Taken and adapted from “The Rent Veil”
Written by Horatius Bonar, D.D.
Edited for space
That to which He looked forward was not so much the rending of the veil, as the result of that ending, both for Himself and for His Church, His body, the redeemed from among men.
The veil was rent; rent “once for all”; rent for ever. Yet there was a sense in which it was to be restored, though after another fashion than before. Messiah could not be “holden” by death, because He was the Holy One, who could not see corruption. Death must be annulled. The broken body must be made whole; resurrection must come forth out of death; and that resurrection was to be life, and glory, and blessedness. Through the rent veil of His own flesh, He was (if we may so use the figure) to enter into “glory and honour, and immortality.” Thus He speaks in the sixteenth Psalm:—
“Therefore my heart is glad,
Yea, my glory rejoiceth:
My flesh also shall rest in hope.
For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell;
Neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.
Thou wilt show me the path of life:
In thy presence is fulness of joy;
At thy right hand are pleasures for evermore.”
Let us dwell upon these verses in connection with Messiah’s entrance within the veil.
The speaker in this Psalm is undoubtedly Christ. This we learn from Peter’s sermon at Jerusalem (Acts 2:25). He is speaking to the Father, as His Father and our Father. He speaks as the lowly, dependent son of man; as one who needed help and looked to the Father for it; as one who trusted in the Lord and walked by faith, not by sight; as one who realised the Father’s love, anticipated the joy set before Him, and had respect to the recompense of the reward.
He speaks, moreover, as one who saw death before Him, — “Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell“; and looking into the dark grave, on the edge of which He was standing, just about to plunge into it, He casts His eye upwards and pleads, with strong crying and tears, for resurrection, and joy, and glory, — “Thou wilt show me the path of life.” For the words of the Psalm are the united utterances of confidence, expectation, and prayer; not unlike those of Paul, “I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand; henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness.”
He speaks too as one who was bearing our curse; as one who was made sin for us; and to whom everything connected with sin and its penalty was infinitely terrible; not the less terrible, but the more, because the sin and the penalty were not His own, but ours. The death which now confronted Him was one of the ingredients of the fearful cup, against which He prayed in Gethsemane, “Let this cup pass from me”; for we read that, “in the days of His flesh He made supplication, with strong crying and tears, unto Him that was able to save Him from death.” In this Psalm, indeed, we do not hear these strong cryings and tears, which the valley of the Kedron then heard. All is calm; the bitterness of death is past; the power of the king of terrors seems broken; the gloom of the grave is lost in the anticipated brightness of the resurrection light and glory. But still the scene is similar; though in the Psalm the light predominates over the darkness, and there is not the agony, nor the bloody sweat, nor the exceeding sorrow. It is our Surety looking the king of terrors in the face; contemplating the shadows of the three days and nights in the heat of the earth; surveying Joseph’s tomb, and while accepting that as His prison-house for a season, anticipating the deliverance by the Father’s power, and rejoicing in the prospect of the everlasting gladness.
The first thing that occupies His thoughts is resurrection. The path of death is before Him; and He asks that He may know the path of life;—the way out of the tomb as well as the way into it. Death is to Him an enemy; an enemy from which as the Prince of life His holy soul would recoil even more than we. The grave is to Him a prison-house, gloomy as Jeremiah’s low dungeon or Joseph’s pit, not the less gloomy because He approaches it as a conqueror, as bringing life and immortality to light, as the resurrection and the life. Into that prison-house He must descend; for though rich He has stooped to be poor; and this is the extremity of his poverty, the lowest depth of His low estate,—even the surrender of that, for which even the richest on earth will part with everything,—life itself. But out of that dungeon He cries to be brought; and for this rescue He puts Himself entirely into the Father’s hands, “Thou wilt show me the path of life.”
Very blessed and glorious did resurrection seem in the eyes of the Prince of life, of Him who is the resurrection and the life. Infinitely hateful did death and the grave appear to Him who was the Conqueror of death, the Spoiler of the grave. He had undertaken to die, for as the second Adam He came to undergo the penalty of the first, “dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return”; yet not the less bitter was the cup, not the less gloomy was the valley of the shadow of death; not the less welcome was the thought of resurrection.
