Chapter 2: The Truth of the Cross
"What is truth?" The poet well replies, "Twas Pilate’s question put to Truth itself." There never was but one individual who could stand forth before the world and say, "I AM THE TRUTH!" It was not Socrates, nor Confucius, nor Mohammed; nor yet Luther, nor Calvin, nor Edwards. Yet One there was, in whom all truth was so concentrated that he was truth itself. It was the child of Mary and the Son of God; it was he who was crucified on Calvary.
We may be interested in the narrative of the cross; but what if it should turn out to be fiction? If it is a true narrative, what is its significance, and what are the truths it embodies? Men need a religion which satisfies their intelligence. We affirm that the cross furnishes such a religion; that it is the religion revealed from heaven; the only religion which possesses the attraction of truth and certainty, and in which the most skeptical may have immovable confidence. Religion may venture to more than chasten her faith with hope, and timidly trust that the word of the God of truth has not deceived her. She dwells by the well-spring of life, and draws from it the pure waters of salvation. If men may be certain of anything that is not the mere object of sense, they may put confidence in the truth of the cross. The topics on which it treats are grand and dreadful, as well as inexpressibly interesting and tender; but it has nothing to do with vague conjecture, studied mystery, profuse verbiage without meaning, or laborious trifling without intelligence and instruction. It is not a dim uncertainty that rests upon the views there acquired. They are clear and permanent convictions, because they are true. God approves them; and the Holy Spirit, the Author of truth and peace, gives them a stability and power which delusion and error can never originate.
The NARRATIVE OF THE CROSS IS ITSELF A TRUE NARRATIVE. This is a simple question of fact. Was there, or was there not, such a person as Jesus Christ, who, under the reign of Tiberius Caesar, was accused of treason and blasphemy, found guilty, and put to death? The most full and satisfactory account of this transaction is found in the writings of the four Evangelists; which, by the wonderful care of Divine Providence, after having been distinctly recognized from age to age as the works of those whose names they bear, and as the same uncorrupted works as when they came from the pen of their authors, and after having been circulated throughout the whole Christian world, have come down to us in all genuineness and authenticity. Their authors were either deceived, or deceivers, or honest and true men. They were not deceived, because the events which they narrate never could have been the creatures of imagination. The wildest enthusiast in the world could not have been the subject of such delusion, as to have believed them real, when they were unreal.
Nor were they deceivers. There is every consideration against such an hypothesis which can be furnished by the nature of the case, by their own character and history, and by their published writings. The events and circumstances of the crucifixion are such as never could have been got up by artful and designing men; much less by the illiterate fishermen of the lakes of Judea, who left their nets to announce them to the world. To an impartial mind, their narrative carries the evidence of its verity on the face of it. No impostor ever penned such an account as that in the closing chapters of the four Evangelists, furnishing, as each of them does, in the minuteness of his details, so many continually recurring means of detecting deception if any were practiced. While each narrator speaks for himself, and the variations in his narrative show that each wrote independently, and without any secret collusion with the others, each gives substantially the same account; and the seeming inconsistencies, just enough to test the sincerity and research of the reader, all disappear upon a careful inspection.
Men do not act without a motive. What was the motive of the men who stood before the world as the persevering, unflinching witnesses of the crucifixion, if they were false witnesses? Was it wealth, pleasure, or fame? Was it the poor ambition of being the founders of a false religion, not only at the expense of that which all impostors have ever sought, but in the prospect of poverty, dishonor, suffering and death? Says the celebrated Rousseau, "The history of Jesus Christ has marks of truth so palpable, so striking, so perfectly immutable, that its inventor would excite our admiration more than its hero." Even infidels themselves have not ventured to take refuge in the presumption that the narrative of the cross is not a true history. The events themselves, and the narrators of them, have been canvassed with a severity to which no other facts and no other men have been subjected, for more than eighteen hundred years.
