Beyond Humiliation: The Way of the Cross
The Cross Day by Day
“Here is one inexhaustible paradox of this great matter; on one side a true and total self-denial, on the other, a daily need of self-cruciﬁxion. This is a thing which I am content simply to state, and to leave it as the Lord’s word upon the believer’s mind and soul.
“But ‘daily’; without intermission, without holiday; now, today, this hour; and then, tomorrow! And the daily ‘cross’; a something which is to be the instrument of disgrace and execution to something else! And what will that something be? Just whatever gives occasion of ever deeper test to the self-surrender of which we have spoken; just whatever exposes to shame and death the old aims, and purposes, and plans, the old spirit of self and its life.
“Perhaps it is some small triﬂe of daily routine: a crossing of personal preference in very little things; accumulation of duties, unexpected interruption, unwelcome distraction. Yesterday these things merely fretted you and, internally at least, ‘upset’ you. Today, on the contrary, you take them up, and stretch your hands out upon them, and let them be the occasion of new disgrace and deeper death for that old self-spirit. You take them up in loving, worshipping acceptance. You carry them to their Calvary in thankful submission. And tomorrow you will do the same.” — Principal Moule
“If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke ix. 23). We have spoken in the earlier chapters of this book of a Cross on which, in the power of the Holy Spirit, we have seen nailed the ﬂesh with its passions and lusts. We will think in this closing chapter of that cross which has to be taken up day by day, for a Christian, as Luther says, is a Crucian. The Saviour pictures to His hearers a procession, He Himself taking the lead with His Cross. He is the chief Crucian. All His true disciples follow in this procession. Each has his own particular cross, and the direction of the procession, when one looks far enough, is towards the kingdom of heavenly glory.
The Crusaders used to carry a painted cross on their shoulders, and some talk of bearing a cross which sits just as lightly. It is to them a mere thing of ornament; a passport to respectability, for there is a cross which has become fashionable, and from which all trace of suffering and self-denial has disappeared.
That is not the character of the cross of which Christ spoke to His disciples. The life to which He calls us, and the path along which He leads, is characterized by cross-bearing from beginning to end. In outward appearance the cross varies, but it is always something which crosses self, and frees us from our own self-will. It is therefore the way to rest, for the only place in the wide world in which the soul can ﬁnd true rest is in taking up the yoke or cross of Christ. In doing our own will there is never rest, but in yielding to the will of another there is. “The soul abiding under this cross comes into the true, pure, and perfect liberty, where it hath scope unto holiness, freedom unto righteousness, and is in strait bonds and holy chains from all liberty to the ﬂesh, and from all unholiness and unrighteousness of every kind.” [Isaac Pennington]
Someone has described this cross-bearing life as a spread-out surrender, a surrender which covers our whole sphere of action, and lasts all our days. It is often in little things that Christ asks us to deny ourselves, and it would be far easier for some to take up a great cross and die once upon it than to take up these little crosses day by day and die a deeper death upon them. So the word “daily” becomes to some, what Christ’s Cross was to the Jews, a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.
Yet, as we have already suggested, it is only in this cross-bearing life, in ever yielding our will to our Lord, that we ﬁnd rest and peace. The way of the Cross is the Royal way, and they who tread it are kings and priests unto God. It is always to those who tread it the way of glory as it was to Christ, “Who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the Cross, despising the shame.” It was because of this that Paul gloried in tribulation, “knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience hope: and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given unto us” (Rom. v.3-5). “He that hath suffered in the ﬂesh hath ceased from sin.”
On several occasions art has been sanctiﬁed to illustrate this. In one picture, for example, a bit of moorland stretches its lonely waste away into the distance, and slopes up to the white hills beyond. In the foreground, a few scattered shrubs have forced their way among the rocks so sharp for tender feet. Up from the valley, over which dark clouds hover, a young woman comes with slow, sad step and serious mien. From a rift in the sky above her, a softened light falls upon a cross at her feet. A cross, before whose rude weight her delicate shoulders shrink. At her side all unseen, the Saviour, who has guided her to this lonely spot, stands watching her. Not with bowed form and marred visage, not as the Man of sorrows, but as her Risen Lord has He come. Clad in a robe of spotless white, which falls from throat to sandalled feet, He bends on her a look in which patient love and steadfast purpose, and tender pity, are most Divinely blended. As He stands there watching, waiting, the ﬁgure starts to life from the canvas, and we hear in melting tones, “Christ hath many lovers of His kingdom, and but few bearers of His cross!” No longer do the timid steps falter. Lines of resignation gather about the brave mouth. With her beautiful hair blown back from her serious face, her sweet eyes, “homes of silent prayer,” her whole ﬁgure expressive of the most touching humility, she stoops to raise it.
But lo! the wondrous change! A moment ago there lay before her misty eyes only the cross’s rugged form and weary weight. But now, with the clearer vision granted in her hour of submission, she sees clusters of dewy roses clinging to it lovingly. They hide the rude outline. They lay their velvet petals caressingly over the sharp edges. They open their golden hearts, and with prodigal sweetness throw their perfume all abroad upon the air. They lighten the ponderous weight. They shield her from the harsh touch. They brighten and beautify the pathway which promised to be so dark and lonely.
