Modern Blasphemies (1)

One of the most subtle of modern blasphemies is that which declares that our soldiers in France are dying for us just as truly as ever Christ did and that their death is of the same character as His. It is subtle because, in pretending to exalt a soldier's death it deceives him, as well as many of those who love and honour him; it is blasphemous because it degrades the death of Christ and robs Him of His glory and His death of its value. These surely are the aims of the devil who is behind it, and who is even more determined on destroying the souls of the soldiers and overthrowing the throne of God than the Him is on destroying their bodies and breaking the power of the British Empire. This blasphemy is being preached from the pulpits, pressed in the Sunday Schools, published in religious weeklies, woven into fictitious stories, and told to the soldiers by many a Christless chaplain. It is more popular than that other blasphemy, that death on the battlefield will save a man, for if it is true the Bible teaching as to sin and its judgment, the devil and his thraldom, of God and His holiness is nothing more than exploded and out-of-date theology, and Christ is no more than a man like ourselves, whose death was heroic and beneficial to the race as showing the glory of self-sacrifice, but nothing more.

We have the keenest of all reasons for thinking tenderly of the soldiers who are dying in France, and no slight shall ever be cast upon them by any word of ours. We would give them all the honour that is their due, but we do protest with all our powers against the slight that is being cast upon our Lord Jesus Christ by this doctrine, mostly by those who profess to have the honour of His name in their keeping.

The soldiers are dying to right great wrongs, to preserve these lands from invasion and our homes from desolation, and to roll back hordes of frightfulness, to whom nothing is sacred, and who know no pity. But all these with which they do battle are physical and temporal evils — foes that threaten us with physical and temporal harm — they have nothing at all to say to our soul's eternal welfare or our relationship with God. The death of Christ has to do with these eternal issues and so stands upon a different plane, there is no comparison between the two.

There entered into the death of Christ the questions of sin and its judgment, our never-dying souls and their eternal salvation, the thraldom of Satan over men and his overthrow, the eternal justice of God and the vindication of His character, as well as the declaration of His love. And it is because men have lost the sense of the exceeding sinfulness of sin, of the priceless value of souls, of the holiness and justice of God and the absolute necessity of the cross of Christ if sinners were to be righteously saved, and if God was to be just and yet the justifier of the ungodly, that they dare to belittle the death of Christ in this manner.

We believe that the sentimentalism that has invaded modern Christianity and which makes everything of our Lord's sufferings at the hands of men, which the human mind can in some measure and from one point of view appreciate, and little or nothing of what He suffered as the Sin-bearer at the hand of God, which can only be known by faith, as it is revealed to us in the Word, has opened the door wide for such blasphemies as these to enter. We would not underestimate what He suffered at the hands of men, who were lashed into a fury of hatred against Him by the devil. Our hearts are moved as we see Him meet them without any weapons of defence girded upon His sacred Person, for "He was led as a lamb to the slaughter" — "His hands and feet were nailed to the Cross." They treated Him brutally and shamefully, and He did not resist them. He "despised the shame," and answered their envenomed malice by prayers for their forgiveness. But if that were all, His name might have lived in history, but it would never have been set above every name in heaven and on earth, nor could He have been the object of the adoration of a countless multitude of ransomed souls, who shall acclaim Him as the Lamb who was slain and whose blood has redeemed them to God.

Men did all they could, and, when tired in their brutality, but not of it, they sat down to watch Him there. Then we read, "From the sixth hour there was darkness over the whole land to the ninth hour, and about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabacthani? That is to say, My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?"

Why did the sun withdraw his shining at that noonday hour? What was the meaning of that strange and never-to-be-forgotten cry? It was not the pain of His body that caused it, or the cowardice of His friends, or the cruelty of His foes. He looked not inward or outward, but upward, and that most poignant cry that ever broke from suffering lips was addressed to God: for there in that solemn hour He was forsaken of God. We dare not seek an answer to the questions except from the Holy Scriptures, and there we read, "God has made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Cor. 5:21). "The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all." "He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities" (Isa. 53). If these scriptures mean anything at all they mean that God could not yield to an impulse of mercy, and, ignoring our sins, save us at the sacrifice of His holiness and justice. A salvation of that kind would have been no salvation at all, it would not have silenced the devil who slanders God and accuses us, and it would have put God in the position of a Being whom we could neither trust nor reverence. They reveal to us what we could not have known apart from them, that at the cross our sins in all their hatefulness in God's sight were laid upon the Lamb of God, and that there by enduring to the utmost the judgment that they called for He vindicated God's throne that blessing might come to us according to eternal righteousness.

In that solemn hour the ancient word was brought to pass, "Awake, O sword, against my Shepherd, and against the man that is my Fellow, says the Lord of hosts, smite the Shepherd" (Zech. 13:7). And the sun became as sackcloth, and all created light was wrapt in gloom that no creature eye might look upon the sorrows of the smitten One, for no creature mind could understand what those sorrows were.

"Earth shuddered as He died,
  God's well-beloved Son,
The darkness sought His woes to hide,
  Till all was done."

It was out of that darkness that the cry arose, and no tongue of angels or men can tell the full import of it, for no creature heart can grasp the vastness of the pain that gave it birth. God, who dwells in unapproachable light, in the everlasting majesty of His being was there, and sin in its irreconcilable rebellion against His supremacy was there, and by His suffering and death Jesus made propitiation to God for sin, glorifying His name, and vindicating His righteousness by an infinite propitiation.

It was the ability of Jesus to estimate to the full what sin and God's judgment against it were, which He could not have done had He not been the Fellow, or Equal, of the Lord of hosts, and His ability to stand in the place of those who had sinned and bear their judgment, which He could not have done had He not been the sinless Man, that gives His death its value. His deity and His manhood both were there, and His death must ever stand alone, none other ever was nor could be like it. Death had no claim upon Him, and yet He died who only had the right to live. It was a sacrifice for sins.

How great then is the blasphemy that would put even the most heroic death of any other man alongside His and proclaim them to be the same in character! And what shall we say of the more than criminal levity and blindness of an army chaplain, who in a Good Friday sermon to soldiers over seas, could dismiss the cry of the Lord upon the cross with this explanation, "Often in our moments of extremity, and when about to die we remember verses of hymns of our youth, and no doubt Jesus when young had learnt Psalm 22 and in His extremity he remembered and repeated it!"

Those who love the truth and preach it should take the utmost care that they do not weaken it by the use of illustrations. If it is necessary to use them, and they often help, we must see that the truth and not the illustration is prominent, and especially so when we speak of this most sacred of all subjects, for the devil is full of subtlety and will turn our best intentions to his purpose if we are not watchful. Our safety lies in only touching these great themes in the fear of God and in dependence upon Him, and in reverence for and subjection to the Scriptures.