Excerpted from Wilhelmus á Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service (SDG, 1992), 1.612–23

As necessary as it is to know the truth and perfection of Christ’s satisfaction in the state of His humiliation, as well as its restriction to God’s children only, so beneficial and soul-stirring it is also to make application of it by faith. To consider this truth by way of holy meditation, to persevere in obtaining a proper frame of heart, and to grow by virtue of this frame, are exercises which are hidden for many, even for believers. Truly if a person had more faith to clearly perceive these truths and were to be more occupied with a quiet and sweet meditation upon the suffering of Christ, the severity of that suffering would be better perceived. He would have a deeper insight into the abominable nature of sin and the sublime nature of God’s righteousness. He would rejoice more in the truth and perfection of the satisfaction accomplished by that suffering. He would love Christ more, hate sin more, have a heart more steadfast in the practice of godliness, and proceed with more courage, comfort, and peace.

Why Meditate on Christ’s Suffering?

Therefore actively and increasingly engage yourselves in these considerations.

1. The Angels Do So Too

This is even the work of angels, who for this reason were positioned with their faces towards the mercy seat in the temple. Of them, Peter says, “… which things the angels desire to look into” (1 Pet 1:12). If angels do this and find felicity in so doing, we ought to do so all the more.

2. The Practice was Depicted and Prophesied
in the Old Testament

Such observance was depicted in the erection of the brazen serpent in the wilderness, the observance of which healed those who were bitten by the serpents. This practice has also been prophesied. “And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon Me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him” (Zec 12:10). Such examples and prophecies, which have preceded us, ought to readily stir us up to be engaged in this practice.

3. It was the Practice of the Godly

This has been the practice of the godly. The bride of Christ says, “A bundle of myrrh is my well-beloved unto me; He shall lie all night betwixt my breasts” (SS 1:13). What else is this bundle of myrrh but the suffering of Christ, which is bitter but wholesome, protects against corruption, refreshes, strengthens, and is of a sweet savour? The bride not only carried this by day between her breasts as an ornamental bouquet, but even by night it lays upon her heart. In meditating upon this, she would fall asleep; and upon awaking, she would still be occupied with this. The prophets were likewise engaged, “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 1:11). Paul frequently engaged in such meditation, “That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death” (Phil 3:10). The frequency with which the godly have occupied themselves with this (not only at the beginning of the New Testament dispensation but also since the Reformation), is confirmed by their writings. If they fared so well in doing so, if it was a blessed practice which became increasingly sweet and precious, how this ought to stir us up to exercise ourselves in such meditations, for this sweetness will not be tasted without some diligence.

4. It is a Spiritually Advantageous Exercise

It is a most advantageous exercise. By way of reading and hearing, one will readily understand and retain the history itself, but the efficacy and warmth of this history will only be experienced by much meditation, and by applying it.

In doing so we will, first of all, extract the most excellent instruction:

(a) Only then will one truly learn the horrendous nature of sin. Then one will neither focus on sinful deeds alone, nor view sin from a natural perspective, but everyone will perceive the abominableness, filthiness, and hatefulness to be found in every sin, viewing it as it is: an act of denial of God, contempt towards God, and desertion of God. Thus man, due to his sinfulness, will abhor himself and be ashamed that he is such a horrible, hateful, and intolerable creature.

(b) You will thus perceive the essential holiness of God’s justice, who can only forgive sin by punishing it fully in the Surety. In doing so you will not only perceive that you cannot entertain a quiet hope upon your supplication for forgiveness—as if that might be acceptable with God (an argument by which thousands deceive themselves, and subsequently perish)—but out of love for the justice of God you will desire to be saved only on the basis of the satisfaction of divine justice.

(c) You will thus perceive the infinity and unsearchableness of God’s love, mercy, wisdom, and power, so that in the satisfaction of Christ you will detect much more than deliverance from guilt and punishment, but the soul will find wonderful delight in adoring the perfections of God and will be sweetly stirred up in love, praise, and thanksgiving.

