“But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14).
It has been truly said, there is nothing like the cross. It stands and shall stand forever, in all its solitary greatness and grandeur, in the centre of the circle of eternity, the wonder of every intelligent creature, and the pillar upon which is indelibly inscribed the evil and the hatred of the fallen being, and the goodness and love of God. Out from amid the dim shadows of the past it looms upon the vision, in all its brightness and blackness, truth and treachery, sunshine and shadow, faithfulness and falseness, righteousness and sin, judgment and mercy, compassion and cruelty, love and hatred. By its light the heart of heaven is revealed, and the deepest depths of the abyss of evil are discovered. The blessing and the curse there lift their voices together.
There welters foul the inky sea of human guilt, and there the unsullied ocean of divine grace swallows up everything with its swelling tides. Nothing in the past can compare with it, neither can anything in the future arise to rival it.
There appears the greatest sin the creature ever committed, and there is the mightiest display of infinite mercy on the part of God that ever came to light. It is the place where man was tested in every spring of his moral being, and it is where the compassions of God were sounded to their depths. It is where the hostile fallen creature lifted impious hand, and struck at his Creator with deadly intent, and it is where the answer of the Creator was given in unspeakable and infinite love. It is the witness of wickedness impossible to be exceeded by man, and it is the evidence of favour which God Himself could never repeat. The volume of wrath, curse, judgment, and woe which encircled Golgotha, not the regions of the lost could enclose; and heaven itself shall not be vast enough to circumscribe the love, the grace, and the mercy which have been there expressed.
There the whole question of good and evil has been gone into, solved, and settled for ever. There all the forces of good and evil were gathered together. There sin rose up in all its power against God, and there God came out in judgment against sin. Never before had the rebel creature dared so much. Never before had sin so behaved itself in the universe of God. Its opportunity had come: the Son of God was in the hands of sinners. All hell was moved. The fit moment had arrived to cast off the restraint of heaven. The raging of the nations, the plotting of the Jews, the malice of the world, all were directed against Christ. They will not have this Man to rule over them. The infernal forces were rallied. The principalities and powers mustered all their might for the final combat. The infernal regions sent forth their last warrior, and the whole phalanx of wickedness prepared for this desperate encounter, in which quarter was neither to be given nor taken, and by which the victory for good or evil was to be finally decided.
Jesus speaks of it as man’s “hour” (Luke 22:53). From the fall until that hour man had been held in check by the restraining hand of God. Previous to this he had been mercifully prevented from carrying out the full thought of his heart. He had corrupted the earth, filled it with violence, shed innocent blood, broken the law, worshipped demons, slain the servants of God, and hated Christ come into the world in grace and love. But his enmity had been under the control of God, and he was prevented from doing all that he felt inclined to do. Moved by the causeless hatred of his hard and godless heart, he had been often ready to stone Jesus, but somehow he found himself unable to carry out his murderous intention. But now his “hour” was come; the limit which had been assigned to his wrath was removed; the avenues through which his evil nature was to show itself were thrown open; the bit and bridle, which had in measure been a check upon his impious goings, were cast aside. He felt for the first time in his fallen history what real liberty was, as far as freedom from the intervention of God went. From divine control he is free and unfettered, and the universe must be spectators of the use to which his liberty is to be put. Alas, for poor man! His liberty was his ruin, as it ever is. Like the Gadarene herd of swine, his race was down a declivity, reckless, rapid, ruinous; and it was the same power which drove both to destruction.
What characterised man’s “hour” was the “power of darkness,” he must be guarded by the power of God, or driven to destruction by the devil. What did his liberty profit him? In his freedom he was the tool of the devil. Proud, ambitious, rebellious, and devoid of confidence in Him who had sent His only begotten Son to save him, he would look after his own happiness. He objected to God’s concerning Himself about him. He would go his own way, and take care of himself. Horrible insanity! It was, in one sense, true that he had never before been as free, but yet, in another sense, it was equally true he never had been such a slave: his very freedom threw him completely into the hands of Satan.
The malice of the Jew astonished the pagan governor, and the vacillation and cowardice of Pilate have astonished the world. In the betrayer the treachery of the human heart comes so terribly into evidence, that even natural self-respect abominates the deed; and so loathsome is the action, even to the man who committed it, that when it is consummated, his very existence becomes intolerable to himself, and in despair he goes out and hangs himself.
Ere man’s hour had dawned, lanterns and torches and weapons, borne by men of strength and determination, were to Peter little more than rotten wood, but when that hour had really set in, the innocent question of a maid belonging to the high priest’s palace, which would have placed him in his right relation to Jesus, fills him with indescribable terror; and this son of Jonas, pre-eminently courageous at other times and a real lover of the Lord, denies that ever he knew Him, and that with oaths and curses. The other disciples, though also boastful on the Mount of Olives, are now nowhere to be seen. The disciple whom Jesus loved is with his Master at the trial, but is there under the patronage of the high priest (John 18:15). It was man’s hour, and the power of darkness, and no one could stand then except in the might of God. What an hour it was!
