Krummacher: The Woe Denounced

Series: The Suffering Savior: Meditations on the Last Days of Christ by F. W. Krummacher (1796-1868)

[learn_more caption=”Introduction and Preface”] CMC Editor’s Note: In the following preface are the words of F.W. Krummacher introducing his readers to his work. It is our intention to post all fifty three of his meditations. Krummacher is regarded as one of Germany’s greatest preachers and was often compared to Great Britain’s C.H. Spurgeon. The reader will learn much of Christ through this series of devotional meditations on the final scenes in the life of Christ on earth. The printed work (first published 1854) has been described as the greatest single volume of the entire nineteenth century on the last days of Christ’s earthly ministry. The meditations are structured around the Old Testament tabernacle. It’s our prayer that you will be richly blessed his writings.

Author’s Preface

In the following meditations I trust I have succeeded in displaying to my readers at least a portion of those riches which are contained in the inexhaustible treasury of our Savior’s sufferings. Unmutilated scriptural truth, such as I believe I promulgate, still finds a favorable reception in the world, which I have been permitted to experience in the most gratifying manner. I mention it, solely to the praise of God, and for the satisfaction of those who are like-minded, that my writings, or at least a part of them, are, as I hear, already translated into English, French, Dutch, Swedish, and as I am assured, though I cannot vouch for the fact, into the Danish language also. My “Elijah the Tishbite” has even appeared in a Chinese attire. But that which is of greater importance, is the news I am constantly receiving of the manifold blessing which the Lord of his great and unmerited favor has bestowed upon my labors. That in his condescension and loving-kindness, He would also deign to bless this my most recent work is so much the more my heartfelt wish and ardent prayer, since it has for its subject the chief supporting pillar of the whole church—the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The division of the work into the “Outer Court,” the “Holy Place,” and the “Most Holy Place,” is intended merely to point out the different stages of the Redeemer’s sufferings, from their commencement to their close, but by no means to attach a less or greater importance to them. Had the latter been the case, I would naturally have assigned the institution of the Lord’s Supper its appropriate place in the “Most Holy Place,” instead of the “Outer Court.” But in the plan of this volume, it falls among the class of events, which immediately precede the propitiatory work of the Mediator.

~ F. W. Krummacher [/learn_more]




Meditation – VIII

The Woe Denounced

“Woe unto that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed;
it had been good for that man that he had never been born!”
Matthew 26:24

Were any one to ask me what passage in the whole Bible I regarded as the most awful and appalling, I should not require to reflect long before giving him an answer. I should neither refer to the words in Deut. 27:26, “Cursed be every one that continues not in all the words of this law to do them;” nor to the assertion in John, 3:36, “He who believes not the Son of God shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” Nor should I call to mind the overwhelming words of the Apostle Paul to Bar Jesus, Acts, 13:10, “O full of all subtlety and all mischief, you child of the devil!” nor the denunciations of our Lord himself against the Scribes and Pharisee, Matt 23. On the contrary, I would refer the inquirer to the dreadful woe pronounced upon Judas, and feel assured that he would confess that nothing more appalling and awful can be found in the sacred volume, than is contained in the woe which Jesus uttered upon his betrayer. Many a one who has passed unscathed by Sinai, has been compelled by it to cry for mercy with a broken heart.

Listen: “Woe unto that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed; it had been good for that man that he had never been born!”

Who is it that utters these dreadful words? Consider this on the outset, and the words will then begin to unfold their horrors. O that another had uttered them, and not He from whose lips they emanated! O that they had come forth from the mouth of one like ourselves, a mortal, a human prophet, a poor sinner! Room would then have been afforded for a variety of considerations, which might, in some measure, alleviate the dreadful sentence, and we might think ourselves justified in deducting something from its horrible import, and place it to the account of the irascibility of the speaker, or ascribe it to a well-meant intention, by the appalling awfulness of his words, to deter the sinner, if possible, from his impious purpose. But it is Jesus from whose lips the denunciation proceeds; it is the King of Truth, the Friend of Sinners, who utters it; and it is impossible to state what an enormous weight and dreadful emphasis this circumstance alone attaches to the words. For in them we hear not the voice of passion, but the voice of him who could justly say of himself, “I am meek and lowly of heart.” It is, therefore, not blind fury, unconscious of what it utters, that raves and rages here, but it is the considerate testimony of One whose own heart bleeds at being obliged to pronounce such a sentence on the man who had been his confidant.

