Guest Writer Thomas DeWitt Talmage
“Without shedding of blood is no remission” (Hebrews 9:22).
John Greenleaf Whittier, the last of the great school of American poets that made the last quarter of a century brilliant, asked me in the White Mountains, one morning after prayers, in which I had given out Cowper’s famous hymn about “The Fountain Filled with Blood,” “Do you really believe there is a literal application of the blood of Christ to the soul?”
My negative reply then is my negative reply now. The Bible agrees with all physicians, physiologists, and scientists, in saying that the blood is the life, and in the Christian faith it means simply that Christ’s life was given for our life. Hence, all this talk of men who say the Bible story of blood is disgusting, and that they don’t want what they call a “slaughter-house religion,” only shows their incapacity or unwillingness to look through the figure of speech toward the thing signified. The blood that, on the darkest Friday the world ever saw, oozed, trickled, or poured from the brow, side, hands, and feet of the illustrious Sufferer, back of Jerusalem, in a few hours coagulated, dried up, and disappeared; and if man had depended on the application of that literal blood of Christ, there would not have been a soul saved for the last eighteen centuries.
To understand this red word of my text, we only have to exercise as much common sense in believing as we do in everything else. Pang for pang, hunger for hunger, fatigue for fatigue, tear for tear, blood for blood, life for life, we see every day illustrated. The act of substitution is no novelty, though I hear men talk as though the idea of Christ’s suffering substituted for our suffering were something abnormal, something distressingly odd, something wildly eccentric, a solitary episode in the world’s history; when I could take you out into this city and, before sundown, point you to hundreds of cases of substitution and voluntary suffering of one in behalf of another.
At two o’clock tomorrow afternoon go among the places of business or toil. It will be no difficult thing for you to find men who, by their looks, show you that they are overworked. They are prematurely old. They are hastening rapidly toward their decease. They have gone through crises in business that shattered their nervous system and pulled on the brain. They have shortness of breath, pain in the back of the head, and at night an alarming insomnia. Why are they drudging at business early and late? For fun? No; it would be difficult to extract any amusement out of that exhaustion. Because they are avaricious [greedy]? In many cases no. Because their own personal expenses are lavish? No—a few hundred dollars would meet all their wants.
The simple fact is, the man is enduring all that fatigue, exasperation, and wear-and-tear to maintain his home and family. There is an invisible line reaching from that store, from that bank, from that shop, from that scaffolding, to a quiet scene a few blocks, a few miles away, and there is the secret of that business endurance. He is simply the champion of a homestead, for which he wins bread, wardrobe, education, and sustenance; and in such battle thousands of men fall. Of ten businessmen whom I bury, nine die of overwork for others. Sudden disease finds some with no power of resistance, and they are gone. Life for life. Blood for blood. Substitution!
At one o’clock tomorrow morning, the hour when slumber is most uninterrupted and most profound, walk amid the dwelling-houses of the city. Here and there you will find a dim light, because it is the household custom to keep a subdued light burning: but most of the houses from base to top are as dark as though uninhabited. A merciful God has sent forth the angel of sleep, and he puts his wings over the city.
But yonder is a clear light burning, and outside on the window casement a glass or pitcher containing food for a sick child; the food is set in the fresh air. This is the sixth night that mother has sat up with that sufferer. She has to the last point obeyed the physician’s prescription, not giving a drop too much or too little, or a moment too soon or too late. She is anxious, for she has buried three children with the same disease; and she prays and weeps, each prayer and sob ending with a kiss of the pale cheek. By dint of kindness she gets the little one through the ordeal. After it is all over, the mother is taken down. Brain or nervous fever sets in, and one day she leaves the convalescent child with a mother’s blessing, and goes up to join the three in the kingdom of heaven. Life for life. Substitution!
