"For the word of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us who are saved it is the power of God." - 1 Cor. 1:18 ASV.
D. Lamont: The Word of the Cross is the word which God has spoken to men through the Cross of His Son. It is the supreme word. It is in line with all He has spoken "at sundry times and in divers manners" (Heb. 1:1), yet it is new in its fullness, its finality, its urgency.
God speaks to us through Nature, which is the work of His hand, but for many the voice is not distinct enough, and at the highest it is only a partial word. A recent writer has described a distinguished naturalist as walking through the garden without seeing the Gardener. And the eye which is not enlightened from the right source will always miss the Gardener.
God speaks to us also through History, in the rise and fall of nations, the inexorableness of the moral order, the increasing purpose running through the ages, and chiefly in those choice souls to whom it has been given to hear His voice there. If man is the crown of Nature, we should expect the voice of God to be most articulate and complete in history, but history without the Cross of Christ is a maze without a clue. In His Son Christ Jesus, God once and for all spoke His great word to man. There was none other through whom He could speak it, for Jesus alone walked through this earth in His Father's Will. And the Cross of Jesus is pre-eminently the Word of God.
I. What is the Word of the Cross? In the first place, it is God's supreme Declaration to men. There, in the Cross of His Son, He has declared that the whole human race is smitten with the worst of all maladies, the leprosy of sin, and that the one remedy for this malady comes from the wounds of Jesus. Sin is the worst of all human maladies, because it is the ultimate source of all the rest, and because it leads inevitably to a destiny so awful that no language is adequate to describe it. The New Testament usually calls it "death," but that obviously means far more than simply the debt of nature; it means death in the realm of the spirit, which to the eye of Jesus looms out as the crowning human tragedy. No one can do anything worse than allow the disease of sin to go on doing its deadly work. And no one can do anything better than take God's remedy and commend it lovingly and earnestly to his fellow-men.
The leprosy of sin has features which are clearly marked. It opens its attack with stealth. The boy is in its grip before he knows where he is. Or if, in his school-days, he has by a miracle escaped the moral corruption which pollutes the atmosphere of this world, he soon finds himself allured, by the fascination of things which may be harmless in themselves, into a way of life which has only one ending - death.
It is often by absorption in the second best that one misses the best, and thus makes shipwreck of life. Opening with stealth, sin follows up its first success by the process of paralysing the moral sense. The shock is but slight at the first, so slight as to be unobserved in the normal case. If, through some cause, it is observed at any point in the process, it is the way of this disease to project into its victim's mind the suggestion that he is able at any moment to shake himself free and be as if he had never entertained the enemy. How easily do men delude themselves.
By a moral law which is as unfailing as any law of nature, the man who keeps dallying with sin comes to a point where he is no longer free, for sin is the master and he is the slave. His leprosy is the very law of his being. He is sold under sin (Rom. 7:14).
The Cross of Christ declares that this has befallen our human race as a whole. Do we accept this declaration as true? Yes, if we have made Him our Lord, for it is the verdict of His Cross upon the human heart. But the world has not yet accepted it. Will it ever do so? Certainly it is still too proud to admit the presence of the fatal malady or the need to be indebted to God for the remedy.
The Way of the World
According to the estimate of this world's wisdom, there is little or nothing wrong with man. It is compelled by force of circumstances to see that all is not well with the world to-day, but it is always other nations, other classes, other people who are wrong. So has it always been. The human heart is reluctant to confess its own bankruptcy and its tragic need of God.
It was this same reluctance that made the Cross of Christ seem a stumbling-block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks (1 Cor. 1:23). It is the same that makes so many modern men and women, even when they talk with something like religious fervor of soldiers going to self-sacrifice for their country, scorn the idea of God making any sacrifice for men. Sin secretes pride from its own essence and uses it as a smoke-screen to hide its hideousness from the eye of the soul.
But the Word of the Cross resounds over land and sea. It declares that we are all bankrupt until we confess our debt to God, plague-stricken until we recognize our remedy in the Cross of the Saviour. It declares that there are only two ways of it for human beings - the way of the world and the way of Christ.
