What can be likened to the travail of a woman? Is it not the standard of pain in this fallen world, a pain of all pains excelling? Is it not a sorrow of sorrows, from the hand of Jehovah of hosts Himself? – who spoke to Eve, & it surely came to pass, “I will greatly multiply thy sorrow … in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children” (Gen. 3:16). Is it not a clear & polished looking glass into the terror & sinfulness of sin before the great & awesome Judge of all the earth? Is it not a peculiar pain, which disfigures & mars & humbles the fairest flower under the sun – the woman? That draws much blood & loud cries & tears from the weaker vessel, the darling of the garden, the glory of man, the gem of creation, the only being created from another living being? Truly what a marvel of marvels, is the travail of a woman – that works a seeming impossibility in bringing babes through the birth canal – bringing a camel through the eye of a needle, as it were.
And yet with what great honor is the woman recompensed for her travail? Even as Adam crowned his wife with such great honor, clinging to the promise of God, to name his wife Life, for she was the mother of all living. Yea, God Himself crowns woman with honor upon honor. For through the faithful fruitfulness of woman, the promised Seed of Eve would come. Through the fruitfulness of woman, the house of Israel “increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them” (Exod. 1:7). Through the fruitfulness of woman, man is blessed beyond degree, & his quiver amply filled. Through the fruitfulness of woman, the church is blessed with a successive seed that shall serve Christ (Ps. 22:30), & the covenant faithfulness of God pours out upon a thousand generations. Yea, when a woman walks in the way of travail, yielding herself humbly to the will of God, faithfully drinking the cup given her by God’s hand, He crowns her with honor & grace beyond measure, for “she shall be saved in childbearing” (1 Tim. 2:15).
And yet the greatest honor bestowed upon the woman for her travail, is that as she bears the curse of sin in her body, every furrow of her brow, every drop of shed blood, & every groan from her lips, wondrously images to the world the gospel of the Son of God.
…At the heart of one of the richest portions of all holy Scripture, the prophet Isaiah foretold: “Yet it pleased1 the LORD to bruise2 him; he hath put him to grief: when thou3 shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure4 of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail5 of his soul, and shall be satisfied6…” (Isa. 53:10-11a KJV).
Yea, Christ Jesus travailed for His seed, & far greater was His travail. Such that He said in His heart, “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death” (Ps. 22:14-15).
Far greater was His bloodshed & His groans, such that He cried out, “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me” (Ps. 22:1, Mt. 27:46).
Far greater did the travail of Christ disfigure Him who is “fairer than the sons of men” (Ps. 45:1), such that “his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men” (Isa. 52:14).
Far greater may we behold the sinfulness of sin in Christ’s travail – in Christ paying the wages of sin to the last mite, in God providing His only begotten Son as the spotless Lamb, as the perfect propitiation for all the sin of all His elect – yea, therein we behold the sinfulness of sin more clearly than in beholding hell itself. For upon the cross, Christ not merely suffered the wrath of man; he drank “the wine of the wrath of God … poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation” (Rev. 14:10). At the mere meditation of this cup, He sweat great drops of blood while praying to His Father in Gethsemane. And yet Christ’s foreknowledge of the hell of this cup did not stop up His path. But rather, He manfully rose from prayer, took the cup from His Father’s good hand, & drank of it deeply, to the very dregs, that His seed would never taste a drop. Yea, far greater is the curse that Christ bore for sin, & even so, He took it willingly.
Far greater is the life that Christ’s travail begets. The travail of a woman wondrously begets the life of a helpless babe, who could not bring itself into the world by its own power. Yet the travail of Christ has effectually “begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven” (1 Pet. 1:3-4).
Far greater is the fruitfulness of Christ’s travail. For through the many travails of a woman, she may fill a man’s quiver – & yet the travail of Christ has effectually filled the nations with His seed – causing the “desolate cities to be inhabited” (Isa. 54:3), filling heaven with hosts innumerable, & justifying “many” (Isa. 53:11). Verily, His travail has brought “many sons unto glory” (Heb. 2:10), such that He declares in triumph, “Behold I and the children which God hath given me (Heb. 2:13, Isa. 8:18).
