There are three peculiar and distinguishing features of this fourth word which our Saviour uttered from His Cross.
1. It is the only one of the Seven which finds a place in the earliest record of our Lord's life, contained in the matter common to St. Matthew and St. Mark.
2. It is the only one which has been preserved to us in the original Aramaic, in the very syllables which were formed by the lips of Christ.
3. It is the only one which He is said to have "shouted" ([Greek text]), under the extremity of some overpowering emotion.
In fact, we are here at the very heart of the Passion. In this dread cry I see something of the height of the Divine love, something of the depths of my own sin.
The meaning of this dread "cry" is not perhaps so difficult to understand as some have thought. It is to be found in the entire reality of that human nature which the Son of God assumed -- not merely a human body, but a human consciousness like our own; in the thoroughness with which He identified Himself with every phase of our experience, the knowledge of personal sin alone excepted.
In this identification more was involved than we commonly think. Sin cannot be in a world of which the constitution is the expression of the Mind of God, without introducing therein a fatal element of discord, confusion, and pain. To all consequences of sin the Saviour necessarily submitted Himself, by the mere fact of His entry into a world which sin had disordered. In respect of the external consequences, this is abundantly clear. We have seen, and it is, in fact, obvious, that His sufferings and Death were the result of the actual sins of men. But there were, it is important to remember, internal sufferings attributable to the same cause. We are at once reminded of His tears over the doomed city, doomed by the persistent refusal to recognise the Divine voice. But we are here on still deeper ground. The true explanation of the fourth word is to be found in that great principle which St. Paul has laid down in a familiar, but little understood, sentence: "the sting of death is sin."
The simplest and most obvious meaning of these words is that, whatever be the physiological meaning and necessity of human death, its peculiar horror and dread, that which makes death to be what it is for us, is to be found in sin, in the separation of man from God.
Now that horror consists, ultimately, in the fact that death is the analogue, or, in New Testament language, the "sign," of what sin is -- separation. If sin is, essentially, the violent and unnatural separation of man, by his own act, from his spiritual environment, death is clearly the separation -- and, as our sins have made it, the violent and unnatural separation of man from all that has hitherto been his world. It may be, that the final, extremest pang of death is the supreme moment of agony, when we feel that we are being made to let go our hold on reality, are slipping back into what, in our consciousness of it, must appear like nothingness, the mere blank negation of being. Here, then, we have the explanation of this awful cry. He Who came "for our salvation" into a world disordered by sin, willed so to identify Himself with our experience, as to realise death, not as it might have been, but as man had made it, the very sign and symbol of man's sin, of his separation from God. That moment of extreme mental anguish wrung from His lips the Cry, not of "dereliction," but of faith triumphing even in the moment when He "tasted death" as sin's most bitter fruit, "My God, why didst Thou forsake Me?"
What this view involves is briefly
(i) Death is an experience natural to man.
(ii) Sin has added to this natural experience a peculiar agony, a "sting."
(iii) This "sting" is an experience of utter isolation at some moment in the process of death, the feeling that one is being violently rent away from one's clinging hold of existence.
(iv) This "sting" is due to the disorder sin has introduced into the constitution of the world and of man.
(v) In virtue of this, death has become the "sign" in the "natural" world of what sin is in the spiritual.
(vi) Our Blessed Lord so utterly identified Himself with our experience, with the internal as well as with the external consequences of our sin, as to undergo this most terrible result of man's transgression.
(vii) And He felt the full agony of it as realising, what none but the Sinless One could realise, the horror of sin as separation from God.
In a word, the Cry represents the culmination of our Lord's sufferings, a real experience of His human consciousness.
The experience was "objective," as all states of consciousness are. Our sensations are as objective as "material things." It was, as we have just said, real: inasmuch as the only definition of reality is that which is included in personal experience.
Thus understood, this fourth word teaches us at least two valuable lessons.
1. It discloses to us the Mind of Christ, which is to be our own mind, in its outlook upon human sin. We, if "the same mind" is to be in us "which was also in Christ Jesus," must hate sin, and our sins, not because of any results or penalties external to sin, but because sin separates us from God, our true life. The worst punishment of sin, is sin itself. Into depths which make us tremble as we strive to gaze into them, Christ our Lord descended to deliver us from that deadly thing which is destroying our life. That appalling Cry burst from His lips, that we might learn to fear and dread sin worse than any pang of physical pain.
2. This Word, again, discloses the Mind of Christ, true Man, in its relation to God. He possessed fullest self-consciousness both as God and as Man. Thus He Himself alone knew, in their absolute fulness, the joy and the strength which come from the communion of man with God. That joy and that strength, in the measure in which we can attain to their realisation, are to be the goal of all our striving. Thus this Word has for us more than a merely negative teaching. Not only are we to shrink from that which destroys union with God. We must seek far more earnestly to make that union a greater and a deeper reality. This end we can achieve by making our prayers more deliberate acts of conscious communion with that Person Who is not merely above us, but in us, and in Whom "we live, and move, and have our being." We must all make the confession that we have not yet nearly realised all that prayer might be to us, if only we were more energetic, more strenuous, more utterly in earnest, in our attempts to pray. It is by prayer that we are to attain to our complete manhood, to "win our souls," to become our true selves.
For what are men better than sheep or goats,