The Cross (2)

The History of Man

The history of man as a fallen sinner—his wanderings, his erratic activities, his feverish restlessness, his headlong career, his wilful forgetfulness of his Creator—begins not with Adam in his fallen condition, but with his posterity. That which was found in him when he had broken with God had, as far as his written history goes, to come to light in his descendants: of his personal history we have no account. In his race we learn what he was, for what they are they are by derivation from him. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and what the flesh was when the sinner was driven out of Eden had yet to be manifested. It took four thousand years to do this, but the patience of God was equal to the demand made upon it.

During this long period man occupies the stage, and in his history the forces of good and evil are seen to be in ceaseless conflict. This question, with which man meddled to his disadvantage, has in man to be brought to an issue, solved and settled. The triumph of the one must unquestionably be the destruction of the other. In this conflict there can be neither quarter, compromise, nor armistice. And not only so, but the armies and adherents of the defeated must ever lie under the humiliation of defeat, and subject to the penalties imposed upon them by the victor.

Behind the scenes and out of sight are the powers that direct those forces—God on the one side, and the devil on the other—and according to the nature of the power to which he gives his service, the creature is under the domination of the good, or of the evil. God is good, does good, and ever leads the subject creature in the way of good. The devil is evil, practices evil, leads his dupes in the way of evil, and knows no mercy. Woe to the hapless creature that comes under the influence of his deceitful wiles!

He is not omnipotent, neither can he influence man to do evil without man’s consent. The creature who serves in the army of the devil proves himself by so doing to be a consenting party. By a blind and fanatical course in the devil’s service a man may come under his complete control, but in that service he cannot be conscripted.

In the history of the fallen race these moral forces are seen at work. And what a history it is to ponder over! From the first a mind at enmity with God becomes manifest. In the altar of Cain this mind is very discernible. He refuses to acknowledge that the judgment of death lies upon him. He is willing enough to admit that it is by the bounty of God his creature necessities are met, but his sinful condition is utterly repudiated. The Word of God has no place in him. And therefore does he slay his brother, because his altar witnessed to his acknowledgment of his sinful condition.

Corruption and violence, the former of the flesh and the latter of the devil, fill the earth and dominate the race less than two thousand years from the fall. And if there are a few that will hearken to the voice of God, they can neither purify that filthy human river, nor alter its disastrous course; they can only testify to the sure judgment of an angry God, that shall bring to an end that horrible state of things resulting from the lawless behaviour of the godless creature. In the judgment of the flood, that world so offensive to God disappears, eight persons alone finding refuge in the ark.

Is the history of man any better afterwards? Alas, no. The tower of Babel, the cities of the plain, the iniquity of the Amorite, the horrors of the Canaanite, and other evils, show to us the resurrection of the abominations of the antedeluvian world, its corruptions and its violences. The worship of everything except the true God, the cruelties and the oppressions, the pollutions in which men everywhere wallowed (Rom. 1:21-23), compelled God, if He was to have anything for Himself on earth, to call out of the world one man to be His witness, a witness to the one true God in the midst of a world given over to demon worship (Josh. 24:2-3; 1 Cor. 10:20). This man’s descendants went down into Egypt, and there became slaves to the Egyptians; and when God brought them out, after having showed great signs and wonders in the land of Ham, they provoked Him daily on their journey to Canaan, and when in that land they practised greater abominations than the original inhabitants of that land had been guilty of. They broke the law, persecuted the prophets, stoned those that testified of the coming of Christ, and when He came they betrayed and murdered Him (Acts 7:52-53).

From the beginning of his fallen history the lawlessness of man steadily increased in volume and in moral corruption, until at the cross it burst all bounds, and attempted to extinguish the authority of God upon earth. Here was the midnight of man’s transgression, the black and dark night of his rebellion against God. Here the unmixed wickedness of the human heart reached the summit of insane hostility. Here it was not the testimony of creation that he was met with, nor was it the law with which he was in conflict, it was God Himself with whom he had grappled, it was the Almighty with whom he had come to blows. And who was it that could not forecast the issue of such a combat?

