Chapter 20: The Triumphs of the Cross
I proceed now to speak of the triumphs of the cross. Triumph supposes a previous contest. Ever since that revolution in heaven, which resulted in the revolt of the rebellious angels, the universe has been the scene of conflict. It has been extended to the heaven above us, and to the hell below us; but the great theater of it, and its more immediate arena, is the earth on which we dwell. Here it has been carried on for near six thousand years—beginning with the fall of man—and is destined to continue until the final consummation of all things. Other worlds feel an interest in it for their own sake, and for the mighty stake it involves; while it is a subject of deep interest to all the inhabitants of this world, because it carries with it the character and destiny of all the generations of men, from the first creation onward.
It is a controversy which is maintained within and without us. As maintained within us, it views man as a moral being, fallen from his primeval integrity and the slave of sin, and yet capable of recovery, and under a dispensation Divinely fitted to restore him to more than the purity and elevation from which he fell. It views him under the influence of the two contending powers—his own internal corruptions, and the truth and grace revealed in the cross of Christ. Without us, it is maintained by all the powers of light and darkness, good and evil, holiness and sin, in the universe. On the one hand, there is the great foe of God and man, the chief of the fallen angels, the prince of devils, and the god of this world. Confederate with him are the fallen of both worlds, living and dead, corporeal and incorporeal, all possessing, though in varied measures, essentially the same spirit. On the other hand, there is God’s incarnate Son, who "has on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords," and combining the wisdom, the power, the rectitude, and the love, of the eternal Godhead. In alliance with him, are the angels who maintained their primeval integrity; an innumerable company, who are swift to do the will of their Divine Leader, hearkening to the voice of his word. To these are united the saints in heaven, from the pardoned Adam down to the last redeemed spirit borne by angels to Abraham’s bosom-patriarchs and prophets, apostles and martyrs—godly men and godly women, of every age and climate. With these are leagued all godly men in the earth, by whatever name they are called, wherever dispersed, and by whatever peculiarities their moral training is distinguished. All these belong to the same kingdom, espouse the same cause, are baptized in the same spirit, clothed with the same Divine panoply, and bound together by the same sacramental oath. In this great conflict no intelligent being in the universe remains neutral; and the effort, the profession, or the pretension to be so, stigmatizes him as an enemy. None can keep aloof from this agitating question, nor maintain such a position of assumed indifference, as will not, sooner or later, betray their ill-disguised hostility.
The nature of the conflict itself it is not difficult to understand. The foundation of it lies deep in the essential difference of character of those who are engaged in it, and which, so long as this irreconcilable spirit exists, perpetuates the hostility. It is the seed of the woman arrayed against the seed of the serpent, and he that is after the flesh opposing him who is after the spirit. What gives interest to this overall other conflicts is, that it is a contest for principle, and involves the great interests of truth and holiness, in opposition to those of error and sin. It is a conflict of different and opposing interests, deliberately selected and pursued, and involving the claims of the Divine government, the rights of conscience, and the prevalence of holiness in this fallen world. It is a contest for ultimate dominion, and involves the question of the Divine supremacy. Whether God and his Christ shall reign, and his empire of truth, and holiness, and joy, shall be triumphant; or whether the devil and his angels shall triumph, and their empire of error, and sin, and woe, shall be extended over the earth, is the true question at issue. Never can the Deity so trifle with the interests of truth and rectitude as to tarnish the glory of his great name, and abandon his throne; and never will the powers of darkness submit to his dominion, or cease from "__________their ambitious aim Against the throne and monarchy of God."
Hence the collision—collision to the last; while upon its final issues are dependent the glory, honor and immortality of all the holy and virtuous, and the shame, ignominy, and death, of the vicious and unholy.
