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Gregory Mantle

Beyond Humiliation: The Way of the Cross

Chapter  9
The Gate of the Cross

“A pilgrim once, so runs an ancient tale,
Old, worn, and spent, crept down a shadowed vale,
On either hands rose mountains bleak and high;
Chill was the glisty air, and dark the sky
The path was rugged, and his feet were bare;
His faded cheek was seamed by pain and care;
His heavy eyes upon the ground were cast,
And every step seemed feebler than the last.

The valley ended where a naked rock
Rose sheer from earth to heaven, as if to mock
The Pilgrim who had crept that toilsome way;
But while his dim and weary eyes essay
To find an outlet in the mountain side,
A ponderous sculptured door he spied,
And, tottering toward it with fast failing breath,
Above the portal read, “The Gate of Death.”

He could not stay his feet that led thereto;
It yielded to his touch, and passing through,
He came into a world all bright and fair;
Blue were the heavens, and balmy was the air
And lo! the blood of youth was in his veins,
And he was clad in robes that held no stains
Of his long pilgrimage. Amazed, he turned;
Behold! a golden door behind him burned
In that fair sunlight, and his wondering eyes,
Now lusterful and clear as those new skies,
Free from the mists of age, of care, of strife,
Above the portal read, “The Gate of Life.”

Sir Noel Paton’s beautiful picture, “Death the Gate of Life,” has a significance other than that which seems to have been in the mind of the artist. The weary knight, wounded in his conflict with evil, has passed through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and kneels in deep humility at the entrance of the world of light and life. He has put off his helmet with the crest of falcon wings and peacock’s feathers — emblems of worldly ambition and pride. The belt and sword which are cast aside, and the armor which is falling off, indicate the renunciation of his own strength. The overblown hemlock, rank weeds, and withered branches on this side of the veil speak of sin’s deadly poison and of disappointed hopes, while the white lilies and wild roses on the other side tell of the purity and joy which blossom there. The permanence of the life he is entering is indicated by a clear and steadfast star which shines in the sky, while the waning moon on the horizon typifies the mutability and evanescence of the life he is leaving behind.

All this symbolism applies as accurately to the spiritual as to the physical death. To attempt to conquer our sinful nature by doing battle against it is weary work, as many of us know. And while men age and even die in the strife with evil, sin never dies of old age. True, it changes its character, a new viceroy takes the place of the old one, but the government remains the same. At the transition-point from one age of human life to another, a certain form of sin has to declare itself vanquished, but it is a victory over one of the outposts of sin, rather than over the tyrant in the citadel. Men have greatly rejoiced, for example, that the habit of intemperance has been conquered in their life, but that peculiarly abhorrent form of vice has often been succeeded by another, less abhorrent, perhaps, but none the less deadly. The capture of an advanced guard of sin has only challenged a new movement on the part of the enemy, and the slave of intemperance has become, all unconsciously, the slave of covetousness.

Well is it for us, if, like the knight in the picture, baffled, wounded, and weary after years of unsuccessful conflict, our pride conquered, and our own strength renounced, we are found kneeling at the door of that world which can only be entered through death-union ‘with Jesus Christ. For when we come to a condition of utter bankruptcy, and deeply conscious of our poverty and powerlessness, cry out in abject despair, “O wretched man that I am, who. shall deliver me?” we are at the threshold of deliverance. It will not be long before we begin to sing the victorious song: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. viii. 1, 2).

In giving an account of the terms proposed by Diabolus for the surrender of Mansoul, made through his ambassador Mr. Loth-to-Stoop, Bunyan brings home the intense anxiety of Satan to retain some hold upon Mansoul. “Then Mr. Loth-to-Stoop said again, ‘Sir, behold the condescension of my master! He says he will be content if he may but have some place assigned to him in Mansoul as a place to live in privately, and you shall be lord of all the rest! Then said Emmanuel, “All that the Father giveth Me shall come to Me, and of all that He giveth Me, I will lose nothing, no, not a hoof or a hair. I will not, therefore, grant him, no, not the least corner in Mansoul to dwell in. I will have it all to Myself.’ “ And blessed for ever be His name, for His gracious purpose and promise!

