From A Reasoned Faith: Collected Addresses by John Baillie (London, Oxford, 1963)

by John Baillie

For as the lightning, that lighteneth out of the one part
under heaven, shineth unto the other part under heaven
so shall also the Son of man be in his day.

But first must he suffer many things.
Luke 17:24-25

OF ALL the things that Christ had to say to His disciples, this was the thing they were most reluctant to believe. We are told that He said it first after St. Peter’s confession,” at Caesarea Philippi, but it would seem that, after that He never ceased to say it. Indeed there is no other saying of His that is so often repeated in the Gospels as just this saying that the Son of Man must first suffer many things; and the reason why He repeated was simply that He saw His disciples were so slow to take it in.

When Jesus began His preaching by proclaiming that, the Kingdom of God was near at hand, they were quite ready to believe that. And when, after St. Peter's confession, He made it clear to them that He Himself was the Son of Man who would inaugurate the Kingdom in His own Person, they were quite ready to believe that. But when He, began to break it to them that before the Kingdom could come, the Son of Man must first suffer many things, and be rejected, and crucified, and rise again — that they would not and could not believe. Why this tragic complication to damp their enthusiasm in the simple good news He had brought to them? Why couldn't they march Him straight on to glory? During those inexpressibly marvellous days in Nazareth and in Capernaum and by the lakeside the Kingdom of God seemed already to have begun. On the Mount of Transfiguration Christ seemed already to be manifest in His glory, and they wanted to pitch their tents for eternity there and then. When He entered Jerusalem so triumphantly, and "the people of the Hebrews with palms before Him went," the final triumph seemed at last to be very near. Why couldn't things go on smoothly till all was accomplished? Would not the people of Jerusalem flock to His standard, until soon the new age would indeed have dawned in Israel and Jesus be crowned as Lord of all? And especially if He was Himself the divine Son of God, and if He had the omnipotence of God behind Him, why must He wait any longer for His victory? Why this terribly disillusioning and heart breaking about suffering and rejection and the Cross?

It is not only His first disciples who have felt this to be the most unwelcome part of Christ's teaching, for so it has been felt in every age. "We preach Christ crucified," wrote St. Paul in the next generation, "unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness." The Cross has ever been the stumbling block. The Christian religion would have aroused much less opposition in the world if it had left out its emphasis on sorrow and suffering and death and spoken to men only of life and joy and peace, if it had offered men Easter and Whitsuntide without Lent and Good Friday. But a religion that deliberately chooses a gallows-tree for its coat-of-arms, what do men want with that?

I am sure we ourselves often feel just as the disciples felt. Sometimes when a Sunday morning dawns gloriously, when nature seems glad; when the whole world seems "bright and beautiful and full of joy," we ask ourselves why we should go to Church and give ear to the austerities and sobrieties of this Christian teaching. Would it, not be better to be out in the open, joining in nature's own chorus of praise, listening to the singing of the birds and gaily carolling with them, watching the gambolling of the lambs and disporting ourselves with a like lightness of heart? Why should we tread with Christ the via dolorosa on such a day as this? Surely the goal of life can be reached by a more cheerful road!

That is a mood to which none of us can claim to be complete strangers, but in many quarters it is now being elevated into an elaborate philosophy of life, sometimes even into a counter-religion that is placed in competition with the religion of the Cross. In Germany, for instance, during the Nazi era a determined effort was made to replace Christianity in the affections and hearts of the people by a new religion that had no sadness or tragedy in it but, only the zest and joy of life. I have seen the bands of Hitler youth roam about the country-side, of a Sunday morning often assembling in the very square before the Church and at the very hour of morning service, so that the young men and maidens might be allured to follow them rather than join the congregation of the Christian faithful. Their motto, displayed on brightly-coloured banners, was "Strength through Joy." And they explicitly repudiated the Christian idea of joy through suffering. The Cross, you see, is still the stumbling block.

What then is it that is lacking in this religion of natural joy? Why must we turn aside from the singing of the birds and the gambolling of the lambs, and engage in these solemn exercises of the Christian religion? Why these austerities and sobrieties? Why these prayers and footings? Why these Lenten mournings? Why is the Cross necessary? Why did our Lord say that the Son of Man must first suffer?