Yea, in Him, God’s promise to Abraham is abundantly fulfilled, “Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be” (Gen. 15:5). For the Father has promised unto His Son, “…in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning: thou hast the dew of thy youth” (Ps. 110:3)7. Count the stars, if you can. Count the grains of sand upon the seashore. Count the willows by the water courses (Isa. 44:4). Count the droplets of dawn’s dew glistening upon the grass. All these are as the seed of Christ. One generation of His church returns to the dust, bowing before Him, joining in the praises of His heavenly hosts. Another generation of His seed rises up, to bless & serve Him (Ps. 22:29-30), unto a thousand generations. Verily, who can number His children, washed in His blood? His travail has begotten a seed that is myriads of myriads, “of all nations, & kindreds, & people, & tongues” (Rev. 7:9), such that His praises in heaven shall resound as “the voice of a great multitude, & the voice of many waters, & as the voice of mighty thunderings” (Rev. 19:6).
And far greater is the triumph & the satisfaction wrought by Christ’s travail. It is a satisfaction of the triune God, in the salvation of sinners. God the Father, satisfied – it was the pleasure of the Father that prospered in Christ’s hands (Isa. 53:10b) – for the seed of Christ was precious in His sight (Isa. 43:4). Yea, the Father was pleased to bruise His Son, for he takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezek. 33:11). God the Spirit, satisfied – for what He foretold from the beginning of the world through His holy prophets, surely came to pass. Yea, & the Spirit longed to be poured out by Christ; He delighted to dwell in the hearts of Christ’s seed, regenerating them by His measureless might.
Yea Christ Himself, though His travail was gruesome beyond measure, was satisfied beyond measure – for Isaiah prophesied, “He shall see of the travail of his soul…” (namely, His seed), “…and shall be satisfied….”
…Jesus said to His disciples, “A woman when she is in travail has sorrow, because her hour has come; but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembers no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world” (Jn. 16:21). After a woman’s travail has ended, though great groans have been uttered, many tears cried, & much blood shed – when a woman holds her baby in her embrace at last, she is elated & filled with joy inexpressible. She does not repent of her travail, nay, she repents of neither jot nor tittle of anguish that she endured, for the joy that it has brought forth. She is, in a word, satisfied. Satisfied beyond measure in her seed. Yea, her seed is precious in her sight. Regardless of the natural beauty, or the temperament, or any characteristic whatsoever of her seed, her newborn is her peculiar treasure, her delight, upon whom her ardent affection is lavished in all its fullness.
Yet verily, Christ’s satisfaction in His seed infinitely surpasses even that of a mother. From eternity past, the Father had covenanted with the Son, in this grand covenant of redemption, that when the Son’s soul was made an offering for sin, He would surely see His seed. And this assuredly accounts for an ocean of the joy that was set before Him as He endured the cross (Heb. 12:2).
Christ did not repent of leaving His throne above, & taking on flesh. He did not repent of suffering as the Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief. He did not repent of one drop of the misery that he bore at Calvary. For in His travail upon that cross, Jesus begat a seed unto Himself, & our Savior is supremely satisfied in His seed. In the riches of His unfathomable love, Christ looks upon the unlovely sinners whom He saved, & finds them infinitely lovely. He beholds the unworthy worms whom He redeemed, & counts them worth the inestimable price He paid. He is satisfied. Satisfied in the salvation of sinners.
…Behold with what manner of love Christ has loved us.
…Is not a mother worthy of much honor? How much more then is this Christ, who travailed at Calvary, worthy of all honor, & glory, & blessing, & power forevermore?
Does not a newborn babe cast itself upon the breasts of its loving mother in utter dependence? How much more then should we cast our all upon our loving Savior, & be infinitely satisfied in Him who is infinitely satisfied in us? Yea, for our God has promised, “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands…” (Isa. 49:15-16).
Did Jesus give His whole soul in travailing to save sinners? How fervently then, ought we travail, to the end of seeing lost souls won, & Christ formed in them (Gal. 4:19) by the power of His Almighty Spirit – that Christ would be satisfied in their salvation.
…And now as I draw to a close, dear reader, if you do not know Jesus Christ personally as your Lord & Savior, allow me to speak a parting word to you. Mark well, Jesus Christ is satisfied in the salvation of sinners. He did not come to save the righteous, nay, for then where was the need of his great travail?