It was, as we have already seen, so ordered in the wisdom of Divine Providence, that these events did not take place in a dark and illiterate age. If the scenes of Calvary were a fable, it is to the last degree absurd to suppose that there was not light, and logical acumen, and learning enough in the Augustan age of Rome, to have demonstrated them to be fictitious. They profess to have taken place at a time and place where strangers of distinction, as well as the entire male population of Judea, were assembled; under the official direction of individuals whose names, character, and history, are of sufficient notoriety to have furnished security against everything in the form of deception. Never was greater opportunity given to the adversaries of Christianity to disprove the narrative, than was given at the time when the event professes to have taken place. The first spot where the apostles were directed to make their first public announcement of it, was in Jerusalem itself, and in the presence of his murderers—the last place where, and the last men before whom, they would present themselves, if their testimony were not true.
Hence the Jews, while they denied the resurrection of Christ, never thought of calling in question his crucifixion; but gloried in it, and triumphantly adhered to the imprecation, "His blood be on us, and on our children!" Nor have enlightened pagans withheld from it their testimony. Suetonius, Tacitus and Pliny, all record it, as a matter of acknowledged history, and, as impartial historians, deemed it an event too important to suppress; while Celsus, Porphyry and Julian, learned and inveterate infidels as they were, confirm the testimony. Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, as was his official duty to do, sent an account of the crucifixion to the emperor Tiberius, and that account was deposited in the archives of the empire. The annals of the pagan world, to this day, preserve this great fact, as well as the miraculous events that attended it, and also a minute account of the Savior’s character and miracles. There is abundant evidence of the truth of the scriptural narrative of the crucifixion, independently of the Scriptures themselves; so that "if the narrative of the Evangelists were now lost, all the material facts connected with that memorable scene might be collected from pagan historians, and Jewish and other anti-christian writers."
The question naturally presents itself, How far does this fact avail in proving the truth of that system of religion which is contained in the Holy Scriptures? Here several thoughts deserve consideration. Human reason has never been able to satisfy itself with a religion of its own inventing. It has had every opportunity of doing so, which the most learned age, and the finest minds could furnish; and the result of the experiment has been the grossest darkness, the most foolish absurdities, and the greatest corruption of morals. The proof of this observation is in the history of the past. If you look to Egypt, the cradle of science and the arts; if to Greece, whose genius and literature still constitute the acknowledged standard of taste; if to Rome, the garlands of whose philosophers are still green upon its grave; you see that "the world by wisdom knew not God," and that "professing themselves to be wise, they became fools."
If there is a God, infinitely great and good, the Creator and Governor of men, it is reasonable to suppose he would give them a revelation of his will. Men have indeed no right to demand such a revelation, nor may they complain if it be denied. Yet from what they know of God in his works and in his providence, were it not reasonable to hope for it? We know there was a sort of vague, undefinable impression on the minds of many of the heathen, of some approaching day of light, and that this anticipation became very general as the time for the Messiah’s advent drew near. And dim as these hopes were, they were not in vain. This floating anticipation became settled, and was realized when—"in the fullness of time, God sent forth his Son," and this vision of a golden age became a present reality when he expired on the cross.
If the narrative of the cross be a true narrative, the religion that is based upon it is the true religion. Its claims rest upon the truth of this narrative. If there ever were such a person as Jesus of Nazareth—one possessing his unblemished character, imbued with the wisdom expressed in his public and private discourses, working the miracles which he wrought, living the life he led, and dying the death he died—then is Christianity most certainly true. On this basis the apostles themselves rest this sacred structure. "I have delivered unto you, FIRST OF ALL, that CHRIST DIED for our sins according to the Scriptures." This is the sure "corner stone" which is laid in Zion; the Rock on which God builds his church.
Let us look at this thought for a few moments, and inspect some of its bearings. The death of Christ is indubitable witness to the truth of the Old Testament. If this fact be demonstrated, the truth of the Old Testament Scriptures is clearly proved, the Divine mission of Moses and the prophets is confirmed, and the verity of their writings substantiated. To see the force of this remark, we have only to suppose that the crucifixion of Christ had never taken place. In such an event, we must give up the Old Testament Scriptures; we must regard them as erroneous, and look upon them as an uninspired volume. A dark and heavy night would rest upon the whole system of religion which they reveal. They would present an explicable volume, containing many things above the reach of created wisdom, and at the same time unmeaning types and false prophecies. The death of Christ sheds the only light upon them, that they are capable of receiving, and furnishes the only solution of what must otherwise have remained impenetrably mysterious. They would have remained a sealed book had not "the Lion of the tribe of Judah" been worthy "to open the book, and loose the seven seals thereof."
