Christ’s Dying Word for His Church
“It is finished.” — John xix. 30.
IN the original Greek of John’s Gospel, there is only one word for this utterance of our Lord. To translate it into English, we have to use three words; but when it was spoken, it was only one,— an ocean of meaning in a drop of language, a mere drop, for that is all that we can call one word. “It is finished.” Yet it would need all the other words that ever were spoken, or ever can be spoken, to explain this one word. It is altogether immeasurable. It is high; I cannot attain to it. It is deep; I cannot fathom it. “Finished.” lean half imagine the tone in which our Lord uttered this word, with a holy glorying, a sense of relief, the bursting out of a heart that had long been shut up within walls of anguish. “Finished.” It was a Conqueror’s cry; it was uttered with a loud voice. There is nothing of anguish about it, there is no wailing in it. It is the cry of One who has completed a tremendous labour, and is about to die; and ere he utters his death-prayer, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit,” he shouts his life’s last hymn in that one word, “Finished.”
May God the Holy Spirit help me to handle aright this text that is at once so small and yet so great! There are four ways in which I wish to look at it with you. First, I will speak of this dying saying of our Lord to his glory; secondly, I will use the text to the Church's comfort; thirdly, I will try to handle the subject to every believer's joy; and fourthly, I will seek to show how our Lord’s words ought to lead to our own arousement.
I. First, then, I will endeavour to speak of this dying saying of Christ TO HIS GLORY. Let us begin with that.
Jesus said, “It is finished.” Let us glory in him that it is finished. You and I may well do this when we recollect how very few things we have finished. We begin many things; and, sometimes, we begin well. We commence running like champions who must win the race; but soon we slacken our pace, and we fall exhausted on the course. The race commenced is never completed. In fact, I am afraid that we have never finished anything perfectly. You know what we say of some pieces of work, “Well, the man has done it; but there is no ‘finish’ about it.” No, and you must begin with “finish”, and go on with “finish”, if you are at last able to say broadly as the Saviour said without any qualification, “It is finished.”
What was it that was finished? His life-work and his atoning sacrifice on our behalf. He had interposed between our souls and divine justice, and he had stood in our stead, to obey and suffer on our behalf. He began this work early in life, even while he was a child. He persevered in holy obedience three and thirty years. That obedience cost him many a pang and groan. Now it is about to cost him his life; and as he gives away his life to finish the work of obedience to the Father, and of redemption for us, he says, “It is finished.” It was a wonderful work even to contemplate; only infinite love would have thought of devising such a plan. It was a wonderful work to carry on for so long; only boundless patience would have continued at it; and now that it requires the offering of himself, and the yielding up of his earthly life, only a Divine Saviour, very God of very God, would or could have consummated it by the surrender of his breath. What a work it was! Yet it was finished; while you and I have lots of little things lying about that we have never finished. We have begun to do something for Jesus that would bring him a little honour and glory; but we have never finished it. We did mean to glorify Christ; have not some of you intended, oh! so much? Yet it has never come to anything; but Christ’s work, which cost him heart and soul, body and spirit, cost him everything, even to his death on the cross, he pushed through all that till it was accomplished, and he could say, “It is finished.”
To whom did our Saviour say, “It is finished”? He said it to all whom it might concern; but it seems to me that he chiefly said it to his Father, for, immediately after, apparently in a lower tone of voice, he said, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” Beloved, it is one thing for me to say to you, “I have finished my work,”— possibly, if I were dying, you might say that I had finished my work; but for the Saviour to say that to God, to hang in the presence of him whose eyes are as a flame of fire, the great Header and Searcher of all hearts, for Jesus to look the dread Father in the face, and say, as he bowed his head, “Father, it is finished; I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do,” — oh, who but he could venture to make such a declaration as that? We can find a thousand flaws in our best works; and when we lie dying, we shall still have to lament our shortcomings and excesses; but there is nothing of imperfection about him who stood as Substitute for us; and unto the Father himself he can say, concerning all his work, “It is finished.” Wherefore, glorify him to-night. Oh, glorify him in your hearts to-night that, even in the presence of the Great Judge of all, your Surety and your Substitute is able to claim perfection for all his service!
