Rev. Alexander Stewart, Cromarty
This sermon is taken from The Free Presbyterian Magazine, Vol 30. It comes originally from a small volume entitled Sermons for Sabbath Evenings (Edinburgh, 1848) and has the following prefatory note: “It is proper to state that this sermon was not prepared or designed for publication by Mr Stewart. It was preached by him in Canonmills Hall, by appointment of the General Assembly, and taken down by a hearer. It will be found, however, even under such disadvantages, an admirable discourse, and not unworthy of its eminent and lamented author.” Editor
Text: He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied. Isaiah 53:11
IT was predicted from the beginning that the Saviour of sinners should be a suffering Saviour. This prediction is amply reiterated by the prophet Isaiah; but the distinguishing characteristic of this chapter is that it is one of the earliest, if not the first, and it is certainly one of the clearest passages, in which it is declared that His sufferings should be vicarious, that is, in the room and stead of sinners.
It is to Christs sufferings that reference, then, is made by these words in the text: “the travail of His soul.” It is a peculiar and remarkable expression, and, though frequent enough in Scripture, by no means of ordinary occurrence in regard to Christ. Perhaps we may be somewhat led to the meaning of it, by a passage in the Epistle to the Galatians (distinguishing as we read it, of course, between the Master and His servant). Paul says, “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again, until Christ be formed in you;” intimating his parental affection for his spiritual children among the Galatians his parental anxiety respecting them. Their very life was in danger, in consequence of the fatal error that had made such havoc among them. The spirit of the apostle was similar to that of Moses of old who prayed to God: “Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. Yet now, if thou wilt forgive them their sins ; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written.”
So likewise, the Lord Jesus Christ, but with an unspeakable pre-eminence above all His servants, may be viewed as regarding the people of His charge with intense love, contemplating their lost and helpless condition with unspeakable pity and compassion, and engaging His heart and soul in the business of their salvation. “He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied.” “Who is this,” saith the Lord, “that hath engaged his heart to approach unto me?” The Saviour laid hold on them; took them, as it were, into His heart; engaged His whole soul in one concentrated purpose, for the salvation of the people of His charge the objects of His unspeakable love. He was called to His office, as was Aaron. No creature could have ventured to attempt drawing near to the awful Majesty of heaven to draw near and to name, in the presence of Gods terrible justice and purity, the names of those rebellious sinners that had so inexcusably offended, or ventured to appear on their behalf and plead for them. It was an awful thing to consider that God the infinite God of infinite purity, justice, and majesty should be approached, and the names of those wicked creatures pronounced before Him, with a view to their salvation. Christ did this; and in doing so He presented Himself as ready to satisfy all the demands of justice and vindicate Gods purity. As Jacob wrestled with the angel, and prevailed, so He wrestled with God, and prevailed. He was in an agony yet, as a Prince, He prevailed with God.
The expression might likewise profitably remind us of certain highly interesting and important truths in regard to the sufferings of Christ, and the union between Him and His people the parental relation between Christ and His redeemed people. “Behold, I and the children whom the LORD hath given me.” And likewise that His sufferings for them were at once voluntary, and yet of necessity. It was most voluntarily that He entered into the engagement. “Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God!” It was truly and voluntarily that He took hold of the nature of the seed of Abraham and not of that of angels. But having once entered into the engagement, and pledged Himself to its accomplishment, then (as without shedding of blood there could be no remission of sin) it was not possible that the cup should pass from Him.
The expression may remind us likewise that His sufferings were fully expected. And yet at the same time, when at last His hour was come, they seized upon Him with a suddenness and severity that amazed Him. His sufferings were fully expected; He knew what was to happen; He predicted it. He not only told that He was to be lifted up on the cross, but He also forewarned His disciples that the Son of man must be rejected, scourged, spitefully entreated, and put to death. But when at last His hour was come, He was amazed.
And lastly, the expression may remind us that Christs sufferings were perfectly singular: they were not in the natural and established order, not in the course of nature, not according to the ordinary rules of justice. The rule of justice is evident. “The soul,” that is, the individual soul, “that sinneth, it shall die” the teeth of the children are not to be set on edge for the sin of the parents. But in this case, He that did no sin died the death due to sin.
