Chapter 13: The Religion of the Cross, in Distinction from Religions That are False and Spurious.
Religion consists in conformity to God, and the cross of Christ alone produces that conformity. It is its own witness, and carries in itself infallible evidence of its Divine origin. Those who are truly the subjects of it will never renounce it for a religion that is false; while those who are not truly the subjects of it are continually liable to renounce it for any false system that is more in accordance with their own corrupt and selfish desires. The religion of the cross possesses some great characteristics, whereby it is known and distinguished from all other religions. The object of the present chapter is to exhibit some of these prominent and distinctive features—I say some of these, because it is too limited to notice them all.
The first great characteristic of the religion of the cross is, that it is the religion of principle, in distinction from the religion of impulse. It addresses itself to the understanding and conscience, and makes no appeal to ignorance and superstition. Rich in truth, it sets before the minds of men the great objects of Christian affection; and by thus enlightening the conscience, gives force and energy to the bonds of Christian obligation. It aims at carrying the heart by first convincing the judgment. Its great axiom is, "To him that knows to do good, and does it not, to him it is sin." The faith it requires is not a blind credulity; nor is the obedience it enjoins obedience to anything short of the truth of God. It is a religion founded upon the Holy Scriptures, and they alone are the test by which its genuineness is to be proved, because they alone are the rule of faith and practice, and by them we shall be judged at the last day. Religions that are propagated by the power of human laws, and are founded on the traditions and commandments of men, never aim at enlightening the conscience; while the religion of the cross, "by manifestation of the truth," commends itself "to every man’s conscience in the sight of God." The only means adopted by the cross to make men Christians, consist in exhibiting and enforcing its truths; and the only way in which men themselves become Christians, is by understanding these truths and feeling their power. Our impressions of truth may be right or wrong, they may be permanent or mutable, advancing or retrograde, strong or weak; but the truth itself remains the same. Wherever the religion of the cross, therefore, is experienced, and to whatever degree it is experienced, it grows out of the truths which the cross reveals. Whatever a man’s hopes and professions may be, if he neither perceives these truths, nor feels their power, he is no Christian. Just as the seed contains the tree, and comprehends the germ of all its future development, and gives character to the trunk, the branches, the leaves, the blossoms, the fruit—so do the principles of the cross lie at the foundation of its religion. That religion is but the exemplification of its truths. They give the mind, the heart, the character, a new direction; they constitute the model on which all living Christianity is formed. They are not ineffectual and abortive principles—wherever they are followed out in their legitimate results, they produce the same religious character all the world over. The principles of the gospel are in themselves fitted to exert a wonderful influence. God revealed them for this purpose; and all who receive them intend and desire that they should exert that influence on themselves. Our principles do not grow out of our religion, but our religion out of our principles. We begin with principle and not with feeling. The religion of every man is just what his principles make it. We must have been very inattentive readers of the Scriptures not to have remarked the frequency and force with which they express these thoughts. They instruct us, that "without faith, it is impossible to please God." Paul based the duties of piety upon the foundation of its doctrines; and not until he had laid this foundation deep and broad did he deduce the practical conclusion, "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service." In his epistle to Titus he urged him to constancy in inculcating the great principles of the gospel, with the special view that "they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works." Common sense confirms the truth and importance of these instructions. The experience of good men shows nothing more clearly than that in whatever degree they possess the religion of the gospel, and practice its duties, in the same degree do they understand its principles and love to understand them. There are not wanting causes of religious excitement where there is no religion. It is a very easy thing to interest and work up the sensibilities of men. Powerful and artful appeals to the passions and the imagination may do this; the pomp and solemnity of exterior worship, the imposing grandeur and magnificence of its temples, its golden images and altars, its enchanting music, its rich vestments, and its mysterious ceremonies, may do this; while in all this there may not be one great principle of the gospel to sink into the soul. Wherever there is Christian emotion there is Christian principle; and wherever there is strong emotion there must be strong principle for it to rest upon, else it is spurious. Religious ecstasy without high religious principle is delusion. Rapturous sentimentalism is not piety. The great principles of the cross, understood, believed, loved, and felt in their practical influence, constitute true religion. The self-conceit, self-righteousness, self-complacency, and false hopes of men cannot bear the scrutiny of truth; while the truth, in all the consistency and vigor of its principles, is the light, and life, and strength of all those hopes of which the cross is the foundation, and that religion of which the cross is the brightest example. The cross utters the language of principle. No event was ever so emphatically expressive of principle as that memorable scene on Calvary. It was not from impulse that the Savior died. It was not for expediency, but for truth and principle. It was to illustrate and confirm the unchanging principles of his government, that "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."
