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Gregory Mantle

Beyond Humiliation: The Way of the Cross

Chapter  8
The World and the Cross

“I think that this world, at its prime and perfection, when it is come to the top of its excellency and to the bloom, might be bought with a halfpenny; and that it would scarce weigh the worth of a drink of water. There is nothing better than to esteem it our crucified idol (that is, dead and slain), as Paul did. Then let pleasures be crucified, and court and honor be crucified. And since the apostle saith that the world is crucified to him, we may put this world to the hanged man’s doom, and to the gallows: and who will give much for a hanged man? As little should we give for a hanged and crucified world. Yet fools are pulling it off the gallows and contending for it.” — Samuel Rutherford

O Lord, seek us, O Lord, find us in Thy patient care;
Be Thy love before, behind us, round us, everywhere:
Lest the god of this world blind us, lest he speak us fair.
Lest he forge a chain to bind us, lest he bait a snare.
Turn not from us, call to mind us, find, embrace us, bear;
Be Thy love before, behind us, round us, everywhere.
— Christina Rossetti

“Whatever passes as a cloud between
The mental eye of faith and things unseen,
Causing that brighter world to disappear,
Or seem less lovely, or its hope less dear,
That is our world, our idol, though it bear
Affection’s impress, or devotion’s air.”

The Galatian Epistle has been called the Crucifixion Epistle. In chapter ii. 20, Paul says that his old self was crucified with Christ; in chapter v. 24, he says that his “flesh with its passions and lusts” has been nailed to the Cross; and now in chapter vi. 14, he says that the world is crucified to him, and he is crucified to the world.

We read of “the spirit of the world” (I Cor. ii 12), of “the fashion of the world” (I Cor. vii. 31), of the course of this world (Eph. ii. 2), and of the prince of this world (John xiv. 30). There is a wisdom of the world which is not the wisdom of Christ; a ruler of the world who is Christ’s and man’s greatest foe; a judgment of the world in which men are in danger of being involved. We are told that the world is passing away, and that if we love it and the things that are in it, the love of the Father is not in us (I John ii. 15-17). Jesus prepared His disciples for its hatred, and told them this would prove they were not of it, for the world cannot hate itself (John xv. 18, 19). He further taught them that if they testify of it, as He ever did, that its works are evil, the world will hate them as it hated Him (John vii. 7). Despite the inveterate hatred of the world, Christ’s disciples are not to be afraid, for He tells them that He has overcome it (John xvi. 33); and His servant John assures those to whom he wrote, that “greater is He that is in them, than he that is in the world” (I John iv. 4); that whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world; and that this is the victory that overcometh, even their faith in its conqueror, Jesus the Son of God (I John v. 4, 5).

What then is this world, which in the estimation of Paul was nothing better than a crucified felon? For be it remembered when we speak of the Cross, that in the early days of Christianity, none of those beautiful associations with which we are familiar had gathered round it. To us it is not only suggestive of a fact, but it is also a memorial of nearly two thousand years of history. The love and admiration with which we are familiar were unknown to the apostle. In his day it was the sign and symbol of ignominy, and far more odious and suggestive than the word gallows is to us. “There is, indeed,” as one has said, “no word among us that is significant of the deep and acknowledged and universal detestation that belonged to the Cross.”

The world “consists of those who are attached to sensible objects, and who place in them their sole happiness; who, have a horror of poverty, suffering, and humiliation, and who look upon such things as real evils from which they must flee, and against which they must protect themselves at any cost; who, on the contrary, have the greatest regard for riches, pleasures, and honors; who consider these things as real and solid good: who desire them and pursue them with extreme eagerness, without caring what means they use to obtain them; who fight with one another over the things of this life; who envy one another, and try to take from each other what they have not themselves; who only value another person, or despise him, in proportion as he possesses or does not possess these perishable things. In one word, who found upon the acquisition and enjoyment of temporal things all their principles, all their code of morality, and the entire plan of their conduct.”

It is any form of life or government — political, educational, social, or religious — which does not place God pre-eminently first. To quote the language of Dr. Dale: To be worldly is “to permit the higher law to which we owe allegiance, the glories and terrors of that invisible universe which is revealed to faith, our transcendent relations to the Father of spirits through Christ Jesus our Lord, to be overborne by inferior interests, and by the opinion and practices of those in whom the life of God does not dwell. It is to regulate our life by public opinion instead of by religious principle; to do as others do without inquiring why they do it; to follow the crowd without inquiring where exactly they are going.”

