Chapter 12: The Holiness of the Cross
The doctrine of the cross, as it has been exhibited in the preceding chapter, is "so far removed from the common conceptions of men, that it is not wonderful they should scrutinize its moral aspect and influence." There are not wanting those who accuse these doctrines of having a licentious tendency; who affirm that they encourage men to sin; and that if they be true, there is no small weight in the ancient and antinomian objection—"Let us continue in sin, that grace may abound." For consider what the great doctrines of the cross are. According to the statements of the sacred volume, the pardon of all true believers is procured exclusively by the atoning blood of the Son of God; their justification consists in being accounted righteous, and treated as perfectly obedient subjects of God’s government only for the righteousness of Jesus Christ, imputed to them by God, and received by faith. Nothing which they have done, or can perform, can answer the requisition of the Divine law. No obedience, no good works, no righteousness of their own, either in whole or in part, constitute the basis of their acceptance in the sight of God. In receiving Christ, all dependence upon any services of their own is renounced. Their duties have no more to do with the meritorious ground of their acceptance than their sins, because neither of them have anything to do with it. They are justified on the same grounds on which the pardoned thief was justified, who had no good works to plead, and whose only ground of hope was the atoning and justifying Savior, who hung bleeding by his side. Besides this, they have the assurance of perseverance in the Divine life—promises that they shall never so fall away as finally to perish, and that their names are written in heaven, and will never be obliterated from the Lamb’s book of life. Now we affirm that the cordial reception and inwrought persuasion of these truths, so far from relaxing the bonds of moral obligation and tending to licentiousness, purifies the heart and renovates the character. The man who derives from them the smallest encouragement to sin, has never understood and felt them as he ought; has failed to view them in some of their most interesting and holiest relations; and while he may think that Christ Jesus is of God made to him "wisdom, and righteousness and redemption," is fatally deceived in that hope, unless he be made of God to him "sanctification" also. We will expand these thoughts by the following distinct observations:
The dispensation of grace by the cross of Christ, so far from making void, or abating, confirms and establishes the obligations of the moral law. The obligation of men to practical righteousness is an immutable obligation. It is founded in the nature of the Deity, and in the nature and relations which men sustain to him and to one another. It cannot be relaxed, but is everywhere binding, under every possible condition of man’s existence, and through interminable ages. It is binding on those who never fell, and where its penalty has not been incurred; and not less binding on those who fell, and where its penalty is eternally endured. It is binding on impenitent and unbelieving men who are still under its wrath and curse; and equally binding on all true believers, in whose favor its penalty is graciously remitted through Him who bore it in their place. It is written upon the conscience in lines that can never be effaced; it is published in the Scriptures, there to stand as the unalterable expression of the Divine authority; and so long as God and creatures remain what they are, can never be abrogated or modified. Whatever authority it had before men believe the gospel, it has afterwards. It does not cease to be the rule of life and duty, because it is no longer the rule of justification. It does not cease to require obedience, either because it has been violated, or because the obedience it requires can no longer be the ground of acceptance with God. The vicarious obedience of the cross, though graciously imputed to the believer for his justification, was never designed to be substituted, in the place of his own personal holiness, for any other purpose than his justification merely. If, as has sometimes been most unscripturally represented, the obedience of the Savior relieves the believer from all personal obedience; or if, as has been incautiously represented, the design of the cross be to relax the law in its requirements, and accommodate it to the weaknesses and frailty of men; if the extent of their disposition to obey be the measure of their obligations, and they are bound to do only what they are inclined to do; then should we indeed "make void the law through faith." But if the gospel teaches, that neither justification through another’s righteousness, nor the inability of the creature, affects for a moment the extent and force of his obligations to personal obedience, and that the holy Lawgiver will as soon cease to exist, as cease to require a holy, spiritual and perfect obedience; then does it "establish the law." And does not the cross most distinctly and abundantly teach this? Is it behind the law as a system of moral obligation? Does it not everywhere recognize, and uphold, and honor the authority of the law, and put its seal of blood upon its undiminished obligations to holiness? Does not the sufferer of Calvary say, "Do not think that I am come to destroy the law—I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill?" Is not the uniform language of his gospel, "Be you holy, for I am holy?" Does not every command it issues require the holiness of the heart, as the indispensable element of all obedience? and does it not discountenance all pretensions to obedience that flow not from such a source? Does it not elevate the standard of practical godliness and sound morality far above the sickly and stinted forms of worldly virtue, and call upon its disciples to carry the principles and influence of their religion into all places, all society, all employments, "everywhere manifesting truth and honesty, sobriety and honor, kindness and the love of God?" Does it not maintain the most uncompromising hostility to every form and degree of wickedness, both of principle and practice, and stand separate and aloof from all fellowship with the works of darkness? These things are too obvious to be questioned; and were they not obvious, wicked men themselves would love the gospel with all their hearts. Nothing is more characteristic of the cross than the holy salvation it reveals. It saves not in sin, but from sin. The great reason why a world that lies in wickedness is so hostile to this method of grace is, that it proclaims so holy a salvation, demands the sacrifice of every idol, and asserts the undiminished prerogatives of the Supreme Lawgiver.