The cross alone solves the mystery of the animal sacrifices of the patriarchal age, and of that bloody ceremony which God instituted among the Jews. Those ancient oracles are speechless, those ancient altars give no instruction to the world, if they do not teach that God requires duty or suffering, obedience or penalty, a perfect righteousness or a perfect payment; and the lesson they read no man can understand, if they tell not of pardon from the cross.
The same may be said of the whole system of PROPHECY contained in the Old Testament. Its great outlines, as well as its wonderfully minute details, all concentrate in the cross, and are there determined with the most perfect precision. There is the forsaken and reproached One; the unresisting and abused One; the One who was "sold for thirty pieces of silver;" the One against whom "the kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers took counsel together;" the One who was "cut off not for himself," whose "feet and hands were pierced," and who was "numbered with the transgressors." There is he who was "laughed to scorn;" against whom men "should shoot out the lip and shake the head;" whose garments should be divided between his murderers; who should be forsaken of God; to whom his enemies should give the vinegar and gall; whose bones should remain unbroken, and who should "make his grave with the wicked and the rich in his death." Vast as is the entire system of prophecy—reaching from the fall of man to the consummation of all things—darkly as its oracle sometimes spoke, and confined as it was to a people from whom the Messiah was to be descended, it is all plain and intelligible when we see it pointing to him who hung on Calvary. In him alone it receives its fulfillment; and it is by their relation to him that a multitude of otherwise unimportant events, of which it speaks, are magnified. Such events multiply and grow upon us the more we become familiar with the sacred writings, each falling in with the great consummation on Calvary, and carrying conviction to the mind, that if the narrative of the cross be true, Christianity cannot be false.
Hence, we find that our Lord and his apostles appeal to the Old Testament in proof of Christianity, and by an induction of so many particulars, and so striking, as to constitute an incontrovertible argument to show that the whole method of salvation by the cross of Christ was foreseen and foretold under the Old Testament, and that its authors were Divinely inspired. And if this be so, the conclusion is equally plain and incontrovertible, that the New Testament Scriptures, in which alone the Old terminate and are fulfilled, are a Divine revelation, and that Jesus came, in accordance with the declared counsel of Heaven, to do and suffer the will of his Father. And this conclusion is corroborated by the fact, that scattered as were the writers of this ancient volume through the centuries that intervened between Moses and Malachi, they all pursued one great end, and were all under the absorbing influence of this one thought—the redemption of man by the crucified Son of God.
It is far from the design of these pages to furnish even an outline of the evidences in favor of Christianity. It is but to take a transient view of them while standing by the cross. It is here the Christian loves to view them, and discovers a system of belief of which God is the Author, and sees doctrines and duties which have upon them the image and superscription of the Deity. The cross of Christ has an inseparable connection with all that is peculiar in the religion that is revealed from heaven. The cross and the Bible stand or fall together. You cannot take away the cross without demolishing the whole structure; while, if the cross remain, the whole superstructure remains, "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-stone." Let this link of the chain be broken, and there is nothing to support the whole; let this be supported, and the whole is supported.
The man who reads the Bible nearest the cross, sees most of its high credentials, and feels most deeply that it contains a system of truth every way worthy of God to reveal. The principles which it unfolds, the religion it inculcates, the method of the Divine administration it has introduced, and its wonderful salvation, beheld and contemplated amid the scenes of Gethsemane and Calvary, are fitted to produce the strong, the vivid, permanent impression, that they are too lofty to have been within the reach of human invention—too holy and pure to have originated with so polluted a source—too good to be attributed to any but to the Father of lights.
Where the heart feels the influence and power of the cross, it has evidence of the truth of it which nothing else can give; views too clear, and illumined, and transforming, ever to be forgotten, or greatly eclipsed. "He who believes on the Son of God has the witness in himself." The word is sealed to him by the Spirit, who wrote it. His own heart responds to the truth of the cross. He has felt its teachings to be true within his own soul. To him belongs a deeper scriptural wisdom than all scholarship can bestow—a wisdom grounded on his perception of the internal evidence, as made known by the adaptations of all the doctrine which is without, to all the "felt necessities of the spirit which is within."