Another characteristic of the religion of the cross is, that it is a spiritual religion, in opposition to a religion of forms. The religion of the cross recognizes the existence of some form of religious worship; that is, it prescribes positive institutions, as well as moral duties. But they are very few, as well as exceedingly simple and significant. They are comprised in the institution of the Christian ministry, the public worship of God on the Lord’s day, a public profession of religion, baptism and the Lord’s supper, and the existence of a visible church, or religious society, on which is imposed the obligation of mutual watchfulness and discipline. Every good man should welcome the obligation of honoring these forms of godliness, and maintaining these Divinely authorized institutions. The history of the church of God has shown that it is no easy matter to stem the torrent of infidelity and corruption, where these institutions are neglected. Though men may maintain all the forms of religion, without possessing the inward spirit of religion itself, yet where its instituted forms are neglected, its inward spirit dies away. When we speak, therefore, of a spiritual religion, in opposition to a religion of mere forms, we do not do so with any view of bringing the instituted forms of Christianity into contempt, or even neglect, or with any desire of depreciating them. But while we pay to them this homage, we are not to forget that the Scriptures solemnly admonish us of the graceless character of those who, while they have the form of godliness, deny its power. It is a remarkable fact in the moral history of men, that the religious propensity, so deeply imbedded in the natural conscience, satisfies and even exhausts itself, in the religion of forms. If we look to the religious rites and ceremonies, either of ancient or modern paganism, what else do we discover except a merely formal religion? If we advert to the more corrupt periods of the Jewish church, we find all traces of spirituality lost and buried in outward observances, and to such an extent, that while that people corrupted the institutions which were of Divine appointment, they added to those corruptions not a few that were merely human. So, if we look back upon the history of the Christian church, and mark those periods when the life-giving spirit of Christianity had fled; or if we look over the face of Christendom as it exists in the age in which we live, and inspect those portions of the nominal church where the true faith and the true charity are struggling for existence, if they have not actually expired; we find them distinguished for nothing so much as their attachment to the forms of religion, corrupted indeed, and multiplied by the ingenuity, superstition and avarice of men, but still a religion of forms. There is everything that is specious outwardly, while within, it is "full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness." The crucifix and the altar are there; but the religion of the cross and the sacrifice which God has required are wanting. They are the signs, without the thing signified; the body without the soul; the language without the thoughts and emotions of piety. The form holds the place of the reality; and while the eye is fixed, and the knee bows, and the lips move, and the hand makes the significant emblem of the cross, the mind and heart are without God in the world. The same spirit of formality, it is to be feared, is found in not a few who profess a purer faith. It were well if, among ourselves, there were no occasion for contrasting the religion of the cross with this system of cold and empty formalism. Alas! how many are to be found in every Christian community, who are punctual in all the outward services of the sanctuary, who listen to the instructions of God’s ministers, and assume the attitude of prayer, and with their lips celebrate the praise of the Most High, and partake of the memorials of His body and blood who was lifted up from the earth; whose minds are employed elsewhere, whose thoughts wander to the ends of the earth, and whose hearts are not reconciled to God through the blood of his Son! There will probably always be such formalists in the world until the day when the glory of