History Laid Hands Upon Him

From “Made Under the Law,” On Behalf of Belief (1889)

He passed under the Law. He became a son of the covenant, a Jew of Jews, being already a child of Abraham. Two thousand years of continuous and recorded history laid hands upon him by that act — two thousand years since first God had sealed his promise to man under the pledge of circumcision. All that history stands good still. Christ accepts it; God respects it. None of it shall be destroyed or set aside. The Law is bound to be fulfilled, to be worked out; yea, to the very end. Only by complete and fearless submission to its claims can its dire necessities ever be loosed.

And not only under the Law; but he passed also under the Scripture. Here was the power of prophecy that went before him. It accomplished its completed mission by lodging itself on him, Who now, first at the hands of aged Simeon in the Temple, and yet again under the penitential ministry of the Baptist by Jordan, bent his neck, of his own will, to the yoke, and set himself to the hard task of fulfilling all our righteousness. The Jewish Scriptures, the spiritual record of God’s own prophetic handling of those chosen souls, who before the light shone should bear witness to its shining — those Scriptures now closed round that little Child with authoritative embrace, as Simeon lifted the Messiah long desired in his arms before God on the holy hill of Zion.

What those books recorded He must now fulfil. The experiences there noted and stored had authority over him. They gave him his direction; they marked down the path he must tread. He is made responsible for all that faithful souls, in the weary years behind him, had, under the discipline of the Spirit, been led to suffer, feel, utter, hope, declare. He accepts the limitations set upon him by their intuitions. He consents to travel by the road that they have cast up, passing from stone to stone there where they of old, in days of darkness and agony, laid them in the wilderness. All their voices, all their cries, their beseechings, their protests, He will re-utter, he will reiterate.

As they had been, so would he be. If they had been pierced in the house of their friends, even so would he be pierced. If they had gall and vinegar given them when their lips were parched with burning pain, so, too, shall he be not ashamed to taste of their cup. If but one of them had been sold for the contemptible price of a slave, that, too, should be his portion. If they had deemed themselves forsaken of God in the hour of their worst distress, he, too, would know what that horror of great darkness might mean. Whatever they had known — shame, spitting, scorn, infamy, cruelty, death — all should be passed on from them to him; on his shoulders those stripes of theirs should fall, until all should have in him an end, until all should in him be fulfilled. So he was to walk in strict and careful submission to the lines set down for him by this prepared past. Enough for him that a sorrow should be recorded in those ancient books; he will himself endure its repetition out of loyalty to those of old who felt the bitterness of its bruising. No legions of angels shall rush in to ward off from him disaster, for that would be to fail his God-given task.

“How, then, would the Scriptures be fulfilled?” So he walks, step by step, in the track of prophecy. Betrayal by Judas, desertion by those dearest, death by the hands of his own chosen people — all of this is accepted and justified out of faithful obedience to bygone experiences, to the limits set him under his constant phrases: “It must needs be that the Scripture be fulfilled;” “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things?” “The Son of Man goeth as it was determined;” “I say unto you that that which is written must yet be accomplished;” “These things were done that the Scripture might be fulfilled;” “This all was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Prophet.” And all this became his, to achieve by formal ratification, on the day when he was brought into the Jewish covenant, and was sealed to its conditions and necessities — the day when he was taken up by his parents on the eighth day to be circumcised, and received the Name of Jesus.”

Henry Scott Holland (1847-1918) was among the best-known Anglican clerics of the Victorian era. A prominent high churchman, he was a canon of St. Paul’s Cathedral for decades, where his sermons were greatly admired. He worked to alleviate the sufferings of the urban poor and founded the influential Christian Social Union, which advocated for socialist policies rooted in Christian principles.  Eight years before his death he was appointed Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford.


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