Nor is this any visionary evidence. The great evidence in favor of Christianity is found in Christianity itself; in a character so heavenly, that its moral elements never come into contact with the depraved heart without producing an effervescence that indicates their mutual revulsion; in a power so subduing to that revulsion that we cannot fail to discover in it the finger of God. The cross, therefore, stands out before the world as embodying the great system of revealed truth, in opposition to all false religions, and the evidence by which it commends itself is adapted to every class of mind. Before any man renounces it, let him be well persuaded there is another religion revealed from heaven. Let him undertake to specify the kind and the amount of testimony required to satisfy his own mind, that God has revealed his truth to men, and he may find it all, in all its variety, and in all its effectiveness and tenderness, at the cross.
There is another view of the truth of the cross. The manifestations of God’s truth to men have been progressive, just as are the manifestations of his wisdom, power and goodness in the material creation. At one time the earth is clothed with the mantle of winter; then follows the preparation and the promise of the spring; then the warmth and kindliness of summer; until at last autumn pours forth its rich treasures, and the Divine goodness gushes from over-flowing fountains, and runs in ten thousand channels, everywhere distributing fertility and gladness. So with the means of intellectual and moral culture. The cross is far in advance of all other religions revealed from heaven.
The light of truth and mercy had its commencement and progress. At one time, it was like the flickering lamp which appeared to Abraham; at another, like the burning bush which appeared on Horeb; at another, like the pillar and the cloud in the desert; at another, like the Shekinah over the ark of the covenant; at another, like the brighter emanations of that glory in the temple, when the priests and the people could not look upon it for the brightness; and at another, like the splendid vision of the prophet when he beheld the Son of man, the Lord of heaven and earth, high and lifted up, and his train filled the sanctuary, and the whole earth was full of his glory.
This progressive revelation of the truth continued until the crucifixion. The light had been gradually rising ever since the first promise in paradise; and now it was high day. The ancient patriarchs and Jews lived under a comparatively dark dispensation, a dispensation of types and shadows, and which served "unto the example and shadow of heavenly things." It was not a "faultless covenant;" for if it had been, "then should no place have been sought for the second." It was "a figure for the time then present," and never designed to be God’s clearest revelation to the world. There is a dispensation which is far in advance of it, and the great High Priest of which has "obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much more also he is the Mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises." The blood of the sacrifice offered by Abel was for himself alone, and had no sufficiency, even as a prefiguration, beyond his own needs. The sacrifices under the Jewish law respected only the Jewish nation. Both patriarchal and Mosaic sacrifices were positive and not moral institutions; they were founded on relations and circumstances that were mutable, and therefore might be, and were, abrogated. These latter were designed to preserve the Hebrew nation distinct from all other nations of the earth, until He came who was God manifest in the flesh, and by whose death the wall of partition between Jew and Gentile was broken down, and glad tidings were announced to all people. This was one of the offensive features of the cross to men who "thought that they were righteous and despised others," and rendered it "to the Jew a stumbling-block." But it is a blessed and glorious feature of it, that it opens this "new and living way," and invites all to draw near without distinction of climate, condition, or character.
It is a revelation that covers a broader surface than any antecedent revelation. Truth here presents her attractions to all the children of men. This was an important advance in the series of Divine revelations. The Jews were not more distinguished from other and Gentile nations, by the truth contained in the oracles of God under the Old Testament dispensation, than are men in Christian lands now distinguished from the ancient Jews by the truth revealed in the gospel of Christ. Christian privileges are less restricted and more spiritual. The hour has come in which neither the mountain of Samaria, nor the temple at Jerusalem, are the only fitting places for worship and devotion. Men may now worship anywhere; erect sanctuaries anywhere; and wherever they are erected, God records his name. Never until Christ came was the promise uttered, "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." Never before his death, was there such communion between heaven and earth. Never before, was there such a society collected in the world, as that of which he is the Head, and his cross the standard. Scattered as they are, and separated as they are by lines of external organization, all true believers form now one spiritual community and one church, because they have "one Lord," who, "for the suffering of death," is "crowned with glory and honor."
