|« Prev||Sermon XVIII. The Spiritual Cross.||Next »|
THE SPIRITUAL CROSS.
“About the ninth hour, Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying-, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?”
I HAVE chosen these awful words, spoken in our Lord’s last agony, that we may have, by the help of the Eternal Spirit through whom He offered Himself to God, a fuller and truer understanding of the depth of His bitter passion. The feelings of our lower nature so strongly draw us to dwell on the crucifixion which He suffered in the flesh, that we think too little of the mystery of His spiritual agony. And yet the pains He suffered in the body are but faint tokens of the agony He suffered in the soul. The torment of the fleshly crucifixion, unutterably great as it was, lasted for a few hours only, and for once; but His spiritual agony was at all times throughout His ministry on earth. He suffered day by day. His last sufferings in the flesh were not endured alone: they were shared by two men like ourselves, and their fleshly pangs outlasted His. But He was suffering a twofold crucifixion. His cross was, as it were, a sacrament of sorrows, having an outward and an inward anguish. Our eyes fasten on the material cross, the outward and earthlier, the more human portion of His sufferings: but His intenser agonies were all within; his keenest anguish was the spiritual cross: and this is what we will now for a while consider.
In these words of the twenty-second Psalm, it is plain that He spoke of more than His agonising death. They were no doubt in part wrung from Him by the torment of His wounded body; but they have a deeper meaning. This forsaking was manifestly one of a more awful and oppressive kind. Of such a holy mystery it is hard to speak without seeming to be guilty of an over-boldness, which makes our thoughts sound like irreverence: it is a depth rather to be mused over than to be spoken of: so that when we hear our own thoughts aloud, they seem almost more than we designed to venture on.
Let us, then, consider the nature of His spiritual cross. It was the being brought under all the conditions of a sinner, though Himself without sin. Sin tried upon Him all its powers; first to lure, afterwards to destroy. As, for instance:
1. He was tempted by direct suggestions of evil. We read that He “was led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.” It was a foremost part of His warfare with the powers of spiritual wickedness. All before Him had sinned. Satan had won his masteries over all. The first man Adam, the patriarchs, prophets, and saints, all God’s earthly servants in their day had sinned. Hitherto the prince of this world had triumphed, carrying all before him. But now was manifested one more servant of God, with whom the whole contest lay. He was brought into the world as the leader and prince of saints; and all powers of evil thronged about Him. How far the true mystery of His person was known, is not revealed to us: but we find the tempter saying, “If thou be the Son of God,” plainly shewing that he knew at least the name of Jesus. Be this as it may, all powers of evil gathered upon Him, and strove with Him. He was assailed with a temptation to mistrust His heavenly Father, to be vainly confident of God’s protection, to forego His own allegiance and homage for a mighty bribe. All these suggestions of evil were made to pass vividly before His spiritual consciousness; and who shall conceive the pangs of such a trial? The lures of sin are hateful just in the measure of the holiness of him that is tempted. A sinner has no distress in the worst solicitations of evil; even though resisted, it is not the solicitation, but the self-denial that grieves and galls him. A holy man has bitterness in his very soul at the consciousness of being tempted, and, in resisting, is refreshed by a sense of mastery; but the conception of evil in his heart is full of shame and sorrow. And so to the end of life; as men grow in holiness, they grow in a keen sensitiveness of soul which makes temptation all but intolerable. But with the Holy One, who can express the affliction of being the direct subject of temptation? To hate evil as God hates it, and to be tempted as man is tempted, is a humiliation and a sorrow, as of iron entering into the soul. Surely all the after-assaults of spiritual wickedness to destroy His life were as nothing, compared to the awful mystery of being addressed by the allurements of sin. These approaches of the wicked one were made to the will of the Son of God, with the design of withdrawing the consent of His pure soul from His heavenly Father. They were a thousand-fold more hateful and harrowing than the falsehood of His suborned accusers, or the scourging of His sinless flesh.