Secondly, meditation upon Christ’s suffering will yield strong consolations:

(a) You will perceive the perfect satisfaction of divine justice and how perfect the sinner is before God in Christ in spite of the fact that he remains sinful in himself.

(b) You will perceive how certainly and truly salvation has been merited, how certainly a beneficiary of this suffering is appointed an heir of eternal life, and how infallibly sure it is that he will become a partaker of it.

(c) In meditating upon His suffering you will find peace of conscience in God and free access to the Father.

(d) When considering His passion, all the suffering of this life becomes light and one perceives that “our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor 4:17). Thus, the soul may find eternal comfort in all this.

Thirdly, meditation upon Christ’s suffering will yield heavenly instruction and direction:

(a) Here is an example of how we must die to the world and sin. “Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4).

(b) It yields the most powerful motives to mortify sin and live holily. To perceive that Jesus underwent such bitter suffering out of love for us will quicken our love for Him, causing us to hate and flee sin and to walk in a manner pleasing to Him.

(c) Yes, you will become aware that meditation upon His sufferings will presently yield strength and fortitude to mortify sin. Thus, here we have the fountain of true spiritual life, of true progress, and of the exercise of virtue, all of which will have the proper form and nature of spirituality.

(d) Such meditation will strengthen us in a wonderful way, if and when Christ calls us to suffer and to be martyrs for His Name and cause. Therefore, you who bear the name of Christian and desire to be true Christians indeed, engage frequently in meditating upon the humiliation of Christ, for there is much more to be found in it than you are aware of.

How to Mediate on Christ’s Suffering?

Come, children of God, meditate upon the suffering Jesus. Do not do so by viewing it as merely a history, nor as the suffering of a martyr, but as the suffering of your Surety who took your place and paid for your sins.

1. Reflect on Who Christ is

First, meditate attentively upon the Person who suffered. He was not a wicked, insignificant, and contemptible man, nor merely a martyr whose death is precious in God’s sight and is held in great esteem by the godly.

(a) Rather, this person is God and man, who is over all, God blessed forever, very God, and the Lord of glory. He, in order that He would be able to suffer and die, assumed our human nature from a human being within the context of His Personhood, and became like unto us, sin excepted. This is a miracle in the highest sense of the word, exceeding the creation of heaven and earth. Pause and reflect upon this until the greatness and magnificence of this Person may become evident to your heart, and you in all humility acknowledge Him as such. Then adoration will ravish your soul and you will exclaim, “Has such a Person suffered and made atonement?”

(b) Consider Him also in His relationship towards you, and you in your relationship towards Him. Believers, do you not know Him? He it is who appeared to you when you were dead, blind, and immersed in sin and darkness. He illuminated you with His light, made you alive, and still continually draws you to Himself, causing you to look, long, cry out, and wait for Him. He it is who supports you as you stumble along, who secretly supports you in your cross-bearing, gives you courage, strengthens you, and gives you hope. He it is who at times revealed Himself to you, who at times kissed you with the kisses of His mouth, and caused you to feel His love. He it is who has said to you, “Thy sins are forgiven thee.” He it is towards whom all your desire is, your Lord, your Head, your Bridegroom. It is He who out of love—I repeat, out of love—took your place as Surety, who took all your sins from you and took them upon Himself, taking them upon His account. He has received the stripes which you deserved, and the chastisement of your peace was upon Him. Reflect upon this and may your love be stirred up in the acknowledgement of His love for you. Hear your Beloved, as it were, speak to you, “My friend, I love you so dearly. Consider the evidence of My love. I suffered to make atonement for your sins. This suffering which is so bitter and so heavy a burden to bear caused Me to be covered with blood from head to toe; as well as the fact that I was so distressed within, due to God’s wrath pressing Me down—all of this I suffered willingly. I would rather suffer all this thousands of times than to see you go lost and tolerate the thought that you would not be with Me in eternal glory.” Would this not soften your heart and generate love in return? Would this not cause you to melt sweetly in tears of love? The acknowledgement that Jesus is so lofty a Person, who yet is so near to you and who does all this out of love for you, will stir within and render your meditation upon the suffering of Christ efficacious. Do not remain in your unbelief, nor give in to it, for this will render your meditation fruitless. Lift yourself up in faith and behold the suffering Jesus making atonement from such a perspective. It will certainly cause you to rejoice and cause your heart to be warm with love.