The fact is that there are an uncounted number of mothers who, after they have navigated a large family of children through all the diseases of infancy, and gotten them fairly started up the flowering slope of boyhood and girlhood, have only strength enough left to die. They fade away. Some call it consumption; some call it nervous prostration; some call it intermittent or malarial disposition; but I call it martyrdom of the domestic circle. Life for life. Blood for blood. Substitution!
Or perhaps the mother lingers long enough to see a son get on the wrong road, and his former kindness becomes rough reply when she expresses anxiety about him. But she goes right on, looking carefully after his apparel, remembering his every birthday with some memento, and when he is brought home worn out with dissipation, nurses him till he gets well and starts him again, and hopes, expects, prays, counsels, and suffers, until her strength gives out and she fails. She is going, and attendants, bending over her pillow, ask her if she has any message to leave, and she makes great effort to say something; but out of three or four minutes of indistinct utterance they can catch but three words: “My poor boy!” The simple fact is she died for him. Life for life. Substitution!
About twenty-four years ago there went forth from our homes hundreds of thousands of men to do battle for their country [Civil War]. All the poetry of war soon vanished, and left them nothing but the terrible prose. They waded knee-deep in mud. They slept in snow-banks. They marched till their cut feet tracked the earth. They were swindled out of their honest rations, and lived on meat not fit for a dog. They had jaws fractured, eyes extinguished, and limbs shot away.
Thousands of them cried for water as they lay dying on the field the night after the battle, and received none. They were homesick, and received no message from their loved ones. They died in barns, in bushes, in ditches, the buzzards of the summer heat the only attendants on their obsequies [funeral]. No one but the omniscient God, who knows everything, knows the ten-thousandth part of the length, breadth, depth, and height of anguish of the Northern and Southern battlefields. Why did these fathers leave their children and go to the front? Why did these young men, postponing the wedding day, start out into the probabilities of never coming back? For their country they died. Life for life. Blood for blood. Substitution!
But we need not go so far. What is that monument in Greenwood [local cemetery]? It is to the doctors who fell in the Southern epidemics. Why go? Were there not enough sick to be attended in these Northern latitudes? Oh, yes. But the doctor puts a few medical books in his valise, and some vials of medicine, leaves his patients here in the hands of other physicians, and takes the train. Before he gets to the infected regions, he passes crowded trains, regular and extra, taking the flying and affrighted populations. He arrives in a city over which a great horror is brooding. He goes from couch to couch, feeling pulse, studying symptoms, and prescribing day after day, night after night, until a fellow physician says: “Doctor, you had better go home and rest. You look miserable.” But he cannot rest while so many are suffering.
On and on, until some morning finds him in a delirium, in which he talks of home, and then rises and says he must go and look after those patients. He is told to lie down; but he fights his attendants until he falls back, grows weaker and weaker, dies for people with whom he had no kinship, far away from his own family, is hastily laid in a stranger’s tomb, and only a newspaper line tells us of his sacrifice—his name mentioned among five. Yet he has touched the furthest height of sublimity in that three weeks of humanitarian service. He goes straight as an arrow to the bosom of Him who said: “I was sick, and you visited Me” (Matthew 25:36). Life for life. Blood for blood. Substitution!
In the legal profession I see the same principle of self-sacrifice. In 1846 William Freeman, a poor, idiotic Negro, was at Auburn, New York, on trial for murder. He had killed the entire Van Nestfamily [relatives of Talmage]. The foaming wrath of the community could be kept off him only by armed constables. Who would volunteer to be his counsel? No attorney wanted to sacrifice his popularity by such an ungrateful task. All were silent save one, a young lawyer with feeble voice, that could hardly be heard outside the bar, pale and thin and awkward. It was William H Seward, who saw that the prisoner was mindless and irresponsible, and ought to be put in an asylum rather than put to death.