These things have been the subject of our meditation and commemoration in the days that are past. I will not enlarge on these points but shall go on to direct your attention to what I apprehend is the more direct scope of the passage the assurance of Messiahs success. And brief as the expression is there is an admirable fulness in it. He shall be satisfied. “He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied.” He shall surely and altogether be satisfied satisfied in regard to what is always the supreme end of God in all His actings satisfied as to the manifestation of Gods glory. Having been made flesh, He is God manifested in the flesh not concealed or hid, but manifested to the universe in a way that was never witnessed before.
He shall also be satisfied in regard to the great end of the divine government in the economy of redemption, in so overruling the entrance of sin as to establish the very basis of His government over His intelligent creatures on firmer ground than before. He makes an end of sin, so that hereafter it cannot any more have a beginning among the ransomed and redeemed. He prevents it from ever breaking out again.
Further, He shall be satisfied personally. As a person the second person of the Godhead, He took upon Him human nature, and in that nature He was humbled, even to the death of the cross. He shall be satisfied with the personal exaltation that is awarded Him. Being in the form of God, as the apostle tells us, He made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of man. Wherefore God also highly exalted Him and has given Him a name that is above every name. He is anointed with the oil of gladness above His fellows. It is a crown of purest gold, and also length of days for ever and ever, which the Father hath bestowed upon Him. He shall be satisfied, and is satisfied, and shall be still more abundantly satisfied, with the just recompense of full reward that will be granted to His human nature. Possibly there is a reference to this fact in the ascription of praise given to Him in the 5th chapter of Revelation: “Thou art worthy . . . for Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood.” “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory and blessing.” “Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.” Worthy is He that was crucified in weakness, to have all strength ascribed to Him. Worthy is He that was counted a madman and in league with Beelzebub, to have all that He did fully vindicated, and to have all wisdom ascribed to Him. Worthy is He that despised the shame, to be crowned with honour. The blessing be for ever on the head of Him who endured the cross, and was separated from His brethren.
I apprehend, however, that the satisfaction here promised, has a still more special reference to His church, to His people to the persons who are the travail of His soul; those who owe their spiritual existence, their birth, their place in the family of God, to His interposition to “the travail of His soul”. And this thought agrees better with the vicarious character of His sufferings, which runs through the whole of this passage of Scripture. He satisfied divine justice, and divine justice says again, He shall be satisfied. It was because of love to His people, as well as love and obedience to His Father, that He suffered. He suffers, He cares, He pleads for His people, and saves them. They are the travail of His soul, and it is in them that it is here promised that He shall be satisfied, whatever that weighty expression meant. The text, then, is evidently an assurance that Messiahs labour and death should not be in vain. “Surely He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows.” He suffered in the room and stead of His people. Now if the result were a matter of chance, surely nothing could be more unsatisfactory. If it depended on them on their will whether or not they should accept this salvation, then we could only advert to this: that Christ died, rejected and despised. His death was the result of a most extraordinary instance of combined rejection. Jews and Gentiles agreed in this. He was forsaken by His friends, and the unanimous exclamation was, “Away with Him! away with Him! crucify Him! crucify Him!” Can you conceive anything more unsatisfactory, than that He should have to trust to those who nailed Him to the cross to trust to them to be satisfied. Were it put upon this footing, nothing could possibly be more unsatisfactory; but it is not put there. He is assured that He shall see of the travail of His soul and shall be satisfied that, lifted upon the cross and being a stumbling block to the Jews and to the Greeks foolishness, it is nevertheless assuredly secured to Him that He should be the object of universal attraction. There was a security for this; power is given to Him over all flesh for the express purpose that He might give eternal life to as many as God had given Him. It is committed into His own hands. In their hands nothing could be more unsafe or unsatisfactory, but the power is given into His hands to make them willing to give them eternal life. This comports with other expressions in the context. The thing is so important as to be repeated, and no wonder. “He shall see His seed,” equivalent to this, “He shall see of the travail of his soul.” “My righteous servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities.” The justification of the many follows upon His bearing their iniquities. Hence in subordination to this great promise to Christ, the promise was made to Abraham, when he was yet an old and a childless man, that his seed should be as the stars of heaven for multitude, and as the sand which is upon the seashore, innumerable.