The method of salvation by the cross of Christ, also reveals the only motives and the only grace by which men become holy. The motives and influences under which men become holy, are not found under a purely legal dispensation. Notwithstanding the excellences and obligations of the law to which we have just referred, the Scriptures, and universal experience and observation, evince that, so far as regards every fallen race of intelligences in the universe, those who are under no other than a purely legal dispensation are under the dominion of sin. Had God designed to reclaim the apostate angels, he would never have left them under the bitter bondage of a broken law. The government which declares, obey and live, or transgress and die, righteous and equitable as it is, never, since the fall of angels and men, made one of the human family holy. It might make men cautious in their outward deportment—abstemious and watchful—exact and punctual in their morality; but never yet did it reach the heart, and fill it with holy love. The best spirit it ever produces is that self-righteous and legal spirit, which takes its rise from motives and aims which God disapproves and condemns. It operates upon the fears of men, but awakens no holy affections. It makes them slaves, but not children. The stronger its heavy bonds are drawn around the conscience, the more certainly does the depraved heart resist them; and the more inflexible its penalty, the more obdurate is the sinner’s rebellion. The most it ever accomplishes, is to impart a sense of obligation; to uncover the depths of sin within the soul; to awaken all that is terrible in apprehension, and to leave the transgressor in the frenzy of despair, because it is impossible for him to escape its curses. While in the act of subduing and restraining his outward sins, it is the occasion of his plunging into deeper inward wickedness. The truth of this observation is confirmed by the moral history of every deeply convinced sinner. Under the strongest and most painful convictions, and more generally in proportion to the strength and distress of them, he sins faster and stronger, as the clouds of despair thicken and grow black over his head. The more he increases his self-righteous strivings after holiness, the more is he discouraged by a sense of his weakness, until, with Paul, "the commandment which was ordained to life," he finds to be unto death. The melancholy fact is, men are too far gone in depravity and guilt to be delivered from sin by a mere sense of obligation, however strong and distressing their convictions may be. The law is of important use in leading them to a dispensation of mercy; but shut out a dispensation of mercy, and when the commandment comes, sin revives and the sinner dies. His efforts are of no avail; his every hope is fled; and not infrequently his course of sin becomes desperate and reckless. Many is the convinced sinner, to whom, under this terrible state of mind, life itself has been a burden, and who, but for the interposing providence of that God who wounds to heal, would have rushed unbidden into the presence of his Maker. But where sin and the adversary are restrained from these fearful excesses, what wonder if, in this bondage of iniquity, shut out from hope, and with a totally depraved heart within him, the only effect of the law should be to operate upon his corrupt desires, provoke resistance, and lead him to the course of conduct which it forbids? Inexcusably and unspeakably sinful as all this is, such is human nature, such is man, degraded, rebellious man. In an entirely sinful being, as every unregenerate man is, iniquity always becomes more active by the restraints put upon it, save when those restraints are mingled with all-conquering love. Complacency for the disobedient, the law knows not; mercy for him, it knows not; and its strong hand of obligation and penalty only drives him to despair of holiness.