The heroic counsel uttered these words: “I speak now in the hearing of a people who have prejudged prisoner and condemned me for pleading in his behalf. He is a convict, a pauper, a Negro, without intellect, sense, or emotion. My child with an affectionate smile disarms my careworn face of its frown whenever I cross my threshold. The beggar in the street obliges me to give because he says, ‘God bless you!’ as I pass. My dog caresses me with fondness if I will but smile on him. My horse recognizes me when I fill his manger. What reward, what gratitude, what sympathy and affection can I expect here? There the prisoner sits. Look at him. Look at the assemblage around you. Listen to their ill-suppressed censures and their excited fears, and tell me where among my neighbors or my fellowmen, where, even in his heart, I can expect to find a sentiment, a thought, not to say of reward or of acknowledgment, or even of recognition? Gentlemen, you may think of this evidence what you please, bring in what verdict you can, but I asseverate [affirm] before Heaven and you, that, to the best of my knowledge and belief, the prisoner at the bar does not at this moment know why it is that my shadow falls on you instead of his own.”
The gallows got its victim, but the post-mortem examination of the poor creature showed to all the surgeons and to all the world that the public were wrong and that William H Seward was right. That hard, stony step of obloquy [critcism] in the Auburn courtroom was the first step of the stairs of fame up which Seward went to the top [Secretary of State], or to within one step of the top [the Presidency]—that last denied him through the treachery of American politics [responsible for purchase of Alaska, “Seward’s Folly”]. Nothing sublimer was ever seen in an American courtroom than William H Seward, without reward, standing between the fury of the populace and the loathsome imbecile. Substitution!
In the realm of the fine arts there was as remarkable an instance. A brilliant but hypercriticized painter, Joseph William Turner, was met by a volley of abuse from all the art galleries of Europe. His paintings, which have since won the applause of all civilized nations, The Fifth Plague of Egypt, Fishermen on a Lee Shore in Squally Weather, Calais Pier, The Sun Rising Through Mist, and Dido Building Carthage, were then targets for critics to shoot at. In defense of this outrageously abused man, a young author of twenty-four years, one year out of college, came forth with his pen, and wrote the ablest and most famous essays on art that the world ever saw, or ever will see—John Ruskin’s Modern Painters.
For seventeen years this author fought the battles of the maltreated artist, and after, in poverty and broken-heartedness, the painter had died, and the public tried to undo their cruelties toward him by giving him a big funeral and burial at St Paul’s Cathedral, his old-time friend took out of a tinbox 19,000 pieces of paper containing drawings by the old painter, and through many weary and uncompensated months assorted and arranged them for public observation. People say John Ruskin in his old days is cross, misanthropic, and morbid. Whatever he may do that he ought not to do, and whatever he may say that he ought not to say between now and his death, he will leave this world insolvent as far as it has any capacity to pay this author’s pen for its chivalric and Christian defense of a poor painter’s pencil. John Ruskin for William Turner. Blood for blood. Substitution!
What an exalting principle this which leads one to suffer for another! Nothing so kindles enthusiasm, awakens eloquence, chimes poetic canto, or moves nations. The principle is the dominant one in our faith—Christ the Martyr, Christ the celestial Hero, Christ the Defender, Christ the Substitute. No new principle, for it was as old as human nature; but now on a grander, wider, higher, deeper, and more world-resounding scale!
The shepherd boy as a champion for Israel with a sling toppled the giant of Philistine braggadocio in the dust (1 Samuel 17:38-54); but here is another David who, for all the armies of churches militant and triumphant, hurls the Goliath of perdition into defeat, the crash of his brazen armor like an explosion at Hell Gate.
Abraham had at God’s command agreed to sacrifice his son Isaac (Genesis 22:1-14), and the same God just in time had provided a ram of the thicket as a substitute; but here is another Isaac bound to the altar, and no hand arrests the sharp edges of laceration and death, and the universe shivers, quakes, recoils, and groans at the horror.