the Lord shall fill the earth as the waters do the sea. Even wicked men will have a religion of forms, wherever their consciences are not so obdurate as to be satisfied with infidelity. It is a fashionable and fascinating religion, and will not want advocates. It is, for the most part, the court religion; and men who cannot make up their minds, for the love of God, to renounce the pride of life, will be found among its disciples. But it is not more true that the religion of the cross is a religion of principle, than that it is a spiritual religion in opposition to the religion of forms. There is no one error against which the Bible arrays all its doctrines, all its precepts, all its penalties, all its promises, all its descriptions of character, all its views of God and of the way of salvation by his Son, with greater uniformity and power, than against a merely formal religion. It requires the heart in everything; it tells us that the great Being with whom we have to do "sees not as man sees;" it instructs us that "man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart." It admonishes us, that there are many things highly esteemed among men that are "abomination in the sight of God." It decides the character by the state of the heart, and assigns to every action of a man’s life precisely the moral qualities with those of the heart from which they flow. It utters that great and memorable truth, "GOD IS A SPIRIT—AND THOSE WHO WORSHIP HIM MUST WORSHIP HIM IN SPIRIT AND IN TRUTH." It describes the agency and intimates the process by which a man, by nature "dead in trespasses and sins," becomes a child of God, and a disciple of Jesus Christ. That men may be under no misapprehension as to the spirituality of religion, it is careful to inform us when, and where, and how it begins, and by what means and influences it is sustained. It speaks of the "renewing of the Holy Spirit" as a very different thing from the "washing with water;" of the reformation of the outward conduct as a very different thing from internal holiness; of a knowledge of Christianity as a very different thing from its heaven-imparted virtues; of a name to live as a very different thing from the life of God in the soul; and of membership of the church on earth as a very different thing from membership of the church in heaven. It describes the inward conviction of sin, the self-loathing, the self-despair, the penitence, the confidence in Christ, the love, the peace, the submission, the joy, the hungering and thirsting after righteousness, and the delight in duty, which are the unfailing characteristics of every follower of the Lamb. The men of the world can understand the mere formalism of religion; of its spirituality they know nothing. They may often commend and extol a formal religion, while they are scandalized by that which is spiritual. A spiritual religion is a religion which has its seat in the heart, and of which the Spirit of God is the author. The motives for it are not in the praise of men, nor in a conscience soothed by flatteries or opiates, nor in any considerations that are earthly; but in the character and command of God, in the love of Jesus Christ, in the pleasures of obedience, and in the cheering hopes of a holy and blessed eternity. It is the thinking spirit communing with God; the anxious and affectionate heart gratifying its affections by concentrating them on God; the soul, everywhere else distrustful, trusting in God; the rebellious will brought to be obedient to God; the cheerless, uncomforted being ruined by sin, restored, and no longer uncomforted and cheerless, because it has learned to say, "Return to your rest, O my soul; for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you!" This is as it should be. This is giving God more than mere external homage and reverence; more than the thoughts, more than the profession of attachment—it is giving him the warm affections, and the supreme attachment of the heart. It is the restoration of the soul to its complacency in God; it is the thirsty spirit drinking at the fountain of living waters; it is the fellowship of the created with the uncreated mind; it is apostate and ruined man restored through Jesus Christ to the eternal Source of life and joy.