But it is only on the conditions we have sought to explain and enforce in the preceding chapters that He can have us all to Himself. There can be no revocation of the decree, “the soul that sinneth it shall die.” We have to choose whether in union with the first Adam it shall be our own death, with the darkness and awful separation from God which it involves; or whether by our identification with the second Adam, we shall be reckoned dead in His death and living in His life: “Because we thus judge, that One died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, that they which live should no longer live unto themselves, but unto Him who for their sakes died and rose again” (2 Cor. v. 15).

“Our separation from sin is the result of His death. We may therefore overleap the ages and say, on that Cross my old life of sin came to an end: the nails which pierced His sacred hands and feet destroyed my old self. Christ and we were separated from sin by the same mysterious death; and therefore we are dead with Christ.” [Beet, Romans, p. 181] . . . “As we look back to Christ’s death upon the Cross, and remember that in the moment in which He bowed His head He escaped completely from the enemies to whose assault, for our sakes, He had exposed Himself, we venture to believe that we are sharers of that deliverance, that upon His Cross we have ourselves escaped from the dominion of sin; and we also venture to believe that by faith in Christ we already share the triumph of our risen Lord over all His enemies and ours. Our faith is realized in actual experience. Henceforth His Cross stands between us and our sins: and through His empty grave we enter a life of victory.” [Beet, New Life in Christ, p. 172]

The poetical parable at the commencement of this chapter is no fantasy of the brain. Fellowship with Jesus in His death and risen life admits the believer, as many can testify, into a bright world where the heavens are blue and the air balmy. A world in which the inhabitants have learned the secret of perpetual youth; where they wear stainless robes; where the luster comes back to the eyes, and the mists of age and care and strife have for ever passed away.

This is the unchanging law of the’ Christian life, for “the only way out of any world where we are is by death “ — for the Christian therefore by Christ’s death. It is a law which meets us at the very beginning of life in Christ, and as we walk in the light of God we shall have continuous discoveries of wealthy places, entrance into which is invariably through death, or, in other words, through ceasing to have fellowship with certain forms of life.

If you examined a dead leaf-stalk, says Lilias Trotter in her lovely parables, through a microscope, you would find that the old channel is silted up by a barrier invisible to the naked eye. On last year’s leaf the plant has shut the door, condemning it to decay, and soon without further effort the stalk loosens, the winds of God play around it, and it falls away. The Cross of Christ shuts off the life of sin. “Our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin: for he that is dead is freed from sin” (Rom. vi. 6). Like the silted-up channel, the Cross stands a blessed invisible barrier between us and sinning as we “reckon” it there: that is, hold it there by faith and will. The sap — the will — the “ego” withdraws from the former existence, its aims and desires, and sends them into the new. And the first hour that the sap begins to withdraw, and the leaf-stalk begins to silt up, the leaf’s fate is sealed. The plant never goes back, as so m any Christians do, upon its resolve to dispense with the old foliage. It is this “steadfast continuance” which is the secret of victory. The sap which is withdrawn from the old is freely given for the nourishment of the new, and is only withdrawn for this purpose, for the gate of the Cross is ever the gate of life.

There is only one place where you can graft a branch upon a tree; it is where both the graft and the tree have been cut and the life is flowing out. But let there be close contact between them — for the smallest filament of wrapping round the graft will prevent the life of the tree from flowing into it — and what is the result? The little slip becomes a partaker of the strength and beauty of the stem, and as it bears leaf and fruit it seems to say: “I live, nevertheless not I, but the tree liveth in me, and the life I now live in foliage and fruit, I live by faith in the shaft of the tree.” So to both graft and tree the gate of the cross is the gate of life.