The Gospel and its Ministry - ch 3 - THE CROSS

THE CROSS.

"THE preaching of the cross." It is on this the great truth of grace depends. Not the death of Christ merely, but "the cross." Synonyms are few in Scripture, and a change of words is not to please fastidious ears but to express a different or fuller thought. "The preaching of the cross is foolishness to them that perish." Not so the preaching of the death of Christ, apart from the truths which cluster round "the cross." The whole fabric of apostate Christianity is based upon the fact of that death, and by virtue of it the Scarlet Woman shall yet sit enthroned as mistress of the world. The Saviour's death is owned as part of the world's philosophy. It is a fact and a doctrine which human wisdom has adopted, and rejoices in as the highest tribute to human worth. How great and wonderful must that creature be on whose behalf God has made so marvellous a sacrifice! And thus God is made to pander to man's pride and sense of self-importance.
And as with the world's philosophy, so also is it with the world's religion. The doctrine of the death of Christ, if separated from "the cross," leaves human nature still a standing ground. It is consistent with creature claims and class privileges. Sinners of the better sort can accept it, and be raised morally and intellectually by it. But the preaching of the cross is "the axe laid to the root of the tree," the death-blow to human nature on every ground and in every guise. It is not merely that Christ has died - the great fact on which redemption depends; but that that death has been brought about in a way and by means which manifest and prove not only the boundless and causeless love of God to man, but also the wanton and relentless enmity of man to God; that that death, while it has made it possible for God, in grace, to save the guiltiest and worst of Adam's race, has made it impossible, even with God, that the worthiest and best could be saved except in grace. It has measured out the moral distance between God and man, and has left them as far asunder as the throne of heaven and the gate of hell. If God will now give blessing, He must turn back upon Himself, and find in His own heart the motive, just as He finds the righteous ground of it in the work of Christ. There is no salvation now for "the circumcision" as such - for diligent users of the means of grace, for earnest seekers, for anxious inquirers, for a privileged class under any name or guise. If such were granted special favour, "then were the offence of the cross ceased," and grace would be dethroned.
Circumcision did not deny the death of Christ. On the contrary, it betokened covenants and class privileges granted by virtue of the great sacrifice to which every ordinance in the old religion pointed. But it utterly denied the cross, and grace as connected with the cross; for there every covenant was forfeited, every privilege lost.
Before the cross, therefore, circumcision was the outward sign of covenant blessing; but after the cross, it became the token of apostasy. The cross has shut man up to grace or judgment. It has broken down all "partition walls," and left a world of naked sinners trembling on the brink of hell. Every effort to recover themselves is but a denial of their doom, and a denial too of the grace of God, which stoops to bring them blessing where they are and as they are. The cross of Christ is the test and touch-stone of all things. Man's philosophy, man's power, man's religion - behold their work, the Christ of God upon a gallows! In distinguishing thus between the death of Christ and "the cross," let me not be misunderstood. It is not that God ever separates them thus. On the contrary," the preaching of the cross is the emphasising and enforcing of the very facts and truths which the heart of man always struggles to divorce from the doctrine of redemption, but which God has inseparably connected with it.
The idea of redemption was perfectly familiar to the Jew, and every student knows how entirely it accords with human philosophy. The Jew and the Greek could shake hands upon it, and set out together to seek the realisation of it. But the one demanded signs of Messiahship, and the passion of the other was wisdom. The death and resurrection of the Son of God, if accomplished in a manner which men would deem worthy of the Son of God, might have satisfied the one, as it did in fact, as soon as the cross was lost sight of, satisfy and charm the other. But the cross was a stumbling-block to the religious man, and folly to the wisdom-lover. If human philosophy today adopts and glories in redemption, as in fact it does, it is just because the cross is forgotten ; and if, in spite of what Christianity is in the world and to the world, the Jew is still unchristianised, it is just because with him that cross can never be forgotten.