Another characteristic of the religion of the cross is, that it is a self-denying and not a selfish and self-indulgent religion. One of the cardinal graces of Christianity is the spirit of self-denial. Christ says, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." None but a Christian ever obeys this command; nor did any man ever become a Christian on lower, or easier, or other terms than these. It is easy to understand what is meant by a selfish religion. It is a religion that springs from selfishness. It is built on the theory that men always act from selfish, and interested, and mercenary motives, and cannot act from any higher or better principle. It is a theory which teaches that every man ought to love himself and his own interests supremely, and that it is impossible to love either God or man from any other motive. There is, no doubt, not a little of such religion in the world. Those there are who appear to be exceedingly devout, and greatly religious, so long as it is for their interest to be so. Their religion is one which terminates in self. It does not terminate in truth and duty for truth and duty’s sake. It consists in loving and serving themselves, and in loving and serving God and their fellow-men, merely because they love and serve them. Nor is there any difficulty, on the other hand, in understanding what is meant by a self-denying religion. It is a religion which springs from self-denying motives; which gives God a higher place in the heart than self; which dethrones the idol self, and sets up God in its place. It is a religion which is governed by a supreme regard to truth and duty; and which disposes its possessor to give up his own interest, and cheerfully deny himself, for the cause of God and the good of his fellow-men. It stands opposed to all the selfish and mercenary affections, and, just so far as it prevails, eradicates them. And the religion of the cross is a self-denying, and not a selfish religion. It has nothing in it that is mean and sordid, but every thing that is generous. It has the magnanimity to make sacrifices, to which a pure and unregenerated egotism is a stranger. It possesses a greatness and nobleness of character that are superior to the aims of a sordid mind, and that never fail, where they are exhibited, to secure the approbation even of the men of the world. A selfish religion is an unreasonable religion, because it sets the less above the greater, and exalts the finite above the infinite; while a self-denying religion commends itself to reason and conscience, because it sets the greater above the less, and exalts the infinite above the finite. The Scriptures portray this characteristic of the religion of the cross in strong colors. They describe the self-denying character of the Savior, who, "though he was rich, for our sakes became poor, that we, through his poverty, might be rich;" and then they bid us remember that "if any man have not the spirit of Christ, he is none of his." They issue the injunction, "Love your enemies; bless those who curse you; do good to those who hate you; and pray for those who despitefully use you and persecute you." They speak of the love of Christ constraining his followers to live not unto themselves, but unto Him who died for them and rose again. When they lift the veil of the future, and tell us of those last days when "perilous times shall come," they trace these coming declensions and corruptions to the glaring fact that "men shall be lovers of their own selves." Men have no more of true, than they have of a self-denying religion. "Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land. But put forth your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face." This was a blow at the root of Job’s religion. But God condescended to the artful objector, and put the character of his servant to the test. Nor did he fail to remind the adversary of the result. "Still he holds fast his integrity, although you moved me against him, to destroy him without cause." There is nothing in which that moral change, of which all true Christians are the subject, is more obvious than this spirit of self-denial. One of the mournful consequences of human apostasy is, that when man once disobeyed his Maker he became a supremely selfish being. From one abyss of wretchedness, he fell into another; until he usurped the rights of the Godhead, and substituted self in the place of the Deity. He made himself his god; and to this idol he erected his altars, and on these altars offered his every sacrifice. The religion of the cross consists in the voluntary restoration of these rights of the Deity, of which he has been so unrighteously despoiled by this sacrilegious usurpation. It is produced by that moral revolution of the soul in which self is dethroned, and the crown restored to Him whose is the power, and the kingdom, and the glory for ever. In all questions of duty, the law of God is the rule of every regenerated man; in all his allotment, for weal or woe, the will of God is his will; and in the great matter of his salvation, he cheerfully acquiesces in the humbling method of mercy through his Son. His spirit of self-confidence is gone, and he is like a little child. He considers himself as of low account, and seeks nothing so much as to live and die to the honor and glory of his Savior. He expects obstacles, and is prepared to meet them; he looks for trials, and is willing to encounter them; he lays his account for reproaches and enemies, and does not expect to enter into his rest without a conflict. The cross is the emblem of peace, but it is also the emblem of ignominy and suffering—it was so to the Savior—it is so to his followers; nor do they refuse any of its forms of reproach and suffering, but willingly endure them for the name of Christ. Men who have so little piety that they have no cross to bear, may well suspect the vigor and consistency, if not the genuineness, of their religion. The offence of the cross has not ceased, nor has the time come when a self-denying spirit does not belong to the catalogue of Christian graces. True religion is a standing reproach to a world that lies in wickedness; and the Christian who will not deny his Master at any price will often be called to deny himself. All those religious affections that cannot sympathize with a self-denying spirit are spurious and false, though they rise ever so high, and produce ever such great effects. We cannot determine the character of our piety any other way than by ascertaining its motives. Ardent affections, rapturous joys, and glowing zeal, are nothing without that charity which "seeks not her own."
