When I Survey the Wondrous Cross...


 Excerpt from Herman Hoeksema’s When I Survey, Book Two, Chapter 1 “Laying Down His Life” (page 65) 

The suffering of the Lord is as many-sided as human sin and redemption; it is as deep as hell and as high as heaven; it is as rich as the love of God. And we may notice, too, that a comparatively very large part of the gospel narratives is devoted to the passion and death of the Savior. We must, therefore, confine our discussion to one definite aspect of this suffering, and consider it from a certain particular viewpoint. And the specific aspect of the passion of our Lord which we have chosen to discuss in all our Lenten meditation is that of Christ’s voluntary suffering. Christ’s suffering was a sacrifice. And this implies that he suffered and died voluntarily, by which I mean, not merely that he was wholly resigned to, in agreement with his way of sorrow and grief and death, but that his passion and death were acts of his will. Distinction is often made between the active and passive ovedience of the Lord. And this distinction may stand, if we only remember that also his passive obedience was very really obedience. His suffering was an act. He suffered because, before God, it was his will to suffer. He died because it was his will to die. As the Lord himself expresses it in the word to which I would like to call special attention in the present chapter: “Therefore doth my Father love m, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.” John 10:17-18.

Christ laid down his life in order that he might take it again. We should not separate these two clauses, for they are intimately related, and the first can be understood correctly only in the light of the second. Christ did not merely lay down his life, but emphatically he laid down that life in order that he might take it again. A suicide lays down his life, but to no purpose and from a thoroughly sinful motive. In a certain sense it may be said of one that he lays down his life for another. A mother may die for the babe of her love; a friend may die for his friend; a soldier may die for his country. But in all these cases death is the end of the self-sacrifice, and the sacrifice bears no other fruit, yields no other benefit that that which the death as such could profit the other. But with Christ this is different. He laid down his life for the very purpose that he might take it again. The main thought is after all, not the death of Christ, but his resurrection. The resurrection is the goal that must be attained. For Christ is there speaking as the Good Shepherd. Sheep were given unto him by the Father. He has been appointed the shepherd of the sheep whom the father loves. Christ has a flock. And that flock must be saved. These sheep, whom the Father gave to Christ, are in themselves in the midst of death. They have sinned, and as sinners they are under the just wrath of God and delivered over unto death. But the Father has ordained that they should have life, and what is more, that they should have I more abundantly than ever they had life before. In Adam they possessed an earthly life, and the image of the earthy they bore. But it is God’s purpose to give them the eternal life of the resurrection in heavenly glory. To give them that life the Father appointed the Son, even from before the foundation of the world, as their Good Shepherd. He will give them that life. But in order to be able to give them this more abundant life of heavenly glory, he must first obtain it himself, and become the quickening Spirit. Only as the risen Lord, the heavenly Lord, can Christ give the more abundant life to his sheep. And in order to attain to that glorious life of the resurrection which he is to impart to his sheep, he must first die, or rather, he must lay down his life, in order that he might take it again. Therefore, then, does his Father love him, because he is willing to lay down his life in order that he might take it again, and thus become the living Good Shepherd that is able to give life to his own more abundantly.

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