Men need something more than to become acquainted with their obligations and their sins. It is as true of the moral as of the ceremonial code, that the law, "was added because of transgressors, until the promised seed should come." It was to prepare men to receive the gospel. They were placed under a legal dispensation, and are continued under it now, with the view of leading them to a dispensation of grace. They go not for holiness to the mount that burns with fire, nor to the thick darkness, nor to the forbidding thunder. The "ministration of condemnation," glorious as it is, is the ministration of condemnation only. The doctrine of the cross furnishes motives, and exerts an influence to holiness, which the law does not know. While it abates no obligation of the law, it carries along with it truths unknown to a broken covenant, and truths through the instrumentality of which, holy affections are produced and spring up in the inner man, while the outer man becomes progressively conformed to the law of God. "The words that I speak unto you," says the Savior, "they are spirit, and they are life." They possess a quickening, a life-giving influence. They are the only system of truth that comes clothed and attended with Divine power, because the only system that is associated with the mighty agency of the Holy Spirit. This is one of their great peculiarities, and is found only in intimate connection with the blood of sprinkling. The Spirit was procured by Christ—is sent by Christ—is his Spirit. The apostle, when speaking of the effects of his influence, is careful to speak of them as "the sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ." The system of truth of which the cross is the center, in prescribing rules of holy living, first establishes the great principles of faith from which all holy living proceeds, and then gives them efficacy by the promised and superadded power of God. The first thing it does, is to teach the sinner his lost and ruined condition, and show him that in himself he is without hope. This done, it summons all its instructions, all the authority of its gracious Author, all its love and compassion, all its offers of mercy, and all its persuasive and melting tenderness, to lead him to Him who was crucified. That mighty Spirit who illuminates the darkened understanding of man, and takes away the heart of stone, takes of the things that are Christ’s and shows them unto him; and in view of the wonderful discovery, the affecting vision of the glory of God in the face of his dear Son, the love of God is shed abroad in his heart, and he feels that he is no more "under the law, but under grace"—the child of grace, the servant of grace, and happy only in its influence and authority. The cross breaks the bars of his prison, dissolves the bondage of the curse, proclaims to him a free and gracious deliverance, clothes him with a righteousness that meets the claims of the law, tells him of the "sure mercies of David," encourages him to an obedience that is no longer embarrassed with "a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation," fills his desponding and distracted heart with hope, and bids him go on his way rejoicing. And who does not see that such a man has principles and affections that lead him, with an honest, though it may be with a weak and inconstant mind, to "abhor that which is evil" and "cleave to that which is good?" "Dead to the law by the body of Christ," he is "married to another, even to Him who is raised from the dead, that he should bring forth fruit unto God." Sacred influences act upon him to which he was before a stranger; means of sanctification are powerful that were before powerless; and relations now exist between him and God that were before unknown. He lifts his eyes to heaven and says, Abba Father! and instead of being embarrassed and subjugated by the terrors of a slave, he is conscious of that filial, dutiful spirit, which delights "in the law of God after the inward man;" while that very cross which assures him of the pardon of sin, also assures him of its ultimate destruction. "There is forgiveness with you, that you may be feared." Christian men gain the victory over sin, by enjoying the favor of God, and living in communion with the cross. The source of spiritual life is found in Christ, and not out of him. Hope in him is one of the great elements of spiritual advancement. The thought that cheers and refreshes, and puts gladness into the heart of the trembling believer, is, "Why are you cast down, O my soul? and why are you disturbed within me? Hope you in God, for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance!" He is no longer "tossed with tempest and not comforted;" but the "joy of the Lord is his strength," and he runs in the way of God’s commandments because God has enlarged his heart. Though clogged with a body of sin, and imprisoned within a sinning world, he still lives for eternity, anticipates his heavenly inheritance, thinks much and often of the glory to be hereafter revealed, and is habitually "looking for that blessed hope, and the appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ."