Every type of humanity was there, and every human soul insane in his enmity against the lowly Sufferer. We see Pilate subjecting Him to the indignity of stripes, though compelled to confess he had found in Him no fault at all, Herod with his men of war setting Him at naught, crowning Him with thorns, and bending the knee in mockery before Him; priests, whose place was intercession, judging and accusing Him; the law, which He had honoured and magnified, turned against Him with the object of destroying Him. A robber is preferred to the One who with lavish kindness had showered benefits upon the people, and a murderer is chosen rather than the Prince of Life. For the bread He fed them with, they repay Him with buffets; and for the healing of their sick, they requite Him with a languishing death upon the cross; and for the words of grace which fell from His blessed lips, they heap anathemas upon His thorn-crowned head. What was the meaning of it? Not one of them could have given an intelligent answer to the question. In that “hour” the high priest’s palace was truly pandemonium, for there the council of demons was convened.
Man was controlled by a power of which he knew nothing. He had cast off God who had hitherto restrained him for his good, and now he is under the control of one who drives him headlong to destruction, but in a way which, after all, is the way he rejoices to travel. Terrorized by his fears, inflamed by his lusts, maddened by his hatred, carried away by his pride, hardened in conscience by familiarity with sin, pitiless in his dealings with everything divine, and all his fallen, cruel, and corrupt lusts and passions wrought upon and lashed into fury by the influences of hell, nothing will satisfy him but the humiliation, agony, and death of Him who had gone about doing good and healing all who were oppressed of the devil. It was man’s hour indeed and it was an hour of unrestrained wickedness.
“The Power of Darkness”
The spiritual world comes to light in the material. We hear no trumpet blast from the prince of darkness; no rattle of artillery wakes the echoes of Zion; no thunder of demon-driven chariot of war shakes the midnight cloud; no martial tread of troops in armour clad salutes the ear: yet never since the creation of the worlds was there a moment in which spiritual forces were so agitated. The abyss of evil poured forth its myriads. Golgotha swarmed with forces innumerable; but no more noise was made, than is made by the planets in their courses around their fiery centre. The roar of their thunder, if heard at all, is heard in the false and baseless accusations made by Israel’s rulers, and in the howling of the ignorant and brutal rabble, who surged around the palace of the high priest, crying, “Away with Him! Away with Him! Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” and in their ribald jests and rowdy blatter as they hurry to the place of execution.
It has been said that hell laughed, but it is not quite correct. In the estimation of the powers of evil it was no doubt a triumph to have man so thoroughly blinded to the fact that he was committing soul-suicide, but laughter was, at that moment, far from the heart of him who was directing the battle against God and His Christ. Hell has never yet been able to laugh, nor will it ever be able. Hell has been too busy hitherto to have time to laugh, and it has never been so confident of victory as to hold the enemy in such supreme contempt. God laughs at the impotence of man and hell combined, for He is omnipotent and can never know defeat. But Satan has too often seen his plans frustrated and his wisdom checkmated, and his power annulled, to be able to have the laugh of God. At the cross no one laughed but man, the guilty, giddy tool of the devil, and his merriment was all indulged at the expense of the infinite sorrow of the Son of God, his Saviour and his Friend.
The Sorrow of Jesus
And how great was His sorrow! It is said the higher you go in creation, the sensations of pain are ever more acutely felt, and the lower you go down they become gradually less distinctly felt. But what must it have been to the Firstborn of all creation, to Him who felt everything perfectly! There was nothing hard or callous in the blessed sensitive nature of Jesus. He felt to the utmost every indignity that was heaped upon Him. He was the song of the drunkard, despised and rejected of men, laughed to scorn, insulted and derided, by those for whose woes His compassions knew no bounds. His betrayal by Judas, denial by Peter, desertion by His followers, wounded Him to the quick of the soul. In such calamities men are often supported by their pride. Ingratitude, insult, and blow, are often endured with an apparent equanimity that is surprising. It may be that within, the heart is like a furnace of fire, but a haughty spirit and indomitable will batten down the hatches upon the inner workings of the soul, so that there is no escape for the fury that rages inwardly. But in the meek and lowly Jesus pride had no place. No vengeful feelings needed to be suppressed; no angry spirit required to be controlled. “He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He openeth not His mouth” (Isa. 53). He says, “I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting” (Isa. 50). In Psalm 22 we hear Him recounting all His enemies, and pouring the burden of His griefs into His Father’s ear. “Bulls of Bashan” were there; “Dogs” had compassed Him about; the “Assembly of the wicked” had enclosed Him; there was the “Lion’s mouth”; and there were also the “Horns of the unicorns.”
As I have intimated, all the evil of the universe was drawn together against Him. Satan was there in all his might, man was there as his willing instrument of wickedness, God was there in judgment against sin, and the holy Sufferer was there, made sin, and dealt with by God as sin deserved. The fountains of the great deep of divine judgment were broken up, the windows of heaven were opened, and the mighty tempest of wrath, and curse, and vengeance against sin beat upon His devoted head. He sank in deep mire where there was no standing. Like Jonah, only in spiritual woes, He went down to the bottoms of the mountains; the earth with her bars was about Him for ever. Deep called unto deep at the noise of God’s waterspouts, all the waves and billows went over Him, the waters reached to His soul. But all His infinite and unutterable woes are embodied in that cry, which was wrung from His heart amid the three hours of thick darkness, “Eli, Eli; lama sabachthani?’”
