It is a perfectly obvious fact
that wherever the Cross of the Lord Jesus Christ has been most faithfully
preached and presented - while bringing hope and new life to many - it has
almost invariably been the cause of trouble.
Wherever it has gone it has
aroused antagonism. As it was a stumbling-block to the Jews and an absurdity to
the Greeks in the first days, so, ever since, it has been unacceptable, not only
to the men of the world as such, but to the religious communities also. This we
unhesitatingly affirm to be as true today as ever, in spite of the fact that it
is the most popular symbol in the world. There is hardly a city in Christendom
where the architecture, galleries of art, collections of literature and
conservatoires of music and religious institutions do not declare to the world a
certain regard and honour for this sacred sign.
This may be a tribute to something
deeper but it is that deeper thing which is absolutely unacceptable to the
greater part of Christendom and the world.
It is found necessary even in
certain phases of some missionary enterprise today to eliminate from the
text-books and hymn books the mention of the Cross lest it offend.
Much of the preaching and teaching
in the Christian Church is either confined to the "Historic Jesus", which
presents a Crossless Christ, or gives a very modified meaning to His death. And
yet it is surely necessary to get rid of the Bible before we can get rid of the
fact that it unites in all its parts to declare that the Cross is God's Way of
salvation, God's sufficient and God's only way.
It is, further, surely very clear
that the Cross has proved to be the means upon which God has made to rest the
full weight of His mighty saving power. It was dominant in New Testament days.
The recovery of, or re-emphasis upon some vital and essential phase of that
Cross gave rise to such movements as are signified by the names of Luther,
Moody, Finney, Jonathan Edwards, Whitfield, the Wesleys, Spurgeon and many other
especially God-honoured men.
Now we ask why has the Cross
always been such a maker of trouble and such a cause of offence? And why is it
that it is today behind much of the upheaval even in many of our professedly
evangelical institutions and denominations, Christian homes, local churches and
individual Christian lives?
This we will seek to answer, but
first let us discriminate. It is not the heroics of the Cross or the aesthetics
that cause the trouble. Sacrifice, suffering, unselfish devotion, self-effacing
service for the good of others, enduring the penalty of setting oneself against
the evil current of the times, etc.; these are romantic elements and are seized
upon as the themes by which multitudes are captured and captivated. It is the
deeper meaning which the Bible gives to the Cross which causes the aggravation,
this can be seen in one or two clearly defined applications.
1. The Cross condemns
In His Cross Christ created a
great divide between the old world and the new, a divide which cannot be
bridged. Two distinctly different systems, scales of value, standards of
judgment, sets of laws, prevail on the two sides of the Cross, the system of
each is not only entirely different, but irreconcilable and forever antagonistic
to the other.
The Cross demands an absolute
distinctiveness of interests and objectives, relationships and resources. It
draws the final distinction between the saved and the unsaved, between the
living and the dead.
The apostle Paul said that by the
Cross he had "been crucified to the world" and the world crucified to him. The
Word of God emphatically declares that the age is evil and that "the whole world
lieth in the wicked one" and that its ways, motives, purposes, ideas and
imaginations are all the opposite of God's and that it is utterly incapacitated
from either receiving the revelation of the divine mind, growing of itself into
the divine image, enjoying and appreciating real fellowship with God, or being
entrusted with the privilege of co-operation with God.
These are alone the consciousness,
capacities, relationships of the newly-born or regenerated soul. It is this
verdict, condemnation, and demand of the Cross which is unacceptable and
irritating to a very great number of professing Christians. Further, it is the
presence of much that is called "worldliness" both in the individual Christian
life and in the Church which absolutely neutralises their effectiveness in the
realisation of the essential purposes of the Cross.
2. The Cross crucifies
By it the Word of God declares
that "our old man has been crucified with Christ" (Romans 6:6). "One died for
all, therefore all died in Him, that they which live should henceforth live no
longer unto themselves, but unto him" (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). We have tried to
bring some of the old creation life into the new creation and God won't have it.
The history of the fallen race was concluded so far as God was concerned at
Calvary. From that time onward, God's entire concern was the new creation, but
alike our human capabilities as well as our infirmities; what we call our better
side as our worse; our goodness and our badness have been included in that
death. Henceforth we are called to live not on a human level but on a divine.
Humanly we possess nothing which is acceptable to God.
It is always the assertion of some human element, some like or dislike, some fad
or fancy, some ambition or some personal interest, which paralyses the real
spiritual work of God. To regard not only our sins but ourselves as having been
taken to the Cross by Christ is the only way by which those purposes of God can
be wrought out through our lives. It is strange that while we ourselves are the
bane of our own existence, the trouble of our own lives, we are so slow to
accept our crucification with Christ, to have the Cross wrought out to our death
in order that the life of Christ might be made manifest in us. Herein lies the
offence of the Cross, not only for the worldling but also for the Christian.
3. The Cross casts out
Here we touch, perhaps, the
deepest cause of the offence, for the world and the flesh are only the
instruments and weapons by which the great hierarchy of Satan maintains its hold
and its existence as the controlling force. Christ said as He approached the
Cross, "Now is the prince of this world cast out" (John 12:31). Paul reflecting
upon that Cross said that by it: "Christ stripped off principalities and powers,
making a show of them openly, and triumphed over them" (Colossians 2:15).
It is perfectly natural, then,
that the great hierarchy of evil should by every means and resource seek to make
the Cross of none effect. By the "pale cast of thought" it will dilute the
message of the Cross; by pushing in the world's methods, its means, its spirit,
it will sap the spiritual vitality of the Church; by stirring up the flesh, the
self and the old Adam it will cause schism, strain and disintegration; or by
making much of the human element in its artistic, aesthetic, heroic,
humanitarian side, it will be blind to the need of regeneration. Reputation,
popularity, bigness, the world standard of success, are all contrary to the
spirit of Christ, but they are the toys with which the enemy engrosses the minds
of many, even Christian ministers.
If, therefore, the Cross is
preached in the full victory over and emancipation from the world, the flesh and
the devil, it is to be expected that by hook or by crook the intelligent forces
of evil will leave no stone unturned to stop it, and will stir up every cause of
offence to lay to the account of the Cross.
In conclusion let us not forget
that the enjoyment of the full life of God, the experience of victory, and
executive co-operation with Him that sitteth upon the throne in the sure
realisation that His eternal purposes are ours just in so far as we are one with
the full and essential meaning of the Cross as set forth in the Word of God. "I
have been crucified with Christ, henceforth... no longer I but Christ." "They
overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb, and because of the word of their
testimony, and they counted not their lives dear unto the death" (Revelation
First published in "A Witness and A Testimony"
magazine, Jan-Feb 1932, Vol 10-1