The speaker, in this instance, is one who is not accustomed to deal in exaggerations; but he who thus pronounces sentence, calls himself the “Truth,” and is unequaled for modesty of expression and correctness of language. It is no short-sighted person, nor one subject to error like ourselves, who utters these words; but they proceed from the lips of him who is infallible, of whom it is written, that he needed not that any should testify of man, for he knew what was in man. Yes, the dreadful anathema is uttered by One, the sphere of whose vision takes in time and eternity, whose spiritual eye pierces through the gloom of the realms of darkness, and before whom, as the future Judge of the living and the dead, the life and fate of every individual, even beyond death and the grave, lies open and exposed. Such is he who testifies concerning Judas Iscariot, “It had been good for that man if he had not been born.” This must therefore, be the case, and that dreadful sentence cannot contain one syllable more than is necessary. O horror of horrors without a parallel! Who does not tremble here as if hell were open before him?

But it may be asked, “Why was he born, if it had been better that he had never been born?” Cease such inquiries, lest they should only increase the awful import of the words. Listen to what the Lord says, “The Son of Man goes as it is written of him (he fulfills his destiny according to his heavenly Father’s counsel and will); but woe unto that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed!”

Observe the Lord’s object in these words.

He evidently designs to let the whole onus of the betrayal rest wholly upon Judas, as being voluntarily committed by him, and to justify the Almighty, on the contrary, as altogether guiltless of the act, and as in no respect operating to produce it. You may, however, object, and say, “Certainly, we are far from wishing to deny that grace and strength did not stand at the command of the degenerate disciple to withstand Satan, and to enable him to return to the Lord; but the omniscient God foresaw that he would not resist the temptation, but would fall into the snare of the devil, and eternally perish.” I reply, that he doubtless foresaw this, and even predicted it by his prophets. “But,” say you, “since the Lord knew that it would have been good for that man had he never been born, why did he not prevent his birth? Why did he not hinder the marriage of his parents? Why did he not smite the mother of Judas with barrenness, as he formerly smote Michal? Or why did he not take the babe to himself while in the cradle? Why did he give him time and space to ripen for such a state of reprobation? Why did God do this, since he is Almighty, and love itself?”

Restrain such inquiries, my readers. Be satisfied to remain in ignorance.

No human spirit fathoms the depths of God’s government of the world. To us it is a sealed mystery how the all-loving God can suffer men to be born whose course of life he sees, by virtue of his omniscience, will terminate in the abyss of eternal perdition. We can only infer from hence that the unsearchable God must love in a different manner to us men, who have no idea of a love which goes hand in hand with justice. Consider, besides, what would become of liberty, if God were, in a compulsory manner, to hinder any one from destroying himself and perishing? What would become of the splendor of his throne, if, in order to avoid punishing, he put aside the objects of his retributive justice, or forcibly restrained their free and active development? Finally, we have no need to be anxious how the Eternal God will eventually account for every single act of his universal government, but may rest assured that on the great day of revelation, while developing his guidance and his ways, he will constrain all that have breath to join in the words of Moses, “The Lord is a rock; his work is perfect; for all his ways are judgment; a God of truth and without iniquity; just and right is he.”

Let us now consider, a little more closely, the woe denounced by our Lord upon his betrayer, and let it unfold its horrors to our view.

The Lord commences his sentence with a “Woe!” and when Christ pronounces a woe! no one in heaven or in earth can any longer say, “Peace be with you!” or bless with any effect. “It would have been good for that man”—an uncommon mode of expression in the mouth of the Good Shepherd. He does not otherwise call poor sinners thus. That appellation has in it something of a repudiating nature, and a sound of separation pervades it. Judas no longer concerns the Savior. Jesus dismisses him from the circle of his disciples, and regards him henceforward as a stranger. How awful is this, and how overwhelming! What will become of the unhappy man, now that the only one who could have saved him, lets him go? God grant that the Prince of Peace may call us by another name than the strange and icy appellation, “That man!” I cannot imagine anything more horrible than to be compelled to hear him say, “I know you not: I know not whence you are; I never knew you, Depart from me!”

“It had been good for that man had he never been born.”

The Lord could not have expressed himself in a more appalling manner respecting the desperate condition of the traitor, than he does in these words. A mere denunciation of woe would still have left us some hope for the deeply-fallen being; or, at least, would not have excited in us such dreadful ideas of the misery to which he was hastening as this declaration forces upon us, by which the last prospect of a possible rescue of the disciple is annihilated. O the heart-rending view, which this assertion affords us into the depths of perdition! How horrible must the fate of the reprobate be, when the Lord himself affirms that Judas had cause to curse the day of his birth! O if the fate of the rejected were only partially tolerable, the King of Truth would never have spoken thus. But while giving us most plainly to understand that nothing better could be desired for the son of perdition than a return to nonentity, he thereby gives us an idea of hell, which ought to make all our hopes to quake.