Strongly do we recommend the readers of these pages to ponder Faber’s searching and powerful description of the world in his “Creator and Creature.” He says: “The world is not altogether matter, nor yet altogether spirit. It is not man only, nor Satan only, nor is it exactly sin. It is an infection, an inspiration, an atmosphere, a life, a coloring matter, a pageantry, a fashion, a taste, a witchery. None of these names suit it, and all of them suit it. Its power over the human creation is terrific, its presence ubiquitous, its deceitfulness incredible. We are living in it, breathing it, acting under its influence, being cheated by its appearances, and unwarily admitting its principles.”

The world has its own prince, its own court, its own council, its own laws, its own principles, its own maxims, its own literature. It is the counterfeit of the Church of God, and the devil’s principal weapon for lowering and poisoning the heavenly life in the individual and in the Church, and for antagonizing and destroying the work of the Holy Spirit. It is in our pulpits, choirs, and pews. It is all the more seductive because it makes an exterior profession of Christianity, and with infinite cleverness seeks to reconcile its own evil maxims with the doctrines of Christianity. It is far more to be dreaded than the undisguised attacks of the devil, for he urges his victims to glaring positive breaches of the Divine commands. The passions of the flesh in a similar manner impel to such sins as bulk prominently in the eyes of men, and startle them by their iniquity; but the spirit of the world fastens itself in diabolical subtlety upon those who pride themselves upon their spirituality and devotion, and who consider themselves so free from its hateful presence that they are offended if for a moment it is suggested that they are under its power. This is its great triumph, and when we laugh to scorn the suggestion that Madame Bubble will ever ensnare us in her toils, we are already among her dupes.

St. Paul was once among her victims. He counted the pride of birth and religion, worldly honor, wealth and pleasure, with the good opinion of men, to be gain; but in the light of the Cross his eyes had been opened to see the world’s true character, and what things were once gain, he now counted loss for Christ. Instead of looking to it for happiness, courting its smiles, and dreading its frowns, he regarded it as a condemned malefactor nailed to the Cross. Its wealth, honors, and pleasures could not seduce him, nor could all its forces of hostility terrify him into a renunciation, or even concealment of one of the doctrines of the Cross (Gal. vi. 12).

To him it would be as absurd for a person to forfeit the favor of a much-loved sovereign, who had every right to his affections and allegiance, by seeking to secure a favorable glance from the eye of a worthless felon expiring on a cross. The same kind of horror that filled the mind of the Jew at the thought of a crucified malefactor, filled Paul’s heart as he saw the snare into which the Galatian Christians were in danger of falling — that of making the object of God’s curse the object of their regard and consideration.

The cross had revealed to him such sources of enjoyment, and the crucified and risen Lord had so taken possession of Paul’s entire being, as to lead him to say: “Yea, doubtless, I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for Whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith; that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead “ (Phil. iii. 8-11).

Just what the world was to St. Paul — an object of malediction with which he could have no connection, no association, no relationship — he was to the men of the world. He was to them an object of contempt, aversion, and hatred. He and his brethren were made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels and to men. “We are fools,” said he, “for Christ’s sake, but ye are wise in Christ: we are weak, but ye are strong: ye have glory, but we have dishonor. Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling-place; and we toil, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless: being persecuted, we endure: being defamed, we intreat: we are made as the filth of the world, the off-scouring of all things even until now” (I Cor. iv. 10-13).

What is our relationship to the world, and what is its attitude towards ourselves? By these questions the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. Some of us read, years ago, of a mountain of lodestone which drew by its tremendous power of attraction every piece of iron that was brought within the range of its influence. Ships at sea, passing near the shore of that land where the mountain was, felt its force on their anchors and chains and bars. At first their approach to the mountain was scarcely perceptible. There was a declining from their course, which excited very little apprehension. But the attraction gradually became stronger, until, with ever-increasing velocity, the vessel was drawn closer. Then the very bolts and nails started from the vessel’s beams and planks, and fastened themselves on the sides of the mountain, the vessel, of course, falling to pieces and becoming a total wreck.