The answer is quite clear. It is sin that makes it necessary. It is sin that introduces all the complications into the life of nature. It is sin that makes it impossible to rest content in a simple natural religion. It was sin that put the Cross into Christianity. It was sin that made it impossible for the Kingdom to come in the easy way that the disciples hoped. In a sinless world it might come that way, but not in a sinful world. The Son of Man had first to suffer—that was what' the disciples came at last to understand.

The grief and bitter passion
Were all for sinners' gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression,
But thine the deadly pain.

The fact is that sometimes when we wake on such a glorious Sunday morning as I described, we really forget for a moment that the earth is not still a Garden of Eden. We forget that we are not as were Adam and Eve in the days of their innocence. The religion of the Hitler youth would have done not so badly for Adam and Eve in their primeval paradise. It was a natural religion, and the old theologians always taught that the religion of Adam and Eve was a natural religion. But when, we try to recover that religion today, we are forgetting the Fall.

Now indeed I think that there are moments in life when we may forget the Fall. There are still in Scotland today, thank God, some places where God's world looks very much the same as it did before the Fall; by which I mean, not I know anything about how Scotland looked at some remote period of the past, but that there are places in it today which are still unspoiled by the vandal hand of man. I can show you a little corner, of paradise within an hour of my own door a little spot where the earth is still a Garden of Eden. And in such a spot we, can watch our children play in the same innocent and natural way is do the very lambs themselves. In hours and scenes of that kind there still lingers something of primeval innocence, something that sin has not spoiled, something of which we can say, as our Lord Himself said, that "of such is the Kingdom of Heaven." And I think it is right and good that we should delight in such hours and scenes and give a real place to them in our lives. For I am no puritan to look with peevish and suspicious eyes upon such natural gaiety. Rather do say with Wordsworth,

O evil day! if I were sullen
While earth herself' is adorning,
This sweet May morning
And the children are culling
On every side,
In a thousand valleys far and wide,
Fresh flowers; while, the sun shines warm,
And the babe leaps up on his mother's arm.

Ah yes, but it doesn't last very long! Those golden hours are soon over! Perhaps the children themselves begin squabbling, giving way to passions that are not at all pretty or paradisal. Then memory soon returns to burden us, the memory of our own, evil passions and evil deeds, our tarnished record, our smirched ideals, our neglected opportunities, our mismanaged human relationships. We return to the city to be met on all sides by evidences of a fallen world. We pass by the slums and the prisons. Overhead perhaps we hear the bombing aeroplanes, practising the arts of death. Everywhere around us are the signs of selfishness and greed and social injustice and the feud of rich and poor. Earth a paradise! The very suggestion is fraught with bitter irony, as in that story I once read of a foul London slum which boasted the name of Paradise Court, until we cry out in despair that there can never be any paradise again. And then perhaps we are ready to understand why the Son of Man must first suffer.

Look then into this a little more closely. The first thing to understand is that there is no way out of sin except through suffering. Sometimes we are inclined to grumble at this dispensation of things. We think it too bad that our sins should bring such due consequences. We ask whether the omnipotent God could not have arranged things otherwise. And some men refuse to believe in God at all because He has not arranged things otherwise. But what then would they have? Would they prefer that sin should produce happiness? Would they prefer that sinners should prosper? Would they prefer that wickedness should go scot-free? Would they prefer that greed and license and hatred should bring rewards instead of punishments? Surely rather we must agree with the fine words of James Martineau, "Sin being there, it would be simply monstrous that there should be no suffering, and would fully justify the despair which raises its sickly cry of complaint against the retributory wretchedness of human transgression."

Of course, if pleasure were the chief end of man, then indeed it would have been better if God had designed a world where sin did not involve suffering. The world would then be a fine amusement park. Aye, but it would be a very poor school. It would be a hopelessly bad training ground. It would never lead men to holiness. It would never lead them to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, and if we believe that that is the chief end of man I think we can see at the sequence of sin and suffering is a wise dispensation on the part of One who loves us well.

