A. E. Realff

The Sufferings Of Christ

[The Substance Of A Sermon, Preached By A. E. Realff, At Harlow, On Sunday Morning, September 9th, 1883]

“For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: by which also He went and preached unto the spirits in prison.”—1 Peter 3:18,19

The Apostle has been treating of undeserved suffering (ver. 14). This is, more or less, the common lot of the sheep of Christ in every age of the world, but in the apostolic age it was peculiarly so. Of this their Saviour had forewarned them, and pronounced those “blessed” who were thus called to suffer for the truth’s sake (Matt. 5; John 15). This Apostle here reiterates the same testimony; and, for the encouragement of those thus called to suffer, he reminds them that in nothing do they so much resemble their Lord, “for Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust.”

Suffering, in one form or another, is the lot of all the “sons” of God. It is only the “bastards” who escape (Heb. 12). Hence, said Augustine, “God had one Son without sin, but He has no son without suffering.” The holiest and best of all God’s sons—the Son in whom He expressed Himself as being “well pleased”—this was the Son who suffered most of all. Then all hail suffering, seeing it is a mark of God’s favour and love. Let this, therefore, be the motto of every child of God, “I am willing to suffer, if need be; but, by God’s grace, I will strive against sin.” Well sings the poet Cowper—

“The path of sorrow, and that path alone,

Leads to the land where sorrow is unknown; 

No traveller e’er reached that blest abode

Who found not thorns and briars on the road.”

Dear fellow Christian, are your friends unkind? Remember, it is written of Him, “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.” Are you poor? He said, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head.” Do your enemies inflict upon you bodily or mental suffering? He was mocked, and scourged, and crucified; He was even “numbered with transgressors,” classed with thieves, gluttons, wine-bibbers, and harlots; yet He cheerfully “endured the cross, despising the shame,” and this for thy sake.

Our text will help us to consider these sufferings of Christ, and their purpose.

I. THE SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST.—“Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust.” Here we shall perceive three particulars specified concerning the sufferings of Christ. They were “for sins”—for sins not His own—and the suffering was “once” for all.

1. The sufferings of Christ were “for sins.” Sin always merits suffering, and the punishment which, according to God’s holy law, must follow sin, extends beyond this life, even into an eternal future. So God said to Adam, “The day that thou sinnest against Me, by eating that which I have commanded thee not to eat, thou shalt surely die.” Says the Apostle to the Romans, “The wages of sin is death;” “If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die.” Therefore, as all men are “born in sin,” we are all by nature the children of wrath,” and “cursed is every one that continueth not in all things written in the Book of the law to do them.”

It was sin, therefore, that caused the awful agonies, the groans, and the pains, of the ever-blessed Son of God on behalf of His chosen people—

“Heard you that awful groan 

From yonder altar-tree?

‘Twas sorrow’s deepest moan; 

‘Twas life’s last ecstasy!

”A spotless, heavenly Victim dies, 

A Substitute for thee;

And ‘Eloi! Eloi!’ mournful cries, 

‘Lama sabachthani’?'”

The sublime majesty of God’s law must be vindicated. God’s people must be shown what sin is, and what it deserves. Look, then, dear child of God, at the pale and ghastly face of the Most Lovely, bespattered with crimson gore, crowned with thorns, buffeted, torn, spit upon! Oh, matchless Son of God, it was sin that so maltreated Thee!

2. But these sins, for which the Lamb of God suffered, were not His own. He “suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust,” i.e., the Righteous for the unrighteous—

“He dies to atone for sins not His own;

The Father hath punished for us His dear Son.”

All His saved ones, gathered “out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation,” were unrighteous, and He, the Righteous, suffered in their stead. Elsewhere they are called “ungodly” and “sinners.” “He brought me up,” exclaims the Psalmist, “out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay.” Speaking of Joshua, “the high priest,” says the Angel of God, “Is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?’’ “I am the Good Shepherd,” says Jesus; “the Good Shepherd giveth His life for the sheep”—not for the goats, but for the sheep. “I am the Good Shepherd, and I know My sheep, and am known of Mine.” “The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many”—yes, even for “a multitude which no man can number.” “All we like sheep have gone astray,” exclaims the Church, “and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all,” i.e., all His people, not all the world. It never was God’s intention to save all the world, and all the world will not, therefore, be saved. If such had been God’s intention, He would certainly have done it, and not suffered the devil to defeat His purpose, for He is the Almighty God. Nor was it Christ’s intention to redeem the whole world, or He would have accomplished what He intended. But said He, “I lay down My life for the sheep.” “All that the Father giveth Me shall come to Me;” and “No man can come to Me except the Father which hath sent Me draw him.”

Dear friend, are you saying, “I fear I am not one of these sheep”? Listen to the language of the Shepherd Himself—“My sheep hear My voice,…and they follow Me.” “Hence,” says one of the old divines, “Christ’s sheep are marked in the ear and in the foot.” Now, do you know what it is to “hear” the Shepherd’s voice—in His Word, through His ministers, by His ordinances—speaking pardon, reconciliation, and peace; inspiring hope, and drawing out your heart’s love? And is it your desire and delight to follow Him? These are some of the evidences of being a sheep of Jesus Christ.

But can it be that any hearer of this has never been anxious about such a subject? Think, now, what a terrible thing to be gathered at last with the “goats”! “Ye shall die in your sins,” says the Redeemer. “Whither I go, ye cannot come.”

