Jesus Christ died and rose again, but are you...

Glorying in the Cross

"Far be it from me to glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world hath been crucified unto me, and I unto the world." Gal. 6:14

Alfred E. Garvie, 1927: This personal confession of Paul, which comes upon us like a bright flash of sunlight out of a dark cloud, contains a historical fact, a theological truth, and an individual experience. It is in the experience that the fact becomes the truth; because for Paul, more than for any other Christian thinker, his personality was the channel of his theology; he could think as he did because he had become what he was. Since he had been crucified and been raised again with Christ experimentally [i.e., by experience], he could interpret, as no other has done, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection doctrinally. It is in this way, and this way alone, that theology can be made vital; and that in preaching, truth may come through personality.

I

In giving to the Cross this central position, we must not, however, isolate it from what went before and what followed after.

(a) Had Jesus not lived, taught, and wrought among men as He did, His death would not, and could not, have had the significance which it had for the community which had been gathered in His earthly ministry. While Paul truly describes the content of the apostolic preaching in the words, "I delivered unto you first of all that which also I received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that He was buried; and that He hath been raised on the third day according to the Scriptures " (1 Cor. 15:3-4), it must be remembered that the Apostles were companions of Jesus, and had the memory of Him still vivid, as they confronted the problem of His death and sought its solution in the teaching of the Scriptures. We can understand and prize the Cross to-day only as we learn to think, as Jesus has taught us, of God and man, sin and salvation, duty and destiny. It is the person of the Crucified that changes an instrument of torture into a symbol of sacrifice and salvation. It is the glory which streams from His truth and grace which scatters the shadows of the place of execution, Calvary.

(b) Even so, yea, still more so, the Crucifixion must not be separated from the Resurrection. Had Christ not been raised from the dead, the faith inspired by the earthly ministry would probably not have survived the shock of His death and, for the disciples as Jews, a death on which fell the curse of God (Gal. 3:13). For Paul, who knew not the earthly ministry, the Resurrection alone made the Crucifixion not only tolerable, but supremely significant and valuable. It was only after the Resurrection that the truth concealed in the fact of the Cross was disclosed. Because by the Resurrection He was "instituted Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness" (Rom. 1:4), His death was recognised as atoning, propitiatory, and reconciling. We must not then separate the Cross from what led to it, and followed upon it.

(c) We must, however, still keep it central. We must not, as many are doing to-day, confine our attention to the teaching and example, the truth and grace of the earthly ministry, and assume that we are receiving the whole divine revelation and human redemption thus. To Jesus Himself the Cross was not only inevitable as a result of His ministry, it was essential as the consummation of His vocation for God among men. Not to mention other indications, one saying, the authenticity of which there is no ground for doubting, is decisive: "The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Matt. 20:28). Such sayings as that about the bridegroom being taken away, and the new wine and the old wineskins, taken together show that at an early stage in His ministry He anticipated that the antagonism between His message and Judaism would have a tragic close.

In the later months of His ministry, at least, He was straitened [i.e., burdened], until He had been baptised with the baptism and had drunk the cup of suffering. The words at the Last Supper prove that His death meant for Him the sacrifice of the new covenant.

The large space given in the Gospels to the story of the Passion as well as the content of the apostolic preaching prove that for the primitive comunity too the Cross was central.

Paul, by the prominence which he gave to the Cross, did not give to the Christian Gospel another character than it had, did not pervert "the truth as it is in Jesus," (Eph. 4:21) as some would even rashly dare to say. There have been times in the history of the Church when the Cross lost its commanding position in Christian thought and life. It has been in all ages a stumbling-block to some, and foolishness to others (1 Cor. 1:23). But again and again has the preaching of the Cross proved the power and the wisdom of God unto salvation (1 Cor. 1:24).

In religious revivals, when Christ has been lifted up, He has drawn men unto Himself.

A mysticism which would substitute communion with the living Christ for the experience of the saving grace which comes to men from God in the Cross of Christ, has proved itself equally inadequate to the human need. It is in danger of degenerating into an unethical sentimentalism; for it ignores what for the sinful [human] race in its relation to God is the primary consideration: How can sin be forgiven? How can the sinner be delivered from his bondage, and be reconciled to God?

II

The Cross is so central in history because the truth enshrined in the fact is so essential to theology, the revelation of God which issues in the redemption of man.

(a) The description which Paul gives in the text of the Crucified, our Lord Jesus Christ, records the ascent of Christian faith. To the personal name Jesus, [Heb. Savior] significant as that was, ascribing salvation to God, was added at Caesarea Philippi the official title Messiah (Christ) [The Anointed], as the fulfilment of God's promise of a deliverer was found in Him.

