The Suffering Of God


The Suffering Of God

February 7th, 1954 @ 7:30 PM

Acts 20:28

Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Acts 20:28

2-07-54     7:30 p.m.


In the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts and the twenty-eighth verse, it was the verse of this morning. I wonder as you read a passage of Scripture like that, I wonder if there are things in it that amaze you, that startle you.  There is one in this text; a tremendous statement, a startling statement, and one that has caused, oh, I could not describe how much turmoil in the theological world!  And back in the days of the great Christological controversies, this verse here was one of the centers, one of the storm centers of the ecclesiastical and political life of the church and of the empire.  Now I read it.  It was the text of the morning, Acts 20:28.  Paul says to the Ephesian elders:


Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock,

over the which the Holy Spirit hath made you overseers,

to feed, to shepherd the church of God,

the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood.


Do you see anything difficult in that passage?  "Take heed to shepherd the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood" [Acts 20:28].  Does God have blood?  Well, they had tremendous difficulty with that text; and they tried to change it.  Dr. Schaeffer, if you will want to throw away a little money and buy a Revised Standard Version of the Bible, it’ll change it for you.  All you have got to do is go buy it, and it’ll read like this, "Take heed to feed the church of the Lord, which He hath purchased with His own blood."

They wouldn’t dare write "God" there, so they changed it.  But Paul wrote "God"; and all those ancient manuscripts say "God."  And the reason some of these new-fangled, modernistic manuscripts say "the Lord" is that they didn’t believe this, and they refused to countenance it.  So they changed the text that Paul wrote.  But he wrote it just like it is there in your Bible, "the church of God, which He purchased with His own blood" [Acts 20:28].

Well, you say, "Pastor, that goes beyond the realm of reverence.  That even goes beyond the realm of truth.  God is Spirit [John 4:24], and God doesn’t have blood.  And how could God purchase His church with blood He didn’t have?"  So I say, they changed the text; and in some of these modern versions of the Bible it’ll read, "The church of the Lord, which He purchased with His blood."  But I say Paul wrote "God" [Acts 20:28].

Now, it brings back to our hearts a dead, long since buried heresy.  I say, back in the days of the Christological controversies, when they were trying to define the person of Christ and the meaning of the Lord, one of those great heresies in the eastern part of the Roman Empire was called Sabellianism, in the western part it was called Patripassianism.  But it was the same heresy.  And the heresy was based for one thing on that very verse right there; "The church of God, which God purchased with His own blood" [Acts 20:28].

For it was the teaching of Sabellius in the East, and some of those other theologians in the West, who were called Patripassianistic theologians, it was their doctrine that Christ and God the Father were identified.  They were one and the same.  Sabellius illustrated it like this.  He said the Trinity can be illustrated by the sun.  The sun is an entity in itself, but it also has heat, and it also has light.  And he says God is that way.  God is an entity in Himself, but He has light, and that is the Son of God, but He has also heat, and that is the Holy Spirit of God.  And that’s the way Sebellius illustrated the Trinity.

That’s not true.  That’s heresy!  That is, it’s not a true reflection of the Book.  God is not in any sense like the sun that has heat and light and is an entity in itself.  But God is entirely three different Persons, a mystery into which I cannot enter, but Sabellius tried to identify them.  He tried to make the Son of the same essence with the Father.  He tried to identify the Son with the Father; and they make God one God with different manifestations.

So when the Lord Jesus came into this world it was God the Father coming into this world.  And when Jesus walked among men it was God the Father walking among men.  And when Jesus died on the cross it was God the Father that died on the cross.  And when Jesus was crucified it was God the Father that was crucified.  When Jesus suffered it was God the Father that suffered.  When Jesus spilled His blood, it was the blood of God the Father that was spilled.  That’s where you get the word "Patripassianism," the suffering of the Pater, the Father; or Sabellianism, after Sabellius, the heretic in the East.

Now that controversy waged for years and years as it entered all through the life of the church.  And, as I say, it’s a long since dead and buried heresy.  Nobody speaks of it anymore.  But it had at first the wrong in it.  What’s wrong in it before what’s true in it?  The thing that is wrong in it is this: that it takes away the personality of the Lord Jesus.  It takes away the unity, it takes away the entity, it takes away the individuality of the Lord Jesus.  He is not the Lord Jesus anymore, He is God the Father.  And the Lord Jesus and God the Father are one and the same, and there’s no difference between them.  Now that’s the wrong in it.  That’s the heresy in it. 