But there, and then, every evil principle was judged. Satan was discovered as the prince and god of the world, and his power was for ever broken. The wisdom of the world was seen to be foolishness with God; it had never arrived at the knowledge of Him, and when He was revealed before its eyes it knew Him not. Man was seen to be incorrigibly wicked, and at heart a hater of God. God was declared in perfect goodness and love on behalf of man, in spite of the hostility with which it was met by those whom it had singled out as its objects. Jesus was there, the obedient One, glorifying God even when abandoned by Him. He had come to do the will of God, and let the cost be what it might to Himself, He would not be turned aside. It is not for the creature to find fault with the Creator; it is not for the servant to dispute the wisdom of his master’s will; it is not for man to call in question the ways of God: and the place of a creature, servant, and man, Jesus had taken, and He was perfect in all. To Him be everlasting praise!
The Glory of the Lord Jesus
At that cross the Son of Man was glorified (John 13:31). There the offering was parted in pieces, the springs of His moral nature were all laid bare, and nothing but infinite perfection was brought to light. Not a pulse in His whole moral being but beat true to Him who sent Him. In Him there was found no selfish consideration, no estimating of things by the way in which they affected Himself. With Him everything was viewed in relation to God. The work given Him to do was done without a murmur. There were no reasonings and disputings found with Him, “That the world may know that I love the Father; and as the Father gave me commandment, even so I do” (John 14:31). Blessed, perfect Master and Lord.
Before He took the place of a servant, before a body was prepared for Him, He knew what was involved in it. He knew all beforehand. He fully understood the dread weight of that judgment, which He gave Himself to bear, before ever He was made in the likeness of men. He was well aware that to take the form of a servant meant that He must obey without question every commandment which He received; but at all costs the will of God must be done, and therefore, He, “being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:6-8). How brightly the moral glory and excellency of the Lord Jesus shine amid the darkness of Golgotha. Let me remind the reader that there, betrayed, denied, deserted, beset by a lawless world which was influenced by the power of darkness, mocked, insulted, and above all, forsaken of God, He stands absolutely ALONE; and in that hour, and when alone, He bore up in might divine the pillars of the moral universe, and laid a basis upon which they could be established, beyond the possibility of ever again being shaken by any enemy of God.
And God was glorified in Him
His righteousness was established, His holiness maintained, His authority respected, His truth vindicated, and His love declared. That dread battle between the forces of good and evil was fought out in the cross of that lowly humbled Saviour, who gave Himself that all might be there and then gone into and settled to the glory and praise of God, settled never to be opened again. The conflict is over, the powers of evil crushed. God has triumphed.
Every enemy has been smitten, God has wrought righteousness, and the field is His. The devil has been annulled, death destroyed, sin has been dealt with, our sins put away, our old man crucified with Him; the ground has been as completely cleared of every enemy as though no enemy had ever existed. The cleansing of the heavens and the earth from the presence of evil is now only a matter of detail, angelic power will be able to accomplish that (Rev. 12:7-9; Matt. 13:49-50). The moral question has all been settled in the cross of Jesus; and the believer is now identified in life and nature, relationship and favour, with the One who stood, in that terrible hour, faithful to God.
The nature and character of God have, with respect to evil, been vindicated and cleared. The fact that the creature is the author of it, and that it remains with him, is placed beyond all question. That good is alone with God, that He is good; and that He has ever dwelt in goodness, grace, and love toward man has been abundantly proved; as it has also been demonstrated that the man after the flesh, of the order of Adam, the fallen head, would not have God in any character in which He might present Himself. But the cross is the end of that man judicially before God. His trial came to an end there. He was proven to be, in his very nature, enmity against God, and now no longer is the man of that order, and in that standing, in any relationship with God; he has been already condemned and set aside judicially.
But the cross has also been the crucible in which the moral worth and excellencies of the Second Man and Last Adam have been tested to the very uttermost, and where the blessed fact has been established beyond all dispute that in Him there was no dross, no substance offensive to God, but everything in the highest degree acceptable. From that cross such a sweet savour went up before God as has effectually taken the place of the obnoxious odours arising from a corrupt world. God has been glorified in the spot where He was dishonoured, and the gain to Him, through the cross of His Son, has been infinitely greater than all the loss He had sustained through the first and erring head, as well as through the wickedness of all his descendants.
And our place, portion, and relationship are all in and with this exalted Christ, risen from the dead. He is our life. We are to be in His image. His Father is our Father; and His God is our God. The love, and grace, and favour in which He is, we are in also; for we are graced in Him. “As He is, so are we in this world” (1 John 4:17). May we follow in the footsteps of that blessed apostle and disciple who could so truthfully say, “What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: that I may know Him” (Phil. 3). And also, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Gal. 6). The person and the cross of Christ were everything to him: may they be everything to us.