This world came out in its true colors once, only once, when the acid test was applied to its life and ways. That was when Jesus, the Son of God, came to it and came to save it too. What did it do with Him? It nailed Him to the tree (Acts 5:30). That was the way of the world then, and it is the same to-day. The leopard has not changed his spots. Look at Europe and see the god of material force enthroned among his wretched victims. Look at our own country [Britain] and America, the hope between them of our civilization, and see there the god of money sharing empire with the god of pleasure, the leprosy of sin gaining upon both nations all the time. Saddest sight of all, look at the Church of Jesus Christ and see her pandering in a hundred ways to the same world that crucified her Lord. I tell you, brethren, the way of the world is so broad to-day that most people can see no other. But Christ lives. Up hearts.
The Way of the Cross
There is another way for mortal men to take. It is the way of Christ. His Cross has declared it, and even if this way be narrow, so that they who find it are few, it is a glorious way, and there is room in it for all. It is the way of holy love, that same holy love wherewith Jesus confronted the mad rage of this world on Calvary. We know that there, upon that Cross, what St. Paul calls "the weakness of God" (1 Cor. 1:25) triumphed over the might of men. Victory remained with love and Christ and God. For God raised Christ from the dead. And although that means nothing to a blind and uncomprehending world, it means everything to us who believe in God through this same Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Work of God
II. What is the Word of the Cross? It is the supreme Work of God for men. When God speaks, His word is always more than a declaration. Something happens. "And God said, Let there be light, and there was light" (Gen. 1:3). His word affects the nature of things; Jesus said: "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work" (John 5:17). We may take it that there our Lord was thinking specially of the work of saving men.
As soon as [in fact, even before!] our human race sold itself to the service of sin, God not only willed, but also worked for our redemption. He has been working for it until this hour. Jesus came into this life of ours, and from that moment when, in His own Baptism, He identified Himself with our sinfulness, He also worked in His Father's Will for the same end. He healed the sick and raised the dead and preached the Gospel to the poor. But the consummation of His redeeming work, and of His Father's redeeming work, was that which He accomplished on the Cross.
During His earthly ministry there were many things which disappointed Him, many things which wearied Him to exhaustion, and some things which taxed His spiritual energies beyond the normal. And the gospels make it as plain as anything can be made, that what taxed Him far beyond anything else was His death. The black shadow of the Cross haunted His days increasingly as His ministry advanced; His soul became "exceeding sorrowful, even unto death" (Matt. 26:38). In Gethsemane He was "in an agony" (Luke 22:44). The cry of desertion was wrung from Him upon the Cross (Matt. 27:46). Even if there were no other proof of it, the intensity of His anguish proves that the Cross was His supreme work and God's.
God did an incomparable work for us men by the Cross of His Son. It was God that did it, and He did it through One, His only [i.e., one-of-a-kind] and well-beloved Son. That is a simple thing to say, but I wonder if we have let it sink deep enough into our hearts.
The part which man played in the supreme event might well make our whole human race blush to lift up its eyes to heaven. No human being can take any credit for this thing which God has done. How can anyone be proud in presence of the Cross? In deep humility we adore Him who did it all for us.
There are many ways, no doubt, by which people can be attracted to Christ. But neither is there any doubt about this, that the only way in which we can be linked to Him in that union which makes us "more than conquerors" (Rom. 8:37) is through a passionate gratitude to "Him that loved us."
To Jesus Christ, through His Cross, we owe everything that matters. We owe it to Him that the way is open to all of us from death to life. If our destiny is to be life and not death, we owe it all to Him. We owe it to Him if we are able to sit lightly by this world, whether it smiles or frowns upon us, and count all things but dross (Phil. 3:8) in comparison with Him. We owe Him our forgiveness, our power to forgive and love all men, our deepest peace, our highest joy, and the fairest of all hopes. How can our hearts be cold to Him who gave Himself for us?
