Read an Excerpt
Chapter 1 Healing by the Stripes of Jesus
With his stripes we are healed.--Isaiah 53:5
One evening in Exeter Hall, I heard a speech by the late Mr. Mackay. He told of a person who was very concerned about his soul and felt that he could never rest until he found salvation. So, taking the Bible in his hand, he said to himself, "Eternal life is to be found somewhere in the Word of God; and if it is here, I will find it, for I will read the Book right through. I will pray to God over every page of it. Possibly, it may contain some saving message for me." He told us that the earnest seeker read on through Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and so on; and though Christ is there very evidently, he could not find Him in the types and symbols. The holy histories did not yield him comfort, nor did the book of Job. He passed through Psalms but did not find his Savior there, and the same was the case with the other books, until he reached Isaiah. In this book he read on until near the end, and then in the fifty- third chapter these words arrested his delighted attention: "With his stripes we are healed" (v. 5). "Now I have found it," he said. "Here is the healing that I need for my sin-sick soul, and I see how it comes to me through the sufferings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be His name, I am healed!" It was well that the seeker was wise enough to search the Sacred Volume; it was better still that in that volume there was a life-giving word that the Holy Spirit revealed to the seeker's heart. I have decided that Isaiah 53:5 is a fine text on which to write. Perhaps a voice from God may speak through it yet again to some other awakened sinner. By this verse God spoke to the treasurer of the Ethiopian queen; he was impressed by it while searching the Scriptures. (See Acts 8:26-38.) May God also speak to many who will read this book! Let us pray that it may be so. God is very gracious, and He will hear our prayers. The object of this chapter is very simple: I want to explain my text, Isaiah 53:5. May the Holy Spirit give me power to do so to the glory of God!
THE DISEASE OF SIN
In endeavoring to explain the full meaning of the text, I would remark first that God, in His infinite mercy, here treats sin as a disease. "With his stripes"--that is, the stripes of the Lord Jesus--"we are healed" (Isa. 53:5). Through the sufferings of our Lord, sin is pardoned, and we are delivered from the power of evil. We are healed of the deadly malady of sin. In this present life, the Lord treats sin as a disease. If He were to treat it at once as sin and summon us to His court to answer for it, we would immediately sink beyond the reach of hope, for we could neither answer His accusations nor defend ourselves from His justice. In His great mercy He looks upon us with pity, and for now He treats our ill manners as if they were diseases to be cured rather than rebellions to be punished. It is most gracious on His part to do so, for while sin is a disease, it is also a great deal more. If our iniquities were the result of an unavoidable sickness, we might claim pity rather than scolding. However, we sin willfully; we choose evil; we transgress in heart. Therefore, we bear a moral responsibility that makes sin an infinite evil. Our sin is our crime rather than our calamity. However, God looks at our sin as a disease for a season. So that He can deal with us on hopeful grounds, He looks at the sickness of sin and does not look yet at the wickedness of sin. This is not without reason, for men who indulge in gross vices are often charitably judged by their fellowmen to be not only wholly wicked, but partly mad. Propensities to evil are usually associated with some degree of mental disease and, perhaps, also, of physical disease. At any rate, sin is a spiritual malady of the worst kind.
The Abnormality of Sin
Sin is a disease, for it is neither essential to manhood nor an integral part of human nature as God created it. Man was never more fully and truly man than he was before he fell. He who is specially called "the Son of man" (Matt. 8:20) "did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth" (1 Pet. 2:22), yet He was perfectly man. Sin is abnormal, a sort of cancerous growth that should not be in the soul. Sin is disturbing to manhood: sin unmans a man. Sin is sadly destructive to man; it takes the crown from his head, the light from his mind, and the joy from his heart. We may name many grievous diseases that are destroyers of our race, but the greatest of these is sin. Sin, indeed, is the fatal egg from which all other sicknesses have been hatched. It is the fountain and source of all mortal maladies.
