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“Crucified”: Witsius On Christ’s Cursed Death for Us

11 April, 2009

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Another extract from Herman Witsius’s explanation of the Apostles’ Creed.

While suspended on the tree as the execration of God, exposed to the greatest ignominy, and suffering the most extreme agonies in soul and body, our blessed Lord poured out his soul unto death. His death was,

  1. Seasonable, the work which the Father had committed to him being completed (John 17:4); all things which the sacred oracles had foretold being accomplished (John 19:28); and every thing, from the greatest to the least, which it behoved him to perform in this life, being finished (John 19:30). He was, for good reasons, persuaded, that previously to this he ought by no means to desert his post.
  2. Voluntary (John 10:18), which was evinced by the strong cry which he uttered a little before his death (Matt 27:50), manifesting that he still possessed a great degree of vigour. It appeared also from his spontaneous and deliberate bowing of the head (John 19:30). “The contrary,” says Theophylact [an ancient Byzantine historian], “takes place with us; for we first expire, and then bow down the head. But he first bowed, and then expired; from which it was evident he was the Lord of death, and did all according to his pleasure.”
  3. Pious; for he died offering up prayers and supplications.
  4. Tranquil; his conscience bore him witness that he had faithfully accomplished the whole work incumbent upon him in this life; and he was certain that God, as a most affectionate Father, would receive his spirit, defend it from the devil, and restore it to himself at his resurrection. This is implied in the words, ” Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.”

It appears also from the following specimen of Christ’s prayers, which is exhibited in the twenty-second Psalm, verses 20, 21. “Deliver my soul from the sword;” cause me to expire in peace, and thus to frustrate the force of the spear which is shortly to pierce my side. “Deliver my darling,” that is, my dearly beloved, “from the power of the dog,” the licentious soldier, the Roman executioner. Let me escape by a speedy death that breaking of my bones, of which I am in danger. “Save me from the mouth of the lion,” the Devil, who has hitherto had the power of death; and make it evident by my blessed resurrection, that I am his conqueror. “For thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns [i.e. wild oxen];” thou hast heard the cries which I lifted up unto thee, whilst I was yet exposed to the rage of the princes of this world; and now thou assurest me that no man shall henceforth be permitted to treat me with cruelty and violence. These are the words of Christ when preparing himself for death, which may be compared with the event, and which discover his alacrity and fortitude.

Christ’s alacrity and confidence, however, ought not to hinder us from believing that unto death, and even in death, he bore the curse of God. Hanging on a tree was a symbol of the curse, and no vain symbol truly to Christ. The necessity of his submitting to death, arose from the curse of God due to the sin of the first Adam, for which it was requisite that satisfaction should be made by the second Adam. Christ too, when he died, “made his soul an offering for sin” (Is 53:10); nay, was ” made sin” (2 Cor 5:21); and “bare our sins in his own body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24), till he suffered “death for the redemption of transgression” (Heb 9:15) and “reconciled us in the body of his flesh through death” (Col 1:22).

Now, it is inconceivable how Christ can be said to bear our sins, or to bear the guilt of them even unto death, or to take them away by nothing less than death, reconciliation having been then only completely effected, – unless he sustained the curse of God both unto death, and in death. Nor is it unworthy of notice, that St Peter speaks of “the pains of Christ’s death” (Acts 2:24); and that Isaiah foretels that he should be “cut off out of the land of the living,” and, through means of death, at last “taken from prison and from judgment” (Is 53:8). In fine, how can we at all rest assured that we ourselves shall be delivered from a cursed death, unless Christ has undergone such a death in our room?

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  1. Witsius: Crucified « Heidelblog

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