The next thing which fills His thoughts is the presence of God,—that glorious presence which He had left when He “came down from heaven.” His thoughts are of the Father’s face, the Father’s house, the Father’s presence. Earth to Him was so different from heaven. He had not yet come to the “Why hast Thou forsaken me?” but He felt the difference between this earth and the heaven He had quitted. There was no such “presence” here. All was sin, evil, hatred, darkness; the presence of evil men and mocking devils; not the presence of God. God seemed far away. This world seemed empty and dreary. He called to mind the home, and the love, and the holiness He had left; and He longed for a return to these. “Thy presence!” What a meaning in these words, coming from the lips of the lonely Son of God in His desolation and friendlessness and exile here. “Thy presence!” How full of recollection would they be to Him as He uttered them; and how intensely would that recollection stimulate the anticipation and the hope!
Of this same Messiah, the speaker in the psalm, we read afterwards, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God; the same was in the beginning with God” (John 1:1); and elsewhere He speaks thus of Himself: “Jehovah possessed me in the beginning of His way, before His works of old; I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was…I was by Him, as one brought up with Him, and I was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him” (Prov. 8:22,30); and again, He, in the days of His flesh, thus prayed: “O Father, glorify Thou me with Thine own self, with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was” (John 17:5). Thus we see that the “presence” or “face” of God had been His special and eternal portion. His past eternity was associated entirely with this glorious presence. No wonder then that in the day of His deepest weakness,—when the last enemy confronted Him with his hideous presence, He should recall the Father’s presence; anticipating the day of restoration to that presence, and repossession of the glory which He had before the world was.
“Thy presence,” said the only-begotten of the Father looking up into the Father’s face! He speaks as the sin-bearer, on whom the chastisement of our sins was laid, and between whom and heaven these sins had drawn a veil; He speaks as an exile, far from home, weary, troubled, exceeding sorrowful even unto death; He speaks as a Son feeling the bitterness of separation from His Father’s presence, and of distance from His Father’s house; He speaks as one longing for home and kindred, and the unimpeded outflowings of paternal love. “Thy presence,” says the Man of sorrows looking round on an evil world;—oh, that I were there! “Thy presence,” says the forsaken Son of man, for “lover and friend hast Thou put far from me, and mine acquaintance into darkness”;—oh, that I were there! “Thy presence,” not this waste howling wilderness, this region of pain, and disease, and sin, and death, and tombs. “Thy presence,” not these temptations, these devils, these enemies, these false friends; not this blasphemy, this reproach, this scorn, this betrayal, this denial, this buffeting, this scourging, this spitting, this mockery! “Thy presence,”—oh, that I were there; nevertheless, not my will but Thine be done.
Only through death can He reach life, for He is burdened with our sin and our death; and death is to Him the path of life. He must go through the veil to enter into the presence of God. Only through the grave,—the stronghold of death, and of him who has the power of death,—can He ascend into the presence of God; and therefore, when about to enter the dark valley, He commits Himself to the Father’s guidance, to the keeping of Him who said, “Behold my servant whom I uphold,” the keeping of which He himself, by the mouth of David, had spoken: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me, Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.” Bethlehem, Egypt, Nazareth, Capernaum, Gethsemane, Golgotha,—these were all but stages in His way up to “the presence”—the presence of the Father; and it is when approaching the last of these, with the consciousness of His nearness to that presence, only one more dark passage to wind through, that He gives utterance to this psalm,—His psalm in prospect of resurrection and glory,— “I have set the Lord always before me; because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved: therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoiceth; my flesh also shall rest in hope; for Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt Thou suffer Thine holy One to see corruption; Thou wilt show me the path of life: in Thy presence is fulness of joy; at Thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.”
Meet the author and part of your Christian heritage: Horatius Bonar (19 December, 1808 – 31 May, 1889) was a Scottish churchman and poet. The son of James Bonar, Solicitor of Excise for Scotland, he was born and educated in Edinburgh. He comes from a long line of ministers who have served a total of 364 years in the Church of Scotland. One of eleven children, his brothers John James and Andrew Alexander were also ministers of the Free Church of Scotland. He had married Jane Catherine Lundie in 1843 and five of their young children died in succession. Towards the end of their lives, one of their surviving daughters was left a widow with five small children and she returned to live with her parents. Bonar’s wife, Jane, died in 1876. He is buried in the Canongate Kirkyard.