2. Reflect on What You Are

Secondly, who are you for whom Christ has suffered all this? In yourself you are nothing but sin within and without, and therefore your nature is so hateful, abominable, intolerable, and damnable. What incompatibility there is between Jesus and you! Sink away in your wretched condition and acknowledge yourself to be unworthy that anyone, let alone God and the Son of God would look after you and think upon you. Above all, consider that everything is to be found in you which would cause the Lord Jesus to be repulsed by you and refrain from doing good to you. Focus on your wretched condition until you perceive yourself to be entirely as we have just described you to be, and then betake yourself in faith to the Lord Jesus. Be humbled, but be not unbelieving, by this view which passes all understanding; namely, that Jesus should love you, and that He would love you to such an extent that out of love for you He would suffer and die. Believe, however, that such is the case, and confess, “This is the LORD’s doing; and it is marvellous in my eyes.”

Yes, proceed further, and consider the small number of men for whom the Lord Jesus has become Surety, in comparison to the great multitude of men whom He neither loves nor looks upon, and for whom He was not willing to be a Surety. Then consider, “Why me? Why me in comparison to others—who am the most despicable, evil, foolish and intolerable sinner of them all? Why does the Lord love me out of so many thousands? Why do I belong to those few, to the elect? Why is Jesus my Surety? Why does Jesus love me with an everlasting love, considering that so many millions go to hell? Why, why do I belong to the favoured ones who are led to heaven?” This is too great, too high for me! Here I must stand still until, in the state of perfection, I shall be able to comprehend more, be more capable of adoration, and be more able to love in return and to give thanks. Since you give evidence of possessing the principal fruits of grace, beware that the greatness of this matter and your own insignificance do not draw you away towards unbelief. This would offend the love of God, and exalt man too highly, as if his lovableness was the primary cause of the love of God. This would turn the entire work of grace upside down and would prevent Him from receiving the praise for His magnificent grace. Therefore, remain steadfast in the faith.

3. Reflect on the Details of Christ’s Suffering

Thirdly, in this frame proceed from the cradle to the cross; focus upon every aspect of suffering particularly and reflect upon them. Christ’s suffering has not been described for us in such detail without reason. It should therefore not weary us to consider it from step to step. Each element of His suffering contains something special; each element reveals a particular sin, a particular punishment consistent with this sin, and its removal. This will cause you to perceive the comprehensive nature of His suffering, that your sins are the cause, and that with your sins you have brought this suffering upon Him. There would not have been a need for Jesus’ suffering if you had not sinned. Oh, how sweet it is to be sensibly ashamed over our sins as being the cause of Christ’s suffering and to say, “Oh dear Jesus, it grieves me that I have been the cause of Thy suffering. Why do I not rather suffer myself? If it were possible, and if I could prevail in it, I could not tolerate that Thou wouldest thus have to suffer for me; I would bear the punishment myself. I can neither endure nor prevail in it, however, and would have to endure it eternally. I therefore acknowledge Thy love and value Thy grief. I truly rejoice that Thou hast taken my place, hast satisfied for my sins, and hast merited eternal life for me. To all eternity I desire to acknowledge this, and to love and thank Thee.”