Just think also, for a minute or two, now that you have remembered what Jesus finished, and to whom he said that he had finished it, how truly he had finished it. From the beginning to the end of Christ’s life there is nothing omitted, no single act of service ever left undone; neither is there any action of his slurred over, or performed in a careless manner. “It is finished,” refers as much to his childhood as to his death. The whole of the service that he was to render to God, when he came here in human form, was finished in every single part and portion of it. I take up a piece of a cabinet-maker’s work; and it bears a good appearance. I open the lid, and am satisfied with the workmanship; but there is something about the hinge that is not properly finished. Or, perhaps, if I turn it over, and look at the bottom of the box, I shall see that there is a piece that has been scamped, or that one part has not been well planed or properly polished. But if you examine the Master’s work right through, if you begin at Bethlehem and go on to Golgotha, and look minutely at every portion of it, the private as well as the public, the silent as well as the spoken part, you will find that it is finished, completed, perfected. We may say of it that, among all works, there is none like it; a multitude of perfections joined together to make up one absolute perfection. Wherefore, let us glorify the name of our blessed Lord. Crown him; crown him; for he hath done his work well. Come, ye saints, speak much to his honour, and in your hearts keep on singing to the praise of him who did so thoroughly, so perfectly, all the work which his Father gave him to do.
In the first place, then, we use our Lord’s words to his glory. Much might be said upon such a theme; but time will not permit it now.
II. Secondly, we will use the text TO THE CHURCH’S COMFORT.
I am persuaded that it was so intended to be used, for none of the words of our Lord on the cross are addressed to his Church but this one. I cannot believe that, when he was dying, he left his people, for whom he died, without a word. “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do,” is for sinners, not for saints. “I thirst,” is for himself; and so is that bitter cry, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” “Woman, behold thy son!” is for Mary. “To day shalt thou be with me in paradise," is for the penitent thief. “Into thy hands I commend my spirit,” is for the Father. Jesus must have had something to say, in the hour of death, for his Church; and, surely, this is his dying word for her. He tells her, shouting it in her ear that has become dull and heavy with despair, “It is finished.” “It is finished, O my redeemed one, my bride, my well-beloved, for whom I came to lay down my life; it is finished, the work is done!”
“Love’s redeeming work is done;
Fought the fight, the battle won.”
“Christ loved the church, and gave himself for it.” John, in the Revelation, speaks of the Redeemer’s work as already accomplished, and therefore he sings, “Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” This truth is full of comfort to the people of God.
And, first, as it concerns Christ, do you not feel greatly comforted to think that he is to be humiliated no longer? His suffering and shame are finished. I often sing, with sacred exultation and pleasure, those lines of Dr. Watts,—
“No more the bloody spear,
The cross and nails no more,
For hell itself shakes at his name,
And all the heavens adore.
“There his full glories shine
With uncreated rays,
And bless his saints’ and angels’ eyes
To everlasting days.”
I like also that expression in another of our hymns,—
“Now both the Surety and sinner are free.”
Not only are they free for whom Christ became a Surety, but he himself is for ever free from all the obligations and consequences of his suretyship. Men will never spit in his face again; the Roman soldiers will never scourge him again. Judas, where art thou? Behold the Christ sitting upon his great white throne, the glorious King who was once the Man of sorrows! Now Judas, come, and betray him with a kiss! What, man, dare you not do it? Come Pilate, and wash your hands in pretended innocency, and say now that you are guiltless of his blood! Come, ye Scribes and Pharisees, and accuse him; and oh, ye Jewish mob and Gentile rabble, newly-risen from the grave, shout now, “Away with him! Crucify him!” But see! they flee from him; they cry to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne!” Yet that is the face that was more marred than any man’s, the face of him whom they once despised and rejected. Are you not glad to think that they cannot despise him now, that they cannot illtreat him now?
“ ’Tis past,— that agonizing hour
Of torture and of shame;”
And Jesus says of it, “It is finished.”
