Exalt the Cross! God has hung the destiny of the race upon it. Other things we may do in the realm of ethics, and on the lines of philanthropic reforms; but our main duty converges into setting that one glorious beacon of salvation, Calvarys Cross, before the gaze of every immortal soul.
When Gods children pass under the shadow of the cross of Calvary, they know that through that shadow lies their passage to the great white throne. For them Gethsemane is as paradise. God fills it with sacred presences; its solemn silence is broken by the music of tender promises, its awful darkness softened and brightened by the sunlight of Heavenly faces and the music of angel wings.
We see that brow bruised; we hear that dying groan; and while the priests scoff and the devils rave, and the lightnings of Gods wrath are twisted into a wreath for that bloody mount, you and I will join the cry, the supplication, of the penitent malefactor, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.
The mob that hounded Christ from Jerusalem to the place of a skull has never been dispersed, but is augmenting yet, as many of the learned men of the world and great men of the world come out from their studies and their laboratories and their palaces, and cry, Away with this man! Away with him! The most bitter hostility which many of the learned men of this day exercise in any direction they exercise against Jesus Christ the Son of God, the Saviour of the world.
Christ took hold of the work of the worlds saving in a larger way than it is possible for us to do, and therefore the burden of His undertaking came upon Him in a heavier, wider, and more crushing way than it can come upon us; and therefore, while it overwhelmed Him in sorrow, our smaller mission and lighter task can with entire propriety leave us buoyant and gladsome.
The essence of that by which Jesus overcame the world was not suffering, but obedience. Yes, men may puzzle themselves and their hearers over the question where the power of the life of Jesus and the death of Jesus lay; but the soul of the Christian always knows that it lay in the obedience of Christ. He was determined at every sacrifice to do His Fathers will. Let us remember that; and the power of Christs sacrifice may enter into us, and some little share of the redemption of the world may come through us, as the great work came through Him.
By the cross we, too, are crucified with Christ; but alive in Christ. We are no more rebels, but servants; no more servants, but sons! Let it be counted folly, says Hooker, or fury, or frenzy, or whatever else; it is our wisdom and our comfort. We care for no knowledge in the world but this, that man hath sinned, and that God hath suffered; that God has made Himself the Son of Man, and that men are made the righteousness of God.
All His life long Christ was the light of the world, but the very noontide hour of His glory was that hour when the shadow of eclipse lay over all the land, and He hung on the Cross dying in the dark. At His eventide it was light, and He endured the Cross, despising the shame; and, lo! the shame flashed up into the very brightness of glory, and the very ignominy and the suffering were the jewels of His crown.
We may say that on the first Good Friday afternoon was completed that great act by which light conquered darkness and goodness conquered sin. That is the wonder of our Saviours crucifixion. There have been victories all over the world, but wherever we look for the victor we expect to find him with his heel upon the neck of the vanquished. The wonder of Good Friday is that the victor lies vanquished by the vanquished one. We have to look deeper into the very heart and essence of things before we can see how real the victory is that thus hides itself under the guise of defeat.
And thus He had lived, and thus the world rewarded Him! For lies and baseness, for selfish greed and destructive ambition, for guilty wealth and mean compliance, the world has a diadem; for perfect holiness it has the cross! The darkness quenched the Light, His own disowned Him. They had repaid by hatred that life of love; envy, malice, slander, calumny, false witness, had done its work. Jesus had been excommunicated, hunted as a fugitive, with a price upon His head, buffeted, insulted, spit upon, mocked, scourged, crowned with thornsthus had the world shown its gratitude to its Redeemer; and the end was here! After thirty hours of sleepless agony Jesus was hanging upon the cross. Infinite malignity! Could there be any greater proof of mans ruin than the fact that this was the sole reward which was requited to immeasurable love?
Yet once more that cross moves closer, and yet more intensely and eagerly He who hangs upon it seems to speak to us, and the burden of His words is: I bring to you that which is highest and best for time and eternity; I bring to you the assurance that there is no grief and no sorrow that is not always in the Fathers sight and may not be turned into blessing. I bring to you a power by which evil thoughts and tendencies may be destroyed. I bring to you whose memories are full of sad and bad recollections the assurance that no life can have been so wicked, no past so foul, no strength so far gone, as to cut off from the love of God and His willingness to save. Are you willing to hear that voice and to respond to its invitation?
So shall we join the disciples of our Lord, keeping faith in Him in spite of the crucifixion, and making ready, by our loyalty to Him in the days of His darkness, for the time when we shall enter into His triumph in the days of His light. And the beauty of it is that the same method runs throughout the disciples work which ran through His work. Christs method is repeating itself in the work of His disciples for ever and ever. As He who first gained the great victory overcame by undergoing the power of evil, shall we be surprised if that is the sort of victory that God calls upon us to gain? It is the victory which it is always the best to gain which makes the richest victory for any soul.
We cannot have the heart that Christ had and not in the same degree have His suffering. We may be sound in our doctrinal position, fight doctrinal heresy as though it were an exhalation from the under-world, be instant in our attendance upon the means of grace, statedly participate in the service memorial of our Lords dying love, but a loving heart is what makes out the major part of the whole Christian mattera heart, therefore, that feels others burdens and griefs as though they were its own; and one cannot have such a heart in the midst of this world and not have an aching heart. It is aside from the mark to say that that makes of the Christian religion a gloomy religion. The gloom is not in the religion, the gloom is in the world, and sorrow of spirit like that of our Lord is simply the way tender-heartedness like that of our Lord is certain to be affected when the shadow of the worlds suffering falls upon it.
Nothing is further from the way in which Christs apostles and Christ Himself teach us to regard the cross than the morbid, effeminate, gloating luxury of self-stimulated emotion. The unnatural self-torture of the flagellant, the hysterics of the convulsionary, the iron courage of the mistaken penitents, are manifestly out of place in contemplating that cross, which is the symbol of sin defeated, of sorrow transmuted, of effort victorious, which is the pledge of Gods peace with man, and mans peace with God, which is the comfort of the penitent, which is the inspiration of the philanthropist, which is the symbol of divine charity on fields of slaughter, which was the banner in the van of every battle which good has waged with ill! The cross does not mean whipping, anguish, morbid wailing, morose despair; it means joy, it means peace, it means exultation, it means the atonement, it means the redemption, it means the liberty of humanity, it means the advance of holiness, it means the remission of sins!
A more sympathetic consideration of the personal element in the sufferings of our Lord, the meditation upon the sorrows of the Messiah, would prove a source of spiritual quickening not only to those who are accustomed to live in the region of philosophic thought, but also to those who are in the midst of evangelistic work. The following of Christ down into the valley of humiliation and death, the study, day by day, of the last days of His earthly life, the reverent watch by the cross, the waiting for the resurrectionthese are spiritual exercises which cannot fail to give warmth and reality to the Christian faith. The majority of Christian believers, without reference to sect, now observe Easter. By the logic of events no less than by spiritual sympathy, Passion week deserves its place in the calendar of the private Christian; and the more remote the thoughts which it suggests may be to his ordinary religious thinking, the more helpful they may be to the spirit of devotion.