The means by which this conflict is sustained are sufficiently indicative of the character of those who employ them, and the ends they aim at securing. On the one hand, they partake of that fickle and changeful policy which the subtle enemy, possessed of long experience, and expert in deeds of wickedness, knows so well how to employ. It is a system of stratagem, sometimes making use of all the powers of human reason, elevated and furnished as they were in the Augustan and Athenian ages, and at others throwing a pall of ignorance over the human mind so deep and heavy as to be for centuries impervious. Sometimes it is persuasion and smiles—generations become giddy with pride, and are flattered in crowds into the broad way that leads to death. Sometimes it is power and coercion; and every engine of torture which malice can invent, or cruelty employ, is made use of to shut men out of the kingdom of God. Sometimes it is by the enactments of civil government, when the devil enters into the hearts of princes and legislators; and sometimes it is by governments that are ecclesiastical, when pontiffs, and cardinals are the selected agents of his infuriate malignity. Sometimes it is by a corrupted church and a corrupted ministry; so that the professed standard-bearers in the camp of Israel are its betrayers into the hands of the enemy. Sometimes it is by error under the guise of truth, and so artfully and indefatigably disseminated, as "to deceive, if it were possible, the very elect." Sometimes it is by peace, and sometimes by war—the former enriching the nations, and enervating them by its luxury, and prostrating them at the shrine of mammon; the latter introducing violence, blood, rapine, fraud, and every species of crime, and sweeping its millions into eternity, without God and without hope. Sometimes it is by the debasing passions of men, and sometimes by their criminal thoughtlessness. Sometimes it is by infatuating the old, and sometimes by corrupting the young. No doctrine is better understood by the great adversary, than that "great effects result from little causes." A little matter may give a fresh impulse to the strong and downward course of human depravity. The day is coming, when it will be seen, that he who, as a roaring lion, walks about seeking whom he may devour, has left nothing untouched in the world of matter or of mind, to which he could have access, and by which he could exert an agency ruinous to the souls of men, or insure himself ever so partial a victory. If, from this dark view, we advert to the means by which the interests of holiness are promoted, and the kingdom of Jesus Christ established in the hearts of men, and extended in the world, we shall find them of a very opposite character, and worthy of their Author, They are powerful, but not numerous; nor are they intricate and involved, but simple, and a child may understand them. They have no malice to gratify, no wrongs which they seek to avenge. They have no snares, and no stratagem; no are and chicanery. They seek no concealment, but all lie open to the face of day. They are wise, because they are devised by Him who has studied the human heart; they are unwearied and insinuating, because he cannot consent to lose his object; and they are ever bold and watchful, because he knows the enemy he has to encounter. They are all comprised in one single word—THE CROSS—the "word of their testimony and the blood of the Lamb." They are THE TRUTH AND THE LOVE OF THE CROSS. If you look at the varied instrumentalities employed by the King of Zion, you will find them summed up in these. They are, in one word, the Bible, the unadulterated Bible—the Bible recognized as the only infallible rule of faith and practice. And the Bible is full of the cross. Its living ministry—its pure, and faithful, and unwearied ministry, watching for souls, as those who must give account—know nothing "save Jesus Christ and him crucified." Its holy sabbath—returning weekly in its attractive stillness, conducting its unnumbered multitudes to the house of God, vocal with his mercy and his praises, fragrant with his ordinances, and sacred to his presence and glory—savors of nothing so much as the cross. The name of Jesus gives to all its services their peculiar importance, their unutterable desires, their most sacred delights. Its social relations,, and its religious nurture of the young, draw forth the ardor and tenderness of the heart toward Him who was crucified, because that hallowed circle so often go and stand together at the cross, and because the cross sheds its fragrance there, and minds born in sin there receive the seal of the cross and its hope of immortality. It is the cross, and only the cross, that imparts to all these their power. This is the banner which the God of heaven unfurls in the sight of the nations, and under which he goes forth to oppose all the powers of darkness, and to subjugate the world. The Savior never uttered a more animating sentence than when he said, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me." The hour was come in which the Son of man should be glorified! The faith of the Gentiles should glorify him, even though he should be rejected by the Jews. The seed was just about to be buried in the heart of the earth, that should produce an abundant harvest. He had just been told of the accession of the Gentiles to his kingdom, and the announcement kindled a glow of anticipation in his bosom, and he seemed to be already triumphing in the future conquests of his grace and truth. "Verily, verily, I say unto you," said he, "except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abides alone—but if it die, it brings forth much fruit." The character he had exhibited, and the miracles he had wrought, convincing as they were that he came forth from God, were not invested with the power to be ascribed to the death to which he was ordained. They could not speak the language of his great sacrifice; they did not utter the truths that were to be "mighty through God;" they did not possess the influence and attraction of the cross. The cross was to be elevated from the high places of the earth, that the people might know where the Prince and Savior is to be found, and flock to his standard. Whatever interest men have had in the common salvation, whatever interest they have now, and will hereafter enjoy, is to be attributed to the attraction of the cross. It shall not triumph without a struggle, nor without a host of enemies uniting their forces against it, and disputing every inch of the conquered territory; but it shall be ultimately triumphant, and possess the earth.
