“The cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Galatians 6:14
The death of the cross has always been, above every other, reckoned the death of shame. The fire, the sword, the axe, the stone, the hemlock, have in their turns been used by law, as its executioners; but these have, in so many cases, been associated with honor, that death by means of them has not been reckoned either cursed or shameful. Not so the cross. Its victim, nailed in agony to the rough wood, suspended naked and torn to the gaze of multitudes, has always been reckoned a specimen of disgraced and degraded humanity; rather to be mocked than pitied. With Jew and Gentile alike—evil and not good, the curse and not the blessing—have been connected with the cross. In men’s thoughts and symbols it has been treated as synonymous with ignominy, and weakness, and crime. God had allowed this idea to root itself universally, in order that there might be provided a place of shame, lower than all others, for the great Substitute who, in the fullness of time was to take the sinner’s place, and be himself the great outcast from man and God, despised and rejected, deemed unworthy even to die within the gates of the holy city.
When the fullness of time had come, it begin to be rumored that the cross was not what men thought it, the place of the curse and shame—but of strength and honor and life and blessing. Then it was, that there burst upon the astonished world the bold announcement, “As for me, God forbid that I should boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Greek and Roman, Jew and Gentile, prince, priest, philosopher, Rabbi, Stoic, Epicurean, Pharisee, barbarian, Scythian, bond and free, North, South, East and West—looked to one another with contemptuous impatience, indignant at the audacity of a few humble Christians, thus affronting and defying the “public opinion” of nations and ages; assailing the religions of earth with the cross as their only sword; striking down the idols with this as their only hammer; and with this, as their one lever, proposing to turn the world upside down.
From that day the cross became “a power” in the earth; a power which went forth, like the light, noiselessly yet irresistibly, smiting down all religions alike, all shrines alike, all altars alike; sparing no superstition nor philosophy; neither flattering priesthood, nor succumbing to politics; tolerating no error, yet refusing to draw the sword for truth; a superhuman power, yet wielded by human, not angelic hands; “the power of God unto salvation.”
This power remains—in its mystery, its silence, its influence—it remains. The cross has not become obsolete; the preaching of the cross has not ceased to be powerful and effectual! There are men among us who would persuade us that, in this modern age, the cross is out of date and out of fashion, time-worn, not time-honored; that Golgotha witnessed only a common martyr scene; that the great sepulcher is but a Hebrew tomb; that the Christ of the future and the Christ of the past are widely different. But this shakes us not. It only leads us to clasp the cross more fervently, and to study it more profoundly, as embodying in itself that gospel which is at once the wisdom and the power of God.
The secret of its power lies in the amount of divine truth which it embodies. It is the summary of all the Bible; the epitome of Revelation. It is pre-eminently the voice of God; and, as such, conveying his power as well as uttering his wisdom. “The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.”
Yet is the cross not without its mysteries, or, as men would say, its puzzles, its contradictions. It illuminates, yet it darkens; it interprets, yet it confounds. It raises questions—but refuses to answer all that it has raised. It solves difficulties—but it creates them too. It locks as well as unlocks. It opens, and no man shuts; it shuts, and no man opens. It is life, yet it is death. It is honor, yet it is shame. It is wisdom—but also foolishness. It is both gain and loss; both pardon and condemnation; both strength and weakness; both joy and sorrow; both love and hatred; both medicine and poison; both hope and despair. It is grace, yet it is righteousness; it is law, yet it is deliverance from law; it is Christ’s humiliation, yet it is Christ’s exaltation; it is Satan’s victory, yet it is Satan’s defeat; it is the gate of heaven and the gate of hell.