Again, Christ will be satisfied in the number of the saved. It is amazing to think over what tracks of country, during so many long ages, “darkness has covered the earth, and gross darkness the people”. Think of all the cruelty and licentiousness, misery and wickedness, which overspread the world. What a thick darkness and vile delusion bind multitudes of souls fast in spiritual death. And if we come nearer home, to those favoured spots where the true light has long shone, our own country: it is like Judea of old, a land where God is well known, yet what delusion, deception and indifference is in it! How dark and mysterious is it! And, I doubt not, it has sometimes been a subject of temptation to Gods people that Satan should thus still reign when the Saviour has appeared as the Conqueror, the Prince. But, be this as it may, we are to rest in faith on this assurance (and should it not be satisfactory?): that Christ shall be satisfied! It is very true that spiritual barrenness was a great trial to the ancient Church. It was symbolised in the cases of Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel: it was alluded to in the case of Samsons mother and Samuels; and this is a trial still. But the promise to Abraham is stedfast, the promise to Christ is sure. And it is very remarkable, in this connection, that on one of these rare occasions in which a gleam of joy brightened the countenance of the Man of Sorrows, He rejoiced in spirit at one time, and said, “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: for so it seemed good in thy sight.” Christ is satisfied; Christ will be satisfied with the numbers, and they are not small, which the Father has given to Him. And this should quell our murmurings, our false zeal, our unbelief, our disposition to quarrel with God. Look at the example set us by Him, who, if there were discontent in the case, had a right to be discontented. Look at Him who thanked His Father for the poor and the mean, and not for the wise and the mighty.
I may remark here, in passing, that this ought not to relax our efforts. It did not relax His. Satisfied with those whom the Father had given Him, He is deeply occupied in heaven with the accomplishment of the work of their salvation, but at the same time joyfully and cheerfully satisfied with the limits which the Father has set.
Again, Christs satisfaction extends farther than to the mass and the multitude it reaches to the individuals. We may purchase a flock of sheep, pay the price, and if we have the full tale, and the number we are satisfied. Nay, in regard to spiritual matters we hear of the success of our mission in Calcutta, hear of a thousand young men receiving instruction regularly, and would yet more rejoice in hearing that ten, twenty, thirty, or a hundred were really converted. We would rejoice in the number, but they are at such a distance, that we see merely their number. It is very different, however, in other cases. Jacob loved Rachel, and though Laban gave him a wife, it was anything but a satisfactory arrangement that Leah should be in the place of Rachel! And Christ loves His people individually. One individual cannot be palmed off for another. He loves them individually, as was intimated by the high priests breastplate of old. The name of each individual could not be engraved upon it there were only the names of the tribes; but this intimated that all the individuals were remembered by the high priest. So Christ is the good Shepherd. “I know my sheep, and am known of mine.” They know Him there is no doubt of that, but it is as true that He knows them, and that individually. Hence the force of the expressions, “I have called thee by thy name, thou art mine.” “I know thee by name.” And hence the value of the chapters of names. Look at the last chapter of the Epistle to the Romans. Note what a long list of names is there. You see how the apostle notices the members of the church by their names adverts to the excellencies of each sends his encouraging approbation his Christian salutation and regards and sends it to every one by name. And he was warranted and inspired by the Spirit of God to do so; for that chapter is as much inspired as the third chapter. And so in the Book of Chronicles, God shows that He regards His people by name. He converts them individually and in name. He counts the very hairs on their head. There can be no substitution then. Christ is perfectly satisfied with the arrangement of His Father. He whose largeness of heart is like that of Solomon of old, which was “even as the sand that is on the seashore” (1 Kings 4:29), is our New Testament Solomon, and has a largeness of heart to know and to remember the circumstances of all the seed of Jacob. “I am the good Shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine.”