The cause of which the cross is the standard is the cause of truth and righteousness. It is a good cause, and the only good cause in the world; and if the God of heaven be the friend of truth and righteousness, it must prevail. All holy beings in the universe are its supporters. God created the world for it; for it he governs the world which he made; and for it he gave his Son to die. To advance it, his Son descended from heaven, and his Spirit dwells with men. Whoever they be, and in whatever world they dwell, who oppose such interests, engage in the disastrous enterprise with misgivings of heart, with an embarrassed judgment, an oppressed conscience, and more fears than hopes; while, on the other hand, the friends and supporters of such a cause espouse it with confidence, and with a tranquility of mind, and a firmness of purpose, which nothing can disturb, and which their faith in God and in their own ultimate success invigorates and emboldens. The history of our world shows deeds of noble daring achieved by faith in the cross. There is a mighty power in the cross to concentrate the affections and combine the efforts, of the friends of truth and righteousness, even though they were but few. The opposers of the cross are a discordant multitude, without harmony of sentiment or affection. Its friends are one, and their union is their strength. The three hundred that lapped under Gideon, were more potent than the mighty hosts of Midian and Amalek. The little band of twelve apostles had more power over the minds of men than all the forces of Jewish and Gentile unbelief. The persecuted Albigenses could not be crushed even by the power of Rome; while the very valleys that were drenched with their blood, became the scenes of their triumph. It was confidence in their cause that nerved the hearts of the noble reformers, and gave them the victory when the powers of earth and hell rose up against them. The cause of truth and righteousness must prevail. Like the ark of God when it was borne by ancient Israel, the very excellence of the cross is sure to carry ultimate confusion and dismay into the camp of its enemies.
There is also, in the next place, an adaptation in the cross to impress and subdue the hearts of its enemies. Such are the elements of Christianity, that when they once come in contact with the hearts of men, the one or the other must be subdued. They are so diametrically opposite in their nature and tendencies, that they cannot come in collision without producing the most sensible effects. In this, as well as other particulars, the religion of the cross is different from all other religions, falling in as they do with the natural inclinations of men, and, instead of disputing the empire with unhallowed passions, yielding to those who empire without restraint. The cross directs its influences to the sources of human iniquity, and by its purity and holiness would sincerely establish its entire dominion over the interior man. It considers nothing accomplished until it sets up the living God in the place of every idol, and at the same time disrobes the soul of all its visible and external badges of loyalty to another master. This is its great object; and though, in securing this, it meets with its greatest resistance, in this very conflict consists its greatest power. Its truths are mighty, because they are truths, and because they relate to subjects of vast extent, of the highest importance, and such as the human mind, when once arrested, feels a deep interest in investigating. Not a few of them are unwelcome; but it is an interesting fact that some of the most humbling and unwelcome truths the gospel reveals, are those which take the deepest hold of the inquiring mind. The evidence that these truths are from God is such as no ingenuous mind can resist. They are so supported by the Divine authority, that they come home with amazing power. They are the truths which it behooves men to know, because they publish the laws by which they must be governed, the apostasy which is their ruin, the redemption which is their recovery, the heaven which they hope for, and the hell they fear. No truth can be compared with the truth of the cross, for its intrinsic excellence, its binding obligations, its fitness to the lost condition of man, or its effectiveness in fixing his everlasting condition beyond the grave. They are not legendary tales, nor the dreams of false prophets, nor the opinions, nor traditions, nor commandments of men; but truth, so copious and complete, that nothing is left for men to desire to know, and so authoritative, that when they come within the sphere of its influence, they themselves see that they must yield to it, or die in the conflict. Its ministers may be unfaithful, but the cross is faithful; it holds men to the alternative of submission and life, or revolt and perdition. It is a very interesting crisis in a man’s history, when his understanding is controlled by the truth of the cross. His understanding is the avenue to his conscience; and when reason and conscience unite in demanding his confidence for the Son of God, he is a miserable man until he becomes a Christian. Truth and love have mighty power to break the chains of sin—to beat down the strongholds of the powers of darkness—to triumph over spiritual wickedness in high places—to take the prey from the mighty, and rescue the captive from the terrible. Nor let it be forgotten, that this is an adaptation which God himself honors. While he "will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent," he makes the cross "the power of God unto salvation." No matter what it is that advances to the place of the cross—whether it be the philosophy of the world, or the systems of paganism, or false religions baptized by the name of a rational Christianity—he pours contempt upon them all, and puts honor only on the cross. "Christ crucified," though "unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness," is "the power of God, and the wisdom of God." Heaven shouted when it was first announced; earth was astonished; and, in a little while, heaven shall shout again, and in greater raptures, "the whole earth is full of his glory."