We derive further comfort and joy as we think that, not only are Christ’s pangs and sufferings finished, but his Father's will and word have had a perfect completion. Certain things were written that were to be done; and these are done. Whatsoever the Father required has been rendered. “It is finished.” My Father will never say to me, “I cannot save thee by the death of my Son, for I am dissatisfied with his work.” Oh, no, beloved; God is well pleased with Christ, and with us in him! There is nothing which was arranged in the eternal mind to be done, yea, not a jot or tittle, but what Christ has done it all. As his eye, that eye that often wept for us, reads down the ancient writing, Christ is able to say, “I have finished the work which my Father gave me to do. Wherefore, be comforted, O my people, for my Father is well pleased with me, and well pleased with you in me!” I like, when I am in prayer, sometimes to say to the great Father, “Father, look on thy Son. Is he not all loveliness? Are there not in him unutterable beauties? Dost thou not delight in him? If thou hast looked on me, and grown sick of me, as well thou mayest, now refresh thyself by looking on thy Well-beloved, delight thyself in him;—
“ ‘Him, and then the sinner see,
Look through Jesus’ wounds on me.’ ”
The perfect satisfaction of the Father with Christ’s work for his people, so that Christ could say, “It is finished,” is a ground of solid comfort to his Church evermore.
Dear friends, once more, take comfort from this “It is finished,” for the redemption of Christ's Church is perfected. There is not another penny to be paid for her full release. There is no mortgage upon Christ’s inheritance. Those whom he bought with blood are for ever clear of all charges, paid for to the utmost. There was a handwriting of ordinances against us; but Christ hath taken it away, he hath nailed it to his cross. “It is finished,” finished for ever. All those overwhelming debts, which would have sunk us to the lowest hell, have been discharged; and they who believe in Christ may appear with boldness even before the throne of God itself. “It is finished.” What comfort there is in this glorious truth!
“Lamb of God! thy death hath given
Pardon, peace, and hope of heaven:
‘It is finished;’ let us raise
Songs of thankfulness and praise!”
And I think that we may say to the Church of God that, when Jesus said, “It is finished,” her ultimate triumph was secured. “Finished!” By that one word he declared that he had broken the head of the old dragon. By his death, Jesus has routed the hosts of darkness, and crushed the rising hopes of hell. We have a stern battle yet to fight; nobody can tell what may await the Church of God in years to come, it would be idle for us to attempt to prophesy; but it looks as if there were to be sterner times and darker days than we have ever yet known; but what of that? Our Lord has defeated the foe; and we have to fight with one who is already vanquished. The old serpent has been crushed, his head is bruised, and we have now to trample on him. We have this sure word of promise to encourage us, “The God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly.” Surely, “It is finished,” sounds like the trumpet of victory; let us have faith to claim that victory through the blood of the Lamb, and let every Christian here, let the whole Church of God, as one mighty army, take comfort from this dying word of the now risen and ever-living Saviour, “It is finished.” His Church may rest perfectly satisfied that his work for her is fully accomplished.
III. Now, thirdly, I want to use this expression, “It is finished,” TO EVERY BELIEVER’S JOY.
When our Lord said, “It is finished,” there was something to make every believer in him glad. What did that utterance mean? You and I have believed in Jesus of Nazareth; we believe him to be the Messiah, sent of God. Now, if you will turn to the Old Testament, you will find that the marks of the Messiah are very many, and very complicated; and if you will then turn to the life and death of Christ, you will see in him every mark of the Messiah plainly exhibited. Until he had said, “It is finished,” and until he had actually died, there was some doubt that there might be some one prophecy unfulfilled; but now that he hangs upon the cross, every mark, and every sign, and every token of his Messiahship have been fulfilled, and he says, “It is finished.” The life and death of Christ and the types of the Old Testament fit each other like hand and glove. It would be quite impossible for any person to write the life of a man, by way of fiction, and then in another book to write out a series of types, personal and sacrificial, and to make the character of the man fit all the types; even if he had permission to make both books, he could not do it. If he were allowed to make both the lock and the key, he could not do it; but here we have the lock made beforehand. In all the Books of the Old Testament, from the prophecy in the Garden of Eden right away down to Malachi, the last of the prophets, there were certain marks and tokens of the Christ. All these were so very singular that it did not appear as if they could all meet in one person; but they did all meet in One, every one of them, whether it concerned some minute point or some prominent characteristic. When the Lord Jesus Christ had ended his life, he could say, “It is finished; my life has tallied with all that was said of it from the first word of prophecy even to the last.” Now, that ought greatly to encourage your faith. You are not following cunningly-devised fables; but you are following One who must be the Messiah of God, since he so exactly fits all the prophecies and all the types that were given before concerning him.