He shall be satisfied with their personal excellencies. Placed in the great structure of the spiritual temple, the felicity and glory of each individual of His people shall be such, that the Saviour shall be satisfied. It is not according to what we desire for ourselves. The measure of glory reserved for Christs people will be such as to satisfy the immense and boundless desires of the author of salvation. It is a sort of resting point to the perfections of God when His truth and immutability rest and are satisfied when His justice rests and is satisfied when His benevolence and mercy rest and are satisfied. His boundless goodness has now found way in this plan of salvation, and here all the perfections of the Deity shall rest and be satisfied. Not merely His people shall be satisfied that would not come up to the end to be accomplished but He shall see “of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied”.
Again, it is the Sufferer Himself that is to be satisfied. It is the travail of His soul His sufferings, in all their intensity of pain and earnestness of desire that He is to see, and be satisfied with; and His parental love towards those for whom He died is also to be satisfied. And here even the foibles and follies of men may afford an illustration. When parents look at their children, they are pleased with the excellencies they discover. This shows, at least, what they wish their children to be. These dreams and ideas show the parental desire. But in the present case, it is not the voice of flattery. It is Jacob that is to be satisfied with his Joseph Rachel with her Benoni. Let the children of Zion then, be joyful in their King. Let them fill up the measure of His joy, and satisfy His soul. Let them beware of those things that may dissatisfy Him. Surely it is an argument with an affectionate son, even when at a distance, not to grieve his fathers heart not to be a heaviness to her that bore him. But it ought specially to characterise the children of the Lord Jesus, who are the travail of His soul. A parent would not be satisfied with deformity in his child; and can Christ be satisfied with those deformities, that want of symmetry of character, which He sees in His children? Let us, like the apostle, apprehend that for which we are also apprehended even the satisfaction of the Redeemer to see what will please Him, what will satisfy Him, and to aim at it the more constantly, because it is declared that He shall be satisfied. Each of His people cost Him much.
And a parent would not be satisfied with a dead child! It is a sad thing when the hour of birth is come, and there is no joy when the child is brought into the world. Let those young people who receive serious impressions, and over whom pious parents, ministers and elders, may be watching with eager hope, take heed of sinking back, so that it shall appear that there has been only a dead corpse and not a living child!
And let all who have an interest in the glory of Christ be stirred up to consider the case of lost and perishing sinners. I am sometimes struck with the amazing spirit that breathes through the Scriptures it is as if the apostles and primitive Christians were inspired with a passion for saving souls, not exactly a passion for preaching, except as a means, but a real passion for the saving of souls it shows itself in the extraordinary anxiety, and the minuteness discernible in their epistles.
And let sinners be aroused. Let them strive to enter in at the strait gate. Is it not an encouragement to think that Christ will be satisfied in their salvation? Let them not perplex themselves with certain modern questions. He is a perfect Saviour a complete Saviour to whom you are invited to come. Is it any kind of objection to our Zion that it has salvation for walls and bulwarks that it has ramparts round about it? It has its gates open! But men turn away because, forsooth, its ramparts are not broken down that they may enter. Is your objection to Christ that you must be humbled must be indebted to Him for every thing? O beware that something of this kind stands not in the way. He addresses and encourages every sinner that comes to Him; He says that He will in no wise cast out. But if sinners will find objections if they are determined not to come if they continue to be indifferent to this great matter, let them recollect that the favour is done to them that they are not doing a favour to Christ. Their goodness extends not to Him. Let them not imagine, like some foolish parents, that in allowing their children to attend a charity school, they are doing the patrons of that school a favour. Let those who will despise and reject this salvation be assured, that though they may wring many bitter tears from the hearts of parents, ministers, and others now, and though Christ Himself, if He were here, would weep over them as He did over Jerusalem in the days of His flesh; yet let them be assured, that even their perdition will not be permitted to disturb that eternal repose, that everlasting rest, that assured satisfaction, which awaits the Lord Jesus in the glory of eternity.