It is not, I repeat, that God ever separates them, but that man always does. A gospel that points to the death of Christ in proof of God's high estimate of man, and then turns the doctrine of that death into a syllogism, so that men, in no way losing self-respect, can calmly reason out their right to blessing by it, will give no offence to any one, nor be branded as foolishness. Such a gospel pays due deference to human nature, and satisfies man's sense of need without hurting in the least his pride. Such a gospel has, in fact, produced that marvellous anomaly, a Christian world. Even in Paul's day "the many" were but hucksters of the Word of God. Their aim was to make their wares acceptable, to secure a trade, as it were, and so they sought popularity and an apparent success by corrupting the gospel to make it attractive to their hearers. "As of sincerity, as of God, in the sight of God," says the apostle in contrast with all this, "we speak in Christ." The gospel he preached would have created a Church in the midst of a hostile world. The gospel of " the many" has constituted the world itself the Church. And the fable of the wolf in sheep's clothing finds a strange fulfilment here, though indeed the metamorphosis is so complete that we are at a loss to distinguish either wolf or sheep remaining. Rationalism and Ritualism are the great enemies of the cross.
The First Epistle to the Corinthians touches on the one: the Epistle to the Galatians deals with the other. A gospel which pays court either to man's reason or man's religion will never. fail to be popular. Well versed, no doubt, in Greek philosophy, and no careless student of human nature, Paul might have drawn all Corinth after him had he gone there "with excellency of speech or of wisdom" in announcing the testimony of God. He did "speak wisdom among the perfect," as witness his letter to the Romans, or indeed his letter to the Corinthians themselves. His argument for the resurrection, the germ and pattern of Bishop Butler's great masterpiece of reasoning, would havee charmed and won not a few of the disciples of Plato and the other brilliant men who raised unenlightened reason to its highest glory at the very time when the voice of revelation was being hushed amid the sad echoes of Malachi's wail over the apostasy of Jehovah's people. But just because the Greeks were wisdom-worshippers, he turned from everything that would pander to their favourite passion, and became a fool among them, a man of one idea, who knew nothing "save Jesus Christ, even Him crucified." The enthronement of Christ on high and the glories of His return, are inseparable from the Christian's faith, but in Corinth it was the cross the apostle preached, the cross in all its marvellous attractiveness for hearts enlightened from on high, in all its intolerable repulsiveness for unregenerate men.
With the Galatians it was against the religion of the flesh he had to contend. He testified to them that if they were circumcised Christ should profit them nothing. How was this? Had grace found its limits here, so that if any transgressed in this respect, they committed a sin beyond the power of Christ to pardon? Grace has no limits. But there are limits to the sphere in which alone grace can act. Circumcision in itself was nothing; but it was the mark of, and key to, a position of privilege under covenant utterly inconsistent with grace. "The offence of the cross" was that it set, aside every position of the kind ; not that it brought redemption through the death upon the tree, but that because it so brought redemption all were shut up to grace.
If Paul had so preached Christ as to pay homage to human nature, and respect and accredit the vantage ground it claimed by virtue of its religion, persecution would have ceased, for the Cross would have lost its offence.
Redemption as preached by "the many" in Apostolic days brought no persecution, because it left man a platform on which "to make a fair show in the flesh." But the cross set aside the flesh altogether. If the death of Christ be preached as a means of salvation, not for lost sinners, but for the pious and devout, where is the offence? But the cross comes in with its mighty power to bring low as well as to exalt, for it exalts none but those whom first it humbles. It calls upon the pious worshipper, if indeed he would have blessing, to come out from the shrine in which he trusts, and take his place in the market square beside the outcast and the vile. It tells the "earnest seeker" and the "anxious inquirer," that by their efforts they are only struggling out of the pit where alone grace can reach them.. It proclaims to the worthy "communicant" of blameless life, whose mind is a treasury of orthodox doctrines, and whose ways are a pattern of all good, that he must come down and stand beside the drunkard and the harlot, there to receive salvation from the grace of God to the glory of God. They who do thus preach the cross can testify that its offence has not ceased in our day and in our midst.