It is remarkable that one is so seldom moved and stirred within about the suffering of Christ. Everyone is conscious of this within himself and complains over the hardness of his heart. Do you ask what the cause of this is? I answer: (1) In some it is due to ignorance, they having only general thoughts about the fact that Christ died for sin. They are neither acquainted with the dreadfulness of sin, nor with the severity of God’s wrath, and therefore cannot properly value His suffering. (2) In some this is due to familiarity, they having heard this so frequently, and therefore inner workings concerning this have disappeared. (3) In some this is due to a lack of familiarity, as they are not accustomed to focus upon this suffering. (4) In some this is due to unbelief—not historical unbelief, but at least unbelief due to lack of application. Since it is not for them, they have neither desire nor interest within their heart to consider this matter, or to make an effort to reflect upon it. (5) It is due to a lack of spirituality, laziness, and a disparaging of this suffering. Be ashamed of this and be diligent, for the more you engage in such reflection, the easier and sweeter this practice will be to you.

4. Reflect on the Bearing that Christ’s Suffering 
has on your own Guilt and Sufferings

Fourthly, while persevering in this frame, consider the suffering of Christ to your comfort by applying the same as a remedy against guilt, as well as for occasions when you must suffer in likeness to Him.

(a) Consider it as a remedy against guilt. If the soul finds itself beset with great and small sins, sins against God and against his neighbour, sins against every commandment, sins that press down heavily as a burden too heavy to bear; and if the soul becomes aware that God hides His countenance, that the way of approach to Him is closed, feeling the wrath of God, having a terrified conscience, and being fearful of yet going lost—then the soul must especially strive not to yield to this ill frame. This would be injurious. Rather, engage yourself in meditating upon the suffering of Christ. Consciously consider the truth of Christ’s satisfaction on behalf of the sinner, the perfection of this satisfaction for great, small, and multiple sins—yes, for all original and actual sins, which have been committed by us from our first moment until the time of our death. Meditate long upon this until you perceive from God’s Word that this is truth, and until this may become truth within and you may be fully assured that Christ as Surety has made a perfect satisfaction.

Consider how unspeakably happy a man is for whom Christ has made satisfaction. There is not one sin in him, which is not atoned for, and therefore God is the reconciled Father of such a sinner and he most certainly is an heir of eternal life. He will indeed become a partaker of this, by the way along which he is led to it ever so dark and undesirable. Having come to a general conclusion that this is an infallible divine truth, then turn to yourself and consider whether the Lord has wrought grace in the least degree in you. Consider whether your soul has not found, or still finds, itself under conviction of sin, damnation, and impotence; whether the Lord has not given you a different heart than before, so that you now love what you hated before, and hate what you loved before; whether the world and sin cause you sorrow rather than joy; whether a living afar from God now causes you bitter grief, and it would be all your desire to walk in the light of God’s countenance in truth, uprightness, obedience, and with singularity of heart. Consider whether you do not know Jesus as Surety, yearning, desiring, praying, and crying out for Him; whether you have not frequently presented yourself to Him, surrendering to Him to be both justified and sanctified; whether you have not frequently received Him as Surety, to be reconciled to God by the ransom of His suffering and death. Consider whether it is now your desire and objective not to live in sin and in the world, but rather a life pleasing to God; and whether the Lord upon your frequent seeking, praying, supplicating, believing, and surrendering yourself to Him has not at times granted peace, quietness, and hope in your soul, or also at times granted you assurance and joy.

In considering all this together, this ought not only to cause you to conclude that Christ is your Surety, since such graces are only wrought in those who are partakers of the suffering and death of Christ, but this must also cause you to apply the suffering of Christ. For it is my objective to apply this truth to your soul, so you might view this suffering as atoning for you, as having been suffered in your stead; and that therefore your sins have been fully paid for, God is satisfied with you, and you are designated as a child and heir of God. Unto this end the wrestling of faith is necessary; that is, the actual receiving and true believing until the soul can say in faith, “who loved me, and gave Himself for me” (Gal 2:20). Then you will properly value the suffering of Christ and glorify the Father and the Son. Therefore be engaged in such reflection and rest not until you can rejoice in it.