3. These sufferings of Christ were “once” for all: “Christ also hath once suffered for sins.” Now, this “once” extends over thirty-three years, embracing the whole earthly life of our Lord—the entire period of His incarnation. From the manger and the knife of circumcision, all through His days and nights of poverty, slander, ill-usage, and shame, right on to the garden of agony, Pilate’s bar, the pillar of scourging, the cross of crucifixion, it was one continued scene of woe. And oh, poor awakened sinner, it was all for thee! It was thy sins that did it!

Mr. Whitefield, preaching at Plymouth, turned and looked hard in the face of a young dock-labourer, named Henry Tanner, who stood close to the table, and said to him, “Sinner, thou art the man that hast crucified the Son of God!” These words were carried home by the divine Spirit, and Henry Tanner became first a humble penitent, then a rejoicing believer, and ultimately an honored and useful minister. Blessed be the Lamb of God, He “suffered the Just for the unjust,” or where would my poor soul have been? “Who His own Self bare our sins in His own body on the tree.”

“Once in the end of the world hath He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time without sin unto salvation” (Heb. 9). The sacrifices of the ancient typical people were many, and continually offered. Concerning them the Apostle wrote, “Every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: but this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God” (Heb. 10). Away, then, goes the “sacrifice of the Mass,” as it is impiously called, and all the Ritualistic and other imitations of it! Away goes every human priesthood! We have no priest to mediate, sacrifice, and atone but Jesus. We want no other sacrifice than His, offered ”once” for all on Calvary’s cross; for to add to that all-sufficient and all-atoning sacrifice another of human invention is derogatory to that one sacrifice, and is a proof of the unbelief and rebellion of the human heart, which will not be satisfied with that one sacrifice concerning which the great High Priest said, “It is finished!” but wants to see a sacrifice repeated every day, like those of the Jews. Well, as to “the sacrifice of the Mass,” the “sacrifice of the altar,” or whatever else it may be called, we must say, as the inspired Apostle said concerning the ancient sacrifices offered before the time of Christ, they “can never take away sin,” or “make the comers thereunto perfect.” But, blessed be God, this one sacrifice of Christ both can and does. “The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin.”

We come now to the second part of our subject—

II. THE PURPOSE OF CHRIST’S SUFFERINGS.—lt was “that He might bring us to God.” Now, Christ brings His redeemed ones to God, according to our text, in two ways—by His death in the flesh, and by His quickening Spirit.

1. By His death in the flesh—“being put to death in the flesh.” The putting of the Saviour to death in the flesh brings us to God, by revealing to our minds the terrible nature of sin, which causes it to merit such dreadful sufferings. When the convinced sinner sees the Son of God’s love so grievously tormented, on account of his personal sins, he sees what he himself deserves.

Oh, my hearer, have you ever been made conscious that you are a sinner? I do not mean in a general, but in a very particular way. If you have, you will never forget it. I well remember when God convinced me of sin; and I felt it so keenly that I thought there was not a sinner more vile under the canopy of heaven. It made me wretched; it drove me almost to despair, and nearly to suicide! And this has been the experience of many of God’s children—the late John Warburton notably so. Oh, “the Word of the Lord is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword,” when it cuts the heart of the awakened sinner! But, when God graciously gives the alarmed one to see that Jesus, his Surety, Saviour, and Substitute, has borne all his sins, and that he is thereby delivered, and “there is therefore now no condemnation,” then he is indeed brought to God by the sufferings of Christ.

2. By His quickening Spirit. Jesus was “quickened by the Spirit; by which also He went and preached unto the spirits in prison; which sometime were disobedient, when once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing.” Our Saviour, Jesus, did not, though crucified and “put to death in the flesh,” continue in the grave, but was “quickened by the Spirit.” “And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the spirit is life because of righteousness;” and only those are made nigh unto God by the blood of Jesus who are quickened by His Spirit.

This influence of His Spirit, Christ exercises now in the hearts of His people, bringing them, as sensible sinners, to seek and find favour with God; and He always did so exercise it, even in the earliest ages of the world, for the gathering of His sheep to the Gospel fold. By it “also He went and preached unto the spirits in prison.” The spirits of those disobedient antediluvians are still in the “prison” of hell, suffering the just punishment of their wickedness and rebellion. But Christ, by His Spirit, while the ark was building, preached to them, in the person of Noah, who (2 Pet. 2:5) is styled “a preacher of righteousness.” Yes, it was Christ’s Spirit that inspired patriarchs, prophets, and psalmists to speak and write the Word of God, though many of those to whom they preached and wrote are now, and ever must be, in the ”prison” of hell. Of this “salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow” (1 Pet. 1:10, 11); and “holy men of old spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Pet. 1:21). Therefore, remember that it is awfully dangerous to trifle with God’s most holy Word.

These “spirits in prison” can no longer hear the warning voice; and the time will soon be over with ourselves. My hearers, your bodies will very shortly be laid in the tomb; and, unless you are, by the quickening operations of the Spirit of Christ, brought savingly to God, it is to be feared of many of you that your “spirits” will be “in prison.” Oh, solemn thought! May God carry it home to your hearts, and bring you near to Himself, and to Him shall be all the glory!

A. E. Realff (?) was a Strict and Particular Baptist preacher. Between 1878-1885, he served as pastor of an Open Communion Baptist church meeting at Potter-street, Harlow. He resigned this office after coming to an understanding the Lord’s Table should be restricted to baptised believers. He thereafter served as pastor for Strict Baptist churches meeting at Dunstable and Guildford.