But like every other great heresy that has gripped and held the minds of men, it also has a tremendous truth.  And the truth of that ancient heresy, of Sabellianism, is this: that if Christ the Son suffered, God the Father also suffered.  If the outward suffering was the Son’s, the inward suffering was God the Father’s.  If the outward cross was on Golgotha [John 19:17-18], the heavenly cross was in the heart of God.  If the sword pierced the heart of the Son [John 19:33-34], a sword also pierced the heart of the Father.  The truth of the heresy is that God our Father also suffered with God our Savior.

Now to look at that for just a while tonight; the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross did not begin in the lifetime of our Lord, did not begin in the days of His flesh; but the sacrifice of our Lord began in the heart of God.  It began in the courts of glory.  John 3:16, that all of us know, "For God so loved the world, for God so loved the world," it began in the heart of God, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son."  God did it.  The compassionate heart of our Father was the beginning of the atonement for our sin.  It began in the heart of God.

In the fourth chapter of 1 John, "Herein we perceive the love of God:  not that we loved Him, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins" [1 John 4:10].  Or in the fifth chapter of the Book of Romans,  "God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" [Romans 5:8].  That is, all of it began with God.  The compassion, the love, the outpouring, all of it had its fountain source in the heart of God.  And when He sent His Son into the world [John 3:16], and when His Son died for us and suffered for our sins [Romans 5:8; 1 Corinthians 15:3], it was God also who wept and who cried and who suffered; it was an atoning grace in the heart of God also as it was an atoning outpouring of the blood on the part of His Son.  They both suffered.  They suffered together; Jesus on the cross, and God in heaven.

Wonder if I could illustrate it by a picture I saw one time in the Metropolitan Art Museum in New York City?  Going looking around at those gorgeous paintings, I saw one entitled Who Pays the Price?  There was written underneath, "Who Pays the Price?"  And it was a picture of a soldier, who over there in one of those continental cities, like in France or a place like that, plainly a continental European picture, he was blindfolded and his arms were tied behind him, and there was a firing squad that was leading him through the village streets on the outside of the city to be shot, to be executed.

And the artist, as he drew that blindfolded man, being marched through the streets of the city by that firing squad, all of the people of the city were lined up on either side, down the street, through which that man was being marched to execution.  And the artist drew over here on this side of the picture; he drew the figure of a woman, in tears and in despair.  And her friends and her neighbors and those fellow villagers were holding her back as her husband was being marched through the streets of the city to the execution.  And the title again, Who Pays the Price?

I think of that picture every once in a while when I think of the suffering of war.  Oh, it’s one thing to march away with the blare of the bugle and the ruffle of the drum, and it’s one thing to march into battle with all of the glory that comes with the honor of giving one’s life for one’s country.  But what about the mother at home, when she gets the telegram that the boy is dead?  And what about the sweetheart and the mother and the wife and the children?  Who pays the price?  There is suffering on the field of battle, and in the day of agony and blood; but there is also suffering in the heart of a loved one back home.  So it is with the suffering of God.  God suffered also.  There was an atoning grace, an outpouring from the heart of God as there was also from the heart of the Son.

Now when we turn to the actual story of the Lord Jesus Himself, in these days in which you and I have been brought up, and in the schooling whereby you and I have read these books, everything in our generation has emphasized the humanity of the Lord Jesus.  Humanism has so swept over our world until we constantly think in terms, not of the sovereign will of God, not of the choices of heaven, not of the great Sovereignty that holds this earth in His hand, we don’t ever think of that.  But in our day we’ve been taught to think of the sufficiency of man, and the ability of man, and the sovereignty of man, and the adequacy of man: humanism.

So we have humanized the Lord Jesus.  That came across, and there came along, those sorry cheap books that sold by the millions, and everybody thought they were the grandest things in the world, those books, The Man Nobody Knows, and The Manhood of the Master, and all those things.  And so they thought that they were taking Jesus out of the clouds and off of His throne and out of His Godhood, and they just made an ordinary man out of Him; like Socrates was a man, or like Aristotle was a man, or Marcus Aurelius was a man, or Abraham Lincoln was a man, why, so Jesus was a man.