There is another important principle connected with the cross of Christ, that secures its sanctifying tendency. It relates to the characters themselves who enjoy the blessings of that salvation which the cross purchases. They are not all men indiscriminately. They are not the unrighteous, but the righteous; they are not the impure and unholy, but the "pure in heart." They are those who are born of God; who hate and forsake sin; who hunger and thirst after righteousness; who love God, and keep his commandments; who, in one word, believe in Christ, and "live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved them and gave himself for them." The Son of God was not obedient unto death, for the purpose of saving those who reject him. Save that a double condemnation awaits them for having rejected this great salvation, all such people sustain the same relation to the penalty of the Divine law which they would have sustained, had the Savior never died. Were God to save them, he would exhibit himself to the world as the rewarder of iniquity, and by thus denying himself, would blot out the glory of his kingdom. "Without holiness, no man shall see the Lord." Fearfully gloomy does the last dispensation of truth and mercy which the world will ever know, represent the prospects of the incorrigibly wicked. It is not within the compass of God’s largest compassions—it belongs not to his rightful prerogative—it is not within the range either of a moral or natural possibility, that such people should be saved. Not until men receive the gospel, have they the least warrant to its pardon or its hopes. This single fact shows us, in the first place, the absurdity of the objection, that the cross of Christ makes any concessions to the ungodly, or in the smallest degree connives at their wickedness. Most certainly, no encouragement to sin is found in that method of mercy which leaves the incorrigible sinner under condemnation, tells him that he is without God and without hope, and thunders in his ear, "He that believes not shall be damned." And it shows, in the next place, that no sooner does the grace of God in Jesus Christ manifest itself to the soul, enabling it to believe in the Savior, than the sinful character of man is changed. For what is the faith that thus receives Christ Jesus the Lord? What is that moral state of mind, in the exercise of which men humble themselves before God, confess and feel that they are justly condemned, renounce their own righteousness, cast themselves into the arms of boundless mercy, and confide in the mighty Savior? How does the soul arrive at this conclusion, and what are the predominant affections that lead to it? It is not naturally in a posture to receive the truth of the cross, but revolts from it, and turns with eagerness to other foundations of confidence. There is no true answer to this question but that which has just been given, and that is, that his sinful character is changed. The believer is not what he once was, "dead in trespasses and sins." He is a changed man—changed by the mighty power of God—or he would not be a believer in Jesus. "As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to those who believe on his name; which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." Their faith is no cold speculation, nor is it the offspring of wild enthusiasm; nor is it any evanescent feeling or fancy. It is not the growth of this low world, but something purely of celestial origin. It is not wrought in the soul by its own inherent powers and faculties, but, like the love of God, is shed abroad in it by the Holy Spirit. It is the act of the creature, only because it is "the gift of God." It does not first ascend from man to God, but first descends from God to man. It is the effect of that new creation, transforming the soul that was before dead in sin. With such a state of mind, entirely changed in regard to God and all Divine objects, old things done away and all things having become new, men receive Jesus Christ. And who does not see that, in doing this, from such a state of moral feeling, they welcome the entire dominion of the Savior over their hearts and life? This, indeed, is one of the necessary actings of true faith. Not more certainly does it look to Jesus as the great Teacher, submitting the understanding to the light of his truth—not more certainly does it look to him as the great High-priest, through whose sacrifice there is pardon and life—than it looks to him as the great King and Lawgiver, cheerfully submitting to his laws and government. In the same measure, therefore, in which a man possesses the faith of the gospel, does he delight to do the will of God, and his law is within his heart. His commandments are no longer grievous, nor is it any longer a hardship to him to live, not unto himself, but to Him who died for him, and rose again. With all his imperfections, his holiness is genuine and real. He desires to be holy, as God is holy, and strives to walk worthy of his high calling, as one of his chosen and adopted children. He is imbued with the spirit of the gospel, and is baptized with the love of his Divine Master. His spirit is directly opposite to the love of sinning. He just begins to realize some relief from the bondage of his sins, and to rejoice in the truth, that the Savior in whom he confides gave Himself for his people, that he might redeem them "from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works." He cannot sin as he once did, because he is born of God. Such is the reasoning of the apostle when asserting the holiness of the cross—"What shall we say, then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid! How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?" All the influences of the cross, therefore, are holy influences. It is by their union and communion with Him who was crucified, that the views of believers become elevated, their affections spiritual, their motives pure, their courage invigorated, and their victory over sin ultimately sure. "If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered." True holiness flourishes only around the cross. It is because Jesus died, that his followers die unto sin; and it is because he lives, that they live unto God. The faith by which the salvation of the cross is received, is but another name for holiness, and the believer but another name for one who, although he has but begun his spiritual career, and will often halt on his way, yet perseveres in his path, and, like the rising light, sometimes eclipsed by passing clouds, and sometimes even obscured by the blacker tempest, shines "more and more unto the perfect day."