God's Offer to Mankind
III. What is the Word of the Cross? It is in the third place, God's supreme Offer to men. If God could have saved all men by some mechanical contrivance, He would have done it long ago. But it belongs to the nature of human beings that they cannot be saved that way. You cannot compel a person to love you by the exercise of physical force. And it is our love that God wants.
Some people turn away from the Cross of Christ because, in their opinion, it is a kind of mechanism or a quirk of law. No one can ever think or say that who has looked at the Cross with eyes which God has opened. God has drawn very near to us in the Cross of His Son, as near as He can come. He offers us His hand and He entreats us to take it.
That we possess the power to give Him a refusal is the baffling problem. It is a problem, but it is none the less a fact. I suppose that the liberty to take His hand carries with it somehow the liberty to refuse to take it. That is the summit of life's responsibility. A royal invitation takes the form of a command. God's invitation to men is the most regal of all commands. It is as imperious, as urgent, as beseeching as the Cross of Christ. The holy love which endured all and conquered all upon the Cross passes into the offer of His hand to you and me.
To take His hand means surrender on our part. Let there be no mistake about that. To take it means that we are done with our pride, our evasions, our self-deceptions. It means that we are ready to be done with the false and ugly things which we see in ourselves, and those other false and ugly things which we cannot see for sheer blindness, but which the pure eye of God sees so well. It means that we are ready to let the whole world go and endure every kind of hardship and loss for the sake of Him who died for as.
Jesus never bribed anyone to follow Him with promises of ease, and His Cross bribes none to-day. He offers us a hard road which looks from the distance as if it would make our feet sore and our hearts sick. It is a road "somewhat ascending" (Pilgrim's Progress).
But to take God's hand means that all is changed for us. We ourselves are changed. After all, this is on the forefront of His offer to us. He promises to make all things new for us when we make the great surrender, and He has never once broken His word. And so, when we are sick of our own futility, sick of our sins, sick of ourselves, we leap to the offer, grasp the Hand, and step upon the upward way.
If a man says, as many do say, "I am not sick nor am I likely to be sick of myself; I don't need to become a new creation," well, the words of Jesus seem to echo the answer: "They that are whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick" (Matt. 9:12). The Cross sends out its offer to all men who need the help of God, and the man who thinks he does not need that help is living in a fool's paradise.
When the world says: "Religion is only for weaklings," it is really making a boast of its blindness, but we do not resent its scorn; we pity it. What it says is true, even if the soul that says it is false. We are weak, very weak, without the help of God. I had rather a thousand times be a weakling with my hand in the hand of Christ, than be the strongest man that ever lived his proud life alone.
But he who has put his hand in that of Christ is no longer a weakling. Out of weakness he is made strong (Heb. 11:34). For the Word of the Cross offers strength and victory to all who are content to become as little children: to all, that is to say, who come down from their pride and confess themselves poor, weak, sinful folk, in absolute need of a Divine Saviour.
"Who is he that overcometh the world?" (1 John 5:5) That is a challenge as well as a question. But the challenge has never once been met save by One who met it triumphantly upon His Cross, and by those who have shared His triumph in simple and joyous faith.
Declaration, Work and Offer
And so the Word of the Cross is God's supreme Declaration, Work and Offer in Christ Jesus. "Life from the dead is in that Word." Yes, and the whole love and entreaty and urgency of God are in it.
A man who undertakes to declare this Word of God to men must tell it out plainly, fully, passionately. He dare not have a cold heart. There must be no dubiety or hesitancy in his message. He must use great plainness of speech, and his heart must be full of radiant love.
"Well may this glowing heart rejoice." (Doddridge)
In these days of dark confusion, God is calling for men and women who shall speak a plain and loving word to their fellow-men. Once and for all He has spoken His word through the Cross of Christ, and those who have heard it must pass it on. If they have really heard it they cannot but pass it on. It will melt the coldness of the world when it comes from the Cross through hearts which are hot.
"We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be ye reconciled to God" (2 Cor. 5:20). Amen.
Sermon preached by Daniel Lamont, Helensburgh, Scotland, 1920.
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