Ah! the artist has done more than simply to symbolize a glowing idea. With his magic brush he has broken into these brilliant hues the white light of an immortal truth. They who have borne Christ’s Cross, can testify how rich and full it has made their life; how blessed beyond all others are they upon whom it is laid. With that mysterious blending of the will in Christ, peace ﬂows into the. soul like an unbroken river. To a heart beating ever in accord, through Him, with nature’s symphonies, the common things of life lose their meanness, and there comes daily a new “splendor in the grass, and glory in the ﬂower.”
Who could ever read Samuel Rutherford’s letters without noting how this aspect of the daily cross was ever before him! Listen: “He that looketh unto the white side of the cross, and taketh it up handsomely, ﬁndeth it just such a burden unto him as wings are to a bird.” . . . “I ﬁnd that His sweet presence eateth out the bitterness of sorrow and suffering. I think it is a sweet thing that Christ saith of my cross, ‘Half Mine!’ and that He divideth these sufferings with me, and taketh the larger share to Himself; nay, that I and my whole cross are wholly Christ’s.” . . . “Some have one cross, some seven, some ten, some half a cross. Yet all the saints have whole and full joy; and seven crosses have seven joys. I ﬁnd the very frowns of Christ’s wooing sweet and lovely. I had rather have Christ’s buffet and love-stroke than another king’s kiss. Speak evil of Christ who will, I hope to die with love thoughts of Him.
“I have neither tongue nor pen to express the sweetness and excellency of the love of Christ. My chains are gold. Christ’s Cross is over-gilded and perfumed: His prison is the garden and orchard of my delights. I would go through burning quick to my lovely Christ.” . . . “I give under my own handwriting to you a testimonial of Christ and His Cross, that they are a sweet couple, and that Christ hath never yet been set in His own due chair of honor amongst us all.” . . . “I ﬁnd crosses, Christ’s carved work that He marketh out for us, and that with crosses He ﬁgureth and portrayeth us to His own image, cutting away pieces of our ill and corruption. Lord cut, Lord carve, Lord wound, Lord do anything that may perfect my Father’s image in us, and make us meet for glory."
“Oh how sweet a sight it is to see a cross betwixt Christ and us; to hear our Redeemer say, at every sigh, and every blow, and every loss of a believer, ‘Half Mine!’ So they are called ‘the sufferings of Christ,’ and ‘the reproach of Christ.’ As when two are partners and owners of a ship, the half of the gain and half of the loss belong to each of the two; so Christ in our sufferings is half-gainer and half-loser with us. Yea, the heaviest end of the black tree of the cross lieth on your Lord: it ﬁrst falleth on Him, but it reboundeth off Him upon you: and if your cross come through Christ’s ﬁngers ere it come to you, it receiveth a fair luster from Him; it getteth a taste and relish of the King’s spikenard, and of heaven’s perfume. And half of the gain, when Christ’s shipful of gold cometh home, shall be yours.”
The threefold repetition of the word “cannot” in Luke xiv is suggestive. Unless we live this cross-bearing life we cannot be His disciples (verses 26, 27 33). It is not that we “shall not” but “cannot” be. In other words, this is an unalterable law of discipleship. The only possible way by which we can do the will of God, and live out the ideal Christian life, is by the absolute surrender of ourselves to our Divine Lord. Without this absolute surrender, which, as we have said, is spread out over the whole of our life, we may come after Christ outwardly, we may be called by His name, but we “cannot” be His disciples any more than a bird can ﬂy without wings. On the other hand, as that famous Crucian, Rutherford, says: “If we take up the cross handsomely, we shall ﬁnd it just such a burden as wings are to a bird.”
In bearing patiently the little contradictions, the slight inconveniences, the triﬂing losses so frequently encountered, the daily cross will become our daily bread. The nourishment of our life will be to do the will of God as it comes to us in those things that were once trivial annoyances, but are now opportunities of saying a continual Amen to the will of God. Herein is meat which the world knows not of, and in accepting that will the soul ﬁnds perfect rest and complete satisfaction.
Let us beware of self-made crosses. We need never go out of our way to ﬁnd them, and those which we make for ourselves are double crosses, because, being outside the will of God, they bring no strength, consolation, or fruit. Such are all crosses which arise from uneasy fears about the future. We have no right to anticipate His dispensations, or attempt to supply the place of His providence by a providence of our own. “How long shall I have to lie here, doctor?” asked the patient, at the commencement of a weary illness; and the Christian physician could not have given a more suitable answer: “Only one day at a time!”
"Charge not thyself with the weight of a year,
Child of the Master, faithful and dear —
Choose not the cross for the coming week;
For that is more than He bids thee seek.
Bend not thine arms for tomorrow’s load;
That thou may’st leave to thy gracious God.
‘Day by day’ ever He saith to thee,
Take up thy cross and follow Me.’ “
Let us then welcome the daily cross, and ask as each morning dawns, How may I deny myself for Christ today; and as the evening shadows gather around us and we lie down to rest, to be carried on even in our sleep by the gales of the Holy Ghost, let our question be, “Have I found rest and joy and glory today in bearing my daily cross?”