There is also another principle in the method of mercy by the cross which secures its hallowed tendencies. While it is true that he who is once justified is always justified, and that no sins can vitiate his title to eternal life, such is the nature of the gospel, that no believer can have a comfortable sense of his acceptance, who loses for a time his love of God and holiness, and falls into sin. The promises of God in Jesus Christ have secured to every true Christian the ultimate blessings of a justified state; but they have nowhere secured to him the constant exercise of his faith, and the consequent evidence that he is among the justified. He may lose the manifestations of the Divine love, and all that inward sense of his adoption into the Divine family, that are necessary to a comfortable hope that he has a part with God’s chosen. Christians who give way to the spirit of the world; who yield to temptation, falter in their course, and sin against God by falling from their steadfastness, must pay the forfeiture of their backsliding, by the loss of all comfortable intimations of pardon. They do sin, they may sin, and yet be Christians; though they can never become dead in sin, as they once were. Those there have been, who have sinned fearfully after they have become Christians, and whose wickedness has been the more aggravated, both in the sight of God and man, because they committed it. But they themselves, at such seasons, cannot have evidence that they are good men. They cannot feel that they "have passed from death unto life," while the law of mind brings them into captivity to the law of sin. They cannot have unclouded views of their interest in Christ, so long as they walk after the fashion of this world. They cannot say under the manifestations of his love, "My beloved is mine, and I am his," when they are impure, like David; false and profane, like Peter; intemperate, like the disciples of Corinth; lukewarm, like Laodicea; like the church of Ephesus, have forsaken their first love; or, like not a few in every age, do not "walk honestly toward those who are without." They are strangers then to the sweetness of the promise, and have "received the spirit of bondage again to fear." They may contemplate Christ "as revealed in the word, but cannot find Christ revealed in the heart." Their hopes are joyless, and seem to them as refuges of lies. The dew of heaven no longer rests upon their branch. The candle of the Lord no longer shines upon their head, and God their Maker no longer gives them songs in the night. They forsake the fellowship of the Lord’s people, keep at a distance from the table of his grace, and instead of following the footsteps of the flock and lying down in green pastures, and beside the still waters, they are like sheep without a shepherd, and wandering upon the mountains in the cloudy and dark day. And a most merciful dispensation is this, that "a settled peace and a guilty conscience cannot dwell together in the same bosom." And it deserves particular remark, that God has so thrown this protection around the claims of holiness, that no Christian can tell how few or how small the sins that may grieve the Spirit of grace from his bosom; and no subtlety or research can describe with precision the sin that may not quench the light of all his hopes. And what is this, but the solemn and affecting admonition, "The Lord knows those who are his," and "Let every one that names the name of Christ, depart from iniquity?" When the believer, therefore, deliberately allows himself in sin—in any sin—he need not be disappointed if he find it a difficult problem to decide, whether he be a believer. He must pause in solicitude and apprehension. It becomes more and more a question of deep import, whether he has anything more than "a name that he lives." And if he come to the conclusion that he is a deceived man; if he be even driven to despair, and, through despair, to renewed self-abasement and godly sorrow; and through deep repentance once more to hear the voice of heavenly mercy; he may thank his Heavenly Father, whose paternal eye and heart have been upon him in all his wanderings, that he has visited his iniquity with the rod, and his transgression with stripes; but his loving-kindness has not taken from him, nor suffered his faithfulness to fail. He may adore the reclaiming power of that cross that has put its seal to the promise, Though a just man falls seven times, he shall rise again. Nor are there wanting facts that are in keeping with all the preceding principles. Where do we look for the holiest men and the most devout worshipers of God? Is it where Christ is disowned and rejected, or where he is believed and honored, and the attractions of his cross are felt? Let the experience of the Christian world give the answer. Where does penitence weep, but at the cross? Where is the flesh humbled and pride debased, but at the cross? Where, if not at the cross, does unwearied diligence in well doing find its impulse and encouragement? Where else does the sinner hold communion with God? Where is Christian