All good men have for centuries been trying to tell whom this Substitute was like, and every comparison, inspired and uninspired, evangelistic, prophetic, apostolic, and human, falls short, for Jesus Christ was the Great Unlike. Adam was a type of Christ [or Messiah, a title meaning “the Anointed One”], because he came directly from God; Noah, a type of Christ, because he delivered his own family from deluge; Melchisedec, a type of Christ, because he had no predecessor or successor; Joseph, a type of Christ, because he was cast out by his brethren; Moses, a type of Christ, because he was a deliverer from bondage; Joshua, a type of Christ, because he was a conqueror; Samson, a type of Christ, because of his strength to slay the lions and carry off the iron gates of impossibility; Solomon, a type of Christ, in the affluence of his dominion; Jonah, a type of Christ, because he threw himself into the stormy sea to save others. But put together Adam, Noah, Melchisedec, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Samson, Solomon, and Jonah would not make a fragment of our Christ, a quarter of our Christ, the half of our Christ, or the millionth part of our Christ! The truth is what Simon Peter observed of Jesus of Nazareth, “You are THE Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).
Jesus Christ forsook a throne and sat down on His own footstool (cf Philippians 2:5-11). He came from the top of glory to the bottom of humiliation, and changed a circumference seraphic [angelic world] for a circumference diabolic [evil world]. Once waited on by angels, now hissed at by brigands [thugs]. From afar and high up He came down; past meteors swifter than they; by starry thrones, Himself more lustrous; past larger worlds to smaller worlds; down stairs of firmaments, and from cloud to cloud, and through treetops and into the earners stall, to thrust His shoulder under our burdens and take the lances of pain through His vitals, and wrapped Himself in all the agonies we deserve for our misdoings, and stood on the splitting decks of a foundering vessel, amid the drenching surf of the sea, and passed midnights on the mountains amid wild beasts of prey, and stood at the point where all earthly and infernal hostilities charged on Him at once with their keen sabers—our Substitute!
When did attorney ever endure so much for a pauper client, or physician for the patient in the lazaretto [quarantine], or mother for the child in membranous croup, as Christ for you and me? Can any man, woman, or child in this audience who has ever suffered for another find it hard to understand this Christly suffering for us? Can those whose sympathies have been wrung in behalf of the unfortunate have no appreciation of that one moment lifted out of all the ages of eternity as most conspicuous, when Christ gathered up all the sins of those to be redeemed under His one arm, and all their sorrows under His other arm, and said: “I will atone for these under my right arm, and will heal all those under my left arm. Strike me with all Your glittering shafts, O Eternal Justice! Roll over me with all your surges, you oceans of sorrow”? And the thunderbolts struck Him from above, and the seas of trouble rolled up from beneath, hurricane after hurricane, cyclone after cyclone, and then and there in presence of heaven and earth and hell, yea, all worlds witnessing the price—the bitter price, the transcendent price, the awful price, the glorious price, the infinite price, the eternal price—that was paid to set us free.
That is what Paul means, that is what I mean, that is what all those who have ever had their heart changed mean by “blood.” I glory in this “religion of blood”! I am thrilled as I see the suggestive color in sacramental cup, whether it be of burnished silver set on cloth immaculately white, or rough-hewn from wood set on table in log-hut meeting-house of the wilderness. Now I am thrilled as I see the altars of ancient sacrifice crimson with the blood of the slain lamb, and Leviticus is to me not so much the Old Testament as the New.
Now I see why the destroying angel passing over Egypt in the night spared all those houses that had blood sprinkled on their doorposts (Exodus 12:7, 12, 13). Now I know what Isaiah means when he speaks of One in red apparel coming “with dyed garments from Bozrah” (Isaiah 63:1); and whom the Apocalypse means when it describes a heavenly Chieftain, “The Word of God,” wearing “a vesture dipped in blood” (Revelation 19:13); and what the Apostle Peter means when he speaks of us being redeemed from sin by “the precious blood, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:19); and what the old, wornout, decrepit missionary Paul means when, in my text, he cries, “Without shedding of blood is no remission.”
By that blood you and I will be saved—or never saved at all. In all the ages of the world God has not once pardoned a single sin except through the Savior’s expiation, and He never will. Glory be to God that the hill back of Jerusalem was the battlefield on which Christ achieved our liberty!
