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Beyond Humiliation: The Way of the Cross
The Light of the Cross
My God! my God! and can it be
That I should sin so lightly now,
And think no more of evil thoughts
Than of the wind that waves the bough?
I sin, and heaven and earth go round
As if no dreadful deed were done;
As if Thy blood had never ﬂowed
To hinder sin or to atone.
Shall it be always thus, O Lord?
Wilt Thou not work this hour in me
The grace Thy passion merited,
Hatred of self and love of Thee?
O, by the pains of Thy pure love,
Grant me the gift of holy fear;
And by Thy woes and bloody sweat,
O wash my guilty conscience clear.
Ever when tempted make me see,
Beneath the olives’ moon-pierced shade,
My God, alone, outstretched, and bruised,
And bleeding on the earth He made.
And make me feel it was my sin,
As though no other sins there were,
That was to Him who bears the world
A load that He could scarcely bear.
“The school of the Cross,” said John Bunyan when he was dying, “is the school of light.” It is the mirror in which the selﬁshness, hideousness, and penalty of human sin is reﬂected. There is no search-light like that which ﬂashes from the hill of Calvary for discovering to us the plague of our own hearts.
Simeon’s words which predict the sorrows that were to pierce Mary’s heart, predict also the laying open of the hidden dispositions of many other hearts (Luke ii. 34, 35). Our deepest self is revealed by our attitude to the Cross of Jesus. If we stand in its light, we shall ﬁnd it a touchstone where we are tried and proved to the very depths of our being. It will be quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that will not be manifest in its sight.
The Cross is not only possessed of sin-conquering, but of sin-discovering power. Before it can be “death to every vice,” it must be light to reveal its loathsomeness. When Mark Antony wanted to inﬂame the Roman populace against the assassins of Julius Caesar, he lifted up the dead Emperor’s garment and said:
“You all do know this mantle: I remember
The ﬁrst time ever Caesar put it on;
‘Twas on a summer’s evening, in his tent;
Look! in this place, ran Cassius’ dagger through;
See, what a rent the envious Casca made:
Through this, the well-beloved Brutus stabb’d,
And, as he pluck’d his cursed steel away,
Mark how the blood of Caesar follow’d it.”
To see what your sin really means bring it into the light of the Cross, and say as you gaze upon that marred visage and those pierced hands and feet: “It was my pride, my lust, my unbelief, my selﬁshness, that pointed the nails and ﬁxed the thorns.” There are those who can testify that the perceived relation of the death of Christ to their sin has instantly so discovered to them its true character, and has so broken its power that the Cross has proved in an utterly unexpected sense their pathway to freedom. Look upon Him, as upon the true Serpent of brass, till the fever and the poison of your sin be healed.
A Bechuana Christian exclaimed in the enthusiasm of his newly-found faith: “The Cross of Christ condemns me to become a saint!” His words contain an all-important truth, for they at once reveal the real purpose of the Saviour’s death and the true object of the Christian’s life. That object is not chieﬂy the forgiveness of sins, not a title to heaven, not deliverance from the wrath to come, but a saintly walk. God has called us to be saints. Happiness, pardon, and heaven are subordinate. Holiness is the element in which salvation and heaven are to be found. Yes, the Cross condemns me to become a saint.
It is out of the light of the Cross that men who profess to be Christians, and who have perchance renounced glaring sins, drop into a slothful, selﬁsh, worldly life. They contrast their present with their past; or they compare their life with the lives so many are living around them, and they are content. The danger of this condition is intensiﬁed, because in gross sin there is some prospect of getting the conscience disturbed, but in this unhealthy state they persuade themselves that this is all that is required of them, and all that Jesus can do for them, and they cry: “Peace, peace, when there is no peace!”
St. Paul meets the horrible suggestion, “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” with the words: “God forbid. How shall we, who died to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death?” (Rom. vi. 1-3). That surely means that Christ’s death implies union as well as substitution. His death and resurrection-life condemn me to be a saint, and it is unspeakably mean of me to claim to be one with Him in the freedom from sin’s punishment, which His Cross secures, and not one with Him in His relation to the hateful sin itself. Dean Vaughan speaks strongly when he says: “All sinning now is a re-cruciﬁxion — it is a disregard, it is a despite, it is more — it is a re-binding and re-nailing and re-torturing and re-agonizing and re-killing of Him whose one death was the sufﬁcient sin-bearing, and therefore the intended sin-eradication and sin-extermination for ever.”
Yet this crime of perpetual cruciﬁxion is continually enacted in the thought-life of the world, and with this awful aggravation: the men of the ﬁrst century knew not what they did, they sinned in the dark, but the men of the nineteenth century sin against the light. The criterion of character is moral identiﬁcation
. When Abraham Lincoln was assassinated there were men in the North who applauded the act, but no sooner did the words “Serve him right” fall from their lips than they were instantly riddled with the bullets of the patriots. Why? Because the men of the North looked upon soul-identiﬁcation with treason as treason, and sympathy with a traitor as making a man a traitor. It is worth while to question ourselves with regard to our moral identiﬁcation. Where do we stand with regard to Christ? If our life belies our lips, if we make an orthodox profession but live a heterodox life; if we triﬂe with what we ignorantly call little sins and allow them to have dominion over us; if we are cowardly and silent, and given to desertion as the Christ of God stands at the bar of public opinion; if we not only refuse to confess Him ourselves, but hinder others from confessing Him, we morally identify ourselves with those who cried: “Away with Him; not this man, but Barabbas!”
"Behold," says St. John, "he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him." (Rev. 1:7). He does not only mean Pilate and Herod, the priests and His crucifiers on Mount Calvary, but the whole conspiracy of sinful and rebellious wills, by whom He has been betrayed and bound, buffeted and wounded, from the beginning until His coming again.
It was not the hammer and the nails, as Manning says, which cruciﬁed Him; nor the Roman soldiers who wielded the weapons of His passion; nor the arm and the hand which smote the sharp iron into the wood — these were but the blind material instruments of His agony. His true cruciﬁers were our sins, — and we, ourselves — the sinners, for whom He died. This was the real power of darkness which set in motion all the array of death. Willful sins renew, in virtue and by implication, the wounds that were suffered on Mount Calvary. And this reveals in us the true depth and measure of our guilt.
We are guilty of deception when we deal witih our sins in a heap. Let us bring them into the light of the Cross and treat them singly, for each one, taken alone contains the whole principle of rebellion against God and made Calvary, with its awful anguish and lonlines, a terrible necessity.
Let us beware of the subtle danger of renouncing the sins of the flesh, the outward acts of sin, and yet fondly cherishing the inward sins of the spirit. The soul may consent that the chambers of imagery should still be hung with pictures of evil things, though evil never be betrayed into acts. Sins of the spirit may be hidden under a life that is outwardly without blame. Our only safety lies in having our whole life judged in the light of the Cross, appropriating continually the cleansing which that Cross has provided from all defilement both of flesh and spirit (II Cor. 7:1)
I see the crowd in Pilate's hall,
I mark their wrathful mien;
Their shouts of "Crucify!" appall,
With blasphemy between.
And of that shouting multitude
I feel that I am one;
And in that din of voices rude
I recognize my own.
'Twas I that shed the sacred blood,
I nailed Him to the tree,
I crucified the Christ of God,
I joined the mockery.
Yet not the less that Blood avails
To cleanse away my sin,
And not the less that Cross prevails
to give me peace within.