vigilance unsleeping, if not at the cross? Where does faith work by love, or hope purify, or holy fear alarm, or holy promise comfort, or the meekness of wisdom rectify the inequalities of the natural temperament, but at the cross? What, but the balmy atmosphere of the cross, seasons the conversation, so "that it ministers grace to them that hear it?" What consecrates time, talent, and property, and influence to their true ends, but the love of Christ? Where else are the lessons of patience and resignation, and forgiveness of enemies, and of every social virtue? And where else is the struggling believer, looking back on the past, and in near view of the future, ever heard to say, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course," except when lying at the foot of the cross? Obliterate all the holiness in our world that is the sole effect of the cross, and how much, do you think, would there be left? Where would the multitude of witnesses to the power of vital godliness be found, if you seek them not among believers in the cross? Where would you look for the history of vital piety in the past ages of the world, if not in the very history of that religion of which the cross of Christ is the substance and expression? Nowhere. These things cannot be found, except as they are connected with the cross. Mark the effects of preaching Christ and him crucified, with those produced by the philosophy of the schools, by the Pelagianism and Arianism of the fourth and fifth centuries, by the modern preachers of Germany and Switzerland, by the cold and heartless morality which freezes on the lips of the Unitarian ministry in our own land, and it will be no difficult matter to see which is the better adapted to promote the "holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord." The cross collects all the moral considerations in the universe, and gives them all their force and tenderness. It is the voice of the Creator uttered in more attractive emphasis than creation speaks. It is the Lawgiver, uttering the appeal, "If you love me, keep my commandments." It is the voice of the soul, telling its value by the price of its redemption. It is the Supreme Good, throwing a dark shadow over the kingdoms of this world, and all the glory of them. It is a tranquil conscience, grace to help in the time of need, exceeding great and precious promises, victory over every foe, triumph over death and the grave, and a heaven of holiness where Jesus dwells. There is no name given under heaven, which lips of incorrigible wickedness may pronounce with less impunity than the name of Jesus; and no thought more absolutely withering, even to the secret purpose of sinning, than the thought of the cross.
I know that no man is perfectly sanctified in this life, and have looked with no small concern on some modern fanatics who profess to obtain sinless perfection. It implies no palliation for sin, that we are constrained to confess that such is its power over the best of men that it is felt and seen in their character and conduct to the end of life. If any imagine it is otherwise with themselves, and find not occasion for constant conflict and struggles, it is because they are either unacquainted with themselves, or their standard of holiness is very low. This disordered world, staggering under the curse of God, was not transformed from its primitive beauty and loveliness to be the habitation of angels. These frail bodies, subject to pain, disease, infirmity, and death, were not made to be the abode of pure and perfect spirits. As the hour draws near when sin almost ceases to oppress, and the adversary to ensnare, it is a strong indication that the earthly house of this tabernacle is about to be taken down, and this low earth to be exchanged for the new heavens and the new earth, wherein dwells righteousness. But though doomed to the struggle, the Christian is sure of the ultimate victory. Let it be your aim, your effort, and your prayer, to look continually toward the crown. Let your very sorrows and griefs be indications of a holy mind; and when you hang your harps upon the willows, let it be because you feel your distance from God, and have sinned against him you most love.
I may be addressing some who have no holiness. We have no other gospel to proclaim to the men of the world, than that proclaimed to the people of God. It is, "Jesus Christ made of God to your sanctification," as well as pardon. You will never know what holiness is until you have felt the power of grace in Jesus Christ. The cross is not the less the refuge of the polluted than the condemned. It is the only way to holiness. If you would be holy, you must begin with receiving Jesus Christ. Wanderer from the paths of rectitude and peace! he would lead you back. Slave of sin! he would sincerely break your chains and set you free. "There is no peace, says my God, to the wicked." There is no employment, no joy, no society, no place in heaven, for an unholy man. Heaven would be no heaven to the man whom the cross has not made holy.
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