The Disorder of Sin
Sin is a disease because it puts the whole system of the man out of order. It places the lower faculties in the higher place, for it makes the body master over the soul. The man should ride the horse, but in the sinner the horse rides the man. The mind should keep the animal instincts and propensities in check, but in many men the animal crushes the mental and the spiritual. For instance, how many live as if eating and drinking were the chief objects of existence; they live to eat, instead of eating to live! The faculties are thrown out of gear by sin, so that they act fitfully and irregularly; you cannot depend on any one of them to keep its place. The equilibrium of the life forces is grievously disturbed. Even as a sickness of the body is called a disorder, so sin is the disorder of the soul. Human nature is out of joint and out of health, and man is no longer man. He is dead through sin (Eph. 2:1), even as he was warned of old, "In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" (Gen. 2:17). Man is marred, bruised, sick, paralyzed, polluted, and rotten with disease, just in proportion as sin has shown its true character.
The Undermining Nature of Sin
Sin, like disease, weakens man. The moral energy is so broken down in some people that it scarcely exists. The conscience labors under a fatal disease and is gradually ruined by a decline. The understanding has been lamed by evil, and the will is rendered feeble for good, though forcible for evil. The principle of integrity, the resolve of virtue--in which a man's true strength really lies--is sapped and undermined by wrongdoing. Sin is like a secret bleeding that robs the vital parts of their essential nourishment. How near to death in some people is even the power to discern between good and evil! The apostle tells us that "when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly" (Rom. 5:6). This being without strength is the direct result of the sickness of sin, which has weakened our whole manhood.
The Numbing Nature of Sin
Sin is a disease that in some cases causes extreme pain and anguish, but in other cases deadens sensibility. It frequently happens that the more sinful a man is, the less he is conscious of it. It was remarked of a certain notorious criminal that many thought him innocent because when he was charged with murder, he did not betray the least emotion. In that wretched self-possession there was, to my mind, presumptive proof of his great familiarity with crime. If an innocent person is charged with a great offense, the mere charge horrifies him. It is only by weighing all the circumstances and distinguishing between sin and shame that he recovers himself. It is he who can do the deed of shame that does not blush when he is charged with it. The deeper a man goes into sin, the less he concedes that it is sin. Like a man who takes drugs, he acquires the power to take larger and larger doses, until that which would kill a hundred other men has only a slight effect on him. A man who readily lies is scarcely conscious of the moral degradation involved in being a liar, though he may think it shameful to be called one. It is one of the worst points of this disease of sin that it stupefies the understanding and causes a paralysis of the conscience. By and by, sin is sure to cause pain, like other diseases that flesh is heir to; and when awakening comes, what a start it gives! Conscience one day will awake and fill the guilty soul with alarm and distress, if not in this world, yet certainly in the next. Then the sinner will see what an awful thing it is to offend against the law of the Lord.
The Impurity of Sin
Sin is a disease that pollutes a man. Certain diseases render a man horribly impure. God is the best judge of purity, for He is exceedingly holy and cannot endure sin. The Lord puts sin from Him with abhorrence, and He prepares a place where the forever unclean will be shut up by themselves. He will not dwell with them here, nor can they dwell with Him in heaven. As men must put lepers apart by themselves, so justice must put out of heaven everything that defiles. Oh, my reader, will the Lord be compelled to put you out of His presence because you persist in wickedness? The disease of sin, which is so polluting, is, at the same time, most injurious to us, for it prevents the higher enjoyment and employment of life. People can exist in sin, but they do not truly live. As the Scripture says, such a person is "dead while [he] liveth" (1 Tim. 5:6). While we continue in sin, we cannot serve God on earth or hope to enjoy Him forever above. We are incapable of communion with perfect spirits and with God Himself, and the loss of this communion is the greatest of all evils. Sin deprives us of spiritual sight, hearing, feeling, and taste, and thus deprives us of those joys that turn existence into life. It brings true death upon us, so that we exist in ruins, deprived of all that can be called life.