The Sun of righteousness is now pouring a flood of light upon the dark nations. Jesus came down to earth, assumed our nature, and "died the just for the unjust," in order that the worship of God might become the devotion of the world, and the religion of his truth and grace the universal religion. "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell among them!" There is no holy place, no "holy of holies," into which the high priest alone entered once a year—where He who sits between the cherubim is invoked; but wherever and whenever men draw near to him by faith in the blood of his Son, then is the hour of communion, and there is his chamber of audience. "You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: "If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned." The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, "I am trembling with fear." But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel." Hebrews 12:18-24
But there is a still more important thought in relation to the truth of the cross. When Jesus stood a prisoner at the bar of Rome, he made the following impressive, exulting avowal—"To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth!" The cross was designed to be the most compendious and vivid expression of all religious truth. It is the great witness for the truth of God. The testimony of Christ was the testimony of the Prince of martyrs. Nowhere else does truth utter her voice with such distinctness, such fullness and emphasis. She spoke with power in the death of prophets under the law; in the death of Stephen, and in the triumphs of Paul, under the axe of Nero; but as she never spoke before, she speaks from Calvary. Were an angel to descend from heaven to become the teacher of men, his instructions might well be listened to with eagerness. But the cross is the teacher of angels. It is the Deity himself bearing witness to his own doctrines. It is "the light of the world," and like the apocalyptic "angel standing in the sun," when the whole "earth was lightened with his glory."
Every truth in the Bible brings us at last to the cross, and the cross carries us back to every truth in the Bible; so that the sum and substance of all truth is most impressively proved, illustrated, and enforced, by "Christ and him crucified." A right conception of what is included in the cross, insures a right conception of every important doctrine contained in the Bible. This is the hinge on which the whole system turns, and the great truth by which alone any and all truths can
Several particulars here deserve to be attended to. Nowhere is the true character of GOD so fully revealed, as in the cross. The works of creation, with all their beauty and magnificence, make no such discoveries; nor do the wondrous ways of Divine Providence, much as they are fitted to arrest the attention of men, and to show them that "truly there is a God who judges in the earth." The revelations made to Moses and the prophets, were very inferior to those made by Jesus Christ on this great article of the Christian faith. God spoke to them from the thick darkness; the brightness of his glory was concealed by the veil that covered the "most holy place;" and not until the Savior exclaimed, "It is finished," and gave up the spirit, was it "torn from the top to the bottom," and the holiness that is untarnished, the justice that is inflexible, the grace that is infinite, the mysterious wisdom, and amiable and dreadful sovereignty and goodness, appeared in such forms that sinful men might look upon them and live.
Here is not only a true and faithful, but a finished portrait of the Divine nature; one which, but for the cross, never would have been known. No view of the Deity is more complete, even though enjoyed by the "spirits of just men made perfect;" for the clearest and brightest perceptions of that upper sanctuary, are those in which He is seen through the cross. We fix our eye on the cross, and feel that "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God;" while, as we dwell more intensely on that ineffably tender scene, do we more satisfactorily discover, that, amid all the agitation of its frightful terrors, it is mainly designed to lead us to a reconciling God, and to impress upon our hearts a sense of his boundless love and mercy.
One would suppose that men need no other instruction upon the great doctrine of human SINFULNESS, except their own experience and observation, and the melancholy light which is cast upon this truth by the pages of history. The fact that men are sinners is indeed here taught with sufficient clearness; but the intenseness of their moral depravity, and the infinite demerit of sin, are taught only by the cross. The self-gratulatory and self-complacent notions which they entertain of themselves and their fellows, the wretched subterfuges for their wickedness, and all their exulting self-righteousness, disappear before the stern and melting rebuke of Calvary. "Christ died for the ungodly." "If one died for all, then were all dead." "The Son of man has come to seek and to save those who were lost." Who does not see that the mighty remedy indicates the malignant and deadly disease? Nothing but the deepest and direst exigency could have demanded, or even justified, such a sacrifice as the death of God’s eternal Son. The sufferings of Christ are the most affecting testimony in the universe, of man’s unyielding, helpless depravity. Nor do they indicate less clearly his true and proper ill-desert, than the fires that shall never be quenched.