From the standpoint of the creature, the cross and a dead Christ upon it might seem to record a victory on the side of sinful flesh, and were it not for the resurrection, we might well give up hope for the triumph of righteousness. But by the light of the resurrection and glory of the Saviour, and the last Adam in the presence of God, we can view the cross as the destruction of the whole power of evil. In the cross the end of all flesh came before God. The hour in which it manifested itself in all its hideous hatred of God was the hour of its utter and complete condemnation. In the cross it has been completely set aside in the judgment of God. It still goes on in its lawless behaviour as though it had gained the victory, but its day of probation came to an end when it rejected God come in grace. Its condemnation and end in this sense came in the death of Him who stood as its representative in the hour in which the judgment of God broke loose upon it (Rom. 8:3), and it is the privilege of the believer to apply this to himself in a personal way, and to say with the apostle: “I am crucified with Christ” (Gal. 2:20).

The Work of God

What a relief it is to lift our eyes from the tortuous and rebellious ways of the fallen race, and fix them upon the activities of God in the person and work of His beloved Son, the Man of His counsels, the Head and Centre of another race deriving from Himself, and which is to supersede the old and fallen race before God. In the accomplishment of this it is not the history of fallen sinners but that of God that is to be our study. While the sending of His Son into the world was the last test He applied to man, it was also the beginning of the intervention of God for man’s deliverance from the power of evil. The cross cleared the ground of the old order, and in the resurrection and glory of Christ the Head of the new order is established in the presence of God.

Here we see God as the Worker, and man is the subject of His work. He has the Man in His presence who is the life-giving Head of a heavenly and spiritual race, and every man must be refused who has not his derivation from this Man. At this present time man’s work goes for nothing except to condemn him in the day of judgment. He must be saved by Christ. There is no salvation in any other. He is righteousness for every human being under heaven, and He must be received as such, and that by faith, as the free gift of God. Man must be born again. He must have a new life and nature. The old life is sinful and corrupt, and there is no mending of it. But life eternal is in the risen Saviour, and “He that has the Son has the life, and he that has not the Son has not the life”.

The relationship and place of favour in which the Son is, the believer has, for He has taken us into favour in the Beloved. The redemption of the body is all we look for, and we shall have this at the coming of Christ. We shall be in heaven as the work of God; only that which He has wrought can be there, but we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus, in all this we are the subject of His operations; it is now, What has God wrought? The eternal lake of fire will show that which man’s work has merited, and this must be the portion of all who are determined to reject God’s plan of salvation, which is in Christ, and preached worldwide in the Gospel of His grace.

The Man of God’s Counsels

It is in the Man of God’s counsels, our Lord Jesus Christ, that God, as we know Him, and His work has come to light. We see His gracious activities in the One who subsisting in the form of God, did not esteem it an object of rapine to be on an equality with God; but emptied Himself, taking a bondman’s form, taking His place in the likeness of men; and having been found in fashion as a man, humbled Himself, becoming obedient even unto death, and that the death of the cross (Phil. 2). The disobedience of the man after the flesh brought him to death, and in the ways of God, as we have seen, the cross was his end in the judgment of God; but the cross was also the end of the obedient Man as come in flesh and blood, for He came in the likeness of sinful flesh, that He might stand as its representative before God, when His judgment broke loose against the man after that order (Rom. 8:3). The One who knew no sin was made sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21). Our old man has been crucified with Him (Rom. 6:6).