Redemption is not, first, an easy way of salvation for the sinner, and then a display of the character of God. God must be supreme. A man who makes self his chief aim is contemptible, but in the very nature of things God must be first in everything, else He would be no longer God. The obedience of Christ was infinitely precious to, God, apart altogether from any results accruing to the sinner; and the cross is the expression of that obedience tried to the utmost. In this light, His death was but the crowning act of a life yielded up to God. "He was obedient unto death, even the death of the cross "- the cross, as expressive beyond all else of agony and contempt to the full; and because it was, this, an expression too, the completest and most blessed, of perfect love to God and man. That death was but the climax of His life. It had another character, doubtless, in which it stands alone, for there divine judgment fell on Him for sin, and He became the outcast sin-offering. We do well, truly, at times to think thus of Calvary; but we do not well to think only of it thus. The great burnt-offering aspect of the cross ought ever to be first, and never to be forgotten.

'Even as we preach the sin-offering or the passover, the joy and slxength of our own hearts ought to be the burnt offering. And thus, whatever may be the results of our testimony, it will always be itself a continual burnt-offering, "a sweet savour of Christ unto God" (2 Cor. ii. is). .'And the burnt-offering could never be accepted without the accompanying meat-offering. The work of Christ, even in its highest aspect, must never be separated from the intrinsic perfectness and majesty of His person. It was the burnt-offering with its meat-offering that Israel daily sacrificed to God; and this aspect of the cross ought ever to be before us, and that for its own sake and not because of special need in us.
The law of the leper may teach us a lesson here. Two sparrows were sold for a farthing, and no more was needed for the leper's cleansing. A farthing! if price was to be paid at all, could it possibly be less? It is impossible that the outcast sinner can have high or worthy thoughts of Christ, nor does God expect it from him. The acknowledgment of Him suffices, if only it be true, how poor and low soever it may be. The bitten Israelite who looked upon the brazen serpent lived; 0 as many as touched Him were made perfectly whole." It was only the leper's farthing offering, but it was enough. And so also now: "whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved," "they that hear shall live."
But after the sinner has been brought nigh to God, and found peace and pardon, and life, shall the poor estimate he formed of Christ and of His sacrifice, while yet an outcast, be still the limit of his gratitude, the measure of his worship? Shall the farthing gospel that met the banished sinner's need, satisfy the heart of the citizen, the saint, the child of God? The two sparrows restored the leper to the camp, but it then behoved him to bring all the great offerings of the law. Christ in all His fulness is God's provision for His people, and nothing less than this should be the measure of their hearts' worship (Lev. xiv.).

And how we lower everything! In the Jewish ritual we find the passover, the dedication of the covenant, and the sin-offering of the red heifer - the foundation sacrifices which were offered once for all. We have further the burnt-offering, the meat-offering, the peace-offering, and the great yearly sin-offering, besides others still of which I will make no mention here. Each one of all these many types has found its antitype in Christ; but what do Christians know of them? The passover alone would more than satisfy the gospel of to-day, and even that is humanised and lowered. Christ has died, and that is everything. How He died is scarce thought of, and Who He is who did so die is well-nigh forgotten altogether. Christ has died - that is certain. Rationalists and Ritualists, Protestants and Romanists, all are agreed that Christ has died. Whether it be in our Ragged Sunday schools, or in our Houses of Parliament, as day by day their sittings are begun by prayer, the death of Christ is a fact which need not be asserted, for none but an infidel would question it. But inquire in what way and to what extent sinners are benefited by that death, and at once the harmony is broken. Upon this every school has its creed, and every "ism" its theories, and the theme is the signal for a scramble and a struggle between all the rival banners of Christendom.
Here is a master-stroke of Satan's guile. That which God intended should be an impossibility to the natural mind, he has made the common creed of men. In the wildest fables of false religions, there is nothing more utterly incredible than the story of the life and death of the Son of God. For one who knows who Jesus was, and what "the Christ" means, to believe that Jesus is the Christ is so entirely beyond the possibilities of human reason that it is proof of a birth from God. He who believes that Jesus is the Son of God is a man with a supernatural faith, a faith that overcomes the world. Yet just as in Him the carnal eye could 'find no beauty,' so in His gospel the carnal mind can see no wonders. But it behoves the evangelist so to preach that gospel that the Holy Ghost may own the word to reveal thereby the mighty mysteries and marvels of redemption; not lowering and humanising it to bring it within the reach of the natural man apart from the work of the Holy Spirit.