2. Again; He suffered a perpetual unmingled sorrow for the sins of men. All the day long He was the mark of their gainsaying and contradiction. Every form of falsehood, unfair dealing, misinterpretation, insidious address, malignant slander, were heaped upon Him. All around Him He be held a conscious resistance of the light of truth. Very keen is the suffering of false construction from deaf and prejudiced hearts. We know little of it; but that little is enough. There is an unreasonableness about minds heated into opposition which nothing can allay; and minds otherwise not corrupt pass on into obstinate and sinful perversity. All this He suffered so as never man endured before. The lawyers stood up and questioned, tempting Him; the Pharisees and Herodians sought to entangle Him in his talk: others watched His words, that they might find wherein to accuse Him. They gave to His words such refined perversions of meaning, as are manifold more cutting than the blackest falsehood. Slander is characteristically devilish. They reviled Him for the works which they could not deny. “He casteth out devils by Beelzebub the prince of the devils.” “Say we not well, that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil?” We can conceive very little of this bitter sorrow; for in Him it was dashed with a far bitterer taste, of which we can know still less. The sorest and most hateful part of this contradiction was the ingratitude of man. With the full foresight of all He should suffer for their sakes, and the consciousness that all He then suffered was for their salvation, He bore at their hands all manner of wrong and subtilty. And to this sense of their ingratitude was joined a knowledge of their self-destruction. Sad and woful sight in the eyes of Him by whom all things were made, to see mankind, God’s chiefest creature in this visible world, marred from its original holiness, “earthly, sensual, devilish.” To Him the depths of this alienation were ever open; He saw the world of enmity against God which had entered the soul of man. And doubtless as He read the whole out line of the fall, in each sinner that reviled, or lay in wait to ensnare Him, so did He look on to the working out of the mystery of iniquity in the new creation of God. “Have I not chosen you twelve? and one of you is a devil.” Surely the sin of Judas sat upon His heart before that last hour, when He said, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.” He carried about with Him the daily bur den of the foreseen sins of His enemies and of His friends. All the awful guilt of His last passion, the betrayal, the false judgment, the impious mockery, the scourge, the cross, the self-accursing cry of God’s apostate people, were all foretasted; and surely the forsaking of His Apostles, and the denial of Peter, were not veiled from His sight. And He that afterwards, in the isle of Patmos, unfolded before the eyes of St. John the stream of the world’s history, and the fortunes of His Church in the world, daily foresaw all things that should come hereafter. The sin of the world, and, worse than all, the sin of His Church, lay heavily upon Him day by day. Shall we not believe that the schisms, and strife, and mutual conflict of Churches, the dying out of light, the darkening of truth, the growth of false traditions, the falling away of the latter times, and all the chequered train of these eighteen hundred years, were all before His sight in whom dwelt “all the fulness of the Godhead bodily?” Sin in all its mysteries of origin, and depth, and breadth, and all its masteries, even to the end of the world, were spread before Him who was, by peculiar title, “the Man of Sorrows,” “the Lamb that taketh away the sin of the world.” And as He said to the women that bewailed Him, when He was led away to Calvary, “Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me; but weep for yourselves and for your children. For, behold, the days are coming, in the which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck. Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us. For if they do these things in the green tree, what shall be done in the dry?”6767 St. Luke xxiii. 28-31.—so doubtless the destinies of His Church on earth stood like a lowering horizon behind the mount of crucifixion. The rents and wounds of His mystical body already pierced His spirit; and the false kiss which the world should give, to the betrayal of His Church; and the afflictions of His saints, and the tyranny of the strong, and the pampered self-pleasing of soft spirits, and the plagues of worldliness, and the foreseen apostacy of the latter days,—all these dwelt heavily on Him to whom all things to come are as things that are.