Nowhere are we taught how man can be JUST WITH GOD, but at the cross. If there be one truth taught more emphatically by the cross than another, it is that "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes;" and that "our righteousness" is found only in his finished career of suffering obedience and obedient suffering. Justice and mercy, hatred of sin, and the pardon of the sinner, the threatening of death and the promise of life, irreconcilable as they are by reason and conscience, meet and harmonize in the marvelous fact, that He who knew no sin, was made sin for us, "that we might be made the righteousness of God in him."
Would we know who those are, whom God intends to save by this redemption? The cross answers, "Everyone who believes"—"Whom God has set forth to be an atoning sacrifice through faith in his blood." Do we inquire, Who have the Divine warrant to believe? This inquiry also the cross answers; and by the dignity of its great Sufferer, and the infinite merit of his sacrifice; by its unembarrassed invitations of mercy and its unqualified commands, gives the assurance that there is enough and to spare, that whoever will, may come, and that him who comes shall never be cast out. Would we know how man, benighted and fallen, and disabled by the sin that dwells in him, is ever to come to Christ? While the cross unequivocally assures him, that no man can come except the Father draws him, it at the same time teaches him to say, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
Do we inquire, whom he will draw, and to whom this needed strength will be imparted? The cross answers, "Seek, and you shall find." Do we still inquire, Who will seek and find the grace that thus draws them? Here too light falls on the path of our inquiry, though it often shines in darkness, and the darkness comprehends not. The cross points far back to the eternal counsels of mercy—refers to those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life as his stipulated reward; who were chosen in Christ "before the foundation of the world," and who, thus predestinated, were "also called." And if the question be asked, If those who are thus called, will ever be allowed to draw back to perdition? the reply of the cross is, "Whom he called, them he also justified—and whom he justified, them he also glorified."
The cross is no game of chance, nor are the results of it left to the fickle purpose and heart of man. "My Father, who gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand." Is it into the coming eternity that we desire to look? no other hands have so drawn aside the veil, as those have done, which were nailed to the accursed tree. Life and immortality are brought to light by him; it is his voice which all who are in their graves shall hear and come forth; before his bar of judgment shall they stand, and from his lips shall they receive their eternal destiny. It was not far from the cross that he once said, "In my Father’s house are many mansions—if it were not so, I would have told you;" and still nearer was it to that place of tears and blood that he made the affecting demand, "If they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?"
There is one subject on which the cross speaks with peculiar emphasis—I mean THE RADICAL AND EVERLASTING DISTINCTION BETWEEN THE RIGHTEOUS AND THE WICKED. While it is the first and only refuge for the broken-hearted, it is the last refuge in the universe for the incorrigible; and while, in its fullness and efficacy, there is no room for fear to the penitent, its fearful sanctions give no room for hope to the impenitent. If its flames of justice thus burned against God’s well-beloved Son, when he stood in the sinner’s place, while on the one hand, the believer may confide in this complete satisfaction of its claims, on the other with what inextinguishable fury will they burn against the man who disowns this substitution, and has nothing to protect him from the coming wrath!
It is interesting to observe how intimately the New Testament Scriptures especially, connect all the truths of revealed religion with the cross. Do they speak of the faith, it is "faith in Christ;" of the truth, it is "the truth in Christ;" of hope, it is "hope in Christ;" of the church, it is "one body in Christ;" of her triumphs, it is "triumph in Christ;" of the covenant of God, it is "his covenant in Christ;" of spiritual blessings, they are "spiritual blessings in Christ;" of heavenly places, they are "heavenly places in Christ Jesus;" of the promises, they are "yes and amen in Christ;" of God, it is "God in Christ."
Wherever the cross is known, the truth of God is known; and wherever the cross is unknown or obscured, there the truth is unknown or obscured. The entire testimony of the cross is harmonious, and shows that the truth is harmonious in all its parts. In some minds, truth is found to exist in a confused and chaotic state. What such minds need is a clearer "knowledge of Christ," and a careful comparison of all their attainments with this standard. Just as the Spirit of God brooded upon the face of the waters, and reduced the primitive chaos to this beautiful world, does the cross of Christ give shape and form, place, proportion, and beauty to the truth of God. Nor is it possible to discover, much less appreciate, the harmony and connection which run through all the essential doctrines of the gospel, without a just estimate of the relation they sustain to the cross.