Verily, “this is a faithful saying, & worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” – yea, even the chief of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15). It was for sinners that Christ came. The salvation of sinners was His delight. It was for sinners – wretched, unholy, unlovely, unworthy, sinners, that Christ bled & died.
Reader, allow me to ask, are you a sinner? If not, perhaps you may content yourself with the so-called gods of this world, in the idols of man’s inventions, in vanity, wind, & confusion. But God Himself has declared, that all we like sheep have gone astray, that all have sinned & fallen short of His glory.
None apart from Jesus have kept God’s holy law perfectly, loving Him with all their heart, mind, soul, & strength, & loving their neighbor as themselves.
Surely you are a sinner, & the wages of your sin is eternal death. Your life is but a vapor, & the eternal judgment of God draws nigh for you.
And therefore I beseech you, nay the Spirit Himself beseeches you, do not harden your heart against this Christ. Today is the day of salvation. Tomorrow is but the devil’s word.
Look to this Christ, who plucks brands out of the burning. Look to this Jesus, who stands ready to save you, full of pity joined with power.8 Look to this Savior, who takes sinners straight from the swine trough, embraces them in His arms, dresses them in the finest robes, & crowns them with steadfast love & tender mercies.
Did Christ give His very soul to save sinners, & would you not seek Him with all your heart? Would you not travail in prayer unto this Christ who travailed at Calvary? Would you not retire to your closet, & cry to Him, until He pours out His Spirit upon you, as floods of water upon the parched ground, filling you with all the fullness of God? Would you not trust in this Christ that prayed for forgiveness for those who slew Him, & surely intercedes for sinners today from heaven, pleading the merit of His blood?9 Would you not behold this Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world; who holds a blood-sealed pardon to you, bids you look to Him and live?10 Would you not come to this fountain, filled with blood, drawn from Immanuel’s veins, & wash all your sins away?11
O sinner, there is a mighty rejoicing, by all the hosts of heaven, over the salvation of one sinner. And yet among all the alleluias of all the angels, among all the tears of joy among all the saints, there is none that rejoices with more ardency, more triumph, more love, more dancing, more pure delight, over the salvation of one sinner, than the High King of Heaven Himself, Jesus Christ the Lord. Yea, “he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing” (Zeph. 3:17).
And when He causes you to be born again by His mighty Spirit, as you see with the eye of faith the gates of heaven flung wide open for you, Christ will thrill your poor soul with delight. Yea, you will ride upon the heights of the earth. You will count all the pomp & vanity of this world as dung, compared to the glory of knowing Christ. Yea, Christ will give you joy unspeakable & full of glory.
O sinner, would you not be satisfied in Jesus, who is satisfied in the salvation of sinners? Christ offers Himself freely unto you, to be your exceeding great reward. Would you not freely receive from Him who freely gives? This gift of salvation is “nigh thee, even in thy mouth, & in thy heart … That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus & shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.” (Rom. 10:8-11).
The God of glory pleads with you, “turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die?” (Ezek. 33:11).
- “Pleased” is the strongest translation (KJV, NKJV, Calvin) of the Hebrew word here, “haphets.” The Geneva & ESV translate it as “would” & “the will,” respectively.
- cf. Gen. 3:15. Here we behold the Son of Adam, the promised seed of Eve, crushed for sinners.
- The Geneva translates “thou” as “he,” which is not justified by the Hebrew.
- This is the second occurrence of the Hebrew word, “haphets,” in the verse.
- The ESV’s translation of this word as “anguish” detracts from the illustration of a woman’s labor. (The NKJV & Calvin translate this word as “labor.”) For reference, other verses in the KJV that use this language of “travail” are Nu. 20:14, Jn. 16:21, 1 Th. 2:9, Ec. 2:23, Ga. 4:19, Ga. 4:27, Ro. 8:22, Is. 54:1.
- The ESV’s arrangement of verse 11a significantly detracts from the object of Christ’s satisfaction (namely, the fruit of His travail), & thus hinders the English reader from delighting in the glorious imagery here of a mother’s satisfaction in her newborn child, as set forth by our Lord in Jn. 16.
- The Geneva helpfully renders it, “the youth of thy womb shall be as the morning dew.”
- Hart, Joseph. Come, Ye Sinners, Poor & Wretched
- Key, Francis Scott. Lord, with Glowing Heart I’d Praise Thee.
- Cowper, William. There is a Fountain Filled with Blood.