“It is finished.” Let every believer be comforted in another respect, that every honour which the law of God could require has been rendered to it. You and I have broken that law, and all the race of mankind has broken it, too. We have tried to thrust God from his throne; we have dishonoured his law; we have broken his commandments wilfully and wickedly; but there has come One who is himself God, the Law-giver, and he has taken human nature, and in that nature he has kept the law perfectly; and inasmuch as the law had been broken by man, he has in the nature of man borne the sentence due for all man’s transgressions. The Godhead, being linked with the manhood, gave supreme virtue to all that the manhood suffered; and Christ, in life and in death, has magnified the law, and made it honourable; and God’s law at this day is raised to even greater honour than it had before man broke it. The death of the Son of God, the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ, has vindicated the great moral principle of God’s government, and made his throne to stand out gloriously before the eyes of men and angels for ever and ever. If hell were filled with men, it would not be such a vindication of divine justice as when God spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, and made him to die, the Just for the unjust, to bring us to God. Now let every believer rejoice in the great fact that, by the death of Christ, the law of God is abundantly honoured. You can be saved without impugning the holiness of God; you are saved without putting any stain upon the divine statute-book. The law is kept, and mercy triumphs, too.
And, beloved, here is included, of necessity, another comforting truth. Christ might well say, “It is finished,” for every solace conscience can need is now given. When your conscience is disturbed and troubled, if it knows that God is perfectly honoured, and his law vindicated, then it becomes easy. Men are always starting some new theory of the atonement; and one has said lately that the atonement was simply meant as an easement to the conscience of men. It is not so, my brethren; there would be no easing of the conscience by anything that was meant for that alone. Conscience can only be satisfied if God is satisfied. Until I see how the law is vindicated, my troubled conscience can never find rest. Dear heart, are thine eyes red with weeping? Yet look thou to him who hangs upon the tree. Is thy heart heavy even to despair? Look to him who hangs upon the tree, and believe in him. Take him to be thy soul’s atoning Lamb, suffering in thy stead. Accept of him as thy Representative, dying thy death that thou mayest live his life, bearing thy sin that thou mayest be made the righteousness of God in him. This is the best quietus in the world for every fear that conscience can raise; let every believer know that it is so.
Once more, there is joy to every believer when he remembers that, as Christ said, “It is finished,” every guarantee was given of the eternal salvation of all the redeemed. It appears to me that, if Christ finished the work for us, he will finish the work in us. If he has undertaken so supreme a labour as the redemption of our souls by blood, and that is finished, then the great but yet minor labour of renewing our natures, and transforming us even unto perfection, shall be finished, too. If, when we were sinners, Christ loved us so as to die for us, now that he has redeemed us, and has already reconciled us to himself, and made us his friends and his disciples, will he not finish the work that is necessary to make us fit to stand among the golden lamps of heaven, and to sing his praises in the country where nothing that defileth can ever enter?
“The work which his goodness began,
The arm of his strength will complete;
His promise is yea and Amen,
And never was forfeited yet:
Things future, nor things that are now,
Not all things below nor above,
Can make him his purpose forego,
Or sever my soul from his love.”
I believe it, my brethren. He who has said, “It is finished,” will never leave anything undone. It shall never be said of him, “This Man began, but was not able to finish.” If he has bought me with his blood, and called me by his grace, and I am resting on his promise and power, I shall be with him where he is, and I shall behold his glory, as surely as he is Christ the Lord, and I am a believer in him. What comfort this truth brings to every child of God!