What it was to that holy Sufferer to be accounted sin, and to bear the judgment due to it, no creature tongue can tell. But when we think of who He was the eternal Son that ever dwelt in the bosom of the Father, to whom sin was that hateful thing that it was to God, and when we face the astonishing fact that He was to be accounted that, and that He was to be treated as sin deserved, we cannot but have some little conception of the horrors that loomed before His soul on the night of His betrayal. Murder had been lurking in His pathway from His entrance into the world; persecution had dogged His footsteps throughout the whole course of His public ministry; cold ingratitude was His reward from those who had been enriched by His lavish kindness. Of His disciples one betrayed Him to His enemies with a traitorous kiss, another denied Him, and cursed and swore to the truth of that denial; and the others fled from Him and left Him in the hands of His enemies. But that, however heartbreaking it was, was as nothing compared with that which awaited Him amid the gloom of Golgotha.

Oh, the loneliness, the grief, the anguish, the sorrow of Gethsemane! Outside a world in rebellion against God, and the devil the prince of it, like the dragon that is in the sea, ready to lash it into fury against the Son of God. Never had creation witnessed such a sight as that which in the shadows of that lone garden passed under the eye of heaven. Never had there been a human being in such a situation as this. Beset by enemies, deserted by friends, death before Him as the power of Satan and the judgment of sin: His strength weakened, His days shortened, and the devil doing his utmost to get between His soul and His Father, so that His confidence in His Father might be destroyed. Not that there could be any fear of this resulting from the conflict, but the battle must be fought, the exercise must be gone through, and the holy soul of the Divine Saviour must go through it; not in His own strength, however almighty that might be, but in dependence upon His Father. Therefore He resorts to prayer.

The effect of this attack of the devil is only to increase His dependence upon His Father. He prays more earnestly. As a man of faith He goes through the ordeal. A word from Him would have sent the devil reeling to the lowest hell, as it shall on a day that is fast approaching. But this would have taken Him out of the place of dependence upon God, and the devil even in this would have been the victor. A foundation must be laid in righteousness upon which that which lay in Divine counsel might be established, and this could not be apart from His death, while He lived He could not bring man righteously to God.

Therefore must He go through with that which He had undertaken. He had said: “Sacrifice and offering Thou didst not desire; mine ears hast Thou opened: burnt offering and sin offering hast Thou not required. Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do Thy will, O my God; yea, Thy law is within my heart” (Ps. 40). He will not turn back now, whatever the terrors may be that confront Him. And how great those terrors were, no creature can ever know. But the very fact of His absolute holiness, and also that the bosom of the Father had ever been His dwelling-place infinitely intensified the bitterness of that bitter cup.

We see Him at the grave of Lazarus, groaning in spirit as He looked into the merciless and repulsive face of death, and shedding tears at the misery it was powerful enough to create, even in the hearts of His beloved and devoted followers. But now He has to face it Himself, and that when it was black and bitter with the judgment of a righteous and holy God. Alone and without comforters, He must now face it when standing in the place of the sin-bearer, and when all the curse and wrath due to sin must be visited upon His holy head, and when in the hour of His grief and loneliness He must taste what the forsaking of God is.

What words could describe the agony of that moment in which all that God was as against sin must be expressed in the storm that must beat upon His defenceless head? When the floodgates of divine wrath shall be opened, and when deep shall call to deep, and all the waves and billows of wrath would go over His soul. But in Gethsemane all this is gone into anticipatively, until the inward distress of that terrible hour manifests itself in bloody sweat. An angel is there to support His bodily weakness, but His spirit receives its strength in prayer, and in the sense that He had come to this pass in the pathway of the Divine will. Therefore He comes back from that spot in His usual calmness and peacefulness, to place Himself in the hands of His enemies, enemies that in His presence could manifest nothing but helpless weakness, going backward and falling on their faces when He tells them that He is the One they seek.

He has taken the cup from the Father’s hand, and He will drink it to the dregs. His love to the Father, and His obedience to the Father’s commandment are perfect. Besides there was the determination to have His own with Him in His glory as His everlasting companions. He could not communicate His life to us until the judgment which lay upon us was removed, and the only way in which He could remove it was by bearing it. He could not connect sinful flesh with Himself in that world of purity to which He was going. Righteousness must be accomplished, our sins must be atoned for, and the guilty nature which brought the sins into existence must receive its judgment. Then in resurrection He can link us up in life with Himself, and eventually have us with Him in His glory.

