Out of Tomes: Quotations culled from a variety of Christian classics
Series: Isaiah 53:2-4
For us, Christmastime is a season of bright hope—but for Christ, it was the beginning of His “errand of suffering,” as Jonathan Edwards wrote. Because the Lord was willing to be born to “dry ground” (Isa. 53:2)—to a place that added nothing to Him—believers’ lives can be filled with joyous expectation of all light. Starting this week, I am dwelling in Isaiah 53:2-4 through a series of three Out of Tomes posts. These posts are filled with rich quotations from Christian classics for the purpose of worshiping the Lord, born to die, whose suffering started even in His infancy. For not only was He born in a stable, He was also the subject of an assassination plot: “…behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him’” (Matthew 2:13). This is how Jesus began His earth days—indicative of what was to come.
A root which springs up in a fat and fertile field owes very much to the soil in which it grows. We do not wonder that some plants thrive abundantly, for the earth in which they are planted is peculiarly congenial to their growth. But if we see a root or a tree luxuriating upon a flinty rock, or in the midst of arid sand, we are astonished and admire the handiwork of God. Our Savior is a root that derives nothing from the soil in which it grows, but puts everything into the soil. Christ does not live because of His surroundings, but He makes those to live who are around Him—and Christianity in this world derives nothing from the world except that which alloys and injures it, but it imparts every blessing to the place where it comes.
Note, then, this Truth of God—that Christ is always "a root out of a dry ground"—He derives nothing from without, but is self-contained and self-sustained in all the strength and excellence which He displays. Let us dwell on that Truth.
Poor, helpless, hopeless, stripped, and emptied one, you need not look for, nor desire anything in yourself to prepare you for Jesus! He delights to come into empty hearts to fill them with His love—into cold hearts to warm them with His sacred flame—and into dead hearts to give them life. Now, the same thought which may thus comfort the seeker, and I pray it may, ought also to encourage any Christian who has been making discoveries of his own barrenness.
He hath no form nor comeliness. This must be understood to relate not merely to the person of Christ, who was despised by the world, and was at length condemned to a disgraceful death; but to his whole kingdom, which in the eyes of men had no beauty, no comeliness, no splendor, which, in short, had nothing that could direct or captivate the hearts of men to it by its outward show. Although Christ arose from the dead, yet the Jews always regarded him as a person who had been crucified and disgraced, in consequence of which they haughtily disdained him.
…it is said, “He shall grow up as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him,” Isa. liii. 2. Can we see no goodness, no excellency in Christ, in the grace of Christ, in his ways, in his people, why he should be desired? Believers can, 1 Cor. ii. 7–10. The Spirit of God discovers to them the excellent things of Christ, whereby they find them to be good; whereas to strangers from Christ they seem absurd and foolish things, and no way to be desired. Men of carnal wisdom, that have attained to the highest pitch of reason and ability in the world, they can see neither form nor comeliness in Christ, or the things of Christ; but when God opens the things of Christ by the Spirit, then they see that there is a goodness and an excellency in them.
“For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.” Thus, as Christ’s principal errand into the world was suffering, so, agreeably to that errand, he came with such a nature and in such circumstances, as most made way for his suffering; so his whole life was filled up with suffering, he began to suffer in his infancy, but his suffering increased the more he drew near to the close of his life. His suffering after his public ministry began, was probably much greater than before; and the latter part of the time of his public ministry seems to have been distinguished by suffering. The longer Christ lived in the world, the more men saw and heard of him, the more they hated him. His enemies were more and more enraged by the continuance of the opposition that he made to their lusts; and the devil having been often baffled by him, grew more and more enraged, and strengthened the battle more and more against him: so that the cloud over Christ’s head grew darker and darker, as long as he lived in the world, till it was in its greatest blackness when he hung upon the cross and cried out, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me! Before this, it was exceedingly dark, in the time of his agony in the garden; of which we have an account in the words now read; and which I propose to make the subject of my present discourse. The word agony properly signifies an earnest strife, such as is witnessed in wrestling, running, or fighting. And therefore in Luke xiii. 24. “Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able;” the word in the original, translated strive, is Greek. “Agonize, to enter in at the strait gate.” The word is especially used for that sort of strife, which in those days was exhibited in the Olympic games, in which men strove for the mastery in running, wrestling, and other such kinds of exercises; and a prize was set up that was bestowed on the conqueror. Those, who thus contended, were, in the language then in use, said to agonize. Thus the apostle in his epistle to the Christians of Corinth, a city of Greece, where such games were annually exhibited, says in allusion to the strivings of the combatants, “And every man that striveth for the mastery,” in the original, every one that agonizeth, “is temperate in all things.” The place where those games were held, was called Greek, or the place of agony; and the word is particularly used in Scripture for that striving in earnest prayer wherein persons wrestle with God: they are said to agonize, or to be in agony, in prayer. So the word is used Rom. xv. 30. “Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me:” in the original Greek, that ye agonize together with me. So Coloss. iv. 12.“Always labouring fervently for you in prayer, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God:” in the original Greek, agonizing for you. So that when it is said in the text that Christ was in an agony, the meaning is, that his soul was in a great and earnest strife and conflict.