The most exciting and overpowering day of last summer was the day I spent on the Battlefield of Waterloo. Starting out with the morning train from Brussels, Belgium, we arrived in about an hour on that famous spot. A son of one who was in the battle, and who had heard from his father a thousand times the whole scene recited, accompanied us over the field. There stood the old Hougoumont Château, the walls dented, and scratched, and broken, and shattered by grapeshot and cannonball. There is the well in which 300 dying and dead were pitched. There is the chapel with the head of the infant Christ shot off. There are the gates at which, for many hours, English and French armies wrestled.
Yonder were the 160 guns of the English, and the 250 guns of the French. Yonder the Hanoverian Hussars fled for the woods. Yonder was the ravine of Ohain, where the French cavalry, not knowing there was a hollow in the ground, rolled over and down, troop after troop, tumbling into one awful mass of suffering, hoof of kicking horses against brow and breast of captains and colonels and private soldiers, the human and the beastly groan kept up until, the day after, all was shoveled under because of the malodor arising in that hot month of June.
“There,” said our guide, “the Highland regiments lay down on their faces waiting for the moment to spring on the foe. In that orchard 2,500 men were cut to pieces. Here stood Wellington with white lips, and up that knoll rode Marshal Ney on his sixth horse, five having been shot under him. Here the ranks of the French broke; and Marshal Ney, with his boot slashed of a sword, his hat off, and his face covered with powder and blood, tried to rally his troops as he cried: ‘Come and see how a marshal of French dies on the battlefield.’
“From yonder direction Grouchy was expected for the French reinforcement, but he came not. Around those woods Blucher was looked for to reinforce the English, and just in time he came up. Yonder is the field where Napoleon stood, his arm through the reins of the horse’s bridle, dazed and insane, trying to go back.”
Scene of a battle that went on from a few minutes shy of twelve o’clock noon, on 18 June 1815, to four o’clock in the afternoon, when the English seemed defeated, and their commander cried out, “Boys, can you think of giving way? Remember old England!” The tides turned, and at eight o’clock in the evening the man of destiny, who was called by his troops Old Two Hundred Thousand, turned away with broken heart, and the fate of centuries was decided.
No wonder a great mound has been reared there, hundreds of feet high—a mound at the expense of millions of dollars and many years in rising. And on the top is the great Belgian lion of bronze, and a grand old lion it is.
But our great Waterloo was in Palestine. There came a day when all Hell rode up, led by Apollyon, and the Captain of our salvation confronted them alone. The Rider on the white horse of the Apocalypse (Revelation 19:11) going out against the black horse cavalry of death, and the battalions of the demoniac, and the Myrmidons [warriors] of darkness. From twelve o’clock noon to three o’clock in the afternoon the greatest battle of the universe went on (Matthew 27:45). Eternal destinies were being decided. All the arrows of hell pierced our Chieftain, and the battleaxes struck Him, until brow, cheek, shoulder, hand, and foot were incarnadined [crimsoned] with oozing life; but He fought on until He gave a final stroke with sword from Jehovah’s buckler, until the commander-in-chief of Hell and all his forces fell back in everlasting ruin, and today the victory is ours. And on the mound that celebrates the triumph we plant this day two figures—not in bronze, iron, or sculptured marble, but two figures of living Light—the Lion of the Tribe of Judah and the Lamb that was slain (Revelation 5:5, 6).
“Morality may keep you out of jail, but it takes the blood of Jesus Christ to keep you out of hell.” ~Charles H Spurgeon
Copyright © 2014 Alexandra Lee
Photo Credit: Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn, New York
Featured for this series are photographs of old New York.
*Adapted from “Vicarious Suffering,” Thomas DeWitt Talmage [1832-1902], New Tabernacle Sermons Vol I (New York: George Munro, 1886). Quotes, scriptural locations, photos, links, emendations added.