The religion of the cross also possesses another very obvious characteristic, in that it has a heavenward and not an earthly tendency. The spirit of the cross and the spirit of the world, in their appropriate influences, form two distinct characters; so distinct, indeed, that they form two different communities, each having its peculiar laws, principles, and subjects. These communities ever have been regarded as separate societies, and in the word of God are called by different names. They are the world, and the church, or that community which has been called out from the world. They are both found every where in Christian lands; in every condition of human life; among the high and the low, the rich and the poor, the learned and the unlearned; amid the noise and bustle of business, and amid the quietude and stillness of the more retired occupations. Every man belongs to one of these two communities; he is a citizen of one of these two countries; he is influenced mainly and habitually, either by the spirit of Jesus Christ, or the spirit of the world. He must belong to one or the other, and it is impossible he should belong to both. "No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will hold to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon." It is easy for men to deceive themselves by false appearances. They mingle together in the same general community; they enjoy the same religious privileges, and are employed for the most part in the same outward duties; they have the same individual and social necessities; but there is a spirit, a moral tendency of mind, which distinguishes them. Now we assert for the religion of the cross a heavenward in opposition to an earthward tendency, and claim for its disciples a heavenly in opposition to an earthly mind; because the Scriptures explicitly teach us, that "those who are after the Spirit, do mind the things of the Spirit."
We do not say, that there can be no true religion where there is not a perfect religion; nor that the true disciples of Christ maintain an invariable tendency toward heaven; for if we did, we should claim for them, what no mere man ever possessed, the religion of angels and of heaven. There is much base alloy in their purest gold, and much that is earthly mingled with the heavenly. But while this is true, there is a general bent and turn of mind toward heavenly things, which indicate their spiritual character. Their general temper and disposition, their habits of thought and feeling, when not diverted by circumstances or occasions which give another direction to them, flow in a channel that conducts them beyond the things of time and sense. God and eternity are themes which are not absent, for any long period, from their thoughts. It is not in their hearts to say, "Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of your ways;" but the rather to say, with the psalmist, "As the deer pants after the water brooks, so pants my soul after you, O God!" They cannot live "without God in the world," nor without frequent communion with him, nor without habitual devotedness to him. While other men are occupied only about the things that are on the earth, they, though not negligent of secular duties, are habitually conversant with the things that are above, where Jesus Christ sits at the right hand of God. This is the spirit which is given to them of God. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." The whole complexion of their moral nature is changed; they are the subjects of new desires and new sensibilities, and live and act as in a new world. As a man "thinks in his heart, so is he." The prevailing character and complexion of their thoughts and affections, called off as they frequently are, and must be, to the pursuits of time, is more congenial to pursuits that have a higher aim and object. The intervals of exemption from worldly care are hailed with pleasure and thankfulness, and made welcome by the more hallowed and endearing associations of piety. They love them; they seek them; and when they cannot enjoy them, their harps are hung upon the willows. It is not complaint that you hear from their lips when they are deprived of scenes of worldly amusement and dissipation, but when they are shut out from the scenes, and associations, and engagements where they hope to realize the presence of God, and have their hearts affected by fresh discoveries of his mercy, and enlarged and expanded by impressions of his truth. Here are their pleasures; these the bright spots in their wilderness; and these the scenes on which the Sun of righteousness sheds his beams, and the dew of heaven sheds its sacred fragrance. The word of God supplies them with their treasures of wisdom—and prayer, and the sabbath, and the sanctuary, and the fellowship of the saints, constitute their relief from worldly perplexity, their consolation in trial, and their "exceeding joy." Their prospects are dark, clouds settle upon their path, and invisible foes beset them, if they feel their course toward heaven obstructed. Strangers and pilgrims on the earth, they are traveling toward "the rest that remains for the people of God," and are expectants of that world where "the Lamb in the midst of the throne…shall lead them unto living fountains of water—and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes." Their chief concern is not with earthly, but with heavenly things. God and heaven awaken their best affections and most ardent desires. They are alive to the interests of heaven and eternity, and are often heard to say, "What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" This is the religion of the cross.