After the Resurrection, the first Christian creed was, Jesus Christ is Lord [Phil. 2:11]. The ascription of that title [Lord] is much more probably due to the Jewish use of it [Adonai] for [saying the name of] God instead of the covenant name [YHWH] in the reading of the Scriptures than to any borrowing from pagan cults, as the early current use of the phrase Maranatha, "Our Lord cometh" (1 Cor. 16:22), proves. In the use of this title [Lord] the primitive community not only acknowledged Jesus as the authoritative teacher, but called Him its Lord, "because He had brought the sacrifice of His life for it, and because it was convinced that He, raised from the dead, now was sitting at God's right hand." So says Harnack, whom none could charge with theological conservatism; and he adds that it had the authority of Jesus for "placing in the centre this death, the shame of the Cross" (Das Wesen des Christentums, pp. 97, 101).

In all the types of New Testament teaching, except the Epistle of James (and its brevity may explain the omission), an atoning value and saving significance are ascribed to the death of Christ. In the New Testament the historical fact and theological truth go together.

(b) It is impossible in a brief space to expound the doctrine of the Atonement to which, after many years of study and meditation, I have been led; but a few considerations may be offered, which it is hoped may help others to apprehend [grasp] more fully the significance, and so appreciate more highly, the value of the Cross, and thus to enter into clearer understanding and closer fellowship with all believers, to whom the Cross has been what it was to Paul.

Firstly, as a martyrdom, inflicted by human unbelief and hatred and in its circumstances of shame, cruelty and mockery, the Cross exposes sin in its heinousness and hatefulness. That He who was "holy, harmless, undefiled"(Heb. 7:26), "without sin" (Heb. 4:15), "going about doing good" (Acts 10:38), loving, tender, gracious, was thus done to death, brings home to the human conscience its guilt, the separation from and opposition to God which sin involves. It is at Calvary that men are constrained to offer to God the acceptable sacrifice of contrite hearts.

Secondly, as a sacrifice, voluntarily offered by Christ in His obedience to God and devotion to man, it makes the appeal of love; and since the Son was revealing the Father to men in His Cross no less than by His teaching, it is the love of God to man which evokes man's faith. The God who can so love is the God who can be fully trusted.

There have been theories of the Atonement which have obscured the truth; the Son has been so separated from the Father, that the Son was represented as presenting the sacrifice to the Father, to render Him gracious. But it is God who is in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself (2 Cor. 5:19). What the Son suffered, the Father suffered in and with Him; and so the sacrifice is God's, the proof of His love.

Thirdly, when men at the Cross apprehend [understand] what their sin is, and what God is, their guilt and His love, they realise their need of, and are possessed by the desire for, forgiveness, the recovery of the relation to God which sin destroys. That the love of God so suffers from and for man's sin, and is not quenched, convoys the assurance that there is forgiveness with God and thus penitence and faith at the Cross receive the forgiveness of sin from God.

Fourthly, while many feel that they need go no farther in their quest for the meaning and worth of the Cross, others there are who are constrained to ask, Why must the forgiveness of sin come from the love of God in this way? Some have answered, Thus and only thus could man be sufficiently impressed with what sin is, and what God is, to repent of sin, and have faith in God's forgiveness. That this is the effect of the Cross, none can doubt; but is that the reason, and the only reason, for the Cross? Many Christian thinkers have answered No, and have sought a reason.

Fifthly, then, while the teaching of Jesus does not carry us farther than that His death was a necessity for the fulfilment of His vocation as Saviour, Paul does not attempt an answer, and men who, like Augustine, Anselm, Luther, may be said to be in the Pauline succession, have tried to reproduce his answer in the language of their own age. Paul in his answer was dealing with Jewish Pharisaism, and we cannot to-day simply repeat his terms. No other Christian doctrine so reflects its intellectual environment as does this; and so each age must have its own theory of the Atonement, and sometimes needs more than one. Each tries to show how the Cross meets what the age feels to be its deepest need. And no theory can claim to have the undivided authority of the Church behind it. In each we may find some suggestion of truth for the enrichment of our own thought.

Lastly, with much diffidence, I submit my own conclusion, reached after much labour of mind, and even distress of soul. There is necessarily in God as holy love a reaction against sin; He cannot tolerate it, or make compromise with it [for God is perfectly righteous and just]; He must condemn it, and execute judgment upon it, as He does in the consequences which in the moral order of the world attach to sin. When, as in Christ, God offered to the sinful [human] race free and full forgiveness, it was a necessity of His nature as holy love to execute judgment upon sin, not in leaving its consequences to fall on sinners, but in taking them upon Himself in the shame and scorn, sorrow and suffering, death and desolation, that sin inflicted on Christ and God in Him.

My conscience at least cannot be satisfied with a forgiveness which does not carry with it a judgment [of sin] as adequate as the forgiveness is. Such a conclusion cannot be logically demonstrated. As Jesus in Gethsemane recognised the inevitable necessity of His death on His knees in prayer, so only can we.

III

Whatever doubt or difficulty there may be about the reason for the death of Christ, its effect on those who in penitence and faith receive the grace of God, which the sacrifice of the Son and the Father in Him conveys, is manifest.