Now, He was a man, that’s right; I’m not quarreling with anybody who would bring a wonderful message on "The Manhood of the Master" or "The Man that Nobody Knows."  But all of those things have had the concomitant.  They’ve had the corollary, that no longer do we think of Jesus as being the great instrument of the holy divine plan, working out under God an infinite salvation, but we’ve come to think of the Lord Jesus as a marvelous humanitarian.  He is a great hero.  He is a marvelous ideal.  Hold Him up, and let’s follow the Lord Jesus.  Let’s all be like the great Lord Jesus.

Now, when you do that, the death of the Lord Jesus becomes quite explicable.  He died a martyr’s death.  He died a hero’s death.  Why look, the envy of those Pharisees prejudged Him [John 11:47-53].  The bitter hatred of the Sadducees certainly executed Him [Acts 4:1-3, 5:17-18].  The craft of old Caiaphas the high priest encompassed His death [Matthew 26:57-61], and the treachery of a Judas delivered Him [Matthew 26:14-16, 47-50], and the selfishness of a spineless Pilate naturally did not intervene or contravene, and He died [John 19:12-18, 30].

Well, that’s all very explicable.  I can read the story and see every syllable of it, that’s right.  But my blessed young friend, especially, and all of us under the sound of this gospel message tonight, you listen to this preacher.  There’s far, far, far more in the death of the Lord Jesus Christ than just the humanitarian incidents that brought Him up to the cross and nailed Him to the tree.  It’s true the envy of the Pharisees, and the hatred of the Sadducees, and the cunning of a Caiaphas, and the treachery of a Judas delivered Him; that’s right.  They’re all pictures of our dark humanity.

But oh, beyond the Pharisees who picture us, and beyond the Sadducees who belong to us, and beyond Caiaphas and Judas and Pilate who are party with us, beyond them all there’s an infinite something.  There’s a heavenly something.  There’s a divine sovereignty.  There’s a will of God being worked out for the lost sons of men, and I read it all through the Book.

You listen to one of the prophets.  Listen to Isaiah; listen to his fifty-third chapter, "Thou hast made Him an offering for sin . . . Thou," talking to God, "Thou hast made His soul an offering for sin" [Isaiah 53:10].  God did it.  Listen to Isaiah again, "It pleased the Lord to bruise Him, He," God, "hath put Him to grief" [Isaiah 53:10].  God, God, God made His soul an offering for sin.

You listen to the apostle Peter in the second chapter of the Book of Acts as he will preach, "Him," the Lord Jesus, "Him, Him have ye slain who was delivered into your hands by," listen to Simon Peter, "by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God" [Acts 2:23].  The Lord did it.  God in heaven did it.  You listen to the Lord Jesus Himself as He talks to Pontius Pilate,  "Dost Thou not know that I have power to crucify Thee or to deliver Thee?  What, speakest Thou not?  Answerest Thou not to me?"  And the Lord Jesus replied, "Sir, thou couldst have no power over Me at all except it were given thee from above, from above" [John 19:9-11].

Remember the marvelous passage in the eighth chapter of the Book of Romans?  "The Son, whom God delivered up for us all; God who spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all" [Romans 8:32].  Beyond the story of the humanity, beyond the story we follow in the days of His flesh, beyond the story of the days of the cross, there is also the great compassionate grace of God, working out for us an atonement, a forgiveness for our sins [1 John 2:2].  And the suffering is the suffering of God.  And the agony is the agony of God.  And the cross is the cross in the heart of God!  And the spilling out of the blood is the spilling out of the very life of God!

You have in the Old Testament a little dim, faint type of this sacrifice on the part of God the Father.  It’s the story in the life of Abraham:


Abraham, Abraham, take Isaac thine only son, thine only begotten son, take Isaac thine only son, and go to the mount that I will tell thee of; and there sacrifice him unto Me.

[Genesis 22:2]


So Abraham takes his thirteen year old boy.  They saddle their beast of burden with kindling, take along coals of fire, and the third day’s journey they see the Mt. Moriah in the distance.  They go up Mt. Moriah, and as they leave the beast of burden, on the back of the boy is placed the wood for the altar’s fire, and they start up the hillside, the mountainside [Genesis 22:3-6].

Why, Isaac, who had seen his father sacrifice many times, who had seen Abraham build an altar before God and sacrifice, the thirteen year old boy says to his father, "Father, here is the kindling and here is the fire, but where is the lamb?" [Genesis 22:7].   And old Abraham, a hundred-thirteen years old, and his wife Sarah then a hundred three years old, the child of promise, old Abraham says, "Son, son, God will provide a sacrifice" [Genesis 22:8].