Another characteristic of the religion of the cross is, that it is a practical religion, in opposition to the abstractions of theory. It is a religion which, from its nature, expresses itself, and is carried out into all the associations and business of human life. In this respect, it differs from all other religions. Other religions cannot be acted out without exposing their weakness and wickedness; and the more they are acted out, the worse they appear. Paganism, Mohammedanism, and all the corrupt and false systems of Christianity, weak as they are, are more wicked; and false as they are in theory, nevertheless appear best in theory; while both the theory and practice of true religion are alike amiable and lovely. Follow out the principles of the cross into any or all the social relations, and into any or all the departments of human labor and professional calling, and you will see that they make good rulers and good subjects, good husbands and good wives, good parents and good children, good judges and good lawyers, good physicians, good merchants, good agriculturists, good authors, good mechanics, good laborers, and good men. It is the beauty and glory of the religion of the cross, that it may safely exhibit itself everywhere; and the more it is exhibited, the more does it exemplify the truth and honesty, the purity and decency, the temperance and honor, the peacefulness and meekness, the love and beneficence, the firmness and perseverance in well-doing, which secure the homage even of a world that lies in wickedness. It is not confined to the closet, and the sanctuary, and the cloister; but goes forth into the world, mingles with its society, and inweaves itself in all the arrangements and details of its business. Nor does it detach itself from any of the scenes of its innocent relaxation, but breathes into them all its own spirit, and withdraws itself from nothing where the fear of God and the love of Jesus Christ may act themselves out with unembarrassed freedom. If there be anything that stops the mouths of gainsayers, and convinces the world that the religion of the cross is a Divine reality, it is its practical character. It is an easy thing to declaim against the world; to proscribe all connection with its pursuits, and objects, and enjoyments; to abjure it, to treat it as the accursed thing, and to immure one’s self in the solitude of some religious order, under the pretense of superior sanctity. But all this is worse than error. Religion has a part to act in the world. Her light must shine there, and there her salt must preserve its savor. She has an influence to exert which cannot be exerted without maintaining communion with the world; and she not only does it without the sacrifice of principle, but in obedience to principle; and where she neglects to do it, it is because she loses sight of one of the main objects of her vocation. The principles of the gospel are in nothing at war with the obvious principles of God’s providence. God has made Christian men to be inhabitants of this world, and it is a morbid and sinful state of mind that induces them to retire from it. If there be any man in the world who is qualified to enjoy the charms of domestic and social communion, it is the Christian. He sustains the relation to God and man, to time and eternity, which fits him for both worlds; and where he appreciates that relation, and renders it subservient to the cross of his Master, he will bring both worlds more frequently and nearer together, and carry with him into this world the claims of the world to come. His relations to the world around him form one of the most interesting spheres of Christian duty. Religion would be a very easy matter, if we had nothing to do but withdraw from the pursuits and society of the world. There would be little conflict then, and as little triumph. It is not infrequently in the very heart of the world, and amid all its conflicting claims, and noise, and dust, and folly, that Christian vigilance and circumspection shine out, and that the followers of Jesus read lessons to the men of the world, which teach those who "the friendship of the world is enmity with God." They may live in the world, and yet live above the world. With the exception of those instances where the providence of God renders this unseemly or impossible, it is only then that they live to good purpose. True religion, like its Author, goes "about doing good." It restricts not itself to any particular class of human society, but extends itself to all classes. It is like the cross, the religion of love—love to man, as well as love to God. By whomsoever else they may be disregarded, the woes of men have an advocate in the bosom of Christian compassion. It dwells among men; it instructs, comforts and blesses. Where they cannot ascend to it, it descends to them. So far from erecting a wall of separation between itself and the benighted, the sinning, the suffering, it searches them out, and watches its opportunities of doing them good. Scenes of usefulness draw Christians forth from their retirement, nor do obstacles hinder them in their career of mercy—It would be only a just characteristic of Christianity, if doing good constitutes the soul of all they say and do. Though the best examples of it are blended with many and mournful imperfections, yet this is its tendency, this its character. It is not a mere theory, a fiction of the mind, but something which is embodied, and realized in an actual and active existence. It constitutes one of the attractions of the cross itself, because it is the living spirit of the cross, and a practical and persuasive exemplification of its power. The highest glory of Christianity is its practical influence. This is its nature, and it is to this glory that it elevates the nature of man. This is Christianity in opposition to all false religions. Selfishness, expediency, and fine philosophic theories, will make men just, and perhaps honorable and moral, while nothing but true benignity, active benevolence, makes them Christians. In no other way do Christians live to good purpose. It is only thus that the religion of the cross will ever have its proper place in human society, and become the master-wheel in the great machinery of human life, setting a thousand other wheels in motion, and governing the whole.
