HEBREWS ii.9, 50.
But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.
What are we met together to think of this day? God in pain: God sorrowing; God dying for man, as far as God could die. Now it is this; -- the blessed news that God suffered pain, God sorrowed, God died, as far as God could die -- which makes the Gospel different from all other religions in the world; and it is this, too, which makes the Gospel so strong to conquer men's hearts, and soften them, and bring them back to God and righteousness in a way no other religion ever has done. It is the good news of this good day, well called Good Friday, which wins souls to Christ, and will win them as long as men are men.
The heathen, you will find, always thought of their gods as happy. The gods, they thought, always abide in bliss, far above all the chances and changes of mortal life; always young, strong, beautiful, needing no help, needing no pity; and therefore, my friends, never calling out our love. The heathens never LOVED their gods: they admired them, thanked them when they thought they helped them; or they were afraid of them when they thought they were offended.
But as far as I can find, they never really loved their gods. Love to God was a new feeling, which first came into the world with the good news that God had suffered and that God had died upon the cross. That was a God to be loved, indeed; and all good hearts loved him, and will love him still.
For you cannot really love any one who is quite different from you; who has never been through what you have. You do not think that he can understand you; you expect him to despise you, laugh at you. You say, as I have heard a poor woman say of a rich one, 'How can she feel for me? She does not know what poor people go through.'
Now it is just that feeling which mankind had about God till Christ died.
God, or the gods, were beautiful, strong, happy, self-sufficient, up in the skies; and men on earth were full of sorrow and trouble, disease, accidents, death; and sin, too; quarrelling and killing, hateful and hating each other. How could the gods love men? And then men had a sense of sin; they felt they were doing wrong. Surely the gods hated them for doing wrong. Surely all the sorrows and troubles which came on them were punishments for doing wrong. How miserable they were! But the gods sat happy up in heaven, and cared not for them. Or, if the gods did care, they cared only for special favourites. If any man was very good, or strong, or handsome, or clever, or rich, or prosperous, the gods cared for him -- he was a favourite. But what did they care for poor, ugly, deformed, unfortunate, foolish wretches? Surely the gods despised them, and had sent them into the world to be miserable. There was no sympathy, no fellow-feeling between gods and men. The gods did not love men as men. Why should men love them? And so men did not love them.
And as there was no love to God before Good Friday, so there was no love to men.
If God despised the poor, the deformed, the helpless, the ignorant, the crazy, why should not man? If God was hard on them, why should not man oppress and ill-use them? And so you will find that there was no charity in the world.
Among some of the Eastern nations -- the Hindoos, for instance -- when they were much better men than now, charity did spring up for a while here and there, in a very beautiful shape; but among Greeks and Romans there was simply no charity; and you will find little or none among the Jews themselves.
The Pharisees gave alms to save their own souls, and feed their own pride of being good; but had no charity -- 'This people, who knoweth not the law, is accursed.' As for poor, diseased people, they were born in sin: either they or their parents had sinned. We may see that the poor of Judea, as well as Galilee, were in a miserable, neglected, despised state; and the worst thing that the Pharisees could say of our Lord Jesus was, that he ate and drank with publicans and sinners. Because there was no love to God, there was no love to man. There was a great gulf fixed between every man and his neighbour.
But Christ came; God came; and became man. And with the blood of his cross was bridged over for ever the gulf between God and man, and the gulf between man and man.
Good Friday showed that there was sympathy, there was fellow-feeling between God and man; that God would do all for man, endure all for man; that God so desired to make man like God, that he would stoop to be made like man. There was nothing God would not do to justify himself to man, to show men that he did care for them, that he did love the creatures whom he had made. Yes; God had not forgotten man; God had not made man in vain. God had not sent man into the world to be wicked and miserable here, and to perish for ever hereafter. Wickedness and misery were here; but God had not put them here, and he would not leave them here. He would conquer them by enduring them. Sin and misery tormented men; then they should torment the Son of God too. Sin and misery killed men; then they should kill the Son of God, too: he would taste death for every man, that men might live by him. He would be made perfect by sufferings: not made perfectly good (for that he was already), but perfectly able to feel for men, to understand them, to help them; because he had been tempted in all things like as they.
And so on Good Friday did God bridge over the gulf between God and men. No man can say now, Why has God sent man into the world to be miserable, while he is happy? For God in Christ was miserable once. No man can say, God makes me go through pain, and torture, and death, while he goes through none of such things: for God in Christ endured pain, torture, death, to the uttermost. And so God is a being which man can love, admire, have fellow-feeling for; cling to God with all the noble feelings of his heart, with admiration, gratitude, and tenderness, even on this day with pity. -- As Christ himself said, 'When I am lifted up, I will draw all men to me.'
And no man can say now, What has God to do with sufferers -- sick, weak, deformed wretches? If he had cared for them, would he have made them thus? For we can answer, However sick, or weak they may be, God in Christ has been as weak as they. God has shared their sufferings, and has been made perfect by sufferings, that they might be made perfect also. God has sanctified suffering, pain, and sorrow upon his cross, and made them holy; as holy as health, and strength, and happiness are. And so on Good Friday God bridged over the gulf between man and man. He has shown that God is charity and love; and that the way to live for ever in God is to live for ever in that charity and love to all mankind which God showed this day upon the cross.
And, therefore, all CHARITY is rightly called CHRISTIAN charity; for it is Christ, and the news of Good Friday, which first taught men to have charity; to look on the poor, the afflicted, the weak, the orphan, with love, pity, respect. By the sight of a suffering and dying God, God has touched the hearts of men, that they might learn to love and respect suffering and dying men; and in the face of every mourner, see the face of Christ, who died for them. Because Christ the sufferer is their elder brother, all sufferers are their brothers likewise. Because Christ tasted pain, shame, misery, death for all men, therefore we are bound this day to pray for all men, that they may have their share in the blessings of Christ's death; not to look on them any longer as aliens, strangers, enemies, parted from us and each other and God; but whether wise or foolish, sick or well, happy or unhappy, alive or dead, as brothers. We are bound to pray for his Holy Church as one family of brothers; for all ranks of men in it, that each of them may learn to give up their own will and pleasure for the sake of doing their duty in their calling, as Christ did; to pray for Jews, Turks, Heathens, and Infidels; as for God's lost children, and our lost brothers, that God would bring them home to his flock, and touch their hearts by the news of his sufferings for them; that they may taste the inestimable comfort of knowing that God so loved them as to suffer, to groan, to die for them and all mankind.