3. And, once more; He suffered, throughout we know not how large a portion of His whole life, the natural fear of death and of His coming agony. It is strange that, while we dwell chiefly on the thought of His fleshly crucifixion, we so hastily pass by these natural affections of our manhood wherewith He was encompassed. In His lifetime we forget His fleshly nature in His spiritual; at His death we forget His spiritual in His fleshly. Now it is plain that his whole life, so far as revealed to us in the Gospel, was full of a sad and afflicting foresight of the cup which His Father should give Him: therefore He was wont to say, “Mine hour is not yet come;” and therefore He spoke of “the sign of the prophet Jonas;” and of His lifting up. The fear of death is one of the sinless infirmities of our manhood; and this He bare no less than thirst or hunger. We know with what a piercing strength the first glimpses of a coming sorrow shoot in upon us: how they chequer our whole life, and overshadow all things; how sad thoughts glance off from all we do, or say, or listen to; how the mind converts every thing into its own feeling and master-thought. Even the smallest things in life have great capacities of sorrow, and hold great measures of sadness. It is not only on the greater and more set occasions that our afflictions overwhelm us. Perhaps our keenest sufferings are in sudden recollections, remote associations, indirect hints, words, tones, little acts of unconscious friends. And even so it was with Him. It was not only when Moses and Elias, in the mount of the transfiguration, alloyed the brightness of His glory by speaking of “the decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem,” but in all the lesser events of life His coming agony rose up before Him. When a lowly woman anointed Him with ointment, He saw in it the preparations of the grave: “She hath anointed my body to the burying.” The very spikenard had in it the savour of death. “Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptised with the baptism that I am baptised with?” “I have a baptism to be baptised withal, and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!” And, as the time drew nigh, this sinless shrinking of our manhood from the agonies of His passion was more clearly manifested. He grew, if I may so speak, fuller of the thought, and began to teach His disciples how many things He must suffer;6868 St. Matt. xvi. 21, and xx. 18, 19. foretelling every step of His last afflictions, from His betrayal to His cross: and when the hour was come, He was straitened with a sinless impatience for its accomplishment; and He bade the traitor to do his work with a friendly speed: “What thou doest do quickly:” and after wards in the garden, when He had said, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death,”6969 St. Matt. xxvi. 38. who shall venture to imagine what were His hidden agonies; what it was that thrice wrung from Him, even after the act of self-oblation, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me;” what visions, it may be, of the cup and of the cross were held out to Him; how He wrestled, until by a direct consent, and choice of the will, He drank it, in foretaste, to the dregs? As yet His fleshly crucifixion had not begun. It was His spiritual cross; the sharp inward wounding of the soul, that crucified even the body before its time, and impressed its passion upon His earthlier nature. “His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”7070 St. Luke xxii. 44.
4. And, as the chief of all His sorrows, He suffered we know not what darkness of soul upon the cross. True it is, that the Holy One of God, even when most beset by afflictions from without,, was calm and illuminated within. The rays of His Father’s face shone secretly in upon Him. To Him, as to all saints of God, all the avenues of heaven were open. The pure lights and soft dews of His Father’s kingdom were His continual refreshment. It was not for His own sake that He endured a darkness of soul; neither for His own sake did He hunger, or thirst, or become man, or die: so, like wise, whatsoever mysterious desolation of heart came upon Him, He endured as the Saviour of sinners. He was “made sin for us.” He was made to know the wages of sin, even as sinners must needs know it; and desolation of soul, and the forsaking of the light of God’s countenance, is our portion in the lot of sinners: and this He suffered even as He suffered the scourge and the crown of thorns. It may be that, as soul and body were afterwards separated, so the shining of His Father’s face was for a time concealed. He learned the full misery of fallen man. Of all His passion we know but a little part: His “unknown sufferings” were beyond them all: of them we can know nothing. We can gather them only from His own words, few and broken, when He was passing through His hidden agonies: “If it be possible,” and “Why hast Thou forsaken me?” But, what death is: what shall be after death: what, in the hour of passing, is the world which lies between the sinner’s soul and God: to what mysterious nearness of conformity to the doom of a transgressor He humbled Himself for our redemption from death and hell, is not revealed: all this, whatsoever it be, He suffered: but we are speaking of what we know not.