If Christians are commonplace in our day, ma.y it not be because the gospel they believe is common-place ? Divine faith is faith in the divine. The difference is not in the faith, but in the object of it. If we have really believed the Gospel of God, we have each one of us received for himself a revelation from on high, a revelation to which flesh and blood could never reach. Let us remember this. These pages are proof how much I value clear and scriptural statements of the truth but it is not on clearness, or even orthodoxy, that the power depends. The gospel may be so sifted and simplified that none shall fail to understand it, and yet sinners may never be brought to God at all. The preaching that is wanted is not " with persuasive words of man's wisdom," reasoning out salvation, and cheapening the gospel to suit the condition of the hearers, but "in demonstration of the Spirit and of power -preaching that will be "foolishness to them that perish," but to the saved " the power of God."
It is one thing to master Christianity ; it is quite another thing to be mastered by it. And it is the cross that attracts and conquers. The cross, not as an easy way of pardon for the sinner, not as a " plan of salvation," but as a fact and a revelation to change a heartless worldling into an adoring worshipper. The cross, not as the ruling factor in the equation of man's redemption, but as a display of the love and righteousness and wrath of God, and the sin of man, to subdue the hardest heart, and change the whole current of the most selfish and ungodly life. To faith the unseen is real; and to those who believe in the cross, "Jesus Christ has been openly set forth crucified before their eyes." They have seen that marred and agonised face. They have been witnesses to the reproach that broke His heart, the scorn, the derision, and the hate, of all the attendant throng. They have heard "Emmanuel's orphan cry" when forsaken of His God. And in gazing thus upon that scene their inmost being has sustained a mighty change. Till yesterday, the world and self ensnared their hearts, and filled the whole horizon of their lives. But now the cross has become a power to divorce themselves from self, and to separate them from that world which crucified their Lord. 0 for power so to preach the cross of Christ that it shall become a reality to all, whether they accept it or despise it : that men who never were conscious of a doubt, because they never really believed, shall see what priests and soldiers saw, and the rabble crowd that mocked His agonies, and seeing, shall exclaim, "It is impossible that this can be the Son of God ! " that some again shall see what John and Mary witnessed, and gazing, shall cry out, with broken hearts, in mingled love and grief, "My God, was this for me!" and turn to live devoted lives for Him who died and rose again.
I conclude in borrowed words, more worthy than my own: "With the loyal-hearted believer, there is one master-object which in measure conceals every other by its surpassing glory; and this is not redemption, which, blessed as it is, is simply a matter of course, if Christ died by this end, but the CROSS itself, with its ignominy - the death of the Prince of Life, the crucifixion of the Lord of Glory; incredible antithesis! Not only the freedom from eternal and frightful slavery, but the divine price paid for that freedom. And this 'not silver and gold' (though we were not worth so much as brass), but 'the precious blood of Christ,'
"And so I would preach to those who hear, and say 'There is life, there is pardon, there is right-eousness for you-nay, there is worth for you- and they are all Divine, besides their own integrity; and they are a free gift to the godless and lost. But I tell you more, and beg you tQ hasten on; this life, these riches, come to you through His poverty and death; and God and God's love are revealed to you in this poverty, this death, even the death of the cross.'
"And if I were to tell you of forgiveness of sins through His mercy, and leave you there; if I preached to you the results flowing of necessity fmm the cross to each believer, but not the cross itself, or the cross itself as a judicial work, but not the Crucified One, I should leave you still to self, and I desire to save you from self, as well as from everlasting shame and contempt. But I preach Christ Jesus the Lord, the Son of God, the brightness of His glory and express image of Himself, on the cross made a curse and smitten there by the hand of God judicially for the guilty. - See the dreadfulness of that cross, and know who it is that was lifted up on it, and for whom, and to what end, as it is written. Look steadily; mark, study, search into those unsearchable moral riches; and blessing after blessing will come to you, and so freely, from this one object, in which all truth and all love are alike declared, and in which you will learn to love, to worship and to obey, to abhor wrong, to forget yourself and think of Him, and to 'count all things but loss,' as the apostle says, not for the grace of your deliverance, but "for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus your Lord.'"