But now the second thing to understand is that our own suffering is not enough. Our sin leads to suffering, and it is right that it should do so. Yet no man has ever reached the point when he has felt that his sufferings have atoned for his sins. However long a weird some of us may have to dree, we never feel that we have washed ourselves clean or have undone the past or have made our reparation.

Could my tears for ever flow,
All for sin could not atone.

So the end would still be death, as in the old Greek tragedies; and the Kingdom of God would still tarry. Aye, and if we had had the doing of it, it would tarry for ever and a day. But, thank God, we have not had the doing of it. Thank God that in His love and in His pity He has taken the doing of it upon Himself. His holy Son has suffered for our sakes and in our stead. The Kingdom is indeed assured to us, as much assured as if we had never sinned. Paradise is regained, as certainly regained as if it had never been lost. But the Son of Man had first to suffer.

What now about your own sin? Is there something that is weighing a little on your mind today? Something you did long ago perhaps, and about which you have near found peace. Something you did, or omitted to do, last week? Some little dishonesty? Some little unchastity? Some nasty little meanness you practised on somebody? Some hard, uncharitable word you spoke at the breakfast table this morning, and the memory of which still rankles in your heart and another's? It may seem a very small thing, a pecadillo rather than a sin. In itself it was a small thing --a single word, a single look, a moment's lapse only. Yet who can measure its results? The terrible thing about sin is the rapidity with which it spreads its ravages from even the smallest beginnings. The smallest untruth, for instance, will soon need another to back it up, and then another, and another. "Lying," says an old eighteenth-century book, "is like a wild, huge, irregular Forest; where you will be hard put to it, unless you have a strong Memory indeed, to remember the place of any particular Tree you have mark'd. Truth, on the other hand, is a small regular Enclosure, where you can easily go again to anything you have once seen." How true that is! And moreover, to what an infinity of suffering does the smallest sin often lead! It was only a momentary lapse, you say. Yes, but it put God's world out of joint! Only a single word, but it was broadcast to the stars! "I strike a stone, and the shock is felt in Neptune." Had that little sin of yours been the only sin ever committed, it alone would have been enough to start the miserable ball rolling. It alone would have been enough to make an end of the Garden of Eden. It alone would have been enough to bring "death into the world and all our woe." Wasn't the old story right in supposing that the eating of a single forbidden apple was enough in itself to cause the irretrievable disaster?

Is there then any way out for you? Is there any way back? Yes, there is a way; but it passes through the sufferings of Christ. For that one little sin of yours Christ must die. With that one word, with that one look, you crucified Him. Yes, in spite of what you have done, the Kingdom of Heaven may still come for you. But the Son of Man must first suffer.

Or again, consider the dreadful state of the world at the present moment. What a scene of turmoil it is, and of bitter strife! What a cockpit of ugly passions and murderous hatreds! Nation lifting up its hand against nation, and brother against brother! Plough shares being turned with diabolical rapidity and ingenuity into swords, and pruning-hooks into spears! Here again, the fatal ball has started to roll. Here again sin leads on to sin in that vicious circle of which the present competition in armaments is a sort of symbolic expression. The end of such things can only be death.

Is there any way out, then? Can the fond hope of a better world ever be realised? Shall we ever enjoy the promised reign of righteousness and peace of which all the prophets dreamed? Yes it may come and shall come, but not by any easy road. Not by any painless process of education. Not by any natural evolution. Not by any gradual and easy progress. All the facts give the lie to such utopian dreams. There is no way but the via dolorosa. Please God, these things shall be! -- but they can only be through the Cross. "For as the lightning, that lighteneth out of the one part under heaven, shineth unto the other part under heaven; so shall also the Son of Man be in his day. But first must he suffer many things." Each new, international quarrel adds to His sufferings. Every taunt that one nation casts at another increases His stripes. Every fresh piece of lying propaganda drives another nail into His wounds. Every new bombing aeroplane that is built adds another pang to His grief. There is no other way than the way that leads over Calvary.

Let us than thank God for His unspeakable gift. Let us thank Him for the suffering of Him by whose stripes we can alone be healed. Let us thank Him that at the very centre of our religion there stands a Cross. And let us take good heed that we do not now, after hearing all this, go out into the world proposing to crucify our Lord afresh.