The Fatality of Sin
This disease is also fatal. Is it not written, "The soul that sinneth, it shall die" (Ezek. 18:4)? "Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death" (James 1:15). There is no hope of eternal life for any man unless sin is put away. This disease never exhausts itself or destroys itself. "Evil men wax worse and worse" (2 Tim. 3:13). In another world, as well as in this present world, character will go on to develop and ripen, and so the sinner will become more and more corrupt as the result of his spiritual death. Oh, my friends, if you refuse Christ, sin will be the death of your peace, your joy, your prospects, your hopes, and thus the death of all that is worth having! In the case of other diseases, nature may conquer the malady, and you may be restored; but in this case, apart from divine intervention, nothing lies before you but eternal death. God, therefore, treats sin as a disease because it is a disease. And I want you to believe that it is so, for then you will thank the Lord for treating your sin this way. Many of us have felt that sin is a disease and have been healed of it. Oh, that others could see what an exceedingly evil thing it is to sin against the Lord! It is a contagious, defiling, incurable, mortal sickness. Perhaps somebody is saying, "Why do you raise these points? They fill us with unpleasant thoughts." I do it for the reason given by the engineer who built the great Menai Tubular Bridge. When it was being erected, some engineer friends said to him, "You raise all kinds of difficulties." "Yes," he said, "I raise them so that I may solve them." That is why I expound on the sad state of man, so that I may present the glorious remedy of which our text so sweetly speaks.
THE REMEDY FOR SIN
God treats sin as a disease, and He here declares the remedy that He has provided: "With his stripes we are healed" (Isa. 53:5). I ask you very solemnly to accompany me in your meditations for a few minutes, while I bring before you the stripes of the Lord Jesus. The Lord resolved to restore us, and therefore He sent His only begotten Son (John 3:16), very God of very God. God's Son descended into this world to take upon Himself our nature (Heb. 2:16) in order to redeem us. He lived as a man among men (Phil. 2:8); and, in due time, after thirty years or more of service, the time came when He should do us the greatest service of all. Namely, He stood in our stead and bore "the chastisement of our peace" (Isa. 53:5). He went to Gethsemane, and there, at the first taste of our bitter cup, He sweat great drops of blood (Luke 22:44). He went to Pilate's hall and Herod's judgment seat, and there He suffered a great deal of pain and scorn in our place. Last of all, they took Him to the cross and nailed Him there to die--to die in our stead--"the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God" (1 Pet. 3:18). The word stripes is used to set forth His sufferings, both of body and of soul. The whole of Christ was made a sacrifice for us: His whole manhood suffered. His body and His mind shared in a grief that can never be fully described. In the beginning of His passion, when He emphatically suffered instead of us, He was in agony, and from His body a bloody sweat flowed so heavily that it fell to the ground (Luke 22:44). It is very rare for a man to sweat blood. There have been one or two instances of it, and they have been followed by almost immediate death. But our Savior lived--lived after an agony that, to anyone else, would have proved fatal. Before He could cleanse His face from this dreadful crimson, they hurried Him to the high priest's hall. In the dead of night they bound Him and led Him away. Then they took Him to Pilate and to Herod. They scourged Him (Matt. 27:26), and their soldiers spat on Him and struck Him (Matt. 27:30) and put on His head a crown of thorns (Matt. 27:29). Scourging is one of the most awful tortures that can be inflicted. It is to the eternal disgrace of Englishmen that they permitted the cat-o'-nine-tails to be used on the soldier; but to the Romans, cruelty was so natural that they made their common punishments worse than brutal. The Roman scourge is said to have been made of the sinews of oxen, twisted into knots, and into these knots were inserted both slivers of bone and the hipbones of sheep. Every time the scourge fell upon the bare back, "the plowers made long their furrows" (Ps. 129:3). Our Savior was called upon to endure the fierce pain of the Roman scourge, and this not as the end of His punishment, but as a preliminary to crucifixion. In addition to this, they struck Him and plucked out His hair; they spared Him no form of pain. In all His faintness, through bleeding and fasting, they made Him carry His cross (John 19:17). Then another was forced, by the forethought of their cruelty, to bear the cross (Matt. 27:32), lest their victim should die on the road. They stripped Him and threw Him down and nailed Him to the wood. They pierced His hands and His feet (Ps. 22:16). They lifted up the cross with Him on it, and then they dashed it down into its place in the ground, so that all His limbs were dislocated. This was done in accordance with Psalm 22:14: "I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint." He hung in the burning sun until the fever dissolved His strength, and He said,
My heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death (Ps. 22:14-15).