Another characteristic of the religion of the cross is, it is full of Christ. Christ is associated with all its duties and all its hopes. Christ is its center. Christ is its living head, and it lives not, any more than an amputated limb, when severed from Christ. Only as its roots strike downward, and clasp this Tree of Life, does it bear fruit. "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature." The Christian is nothing, has nothing, can do nothing, without Christ. It is a bastard Christianity that owns not Christ as its parent. It is an ignorant Christianity that looks not to Christ as its teacher, and that follows not his teaching. It is an unpardoned Christianity that looks not to Christ as its priest. It is an impure Christianity that is not washed in the blood of the Lamb. It is a disloyal Christianity that does not recognize Jesus Christ as its king, and that hesitates to obey where he commands. It is a wayward Christianity that looks not to Christ as its example, and that does not follow where he leads the way. The knowledge of the Christian is the "knowledge of Christ." The love of the Christian is "the love of Christ." All his graces find their element at the cross. Christ crucified is his glory and joy. Christ in his uncreated glory—Christ in his humanity—Christ in his obedience and temptations—Christ in his death and resurrection—Christ in his kingdom and on his throne—Christ in his weakness and his power, in his reproach and in his honor, in his past history and his coming triumphs—is the mighty magnet that attracts his heart, that moves and fixes it, that fills it with grateful astonishment and devotion. Christ, in the word and ordinances, is meat indeed to him, when he is hungry, and when he is thirsty, it is drink. In the storm and tempest, Christ is his hiding-place; in the parched desert, he is as rivers of water; under the noonday sun, he is as "the shadow of a great rock in a weary land." Christ near him is his consolation in sorrow; in joy, his triumph. Christ in him is the hope of glory. He seeks supplies only from the fullness of Christ. In death, Christ is his life, and his resurrection in the grave. When he stands in the judgment, Christ is his Judge; and, through interminable ages, Christ is his heaven. The religion of the cross is full of Christ; and this renders it so peaceful and so happy a religion, and imparts to it, not indeed the paroxysms of ecstasy, but "the peace of God, which passes all understanding." It begins and takes root in the soul, not until it has first felt the burden of sin and a sense of its condemnation; not until it has learned to cry for mercy at the foot of the throne; and not until it has found relief in believing in the Son of God, and receiving him as all its salvation and all its desire. Then its peace is as a river, and its joys are as the waves of the sea. It is the counterpart of heaven. It is the cup of joy from the river of life, which, clear as crystal, flows from the throne of God and the Lamb.
Allow me affectionately to ask, Do you possess this religion of the cross? You may not be a favorite with the world if you do; but what is unutterably more important, you are the friend of God. This religion comes to you as a suffering, perishing creature, and would make you happy by making you holy. Make the trial of everything else if you will, but there is a voice within your own bosoms that dispels the delusion. And I hear your own response to it—No, I cannot be happy, without the religion of the cross! I may well afford to forego anything, everything, rather than the religion of the cross!
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