Take, now, a rapid glance at the actual triumphs of the cross, from the first promulgation of Christianity, to the present time. From the treatment which the cross of Christ has received in this apostate world, it would sometimes seem that its ultimate triumphs were hopeless. Infidels have inquired, with an air of victory, "Whence is it, if Christianity be the religion revealed from heaven, that it has been diffused over so small a portion of the earth? Why is it that paganism and Mohammedanism occupy four-fifths of this globe, and the remaining one-fifth alone is occupied by Christianity? Why does the gospel spread so slowly at the present day, so that now, after the lapse of eighteen centuries, so large a part of the world are strangers to its power?" It were enough for us, in replying to this objection, to say, that the ways of God are inscrutable to us, and that, while it may not be possible for us to trace all the reasons why the light of truth is, for so long a period, hidden from some of the nations, it is but the commencement of its triumphs which has been hitherto witnessed. The plans of the Deity are large and vast, and none of them are accomplished in a moment, nor without that preparation and gradual progress which most significantly indicate the wisdom of their Author. God has seen fit to employ human means for effecting this great design; nor is it any impeachment of his character, that he has not interposed for the diffusion of the gospel by a series of miracles. Nor is it to be forgotten that the religion of the cross has, in all its progresses, contended with obstacles with which no other religion has contended, and has been extended by means that have had no alliance with the power and authority by which other religions have had access to the nations. Other religions have found abettors in the prejudices, the vices, the follies, the ignorance, the delusions of men; while the religion of the cross has been opposed to them all. Other religions have been propagated by the power of the sword; the religion of the cross has been extended while the power of the sword has been wielded against it. Other religions have been extended by rapine and plunder—the religion of the cross by the conversion of those who "took joyfully the spoiling of their goods" for the name of Jesus. Other religions have been extended by the authority of human governments; the religion of the cross not only without the adventitious aid, but in the face of all law, and in defiance of magistracy and empire. It has waded through seas of blood, walked through the fires of persecution, and sealed its testimony in the dungeon and at the stake, and amid all the wanton barbarity of suffering. It has been humble, peaceable, laborious, patient, prayerful; it has been without wealth, without power, without popularity, and without the honor that comes from men; and yet has its progress been so successful, as to furnish sufficient evidence of its triumphs. It commenced its career with the death of its Founder, and when he was crucified on Calvary, and rose again from the dead, had but a few men for his followers. But its attraction was soon felt throughout the world. Its first triumphs were over the unbelieving Jews, violent and uncompromising in their hostility to the Christian faith, from the highest seat of magistracy in Jerusalem down to the lowest publican who sat at the receipt of customs; yet did it establish its churches throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria, while its opposers were smitten by the wrath of heaven, their proud city destroyed, and themselves scattered over the earth, a hissing and by-word among the nations. Its next triumphs were in pagan Rome; at that period, the colossal power of the earth, stretching itself from the Straits of Gibraltar to the Caspian Sea, covering all Europe, extending itself into Africa and parts of Britain, and uniting its pride of learning