(a) It is the instrument of the creative act of God: old things pass away, all things become new (2 cor. 5:17), there is a new creation morally and religiously; the man is born [begotten] from above by the Spirit of God, and lives no longer unto the flesh, but unto the Spirit (rom. 8:4); he dies unto sin and becomes alive unto God (Rom. 6:11); he is crucified and raised again with Christ (Eph. 2:6); he passes out of darkness into God's marvellous light (1 Peter 2:9); he rises out of death in sin into life in God (Rom. 6:23); the world is crucified unto him, and he to the world (Gal. 6:14). In all these ways can the change be described.

What needs always to be emphasised is the greatness of the contrast between the life apart from Christ and the life in Christ; the life still unsaved through His sacrifice, and the life His sacrifice is saving.

(b) We must not insist on suddenness of change as essential to the reality of the experience. Paul's conversion was sudden for his consciousness, although it was not unprepared in his previous experience. Because of this suddenness, he realised more vividly, and has expressed more forcibly (some who do not understand such an experience might even say violently), the contrast. With others there is a gradual development, in which the contrast is not so vividly realised, and could not with sincerity be as forcibly expressed. What matters is that the change should be experienced, whether it be swiftly or slowly.

(c) Without attempting further to describe the change in its many and varied aspects, attention may, in closing, be called to that particular aspect which the words of Paul indicate: by the Cross the world was crucified unto him, and he unto the world. What Paul meant is more fully indicated in the passage in Philippians (3:1-2) in which he shows what he had once prized as a Jew and Pharisee, he now counted as dung that he might gain Christ. That world was not only dead, but dead through the execution of a judgment of condemnation upon it; it had ceased to have any value or attraction for him. He was dead to it, and on him too, as an apostate [deserter from the Jewish religion], judgment had been executed by his unbelieving fellow-countrymen; he had their hatred and scorn, and was enduring persecution at their hands.

The circumstances of the Christian of to-day are very different from Paul's; but is there not, and if not, should there not be, some counterpart of this experience?

(d) Many Christians are so conformed to the world around them, that they show little evidence of being transformed by the renewing of their mind (Rom. 12:2). Much as the Christian leaven may have pervaded the whole lump of human society in lands nominally Christian, yet the change is not so complete that there is never any occasion for the world to be crucified to the Christian, or for him to be crucified to the world. The customs, standards, and institutions around the Christian to-day have not yet been so transformed by the Spirit of God that he can afford to be conformed to them, if he desires to realise the Christian character.

For instance, there is on the part of many Christian business men an acquiescence in methods which from a truly Christian standpoint must be condemned. Ruthless competition, the deliberate forcing of rivals out of the trade, the driving of workers at greater speed than their bodily strength allows - these are not Christian. The success of many men in business is an evidence of their failure as Christians. There are Christian women who conform to fashion in the costliness of their dress and the luxury of their homes to such a degree that it is difficult to believe that they can be successfully cultivating the Christ-like life. In politics, men will do for party or country what they would hesitate to do in self-interest, what they certainly could not justify to a sensitive conscience.

(e) The hope of human society being Christianised does not lie with the Christians who thus conform to the world around them; it lies with those who have been so transformed by the change which the Cross of Christ has effected in them, that they are indeed crucified unto the world, and the world unto them. Much which the world values the Christian cannot prize; what he values the world must despise.

From the Cross of Christ there comes the challenge to the safe, easy, and comfortable Christianity of to-day, accepted and approved even in many Churches, to realise the antagonism, and necessary antagonism, of the world, as it now is, to all Christ is and is doing.

(f) Such nonconformity means sacrifice, it may be outward, it certainly is inward. Still, very many things that the world counts gain must be reckoned loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus as Lord (Phil. 3:7). Ambitions must be subordinated to aspirations. Human companionships must be given up for the closer communion with Christ. Hardship must take the place of comfort, and toil of ease, if the Cross is taken up, and Christ is followed.

Accordingly the Cross must be no less central in practice than in experience, in morality than in religion. And so intimately related and mutually dependent is the one upon the other that the grace of the Cross cannot be apprehended unless the duty of the Cross is accepted, and the duty of the Cross cannot be done unless the grace of the Cross is gained; the free giving and the free receiving of the Cross as Divine grace and human duty go together.

It was the love of Christ, as displayed in His Cross, which constrained Paul not to reckon himself as his own; and it is only as the Cross of Christ means to us and does for us what it meant and did for Paul that we, even as he was, will be crucified unto the world, and the world unto us.

To glory in the Cross of Christ without this crucifixion in ourselves is a vain boast; only when this result follows from that cause can it become a personal confession, which God will approve, and bless with the increase of His grace to the glory of His Name.

by Alfred E. Garvie, D.D., Principal of Hackney and New College, Hampstead, London, 1927.


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