The Father Glorified

And the Father has been glorified, glorified in the Son of His love. He spoke the words that His Father gave Him to speak. He did the works that the Father gave Him to do. He perfectly carried out the Father’s commandment, and never went beyond it. He was obedient to death, even the death of the cross. It was the cross above all else that put that obedience to the test, but the response on the part of Christ was perfect. He, who ever did the will of God, was delivered into the hands of men, and hung upon a gibbet, and then forsaken of God, but there is no murmuring, no complaining, no ascribing injustice to the Father, like the self-righteous Pharisee: “Lo, these many years have I served Thee, neither transgressed I at any time Thy commandment”. Whatever the Father does is right: “Thou continuest holy”. The grace and love of God have been brought to light, as well as His hatred of sin. God cannot now be charged with indifference to evil, although repentance and remission of sins are proclaimed worldwide. He cannot be charged with carelessness regarding the happiness of His creature man, for He sent His Son as Saviour of the world.

And having thus been glorified by His Son on the cross of shame, the barrier that lay between Him and the blessing of the fallen sinner has been removed, and He can righteously act in grace toward all. By means of that cross grace reigns through righteousness, and the vilest can find a welcome with God. He can not only forgive, but He can justify the believing sinner, quicken him in the life of His Son, bring him into the same relationship to Himself as that Son is in, make him a member of the mystical body of Christ, and give him the bright prospect of dwelling in His house for ever.

The Moral Bearing of the Cross Upon Believers

Whatever the cross may be as the witness of the enmity of the world against God, it is that in which the believer has the greatest glory. It is the witness to Him of the unfathomable love of God, and it is the greatest witness of this that he ever has had, or ever can have in the future. It is that which he looks back upon as the scene where that love rose over every obstacle that opposed; surmounting the hatred of the human heart, and laying a foundation of blessing for all men. Even in the glory and splendour of the Father’s house nothing in his surroundings shall be such a witness to Him of eternal grace and love as the cross shall be; and upon that cross where His Saviour suffered he shall oft look back in wonderment, worship, and adoration. As a testimony of the grace, goodness, mercy, and love of God, the cross cannot be surpassed, nay, it can never be equalled.

And as to the love of the heart of Him who died upon it, what of this? It surpasses knowledge. Having loved His own that were in the world, He loved them to the end. He loved them through everything. Encompassed by unspeakable riches in heaven He thought upon our wretched condition here below, and left all for our sakes, that we through His poverty might be made rich. He loved us and gave Himself for us. For ever blessed be His holy name! We long for the day to come when we shall see Him as He is, and when we shall praise Him as we would. Lord hasten that day.

But that cross stands between us and a Christ-rejecting world. How could we love that which hates Him? How could we be friendly with that which denied Him His rights, and is stained with His life blood? That cross has severed the link that bound us to things here. We may preach the love of God to the men of the world, and plead with them to be reconciled to God, but we cannot forgive the world-system, for the devil is its prince, and it lies guilty of the rejection and murder of the Son of God, and if anyone love the world, the love of the Father is not in Him. There is nothing in it but lust and pride, and God has appointed a day in which He will judge it by Christ.

The cross stands between us and it. It is a barrier which we cannot pass, without being manifested as traitors of Christ. And speaking of His disciples, our Lord says, They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. How then can we make ourselves of the world? What about its politics, its pleasures, its amusements? Have we not something better to occupy us than the things that are found in the world? Let the morally dead go on with their dead works, but let us who have a heavenly life set our minds upon the things where Christ sits at the right hand of God. We owe everything to Him, and we should show by our actions that we appreciate what He has done for us. We cannot have this world and escape its judgment. The soul that knows anything of the cross, and of the heart of Him who died upon it, will have no stomach for the world’s dainties, nor will be have any eye for its glories. His boast will be in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to Him, and he to the world. May that cross have its true moral power over the heart and mind, of both reader and writer.