This legend may aptly illustrate our own peril, as it certainly illustrates the peril of the Church today; and the time was come when, with no uncertain sound, warning voices should be lifted up throughout the land, and compromise and concession with the world be absolutely prohibited in every shape and form.

“All that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the vainglory of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” (I John ii. 16, 17). This is St. John’s resume of all sin. By the first of these definitions of worldliness — “the lust of the flesh” — we understand the bodily appetites out of order or in excess. Until we have learned the great doctrine of the crucifixion of the flesh with its passions and lusts, we shall find it impossible to bring ourselves within the limits of God’s appointment and law. Our first aim must be to achieve through faith victory over this inward world; over every propensity and appetite that sin has rendered inordinate and rebellious. There are also refined lusts of the flesh — a fondness for luxuries, and an unwillingness to forego them. Tauler forcefully says “As the old serpent laid low our first parents through gluttony, so his weapons are easily turned aside through soberness. We ought to take food in the same way as medicine, with such moderation and discretion, that it may help us to serve God; and with such gratitude, that at each single morsel praise may rebound to our Creator.”

Then there is “the lusts of the flesh” in the form of softness and self-indulgence. The unwillingness to endure hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ. The day’s work is over, and the slippered feet are put to the fire. How do we take any disturbance of our ease? How do we treat our self-denying Lord, when, in the guise of some poor widow or homeless wanderer, He comes to our door and asks for sympathy, or for food or clothing?

The “lust of the eyes.” Think over the grim catalogue of Old Testament saints, and of New Testament saints too, who have fallen through the lust of the eyes. Let us not gratify this desire in any measure in even glancing at the poisoned pictures, and the poisoned literature which are thrust upon us today, and which are utterly unworthy of admission into Christian homes. It is a thousand times better to keep the heart pure, to have “nothing between,” even though it means ignorance of a book over which the world has, for a few brief days, gone mad.

The lust of the eyes also points to the universal sin of insisting on something visible and tangible, of depending on the creature rather than on the Creator, instead of having the spirit of Moses who “endured as seeing Him who is invisible.” How many unlike Abram who, when called of God, went out, “not knowing whither he went,” are always longing to see their way. We may live where the things that are unseen shall be the most real to us, and where we shall know that even our afflictions “work for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are unseen” (2 Cor. iv. 18).

We may be comparatively free from the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes, and yet under the power of the world in the third aspect in which St. John regards it. “The vainglory of life” is the pomp and pride that exults in itself and does not give the glory to God. It is the heart fastening upon tangible objects, wealth, respect, and homage from without. There are scores of plans devised solely to foster these sinful propensities, some coarse and some so refined that there is about them the outline of beauty, the harmony of color and sound, the gracefulness of movement, the charm of sympathy: but in them all God would be such an intrusion, His presence would be so unwelcome, that they are immediately branded, beautiful though they be, as “not of the Father but of the world.” This is the true touchstone in our choice of food, dress, reading, and recreation; in all our buying and selling; in all our planning even for God’s work. Is this the will of God?

How afraid many are to brave the frown of others, when duties to which they are called come into conflict with what the world calls etiquette! We must be saved from the desire to be thought well of by unsanctified Christians, who think far more of the maxims of society than they do of Christ, then we shall be the true courtiers, having learned how to deport ourselves in the school of grace. They only are God’s gentlemen and gentlewomen who have claimed this complete deliverance from the spirit of the world.

When some terrible epidemic is raging, it is the constitution that is debilitated that takes the contagion. The healthy man is possessed of a vitality that enables him to walk through the streets where disease is rioting, and throw off the disease germs by the power of an abundant physical life. Worldliness only flourishes when the vitality of the Church is low, and as the Church is composed of units, when the vitality of the individual is low. The strong, exuberant overflowing life of Christ is our only safeguard, and the only secret of victory.

By appropriating first the victory of the Cross and then Christ’s mighty resurrection-life, we shall be able to keep ourselves unspotted from the world. The religion of Jesus Christ knows nothing of bringing down her standards to suit the spirit of the age. It does not say to the business man whose surroundings are peculiarly trying: “Your case is one of unusual difficulty, and I will waive part of my demands.” It says to every man, though the atmosphere in which he lives is impregnated with this enervating poison, though he is surrounded with men whose ways are as crooked and tricky as the adversary can make them, “Be separate!” “Touch not the unclean thing!” “Keep yourself unspotted from the world!