There He hung, in the sight of God and men. The weight of His body was first sustained by His feet, until the nails tore through the tender nerves; and then the painful load began to weigh on His hands and tear that sensitive flesh. How small a wound in the hand has brought on lockjaw! How awful must have been the torment caused by that dragging iron tearing through the delicate parts of the hands and feet! Now every kind of bodily pain tortured His body. All the while His enemies stood around, pointing at Him in scorn, sticking out their tongues in mockery, scoffing at His prayers, and gloating over His sufferings. He cried, "I thirst" (John 19:28), and they gave Him vinegar "mingled with gall" (Matt. 27:34). After a while He said, "It is finished" (John 19:30). He had endured the utmost of appointed grief and had made full vindication to divine justice. Then, and not until then, He "gave up the ghost" (John 19:30). Holy men of old have expounded most lovingly on the bodily sufferings of our Lord, and I have no hesitation in doing the same. I trust that trembling sinners may see salvation in these painful stripes of the Redeemer. To describe the outward sufferings of our Lord is not easy: I acknowledge that I have failed. But His soul sufferings, which were the soul of His sufferings, who can even conceive, much less express? At the very first I told you that He sweat great drops of blood (Luke 22:44). That was His heart driving out its life to the surface because of His terrible depression of spirit. He said, "My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death" (Matt. 26:38). The betrayal by Judas (Matt. 26:47-49) and the desertion of the Twelve (Matt. 26:56) grieved our Lord, but the weight of our sin was the real pressure on His heart. Our guilt was the olive press that forced from Him the moisture of His life. No language can ever tell His agony in the prospect of His passion; how little then can we comprehend the passion itself? When nailed to the cross, He endured what no martyr ever suffered; for martyrs, when they have died, have been so sustained by God that they have rejoiced amid their pain. But, our Redeemer was forsaken by His Father, and He cried, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Ps. 22:1). That was the bitterest cry of all, the utmost depth of His unfathomable grief. Yet, it was necessary for Christ to be deserted because God must turn His back on sin, and consequently on Him who was made "to be sin for us" (2 Cor. 5:21). The soul of the great Substitute suffered a horror of misery so that sinners would not have to experience the horror of hell. We would have been plunged into hell, but Jesus took our sin upon Himself and was "made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree" (Gal. 3:13). But who can comprehend what that curse means? The remedy for your sins and mine is found in the substitutionary sufferings of the Lord Jesus, and in these alone. These stripes of the Lord Jesus Christ were on our behalf. Do you ask, "Is there anything for us to do to remove the guilt of sin?" I answer: There is nothing whatsoever for you to do. By the stripes of Jesus we are healed. All those stripes He has endured, and He has not left one of them for us to bear. "But do we not have to believe on Him?" Yes, certainly. If I claim that a certain ointment heals, I do not deny that you need a bandage with which to apply it to the wound. Faith is the bandage that binds the ointment of Christ's reconciliation to the sore of our sin. The bandage does not heal; that is the work of the ointment. Likewise, faith does not heal; that is the work of the atonement of Christ. Do I hear someone say, "But surely I must do something or suffer something"? I answer: You must not try to add anything to Christ's atonement, or you greatly dishonor Him. For your salvation, you must rely on the wounds of Jesus Christ and nothing else. The text does not say, "His stripes help to heal us," but, "With his stripes we are healed" (Isa. 53:5). "But we must repent," cries another. Assuredly we must, and will, for repentance is the first sign of healing; but the stripes of Jesus heal us, not our repentance. These stripes, when applied to the heart, work repentance in us: we hate sin because it made Jesus suffer. When you believe that Jesus suffered for you, then you discover the fact that God will never punish you for the same offense for which Jesus died. His justice will not permit Him to see the debt paid first by the surety, and then again by the debtor. Justice cannot demand a recompense twice; if my bleeding Substitute has borne my guilt, then I cannot bear it. Accepting Christ Jesus as having suffered for me, I have accepted a complete discharge from judicial liability. I have been condemned in Christ, and there is, therefore, now no condemnation to me anymore (Rom. 8:1). This is the groundwork of the security of the sinner who believes in Jesus. He lives because Jesus died in his place, and he is acceptable before God because Jesus is accepted. The person for whom Jesus is an accepted Substitute must go free. None can touch him; he is clear. Oh, my reader, will you take Jesus Christ as your Substitute? If so, you are free. "He that believeth on him is not condemned" (John 3:18). Thus, "with his stripes we are healed" (Isa. 53:5).