And when he laid the stones for the altar, laid the wood on top of the stone, and bound his boy, and laid the lad on top of the wood [Genesis 22:9], there lay on that altar Abraham’s heart, and the love of his soul!  And the love of his life, and all he had ever held dear in this world or ever hoped for, it lay there bound on that altar.  And when Abraham lifted up the knife to slay, he was offering unto God all of the love and hope and tears and life, everything [Genesis 22:10].  When he raised the knife, a compassionate God, "Abraham, Abraham," over there in the thicket was a ram.  And in place of the son, the lamb was slain, and his life, his blood, poured out [Genesis 22:11-13]. I say, that is a dim, faint prototype of the sacrifice of the Son of God.

In Gethsemane, as the Son cried before the awful atoning hour, He said, "My Father, My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me" [Matthew 26:39].  Did God stay His hand?  He couldn’t, not if you, not if we were to be saved.  It was the atonement in the heart of God, as the atonement was also in the sacrifice of the Son, "the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood" [Acts 20:28].  And when that cruel, awful hour came, they drew back the hammers, they drove in the nails, and nobody stayed the hand [John 19:17-18].

And when the Roman soldier drew his spear and thrust it in His side, there was nobody to stay his hand.  And Christ died [John 19:34].  And the Book says, "The sun hid his face" [Matthew 27:45-46].  The Father, God the Father, in a mystery into which I cannot enter, God the Father turned His face [Matthew 27:46], and the light of the world went out [Mark 15:33; John 8:12].  The sacrifice was in heaven, and the sacrifice was also in the earth.  No wonder in that song incomparable:


Amazing pity, grace unknown, and love beyond degree.

The song, talking about you and me –

Was it for crimes that I had done, He groaned upon the tree? 

Amazing pity, grace unknown, and love beyond degree.

[from "Alas and Did My Savior Bleed"; Isaac Watts]


"The church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood" [Acts 20:28], the outpouring of the life of God that you and I might be born into the kingdom of life and light [John 3:3] – oh, blessed be His holy, holy name!

While we sing our appeal tonight, isn’t it "There is a Fountain Filled with Blood"?  While we sing that appeal tonight, "There is a Fountain Filled with Blood," while we sing it, somebody you come down this aisle, stand by the side of the pastor.  "Pastor, tonight, I give my heart to the Lord Jesus, I take Him as my Savior."  Will you do it?  Will you do it?  Somebody you, somebody you coming into the fellowship of this church, would you make it now?  Somebody you, a family of you, "Pastor, we’re all coming tonight."  As God shall press the appeal, as the Lord shall speak to your heart, while we sing this song, would you come?  I gave my heart to the Lord while they were singing this song, "There is a Fountain Filled with Blood." While we sing it tonight, would you come?  Would you come, while we stand and while we sing?


Dr. W.
A. Criswell

Acts 20:28



I.          The daring and startling text

A.  Does God have blood?

B.  Some modern
translations change it to "the Lord"

C.  Opens a dead, long
since buried heresy of Sabellianism, Patripassianism

      1.  God is one
essence, three manifestations

a. The wrong thought – takes
away the personality of the Lord Jesus

b. The truth of it – If
Christ the Son suffered, God the Father suffered

i. If
the outward suffering was the Son’s, the inward suffering was God the Father’s


II.         The origin of the sacrifice

A.  Sacrifice of Jesus
on the cross began in the heart of God(John

B.  It
began in the love and compassion of the Father(1
John 4:10, Romans 5:8)


III.        The suffering shared by God the Father

A.  His infinite sympathy

      1.  Painting, "Who
Pays the Price?"

B.  An outpouring from the
heart of God as there was from heart of the Son


IV.       Re-reading the story of the cross

A.  In modern centuries
the humanity of Jesus has been emphasized

      1.  We’ve come to
think of Him as a marvelous humanitarian

B.  There
is a divine sovereignty in the death of the Lord Jesus(Isaiah 53:10, Acts 2:23, John 10:9-11, Romans 8:32)

1.  The
suffering and agony is the suffering and agony of God

2.  Faint
type of this sacrifice on the part of God the Father found in life of Abraham(Genesis 22:2, 7-13)

3.  God
did not stay His hand(Matthew 26:39, John 19:34,
Luke 23:45)

a. Hymn, "Alas, and Did
My Savior Bleed"