And can we suppose that there really exists a way of escape from such a state of condemnation, and that the angel of hope still lingers in its horrid abyss, or that repentance is still preached and mercy offered to the finally impenitent? If such were the case, would our Lord have made use of language such as he here employed concerning Judas? No, never! We should then have heard milder words from his lips. Then indeed, it would have been better to be born, than never to have been. In this case a man would still have reason to bless God for the hour of his birth, and none to execrate and curse it. But Jesus himself asserts that it would have been good for Judas had he never been born; and we, therefore, know enough to banish the last hope of his recovery. It is dreadful to see ourselves compelled to this alternative; but according to our Lord’s words, it is unavoidable. The eternity of hell-torments, therefore, is established. The worm dies not, neither is the fire quenched in those haunts of woe.

Now, let my readers judge whether a more awful inscription could have been written on the tombstone of Judas than that we have just contemplated. He now proves its truth. The flames of eternal despair now blaze around him, and if he is now crying out, as Job once did, “Let the day perish wherein I was born, and the night in which it was said, there is a man-child born,” he only puts the seal upon his Master’s words and denunciation, “It had been good for that man had he never been born.”

After having considered the dreadful import of these awful words, let us now inquire respecting their application and limitation.

We lament over the unhappy disciple; but let us beware lest the denunciation pronounced against him, be uttered respecting us; seeing that it is possible for the same reasons, as with Judas, that it were good for some had they never been born. It is, of course, not in my power to point out with certainty the individual to whom these appalling words are applicable; but I may say that he who finds within him certain characteristics, has reason to fear for his soul. For he who shares them with Judas, shares also in his condemnation. You anxiously inquire, “What are those characteristics?” I will therefore cursorily bring them before you, that you may examine yourselves by them.

Let me, first of all, point out to you, that a degree of outward propriety affords no reason for the tranquilizing idea that you do not belong to those who had better never been born. For observe, that Judas had also outwardly forsaken the world, and had been nourished up with the milk of the Divine Word; had lived, subsequently, continually among the children of God, been innocently regarded by them as a brother, had prayed and fasted with them, belonged to the immediate retinue of the Prince of Peace, had been his disciple and confidant, had assisted in preaching his Gospel, had suffered reproach for Christ’s sake, had—like the rest—wrought miracles in the name of Jesus; and yet, notwithstanding all this, “It had been good for him if he had never been born.” O take this to heart, my dear readers, and beware of regarding your respectability, your devotions, your religious knowledge, your good name among believers, and the like, as a secure defense, behind which you are safe from the flames of hell!

But now turn your eyes inward, and give an account of yourselves, to me, or rather to Him, in whose name I address you. There are those in the world who envelop themselves in the mantle of religion, in order, like Judas, to conceal a devil beneath it. Secured from the judicial eye of the world, they would gladly serve the demons of lust, avarice, or pride; and on this very account they put on the mask of religion. I now ask, are you one of this description of people?

There are those also, who, though often aroused and awakened, still refuse to give themselves to Christ, because they are held in bondage by some secret sin, which they have not the courage to condemn and renounce. Hence, they indulge in it with a gloomy composure, the result of habit; and in time, their guilt increases to such a degree that they would consent to anything rather than it should be brought to light. Are there any of this class among my readers?

Again, there are people who, minutely examined, have only one care, which is, lest they should be seen behind the mask, and lest it should be discovered that they have never been converted, although they have been for years regarded as being so. Hypocrisy has become instinctive within them, and without being aware of it, they are always occupied in disguising their words, looks, gestures, and actions, in such a manner that their true character and sentiments may not be discovered. Is this the case with any of you?

There are likewise individuals, who have so often succeeded in withstanding, by dint of defiance or intentional dissipation and self-persuasion, the thunders of truth directed against their carnal security, that they have at length attained a facility in weakening the attractive influences of the grace and Spirit of God, and are become, as it were, bomb-proof against the most appalling horrors of the eternal world, and equally unsusceptible of the sweetest allurements of Divine Love. Are any of my readers thus hardened?

Further, there are those who, at the cost of a little of their mammon, aid in building the ark of the kingdom of God, yet are displeased on hearing that this kingdom flourishes and progresses. Had they been present at Mary’s evidence of tender and sacred affection in anointing the Savior, they would also have been ready to say with Judas, “Why this waste? The money had been better spent for worthier purposes.” No, such people even experience a malicious pleasure; if; for instance, the Missionary cause, to which, for the sake of appearances, they may possibly have contributed, seems to retrograde, and when, generally speaking, the zeal for the cause of God appears to abate. I ask, Are there any of my readers who are the subjects of such feelings?

Finally, there are individuals, who are so far overcome by the truth of the Gospel, as to feel compelled to bear witness to it in their consciences, but do so reluctantly, and against their will. Hence, as often as they hear or read anything that encourages the idea in them that they can obtain admittance into heaven without Christ, from whose method of salvation they would gladly escape, they feel inwardly comfortable. Are there such among you? Examine your inmost motives, and know, that whoever belongs to one or the other of these classes, I do not indeed say of him that it would have been good for him had he never been born; but I do say that there is the possibility of this being the case. Such a one has reason to fear that the awful inscription on the tombstone of Judas may at length be transferred to his.