THE POWER OF THIS REMEDY
I have tried to put before you the disease and the remedy. I now desire to explain the fact that this remedy is effective immediately wherever it is applied. The stripes of Jesus do heal men; they have healed many of us. It does not look as if they could cause so great a cure, but the fact is undeniable. I often hear people say, "If you preach this faith in Jesus Christ as the means of salvation, people will be careless about holy living." I am as good a witness on that point as anybody, for I live every day in the midst of men who are trusting in the stripes of Jesus for their salvation. I have seen no bad effect from such a trust, but I have seen the reverse. I bear testimony that I have seen the very worst of men become the very best of men by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is surprising how these stripes heal the moral diseases of those who seem past remedy. I have seen a sinner's character healed. I have seen the drunkard become sober, the harlot become chaste, the angry man become gentle, the covetous man become generous, and the liar become truthful, simply by trusting in the sufferings of Jesus. If trusting in Jesus did not make a person righteous, it would not really do anything for him. You must judge a person by his fruits (Matt. 7:20). If the fruits are not changed, the tree is not changed. Character is everything; if the character is not set right, the person is not saved. I say without fear of contradiction that the atoning sacrifice, applied to the heart, heals the disease of sin. If you doubt it, try it. He who believes in Jesus is sanctified (Heb. 10:10) as well as justified (Rom. 3:24); by faith he becomes an altogether changed person. Not only is the character healed, but the conscience is healed of its sting. Sin crushes a person's soul; he is spiritless and joyless. But the moment he believes in Jesus, he leaps into the light. You can often see a change even in the person's face; the cloud flies from the countenance when guilt goes from the conscience. Dozens of times, when I have been talking with those bowed down with sin's burden, they have looked as though they qualified for an asylum because of their inward grief. But they have caught the thought, "Christ stood for me; and if I trust in Him, I have the sign that He did so, and I am clear," and their faces have lit up as if they had glimpsed heaven. Gratitude for such great mercy causes a change of thought towards God, and so it heals the judgment. By this means, the affections are turned in the right way, and the heart is healed. Sin is no longer loved, but God is loved, and holiness is desired. The whole man is healed, and the whole life is changed. How lighthearted a person is made by faith in Jesus! How the troubles of life lose their weight! How the fear of death is gone! A convert rejoices in the Lord, for the blessed remedy of the stripes of Jesus is applied to his soul by faith in Him. The fact that "with his stripes we are healed" (Isa. 53:5) has plenty of evidence. I will take the liberty of giving my own testimony. If it were necessary, I could call thousands of people, my daily acquaintances, who can say that with the stripes of Christ they are healed. Even so, I must not withhold my personal testimony. Suppose I had suffered from a dreadful disease and a physician had given me a remedy that had healed me. I would not be ashamed to tell you all about it. I would use my own case as an argument to persuade you to use my physician. Years ago, when I was a youth, the burden of my sin was exceedingly heavy upon me. I had not fallen into any great sins, and I was not regarded by anyone as an especially evil transgressor. However, I regarded myself as such, and I had good reason for doing so. My conscience was sensitive because it was enlightened; and I judged that, having a godly father and a praying mother, and having been trained in the ways of piety, I had sinned against much light. Consequently, there was a greater degree of guilt in my sin than in that of others who were my youthful associates, who had not enjoyed my advantages. I could not enjoy the fun of youth because I felt that I had damaged my conscience. I would go to my room and there