Meaning of the Cross
I. The Cross and the Modern Mind
Excerpt: Objections from reverent scholars whose devotion is known in all the churches is much more impressive than from blatant and aggressive unbelievers, but the substance may be the same. Preachers and Professors say many things today that a generation ago were the stock-in-trade of inﬁdel lectures and it is for this reason that inquiry into their value should be courageous and thorough. The foes of Theological beliefs have often been the friends of Truth...."
The Cross and the Modern Mind
The Cross of Christ has always been a difficulty to those who are anxious to explain its meaning. It is not irreverence to say it was a difficulty to our Lord. No one can tread often in Gethsemane and not know that. To the apostles it was a tragedy and to many of His disciples it was the signal for desertion. From Caesarea Philippi it was the burden of His ministry to show unto His own the must of Calvary. In the presence of the Greeks He reasoned again His way to its acceptance. It was over the Cross Paul fought his decisive battle and he never forgot its difficulty. He found it the stumbling block of his Gospel everywhere. The Jew abhorred it; and the Greek ridiculed it. Everywhere men were incredulous about the Cross. Paul acknowledged the difficulty. For the Cross he had no philosophy. To the natural mind it must always seem to be foolishness. Its defense was in its power, and the secret of its truth could be revealed only to experience. The marvel is, that it became so completely the foremost fact of apostolic testimony and the first responsibility of apostolic preaching. There were important points of difference among the apostles but there was only one doctrine of the Cross taught by them. To them all the death of Christ is to the Christian the basis of faith, the substance of the Gospel, the type and standard of experience, and the supreme inspiration of holiness and service.
The Offence of the Cross
The Cross is especially repulsive to the modern mind. All the offences of all the ages outrage its sensibilities. It has all the loathing of the Jew and all the scorn of the Greek. The objections to the Cross have always been made in the interests of religion, reason and righteousness; and in these days they are an indignant protest for the honor of God, the humanity of Christ, and the defense of faith. They come from believers more than from scoffers and they are advanced from the highest considerations of spiritual religions and the coming of the Kingdom. The Apostle Paul comes in for both abuse and criticism. One Free Church minister has declared him to be the greatest enemy Jesus ever had. He is denounced as Rabbinical, legal and theological. It is affirmed that he perverted the teaching of Christ and cast the Gospel of Luke into terms of Law and ordinances of Levitical sacrifice. They deny the unity of the Jesus of History and the Christ of faith, and protest that the apostles divide the work of Christ into distinct parts, for which our Lord Himself gives no warrant. |
This is particularly hard on Paul, for he has no teaching about the Cross that is not shared also by Peter and John. It is Peter that speaks of it as a Redemption by "precious blood as of a Lamb without blemish and without spot, even the blood of Christ;" and John does not hesitate to speak of Christ as "the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the whole world." It is particularly unfair to Paul, because it dismembers his teaching and then condemns a part as if it were the whole. That is characteristic of the modern mind. It lives in a ringed fence, and reasons as a dog chases its tail. The theological discussions are like conversations from opposite sides of a fence. Neither sees the other side; and cannot be persuaded there is another side. Paul saw all sides, and that is why they cannot bear him. He is too big for their grasp.
The Fine Temper of the Modern Mind
There is something deeply moving in the devout spirit and fine temper of much modern criticism. Objections from reverent scholars whose devotion is known in all the churches is much more impressive than from blatant and aggressive unbelievers, but the substance may be the same. Preachers and Professors say many things today that a generation ago were the stock-in-trade of infidel lectures and it is for this reason that inquiry into their value should be courageous and thorough. The foes of Theological beliefs have often been the friends of Truth.
It may be freely admitted that the protest against certain interpretations of the Cross is made in all sincerity and out of an impassioned desire for its glory. There is need for a statement of its meaning in the terms of our own age. Much teaching has been repulsive, unethical and irrational. The legal aspect has been detached from that of the home; and the Levitical has been divorced from the experimental. Dramatic poets have been largely responsible. Hymnology has contributed its share. Controversy has done the rest. Revolt is seldom judicial and the protest against the extreme becomes itself extreme. A theology that expressed propitiation as the exacture of an omnipotent Shylock could not be true. The interpretation that put redemption on the basis of a cash bargain or a pawn broker's transaction could not be a true representation of redeeming Love. The mere transfer of penalty from the guilty to the innocent could not be right. God must be just in the way He justified the ungodly. Love and Holiness cannot be at variance, grace and truth must be one; and God is Light and God is Love.
The unfortunate part, is that those who protest against these crude false presentations fall into the same snare. They see no meaning in what does not appeal to them and they ignore all value in what they do not like. Take Cooper's much caricatured and abused Hymn: "There is a Fountain Filled with Blood," with its revival chorus:
I do believe, I will believe;
That Jesus died for me;
That on the cross, He shed His blood,
From sin to set me free.
No Hymn has been more fiercely assailed. Sir Edwin Arnold, the author of "The Light of Asia," said it was absolutely shocking to his mind. Mathew Arnold is said to have denounced it viciously; and it has frequently been described as "the language of the scrambler." On the other hand, it has led tens of thousands to Christ. It has changed the lives of more people, by many times, than all those who ever heard the name of its critics; and I would rather have written it than all the books of all the Arnolds.
How the Modern Mind Puts the Meaning of the Cross
"We see the meaning of the cross when we see it as the act and deed of Christ; done with all His heart and mind and soul and strength; when for love's sake, He burdened Himself with the whole situation which our sin created, embraced the prospect of endless sacrifice, and dedicated Himself without reserve, in face of all that sin could make of us, to the task of our recovery to God and all goodness."
With that statement there can be no quarrel, nor with this: "The salvation we need is to be saved from our sins, but our sins are not to be regarded as a debt which some one must pay or as acts of transgression, for which a certain penalty is prescribed and must not be remitted without equivalent satisfaction."
True, but why should such truth be put in antagonism to the truth in the great words, atonement, propitiation, reconciliation, substitution and redemption. The words of these quoted sentences may have a vendetta against "all words ending in 'ation',” but is this not a case for co-ordination rather than for contrast? is there not a sense and a very real sense, in which the cry, "It is finished," is true? is there not a redemption price of blood that was paid once for all, though in no sense commercial? is there any redemption without such price? Orthodox theology is not so wooden as its critics assume, nor so legal as they affirm; but is there not a substitute that is essential to the faith that saves? is there no vital meaning in the confession: He loved me and gave Himself for me? is the point at which the Cross becomes the power of God to salvation a fiction and a fraud? Does faith count for nothing? Does not the necessity for it prove that there is not mechanical transfer of either sin or its penalty to an innocent victim? is there not something of a pose in the attitude of the modern mind to popular and orthodox interpretation of Christian doctrine?
The Cross of Christ is too profound a mystery for any one line of interpretation. Sin is revealed in its relation to God. The moral order, personal experience and social relationship; and the explanation of the cross must cover the same ground for "He died for our sins" after all. There is a Throne in the Heavens, and all is Law as surely as all is Love. There is a sanctuary with its High Priest and its ministry and in the midst of the Throne and the four living creatures and the Elders there is a Lamb standing as though it had been slain. The sanctuary of faith is the Righteousness of God and not in a sentiment of compassion. "He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins." It is true that Love is the big word of the Cross; the first and the last. The cross did not procure for us the Love of God. "Herein was the Love of God manifested . . . Herein is Love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." This is the meaning of the Cross: "That God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself," and the personal meaning of that is that He reconciles the belief to Him through the death of His Son.