O my friends, when I think that perhaps it would have been good had your cradle been your coffin; that the nurse who laid you in your mother’s arms, was perhaps depositing there an infernal firebrand; that your parents had greater reason for greeting the hour of your birth with weeping than with rejoicing; that the sacred water of baptism was wasted upon you, and was sprinkled, as it were, in derision over you; and that while in joyful hope, your first festival was celebrated, your names instead of being recorded in the Book of Life, were inserted in that of Death—when I imagine all this to myself, the blood in my veins is ready to freeze with horror. I do not indeed say that such will actually be the case with any of my readers; but that it is possible it had been good if you had never been born. And does not your having cause for the belief in such a possibility hurl you, as with a thunderbolt to the ground?

Yes, you tremble; you are horrified. At least let me take it for granted that you are so. For if it were otherwise, and you could yawn amid such startling truths, or even laugh at them in Satanic defiance; really, there would not require much more to authorize me to tell you, in the name of God, that “it had been good for such a one that he had never been born.” But God forbid that I should exceed the limits of my duty! I am not empowered to trouble the seed of Abraham, or to speak anything but comfortably to Jerusalem, however deeply degraded I know there are those to whom the sentence upon Judas does not refer, although they fear lest it should apply to them. Let me characterize, in a few brief traits, these individuals, that no one may despair who is justified in praising God for his mercy.

I make no reference here to those who can exultingly say, with Paul, “I know in whom I have believed;” for, being firmly rooted in the life of grace, and “sealed by the spirit of promise,” they would only smile were I to endeavor to prove to them that the sentence in question did not apply to them. That which I might say to them has, long before, been testified by another. But I address myself to you, you troubled ones, who are tossed to and fro on the sea of doubts, and who are still in uncertainty whether you may bless the day of your birth, or have reason to curse it.

Be patient, my friends! I understand the cause of your unhappiness.

Neither the fact of your feeling yourselves destitute of faith, love, and strength to lead a holy life, nor that you daily stumble and feel defective, decides anything. This state is painful to you; but is it not the real cause of your grief and your greatest sorrow, that it is thus with you? Do you desire anything so much as to be able to say with the bride in the Canticles, “My beloved is mine, and I am his?” And if as a condition of this happiness, you were compelled to bear the cross, in its most painful form, after the Lord Jesus, and openly to confess your guilt before the whole world, would you not resolve to do so without hesitation? Would you not sacrifice that which is the dearest to you, in order to be able to assure yourselves that you belong to Christ, and could rejoice in his mercy? If you reply in the affirmative to these inquiries, I will declare to you, in the name of him who “hears the cry of the needy, and will not despise their prayer,” that the woe pronounced upon Judas has no reference to you, and that the glad tidings that you may bless the hour in which you first saw the light of this world, are for you.

O it is good that you have been born! You are set apart for great things.

You are destined to serve the Lord God as vessels of his mercy. He intends to adorn his temple with you as the mirrors of his glory. He desires to exhibit you in the sight of heaven, earth, and hell, as proofs of what the blood of the cross is able to accomplish. He has selected you to join the choir of those who chant the mighty Hallelujah to himself and the Lamb. When you were born, kind angels stood around your cradle. Over your head a sublime voice whispered, “I have loved you from everlasting!” Your parents pressed in you an heir of heaven to their bosoms. A divine legacy fell into your lap when the water of baptism bedewed your foreheads. You entered upon this valley of tears only to pass through it with rapid steps, and then to find your abiding home in “the Jerusalem that is above.” The King of kings wrote your names in his Book of Life. The Righteousness of his Son was the first robe he threw around you; and the last with which he will adorn you, will be the radiant garment of heavenly glorification. It is well for you, therefore, that you have been born. It would have been grievous if you had been wanting in the rank of beings; for one voice less would then have resounded in the vast jubilee chorus at the throne of God, and one pearl less would have glittered in the diadem of the heavenly Prince of Peace. Therefore, thrice hail that you exist! In spite of all the wretchedness you may be experiencing, you have infinite reason to bless the Lord. We heartily rejoice at joining with you in praising him.

But you, who pass with indifference by the cross of Immanuel, or even resist the Holy Spirit, who reproves you of sin, and is desirous of directing you to Jesus, what shall I say to you? I can only address you in the words of a well-known hymn:

“Sinner, O why so thoughtless grown—
Why in such dreadful haste to die?
Daring to leap to worlds unknown,
Heedless against your God to fly.

“Will you despise eternal fate,
Urged on by sin’s fantastic dreams,
Madly attempt th’ infernal gate,
And force your passage to the flames?

“Stay, sinner, on the Gospel plains!
Behold the God of love unfold
The wonders of his dying pains,
Forever telling, yet untold!”


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