This, then, is a dim outline of His spiritual cross. The visible sufferings on Calvary were the filling up of His afflictions, and the symbol or revelation of His hidden agonies: and it was in these that the full mastery over sin was chiefly won. The body, though a partaker both in sin and death, is not the chief either in the transgression or the penalty, but the spirit of man. It was on his spiritual nature that God’s image was stamped in the beginning; and through the power of that spiritual being he became a rebel against God. The soul was the seat of the rebellion; there it was that the powers of spiritual wickedness erected their dominion; and in that same region of His being, the Man who alone was without sin, suffered all the penalty which sin had drawn upon the world. In a word, what pain is to the body, sorrow is to the soul; and the scourge, the crown of thorns, and the cross, are, as it were, a parable of bitterness, anguish, and affliction.
Now from all this we may understand what that cross is of which all must be partakers: not the visible material cross, but that which is more real than the reality of fleshly crucifixion. It is not so much by sufferings in the body as in the spirit, that we are likened to Him. The railing thief was more nearly conformed to His visible passion than all, save one or two, in all the multitude of saints. Yet, though conformed to Him in the flesh, he was not likened to Him in spirit. St. John and the blessed Virgin did not suffer indeed in the flesh, yet were they truly nailed with Him upon His cross. So in all ages of the Church, kings and princes, no less than bishops and pastors of His flock, not only in sackcloth and solitude, but in soft clothing and in the throng of royal courts, have borne the marks of the Lord Jesus, and shared the reality of His passion. Weak women too, moving in silence and a veil, unseen of the world, and never breathed on by its rough oppositions, have both carried their cross with Him, and on it hung beside Him. They have died with Him in will, and in sacrifice of self; in mortifying the choices and affections of their earthlier nature; in a glad forsaking of bright hopes and fair promises in life, sitting at His feet without distraction, and bearing withal a burden of many sorrows, partly the awful tokens of their Master’s love, and partly laid upon them by the wrong and enmity of the world. Among many samples, let this one suffice. We read in the life of one to whom was meted out a death-sickness of uncommon anguish, that as she drew near the end, for a long season she was uncheered by the divine consolations which were the wonted stay of her soul. She complained in sadness to her spiritual guide of this strange and appalling desolation, until she learned to read in it the gift of a higher measure of conformity to Him, who in His last passion cried aloud, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” In like manner there is many a sorrow fearfully hidden from the world’s hard gaze, many an overlooked affliction, many a piercing of heart by the lesser sharpnesses of our common griefs, which not the less, when borne in silence for God, make the mourning spirit to partake of His mysterious cross.
There is one more truth that we may learn from what has been said. I mean, what necessity there is that all should thus be crucified with Him. Sin is an inward and unseen malady: though manifested in act, its origin and being is in the spirit. “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts;” therefore its overthrow must be by an inward mastery: and this is to be won only by suffering the buffetings of sin, rather than yield to its dominion. The strife is within a man. It is by a patient wrestling with temptation; by a steady rule over our own temper; by a life of high and severe fellowship with Christ, that we must be likened to Him. There is no smoother, no other way of eternal life. Let this be a warning to all sinful and shallow Christians; to all easy, formal, exterior minds; and to the worldly, self-sparing, and light-hearted. They that have no fellowship with the Man of Sorrows have no share of His cross, no promise of His crown. Let this be also a consolation for all the blessed company of the sorrowful; for all who, with a pricked or broken heart, are moving upward against the stream of this visible world, which bears down in a heavy tide away from God. They must be buffeted by it, or be borne along with it. But all this is likening them to the Lord of sufferings, and making them partakers of His sorrow. In a little time all will be over. It is sharp and piercing, but it cleanses and purifies; it moulds and draws the spirit into the form of the Son of God; it puts in the sharper lines and the deeper colouring; it is as the shadow of His crown of thorns. Blessed are they that have entered into the company of mourners: life has nothing more for them either to hope or fear; they linger on in this visible world, but their true life is in the world unseen. Blessed lot! how calm, how even, how unmoved! all has been suffered: they are “afraid of no evil tidings,” of no new and sudden strokes; all is known. No joy nor sorrow now can shake them from their rest. They are of his fellowship who said, “Henceforth let no man trouble me; for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.”7171 Gal. vi. 17.
|« Prev||Sermon XVIII. The Spiritual Cross.||Next »|