sit alone, read my Bible, and pray for forgiveness, but peace did not come to me. Books such as Baxter's Call to the Unconverted and Doddridge's Rise and Progress I read over and over again. Early in the morning I would awake and read the most earnest religious books I could find, desiring to be eased of my burden of sin. I was not always this dull, but at times my misery of soul was very great. The words of the weeping prophet and of Job suited my mournful case. I would have chosen death rather than life. I tried to do as well as I could and behave myself, but in my own judgment I grew worse and worse. I felt more and more despondent. I attended every place of worship within my reach, but I heard nothing that gave me lasting comfort. Finally, one day I heard a simple preacher of the Gospel speak from the text, "Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth" (Isa. 45:22). When he told me that all I had to do was look to Jesus--to Jesus the Crucified One--I could scarcely believe it. He went on and said, "Look, look, look!" He added, "There is a young man, under the left-hand gallery there, who is very miserable. He will have no peace until he looks to Jesus." Then he cried, "Look! Look! Young man, look!" I did look. In that moment relief came to me, and I felt such overflowing joy that I could have stood up and cried, "Hallelujah! Glory be to God! I am delivered from the burden of my sin!" Many days have passed since then, but my faith has held me up and compelled me to tell the story of free grace and dying love. I can truly say, E'er since by faith I saw the stream Thy flowing wounds supply, Redeeming love has been my theme, And shall be till I die. I hope to sit up in bed during my last hours and tell of the stripes that healed me. I hope some young men, yes, and old men, will at once try this remedy. It is good for all characters and all ages. "With his stripes we are healed" (Isa. 53:5). Thousands upon thousands of us have tried and proven this remedy. "We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen" (John 3:11). God grant that others may receive our witness through the power of the Holy Spirit! I want to write a few lines to those who have not tried this marvelous cure. Let my words speak directly to you. Friend, you are by nature in need of soul healing as much as anybody, and one reason that you do not care about the remedy is that you do not believe you are sick. I saw a salesman one day as I was taking a walk; he was selling walking sticks. He followed me and offered me one of the sticks. I showed him mine--a far better one than any he had to sell--and he left at once. He could see that I was not likely to be a purchaser. I have often thought of that when I have been preaching. I show men the righteousness of the Lord Jesus, but they show me their own, and all hope of dealing with them is gone. Unless I can show them that their righteousness is worthless, they will not seek "the righteousness which is of God by faith" (Phil. 3:9). Oh, that the Lord would show you your disease, and then you would desire the remedy! It may be that you do not care to hear of the Lord Jesus Christ. Ah, my dear friends! You will have to hear of Him one of these days, either for your salvation or your condemnation. The Lord has the key to your heart, and I trust He will give you a better mind. Then, your memory will recall my simple words, and you will say, "I do remember. Yes, I read that there is healing in the wounds of Christ." I pray you do not put off seeking the Lord; that would be great presumption on your part and a sad provocation to Him. But, if you have put it off, I pray you do not let the Devil tell you it is too late. It is never too late while life lasts. I have read in books that very few people are converted after forty years of age. I am solemnly convinced that there is little truth in such a statement. I have seen as many people converted at one age as at another in proportion to the number of people who are living at that age. Any first Sunday in the month there are thirty to eighty new converts in our church who are given the right hand of fellowship. This selection of people represents every age, from childhood up to old age. (chapter continues)