Are there any of you here who are trying to do something to make a righteousness of your own? How dare you attempt such a work when Jesus says, “It is finished”? Are you trying to put a few of your own merits together, a few odds and ends, fig-leaves and filthy rags of your own righteousness? Jesus says, “It is finished.” Why do you want to add anything of your own to what he has completed? Do you say that you are not fit to be saved? What! have you to bring some of your fitness to eke out Christ’s work? “Oh!” say you, “I hope to come to Christ one of these days when I get better.” What! What! What! What! Are you to make yourself better, and then is Christ to do the rest of the work? You remind me of the railways to our country towns; you know that, often, the station is half-a-milo or a mile out of the town, so that you cannot get to the station without having an omnibus to take you there. But my Lord Jesus Christ comes right to the town of Mansoul. His railway runs close to your feet, and there is the carriage-door wide open; step in. You have not even to go over a bridge, or under a subway; there stands the carriage just before you. This royal railroad carries souls all the way from hell’s dark door, where they lie in sin, up to heaven’s great gate of pearl, where they dwell in perfect righteousness for ever. Cast yourself on Christ; take him to be everything you need, for he says of the whole work of salvation, “It is finished.”
I recollect the saying of a Scotchwoman, who had applied to be admitted to the communion of the kirk. Being thought to be very ignorant, and little instructed in the things of God, she was put back by the elders. The minister also had seen her, and thought that, at least for a while, she should wait. I wish I could speak Scotch, so as to give you her answer, but I am afraid that I should make a mistake if I tried it. It is a fine language, doubtless, for those who can speak it. She said something like this, “Aweel, sir; aweel, sir, but I ken ae thing. As the lintbell opens to the sun, so my heart opens to the name of Jesus.” You have, perhaps, seen the flax-flower shut itself up when the sun has gone; and, if so, you know that, whenever the sun has come back, the flower opens itself at once. “So,” said the poor woman, “I ken one thing, that as the flower opens to the sun, so my heart opens to the name of Jesus.” Do you know that, friends? Do you ken that one thing? Then I do not care if you do not ken much else; if that one thing is known by you, and if it be really so, you may be far from perfect in your own estimation, but you are a saved soul.
One said to me, when she came to join the church, and I asked her whether she was perfect, “Perfect? Oh, dear no, sir! I wish that I could be.” “Ah, yes!” I replied, “that would just please you, would it not?” “Yes; it would indeed,” she answered. “Well, then,” I said, “that shows that your heart is perfect, and that you love perfect things; you are pining after perfection; there is a something in you, an ‘I’ in you, that sinneth not, but that seeketh after that which is holy; and yet you do that which you would not, and you groan because you do, and the apostle is like you when he says, ‘It is no more I, the real I, that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.’ ” May the Lord put that “I” into many of you to-night, that “I” which will hate sin, that “I” which will find its heaven in being perfectly free from sin, that “I” which will' delight itself in the Almighty, that “I” which will sun itself in the smile of Christ, that “I” which will strike down every evil within as soon as ever it shows its head! So will you sing that familiar prayer of Toplady’s that we have often sung,—
“Let the water and the blood,
From thy riven side which flow’d,
Be of sin the double cure,
Cleanse me from its guilt and power”!
IV. I close by saying, in the fourth place, that we shall use this text, “It is finished,” TO OUR OWN AROUSEMENT.
Somebody once wickedly said, “Well, if Christ has finished it, there is nothing for me to do now but to fold my hands, and go to sleep.” That is the speech of a devil, not of a Christian! There is no grace in the heart when the mouth can talk like that. On the contrary, the true child of God says, “Has Christ finished his work for me? Then tell me what work I can do for him.” You remember the two questions of Saul of Tarsus. The first enquiry, after he had been struck down, was, “Who art thou, Lord?” And the next was, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” If Christ has finished the work for you which you could not do, now go and finish the work for him which you are privileged and permitted to do. Seek to—
“Rescue the perishing,
Care for the dying,
Snatch them in pity from sin and the grave;
Weep o’er the erring one,
Lift up the fallen,
Tell them of Jesus, the Mighty to save.”
