay them the same severities which they inflicted upon Jesus. Keep under the body of sin, and suffer not the old man to riot in wantonness, or indulge in pride. Expel him from thy house and from thy soul, as an abandoned criminal, and a despicable slave. Divest him of every plea for protection, and nail him to the cross of your Lord, to perish dolefully there; for by virtue of that cross, you ought to ‘be crucified to the world, and the world to you.’ Be assiduous in subduing this monster, and cease not till you have taken amply vengeance upon him, having ‘mortified your members which are upon the earth.’ Happy the man who is so ‘planted together with Christ in the likeness of his death, as to be planted together with him also in the likeness of his resurrection.'”

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