(b) Reflect upon the suffering of Christ in order that you may be comforted when suffering in likeness to Him. I need not convince you that a similar suffering according to soul and body will be your portion in this world. You are sufficiently aware of this by experience, and perhaps you are currently tasting it. You will frequently have to experience the bitterness of sin, God’s displeasure concerning it, the hiding of God’s countenance, an unrestrained and troubled conscience, fear for death, distress pertaining to damnation, the assaults of Satan, poverty, contempt and scorn (which will either be your fault or in response to godliness and the name of Christ), and oppression for the sake of the Word, even though you may not perceive it as such. You may possibly also be called to martyrdom and thus seal the truth with your blood. You may also be called to suffer physical pain and sorrow, albeit the one more and the other less—yes, all manner of Christ’s sufferings.

Believers, you may, however, not view this suffering as a manifestation of God’s wrath towards you, for Christ has made satisfaction for all guilt and punishment. God is just and does not require punishment for sin twice. The Surety has made satisfaction and therefore you are free. They are not punishments in the true sense of the word nor manifestations of wrath towards the believer. The sting and the curse have been removed from them. They are fatherly chastisements upon you, which proceed from love and are for your welfare. It is the way which the Lord has ordained to lead His children to heaven. Therefore in all your tribulations, fix your eye upon the suffering of Jesus Christ and apply this to yourself by a living faith until you have the lively assurance that He has removed guilt and curse from you, and that these sorrows are assigned to you in love. Remain near this suffering Jesus, and let it suffice you that you are conformed to your Lord. Take up your cross and follow Him; He has compassion upon you, will support you, and will time and again deliver you. Keep your eye fixed upon future felicity and look away from this world, for this is not the land of your rest. Rejoice in the hope of glory. “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time” (1 Pet 5:6); “Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and He shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD” (Ps 27:14).

5. Apply the Example of Christ’s Suffering 
to your life by Imitation

Fifthly, reflect upon the suffering of Christ in order that you may imitate Him, and thus behave yourself in your suffering as He behaved Himself. Let Christ’s suffering also be an example; deal with the old man as Christ was dealt with due to your sins.

First of all, behave yourself in suffering as Christ behaved Himself:

(a) Christ was not without feeling, and therefore you also are permitted to feel the least discomfort.

(b) Christ complained to God and to man about His anxiety inflicted upon Him from within and without, and yet remained with them. You, too, may complain to God and man. To complain due to grief or sorrow is neither an expression of impatience nor of sorrow. Do not forsake the company of people, for woe to the person who is alone! Christ occupied Himself with prayer, and thus you must be engaged likewise. “Is any among you afflicted? let him pray” (Jas 5:13).

(c) Christ considered all suffering as coming from God. “The cup which my Father hath given Me, shall I not drink it?” (Jn 18:11). Therefore you also ought to exercise faith in the providence of God and at all times learn to perceive it as the hand of God. To be assured of this requires diligent effort.

(d) Christ persevered in faith and exercised it in His greatest darkness and desertion, saying even then, “My Father, My God.” Therefore you likewise ought not to cast away your faith and liberty; the proper bearing of your cross must issue forth from them. If you succumb in faith, you will bear a double cross.

(e) Christ persevered in the endurance of His suffering. He did not wish to resign until all had been finished. May patience also do its perfect work in you. As you should not ask God for a reason why He deals thus with you, but should rather be satisfied with the will of God, lest you be judging whether or not God’s dealings with you are right, so you may likewise not limit the Lord as to the time and duration of your suffering.

(f) Christ comforted Himself with the promise of a good outcome, keeping glory in view. For the joy set before Him, He despised the shame and endured the cross. Therefore you ought also to focus upon the promises, which are yea and amen. Enliven yourself with this; consider the state of glory, reflect upon eternal rest, joy, and felicity, for then the bearing of your afflictions will be easier, your conduct will be holier, and you will experience that they are but light afflictions which will pass very shortly.