My inference from this saying of Christ, “It is finished,” is this,— Has he finished his work for me? Then I must get to work for him, and I must 'persevere until I finish my work, too; not to save myself, for that is all done, but because I am saved. Now I must work for him with all my might; and if there come discouragements, if there come sufferings, if there comes a sense of weakness and exhaustion, yet let me not give way to it; but, inasmuch as he pressed on till he could say, “It is finished,” let me press on till I, too, shall be able to say, “I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.” You know how men who go fishing look out for the fish. I have heard of a man going to Keston Ponds on Saturday fishing, and stopping all day Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. There was another man fishing there, and the other man had only been there two days. He said, “I have been here two days, and I have only had one bite.” “Why!” replied the other, “I have been here ever since last Saturday, and I have not had a bite yet; but I mean to keep on.” “Well,” answered the other, “I cannot keep on without catching anything.” “Oh!” said number one, “but I have such a longing to catch some fish that I shall stop here till I do.” I believe that fellow would catch some fish ultimately, if there were any to be caught; he is the kind of fisherman to do it, and we want to have men who feel that they must win souls for Christ, and that they will persevere till they do. It must be so with us, brethren and sisters; we cannot let men go down to hell if there is any way of saving them.
The next inference is, that we can finish our work, for Christ finished his. You can put a lot of “finish” into your work, and you can hold on to the end, and complete the work by divine grace; and that grace is waiting for you, that grace is promised to you. Seek it, find it, get it. Do not act as some do, ah, even some who are before me now! They served God once, and then they ran away from him. They have come back again; God bless them, and help them to be more useful! But future earnest service will never make up for that sad gap in their earlier career. It is best to keep on, and on, and on, from the commencement to the close; the Lord help us to persevere to the end, till we can truly say of our life-work, “It is finished”!
One word of caution I must give you. Let us not think that our work is finished till we die. “Well,” says one, “I was just going to say of my work, ‘It is finished.’ ” Were you? Were you? I remember that, when John Newton wrote a book about grace in the blade, and grace in the ear, and grace in the full corn in the ear, a very talkative body said to him, “I have been reading your valuable book, Mr. Newton; it is a splendid work; and when I came to that part, ‘The full corn in the ear,’ I thought how wonderfully you had described me.” “Oh!” replied Mr. Newton, “but you could not have read the book rightly, for it is one of the marks of the full corn in the ear that it hangs its head very low.” So it is; and when a man, in a careless, boastful spirit, says of his work, “It is finished,” I am inclined to ask, “Brother, was it ever begun? If your work for Christ is finished, I should think that you never realized what it ought to be.” As long as there is breath in our bodies, let us serve Christ; as long as we can think, as long as we can speak, as long as we can work, let us serve him, let us even serve him with our last gasp; and, if it be possible, let us try to set some work going that will glorify him when we are dead and gone. Let us scatter some seed that may spring up when we are sleeping beneath the hillock in the cemetery. Ah, beloved, we shall never have finished our work for Christ until we bow our heads, and give up the ghost! The oldest friend here has a little something to do for the Master. Someone said to me, the other day, “I cannot think why old Mrs. So-and-so is spared; she is quite a burden to her friends.” “Ah!” I replied, “she has something yet to do for her Lord, she has another word to speak for him.” Sister, look up your work, and get it done; and you, brother, see what remains of your life-work yet incomplete. Wind off the ends, get all the little corners finished. Who knows how long it may be before you and I may have to give in our account? Some are called away very suddenly; they are apparently in good health one day, and they are gone the next. I should not like to leave a half -finished life behind me. The Lord Jesus Christ said, “It is finished,” and your heart should say, “Lord, and I will finish, too; not to mix my work with thine, but because thou hast finished thine, I will finish mine.”
Now may the Lord give us the joy of his presence at his table! May the bread and wine speak to you much better than I can! May every heir of heaven see Christ to-night, and rejoice in his finished work, for his dear name’s sake! Amen.