There is one more thought in relation to the truth of the cross, and that is, it is THE LAST REVELATION OF GOD’S WILL TO MAN. The light here reached its zenith. It had been forty centuries in rising—gradually dissipating cloud after cloud—now concentrating and now diffusing its rays—now cheering some few selected spots, and now throwing its twilight rays over a larger surface; but the cross was its meridian altitude. Nor shall the sun ever go down, nor the moon withdraw itself. As this is the last dispensation of the Divine mercy, so is it the last the Divine government will ever assume. There cannot be a better. "There remains no more sacrifice for sins." There cannot be a greater, and there will not be a less. Under this form of government, with this redeeming God and Savior at its head, the world will move forward to its close. The dynasty of Moses has passed away; the scepter of the prophets, too, is laid low—but they have been succeeded by "a kingdom which cannot be moved," and under whose alone influence, he who died as a malefactor and rose as a Prince, will "rule and defend his church, and restrain and conquer all his and her enemies." The changing dispensations of the past have been superseded by this permanent, this last economy. "Little children," says the beloved John, "this is the last time." "Now once in the end of the world," says another apostle, "has he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself."
To my own mind, this is an affecting thought. To have in our hands the last communication of his truth which the God of love will ever make to lost men; to have bequeathed to us the last will and testament of the expiring Mediator; to have listened to his voice for the last time, until he shall speak "with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God;" may well awaken emotions that cannot be uttered, and lead us to feel that all other interests and claims are insignificant compared with the interests of immortal truth, and the claims of the cross. This is the thought that fired the ardent mind of Paul, in one of the most glowing arguments he ever uttered—"See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, ‘Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.’ The words ‘once more’ indicate the removing of what can be shaken–that is, created things–so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire." Hebrews 12:25-29. He caught the thought from the lingering notes of the prophet Haggai, who long before had sung, "This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and the Desire of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord Almighty." Haggai 2:6-7.
Now the time had arrived; it was the last variation, the final revolution in the Divine government, until this world should pass away, and the elements of which it is composed melt with fervent heat. Already had the voice shook the earth, when Sinai trembled, and Moses introduced the dispensation of the law. But there was to be yet one more voice, that should shake not the earth only, but also heaven. It was His "who spoke in time past unto the fathers by the prophets," and who "has in these last days spoken unto us by his Son." This was the great change, abolishing all former dispensations, itself never to be abolished, but to remain among the things that cannot be shaken. The truth is disclosed from His cross who was the Desire of all nations, is firm as the ordinances of heaven. And now, if any say, "Lo, here is Christ, or lo, there!" believe them not. If false prophets appear, as they have done in ages past, and are appearing still, claiming new communion with heaven, and new and further revelations; if they cannot be reclaimed, they must be left to their own idiot dreams and mad delusions. However varied the successes of this dispensation of Divine truth, and however great the inequalities that may mark its wondrous progress, there will be no other within the bounds of time. What is last in God’s appointment may well be first in our estimation—"The last in nature’s course; the first in wisdom’s thought."
Men who are saved by this, need no greater, no other salvation; men who are not saved by it, will find no greater, and require no less. "He who is holy, let him be holy still—and he who is filthy, let him be filthy still."
Such is the truth of the cross. It must be believed, loved, and obeyed. It has no false coloring, no gaudy garb. If you doubt its importance, go and learn it from Gethsemane and Calvary. If you find it hard to be understood, seek light at the feet of its great Author. It has no cold and philosophical abstractions, and no lifeless morality. It is not the mysticism of theory, nor the sentimentalism of feeling, but the truth and love of God coming down upon the soul, and fitting it for heaven. Human theories live for a day; the truth of God abides forever. Men gaze at human theories as they gaze at a meteor when it flashes across the heavens, but leaves no trace of the path it describes; while the light of the cross is never extinguished, and the mind in contemplating it never becomes weary. It has indeed forbidding features; but it may not be forgotten that those very features which are so repulsive to men who are dead in sin, constitute its most powerful attractions to those whose hearts are right with God.
Allow me then affectionately to inquire of the reader’s heart, if he loves the truth of the cross? It is not a vain thing, it is for your life. "Life and death, the blessing and the curse," are yours, as you fall in, or fall out, with the truth as it is in Jesus.
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