Secondly, hold the suffering of Christ before you as an example to deal with the “old man” and to mortify sin. View the world and all sin with scorn and contempt; view them as hanging on the gallows and as being crucified. Crucify the flesh with the lusts thereof. How can you still engage in that for which Christ had to pay so bitterly? Will the love of Christ and the esteem for His suffering not arouse in you a holy vengeance in return, to afflict and put to death that which has caused Christ so much sorrow and put Him to death? While thus holding Christ before you as an example and as a powerful motivation to mortify sin, virtue and strength will go out from Him due to union with the suffering Jesus by faith, which will enable you to proceed with the work of crucifying the flesh and mortifying sin, causing you to increase in strength for that task. Therefore, “Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 6:11); “Judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead… that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them, and rose again” (2 Cor 5:14–15).

An Exhortation to the Unconverted

Unconverted friends, you also must come and attentively reflect upon the suffering of Christ in order to perceive as in a mirror what will befall you temporally as well as eternally if you do not repent. May this reflection be a means to work repentance and faith in you.

(a) I therefore address myself to you who as yet are ignorant of sin in its abominable and bitter nature and do not perceive and feel your misery, but live in sin with delight, esteeming the same as long as it is delightful and does no harm, while having no regard for whether or not this is sin.

(b) I address myself to you who burrow in the earth as a mole—the one to make a living, the other for riches, another for honour, respect, or status, doing so as if all depended on this. Your thoughts only focus upon this; all your concerns and desires relate to this, you have nothing else in view and you labour for nothing but this.

(c) I address myself to you who as yet do not feel what a dreadful condition it is to miss God, to be separated from Him, to live forgetful of Him, not realising how blessed a state it is to be reconciled with God and to have communion with Him. As a result of this you are neither troubled by the one nor desire the other.

(d) I address myself to you who as yet are ignorant of the necessity of satisfaction of divine justice; and are of the opinion that if you but feel remorse over the commission of grievous sins and if you but pray for forgiveness, all will be well.

(e) I address myself to you who as yet do not know Christ as Surety who satisfied for the sins of those who will be saved; to you who are ignorant of the manner in which one receives Christ by faith, and have neither wrestlings nor exercises of faith.

(f) I address myself to you who live civil lives, frequently attend church, are baptised, partake of the Lord’s Supper, and live in such a fashion that no one will be able to say anything against you, and who on this basis build your confidence that you will be saved.

Poor people! You are still dead in sins and trespasses, blind, without Christ, and stand without as far as salvation is concerned. Come, therefore, and consider each detail of the suffering of Christ; search for the reason why Christ had to suffer thus. Consider that this is only the portion of those who are converted, that is, for believers. Be sensibly convinced that you have no part in this, but that if you remain thus and die in this state, you will suffer the same to all eternity. For if the righteousness of God is so provoked to wrath towards the Surety, due to the sins of the elect whom He has loved with an everlasting love, how can you be of the opinion that you will go free? Oh no, “for if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?” (Lk 23:31). Conclude therefore with a lively impression that you are neither a partaker of Christ nor of all He has merited, but that you, as you now are, must eternally endure the absence of God and be subject to the dreadful and unbearable wrath of God. May God apply it to your heart and cause you to tremble and shudder. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, betake yourself to this Jesus, seek Him, and endeavour to believe in Him in order to come to God through Him and thus be saved. If you will not heed this, considering such fears to be the anxiety of a coward; and if you turn your heart away from this, you who hear this read or read it yourself, proceed if you wish, but know that you have been warned, and that your condemnation will be the heavier.

This article is really the application section of a must-read chapter, entitled “The State of Christ’s Humiliation by which He made Satisfaction for the Sins of the Elect” (pages 575–623), with only the subtitles and formatting being our work. It is with some un-willingness that we have to leave out the first part of the chapter. But seeing that meditation is all but a lost art to most of us, and what great spiritual benefits may be derived from the exercise, we are compelled to print just this portion, lest the length of the chapter may discourage some of us from reading to the end. May the Lord grant us help to spend time meditating on the suffering of Christ as we commemorate His death at His Table.

J.J. Lim