and science, the influence of its philosophy and the power of its emperors, to exterminate the gospel. Yet, within thirty years after the crucifixion, their own accomplished historian, Tacitus, informs us there was an immense number of Christians in the very capital. From this center, Christianity spread through the empire, ascended even to the throne, put to silence the wisdom of ages, emptied the schools of philosophy, closed the temples of paganism, and while it put out the fire on their altars, enkindled in its place the flame of its own spiritual sacrifices. From Rome, it was diffused everywhere, and, even before the destruction of Jerusalem, had found its way to Scythia on the north, India on the east, Gaul and Egypt on the west, and Ethiopia on the south. Seven of its regular churches were established in Asia Minor, others in Greece, and others in Britain, before half a century had passed away from the commencement of the Christian era. As time rolled on, it was still extended farther and wider over the earth. The kings of the earth beheld in its silent progress the overthrow of those systems of superstition which upheld their thrones; but in vain did they take counsel against it. In vain did mercenary priests oppose it, because they saw in it the certain diminishing of those resources by which they had become enriched at the expense of the people. In vain did philosophers oppose it, because they saw in it the contempt of all their proud science. One tedious and bloody century after another passed away, inciting against it the pride, the fanaticism, and the malignity that were eager to exhaust themselves on its peaceable teachers and harmless followers; but it triumphed. And when that dark night of a thousand years overshadowed the earth, during which it reposed amid the wealth and luxury of princes, and lived only amid ceremonies and observances that well near extinguished its spiritual existence; it at length awoke healthy and vigorous as in the days of its youth, because it carried within its own bosom indestructible elements, and was associated with the power of its glorified Author. And when assailed—as it subsequently was—by the unsettling power of an infidel age, and the pens of the learned and the tongues of the eloquent beset it on every side, it gloriously survived this great crisis of its conflicts, and entered upon that period of spiritual influences which has not ceased to mark its progress. The boasting enemies of the cross have passed away like the chaff off the summer threshing-floor, but the cross is still lifted up. Empires have been turned upside down, cities have been obliterated and forgotten; but wherever the cross has been erected, the wilderness blossoms as the rose, and the solitary place has become glad for its tidings of great joy. Commerce has been turned from its ancient channels, to give free course to the word of this salvation, borne on every breeze, protected by every government, facilitated and propelled by every improvement in the arts, to the distant quarters of the globe. Never was the Holy Bible so widely diffused as it is now. Never were the missionaries of the cross so extensively scattered over heathen lands as in the day in which we live. Never were so many sanctuaries open; and never, with every returning day of the Son of man, were there so many of his ministers proclaiming the riches of his grace, and never such untold multitudes assembled to listen to its wondrous message. The wide circle of the earth furnishes no religion that is now pushing its conquests with half the success that attends the doctrine of the cross. Every other religion wanes, and Christianity alone is advancing. Now, after the expiration of eighteen centuries of conflict, of trial, of darkness, there is probably more living, active piety among men, than has ever been found since the risen Redeemer ascended into heaven and gave his gospel to the world.
