I read a Tale of Two Cities when I was 16. Have you read it? Agonizing, tragic, beautiful story. Actually it feels pitiful to attempt words for that theme of all themes, captured in Charles Dickens’ wonderful work.
I tried to find paintings of Russia that relate to that story. In my search I found these landscapes by classical Russian painters Isaak Levitan and Ivan Shishkin, which touch on the bleak beauty of the story.
What made me think of A Tale of Two Cities is its universal theme of self-sacrificing, substitutionary love. You’ve encountered this theme in countless books and movies. It is a concept known by every culture.
The Easter story contains that very heartbreaking notion of true love, as no other story does.
In the words of an old British preacher who we read often around here…
“I have always considered, with Luther and Calvin, that the sum and substance of the gospel lies in that word, Substitution, Christ standing in the stead of man. If I understand the gospel, it is this: I deserve to be lost and ruined; the only reason why I should not be damned is this, that Christ was punished in my stead, and there is no need to execute a sentence twice for sin.
“On the other hand, I know I cannot enter heaven, unless I have a perfect righteousness; I am absolutely certain I shall never have one of my own, for I find I sin every day; but then Christ had a perfect righteousness, and he said, “There, take my garment, put it on; you shall stand before God as if you were Christ, and I will stand before God as if I had been the sinner; I will suffer in the sinner’s stead, and you shall be rewarded for works which you did not do, but which Christ did for you.
“I think the whole substance of salvation lies in the thought, that Christ stood in the place of man. The prisoner is in the dock; he is about to be taken away for death; he deserves to die; he has been a mighty criminal. But before he is taken away, the judge asks whether there is any possible plan whereby that prisoner’s life can be spared. Up rises one who is pure and perfect himself; and has known no sin, and by the allowance of the judge, for that is necessary, he steps into the dock, and says, “Consider me to be the prisoner; pass the sentence on me, and let me die.”