‘May I never,’ writes Paul in Galatians 6:14, ‘boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.’
Let us note, says J.C. Ryle, what the Apostle Paul did not boast or glory in. He did not boast in his
- national privileges, cf. Php 3:5. He was a Jew by birth, a member of the favoured people of God, a child of the covenant;
- works, cf. 2 Cor 11:23. He worked tirelessly, travelling, preaching, and enduring many hardships;
- knowledge, 2 Cor 12:4. He was a man of great knowledge and insight, a gifted speaker and writer, and able to debate with Jews and Gentiles alike;
- graces. He was exceptional in his love, boldness, self-sacrifice, humility, prayerfulness;
- churchmanship. He was a chosen apostle, a founder of churches, an ordainer of ministers. He baptised, and presided at the Lord’s Supper. He held meeting for praise, prayer, and preaching. He disciples young Christians and encouraged young churches.
Paul boasted in none of these things, and neither should we.
But what are we to understand by ‘the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ’? Paul does not mean the physical wooden instrument to which Jesus was nailed and on which he died. He does not mean those afflictions and trials through which all believers must go. He means the atonement: doctrine that Christ died for sinners. This is the subject he loved to preach about. This is the subject upon which he loved to dwell in his letters. This is what he lived all his life, from the time of his conversion.
And Paul was right. Atonement through the blood of Christ is the centre truth of the whole Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. We have understood neither Scripture nor Christ until we see them in the light of the cross. We know nothing of true worship if Christ crucified is not the central theme of our services.
Why ought we to glory in the cross of Christ? Why should we dwell on such a subject, that seems so painful and unpleasant? We must not forget that Christ’s suffering on the cross were fore-ordained – they did not happen by chance or accident, but were appointed by God, Acts 2:23. Christ’s sufferings on the cross were necessary for man’s salvation – without them, the vast chasm between God and ourselves could never have been bridged.
For the cross shows
- the length and breadth of God’s love towards a sinful world, Jn 3:16. Not in his works of creation and providence, but in the cross, do we see the fulness of God’s love for the lost.
- the exceeding sinfulness of sin in the sight of God. Not in the history of the flood, or Sodom and Gomorrah, or the exile of the Jews, but in the cross, do we see the full depths of human sin.
- the fulness and completeness of the salvation God has provided for sinners. Not in the Bible’s general declarations of God’s mercy, but in the cross, do we learn that full provision has been made for our incalculable debts.
- the reasons we have for being holy. Not in merely reciting the ten commandments, or in meditating the rewards of heaven, or the punishments of hell, but in the cross, do we realise most fully our solemn obligations to live holy lives.
- the motives we have for cheerfulness and contentment. We may well contemplate God’s sovereignty, wisdom, providence, and love. But it is the cross that most fully demonstrates that God will withhold no good thing from us, Rom 8:32.
- the assurance we may have that we shall never be cast away. We do not take comfort from our own gifts and graces, our faith, love, and zeal. We look to the cross, and see that he who went to such lengths to redeem us will not let our souls perish after all. What Jesus has paid for, he will not lose.
So, then, the cross is:-
- the distinctive feature of the Christian faith. Other religions have laws and moral precepts, forms and ceremonies, rewards and punishments. But no other tells of a dying saviour. To teach the Christian faith without reference to the cross would be as foolish as trying to explain the solar system without reference to the Sun.
- the strength of a minister. Like a soldier without arms, an artist without pencil, a pilot without compass, like a labourer without his tools, would be a minister without the message of the cross. God will honour the ministry of those who honour the cross.
- the secret of missionary success. Not the message of the mere existence of God, not the message of morality, but the message of Christ crucified, has and will continue to win victories in every land.
- the foundation of a church’s success. All things may be done decently and in order. There may be splendid ceremonies, beautiful music and interesting sermons. But without the cross no good will be done. People may be amused, but they will not be fed.
- the grand centre of union among true Christians. Our differences in doctrine and practice may be many. But if we really and sincerely glory in the cross of Christ, we are brothers.
- if you are living in any kind of sin, let the cross draw you to repentance;
- if you are enquiring the way toward heaven, let the cross invite you to Jesus Christ;
- if you are confused by things in the Bible you cannot explain, see in the cross God’s message written in plain letters that all can understand;
- if you are a distressed believer, let the cross remind you that God regards you will love and not malice;
- if you are a believer who longs to be more holy, look to the cross and find your attitudes and affections renewed;
- if you are a dying believer, behold the cross of Christ, and you will not feel forsaken.
Summarising Old Paths, 239-262