And what has been thus begun shall be gloriously consummated. The past is a sure pledge of the future, and that pledge is made sure by the promise of God. There have been seasons when, to human view, it appeared that the issue of this conflict would be in favor of the adversary. The Seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent appears alternately to have had the advantage. The golden age of Christianity, though it may have dawned, is yet obscured with many a cloud. It is even now an age of worldliness, of great indifference and apathy to the things that are not seen, and of deep jealousy and mournful divisions in the Christian church. It is an age in which the pure truth of the gospel is more or less corrupted; an age of extravagance, and an age of unchristian exclusiveness, and useless discussions about external forms of polity, and endless genealogies, to the neglect of the great doctrines, and motives, and obligations of the cross. It is an age in which the man of sin is again rearing his dragon head, and vomiting out his waters, to chase the "man-child" into the wilderness. But though, to the eye of a doubting faith, success seems to hover, now over one side of the combatants, and now over the other, there is no uncertainty as to the question on which side it is to light. The promise has gone forth, "It shall bruise your head;" the only poor promise to the foe is, "You shall bruise his heel." There is nothing the adversary so much hates and fears as the cross. "No weapon formed against it shall prosper." He whose veracity is sure has pronounced the decree that the crucified One "shall reign until all enemies are put under his feet," and that "the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High." The solemn oath stands on record in his word, "As I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord!" "All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord—and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before you." The time is appointed when Satan, the great instigator of the powers of darkness, shall be bound, and a seal set upon his prison; when the idolatry of the heathen shall cease, and "the gods that have not made the heavens and the earth, even they shall perish from the earth, and from under these heavens." The blindness of the long-rejected Jews shall yet be dissipated, and the veil that is upon their hearts shall be taken away. The delusive dreams of the Mohammedan imposture shall vanish. The hierarchy of Rome, with all of other names that bear its image and breathe its spirit, shall be overthrown. Infidelity will stop her mouth, and philosophy, falsely so called, shall pass away into oblivion. The corruptions of Christendom shall be forgotten, and he who "sits as a refiner and a purifier of silver" shall purge away all its dross. Oppression and bondage shall cease; and He who shall "judge the poor of the people, and save the children of the needy," shall "break in pieces the oppressor." Wars shall come to an end from under the face of the whole heaven; the storm of contention shall cease; the tumult of battle shall be heard no more; and there shall be nothing to hurt or destroy in all God’s holy mountain. The plenitude of Divine influences shall descend like rain, and "judgment shall remain in the wilderness, and righteousness in the fruitful field." Like the waters that went forth from under the temple, knowledge and holiness shall flow in rivers over the earth; and as the sun of nature, while it leads on the seasons and regulates the year, alike imparts vigor to the forest and fragrance and beauty to the humblest flower that opens in its beam, so will the Sun of righteousness diffuse his rays over every department of society, and the entire economy of human affairs. Like the branch which the prophet cast into the waters of Marah, the gospel shall neutralize the sources of misery, and purify the fountains of joy. The religion of the cross will reign triumphantly over the world; and there shall be one Lord, and his name One. The spirits of darkness well know the efficacy of the cross. They have watched its influence from the hour when it made a show of them openly on Calvary; they are watching it still, and will hereafter observe it, not so much with their present jealousy, as with everlasting despair. These opposing hosts, that are now alternately advancing and retreating, now triumphing and now melting away, will before long come to the last conflict. The mighty catastrophe of this wonderful arrangement for the salvation of men, so early predicted and so eagerly looked for, shall be developed, and heaven and hell shall stand alike the memorials of the Divine mercy to its friends, and, to its enemies, of the Divine justice. The voice of the archangel and the trumpet of God shall sound. The Crucified One shall come in the glory of his Father and of the holy angels, and the holy tribes shall be gathered together and caught up to meet the Lord in the air. All characters shall be then tried, all hearts revealed, and the final sentence shall go forth. Then the triumphs of the cross shall be completed. And when it is thus lifted up, with it the hands, and hearts, and heads of the redeemed shall be lifted up, and the hands, and hearts, and heads of the unbelieving shall be bowed down, and "the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day."
Such have been, such are, such will be, the triumphs of the cross. It is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes. Great is the mystery of God and godliness. It is not the wisdom of the created, but of the Uncreated One. It is not the power of man, but the mighty power of God. It is the cross—the narrative of the cross—the truth of the cross—the love of the cross—the security of the cross—the holiness of the cross—the power of the cross—the wonders of the cross—the cross triumphant.
And now, the solemn question is submitted to the conscience of every reader, whether he will be for Christ, or against him? I know the decision of your reason and conscience, and stand in doubt only of the decision of your heart. I know that the cross will be triumphant, and am solicitous that you should enlist under the banners of the all-conquering Prince, and reign with the Captain of your salvation in his eternal kingdom. The cause is too momentous in itself, and too greatly fraught with consequences of everlasting interest to your own soul, to allow of any farther indecision. Persist no longer in contending with him who is God over all blessed for evermore. Break, oh, break away from those who are in arms against their gracious Savior, and let the world see that the cause of truth and righteousness, the cross of the Redeemer, has found in you one more advocate and friend.
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