While things continue to be chaotic in the world around us, I want to encourage you to keep our eyes on what is important, edifying, essential, and praiseworthy: the cross of the gospel, the content of the gospel, and the call gospel. I will be posting on this specifically over the next few days on seven key things that constitute the genuine gospel of Jesus; and seven things that should mark any gospel call to all people everywhere, imploring them to be reconciled to God through our Lord Jesus Christ. It is a very important and critical discussion, debate and dialogue that needs to continue and needs to be biblically addressed with humility, grace, truth and courage. Here is also a broadcast that you need to listen to in its entirety.
This article in three parts on the cross by J.C. Ryle is excellent foundation for our discussion. I have subtitled this post: "the salvation of sinners and the satisfaction of God." Here we clearly see the dual purpose of the cross:
Firstly, God's holiness cannot tolerate sin; His justice demands sinners be punished for all have broken His law; His wrath that burns against sinners has to be quenched. God must be satisfied! This is the primary purpose of the cross: Christ died for God (Isaiah 53; Romans 3:21-26). The theological term is propitiation (Roms. 2:25; Heb. 2:17; 1 John 2:2). This is the glory of the cross (read Eph. 1:4-14).How can sinful people, dead in their trespasses and sins and who are by nature children of wrath, have peace with God? Come to the cross and look unto Jesus (Heb. 12:2). He gave His life freely on the cross for those He came to save beloved (John 17; Eph. 1:4-5; 2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 1:1); and then was raised for our justification (Roms. 4:23-25). He was resurrected bodily from the dead three days later and now is seated at the right hand of the throne of God interceding for His bride as Lord and King. What a wonderful, merciful Savior we serve... amen?
Secondly, the cross is the salvation of sinners through the substitutionary death of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is the place where God's love is demonstrated for us; where we are justified; where Jesus was clothed with every sin, that would ever be committed, by everyone, that would ever believe. And the most amazing transaction occurs: "For He how knew no sin, became sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Cor. 5:21). He though sinless and holy was clothed with our sin; and we though sinful from conception are clothed with His perfect righteousness. On the cross Jesus was treated as if He lived our life, so that we by grace through faith in Him are treated as if we lived His life. The is the great doctrine of imputation. 1 John 4:10 says, "In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins."
II. Let me explain, in the second place, what we are to understand by "the cross of Christ."
The 'cross' is an expression that is used in more than one meaning in the Bible. What did Paul mean when he said, "I boast in the cross of Christ," in the Epistle to the Galatians? This is the point I now wish to examine closely and make clear.
The cross sometimes means that wooden cross, on which the Lord Jesus Christ was nailed and put to death on Calvary. This is what Paul had in his mind's eye, when he told the Philippians that Christ "became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." (Phil. 2:8.) This is not the cross in which Paul boasted. He would have shrunk with horror from the idea of boasting in a mere piece of wood. I have no doubt he would have denounced the Roman Catholic adoration of the crucifix, as profane, blasphemous, and idolatrous.
The cross sometimes means the afflictions and trials which believers in Christ have to go through, if they follow Christ faithfully, for their religion's sake. This is the sense in which our Lord uses the word when He says, "He who takes not his cross and follows after Me, cannot be my disciple." (Matt. 10:38.) This also is not the sense in which Paul uses the word when he writes to the Galatians. He knew that cross well—he carried it patiently. But he is not speaking of it here.
But the cross also means, in some places, the doctrine that Christ died for sinners upon the cross—the atonement that He made for sinners, by His suffering for them on the cross—the complete and perfect sacrifice for sin which He offered up, when He gave His own body to be crucified. In short, this one word, "the cross," stands for Christ crucified, the only Savior. This is the meaning in which Paul uses the expression, when he tells the Corinthians, "the preaching of the cross is to those who perish foolishness." (1 Cor. 1:18.) This is the meaning in which he wrote to the Galatians, "God forbid that I should boast, except in the cross." He simply meant, "I boast in nothing but Christ crucified, as the salvation of my soul."
"By the cross of Christ the Apostle understands the all-sufficient, expiatory, and satisfactory sacrifice of Christ upon the cross, with the whole work of our redemption; in the saving knowledge of whereof he professes he will glory and boasts."—Cudworth on Galatians. 1613.
"Touching these words, I do not find that any expositor, either ancient or modern, Popish, or Protestant, writing on this place, does expound the cross here mentioned of the sign of the cross—but of the profession of faith in Him who was hanged on the cross."—Mayer's Commentary. 1631.
"This is rather to be understood of the cross which Christ suffered for us, than of that we suffer for Him."—Leigh's Annotations. 1650.
Jesus Christ crucified was the joy and delight, the comfort and the peace, the hope and the confidence, the foundation and the resting-place, the ark and the refuge, the food and the medicine of Paul's soul. He did not think of what he had done himself, and suffered himself. He did not meditate on his own goodness, and his own righteousness. He loved to think of what Christ had done, and Christ had suffered—of the death of Christ, the righteousness of Christ, the atonement of Christ, the blood of Christ, the finished work of Christ. In this he did boast. This was the sun of his soul.
This is the subject he loved to preach about. He was a man who went to and fro on the earth, proclaiming to sinners that the Son of God had shed His own heart's blood to save their souls. He walked up and down the world telling people that Jesus Christ had loved them, and died for their sins upon the cross. Mark how he says to the Corinthians, "I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins." (1 Cor. 15:3.) "I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified." (1 Cor. 2:2.) He, a blaspheming, persecuting Pharisee, had been washed in Christ's blood. He could not hold his peace about it. He was never weary of telling the story of the cross.
This is the subject he loved to dwell upon when he wrote to believers. It is wonderful to observe how full his epistles generally are of the sufferings and death of Christ—how they run over with "thoughts that breathe and words that burn," about Christ's dying love and power. His heart seems full of the subject. He enlarges on it constantly—he returns to it continually. It is the golden thread that runs through all his doctrinal teaching and practical exhortations. He seems to think that the most advanced Christian can never hear too much about the cross.
"Christ crucified is the sum of the Gospel, and contains all the riches of it. Paul was so much taken with Christ, that nothing sweeter than Jesus could drop from his pen and lips. It is observed that he has the word "Jesus" five hundred times in his Epistles."—Charnock. 1684.
This is what he lived upon all his life, from the time of his conversion. He tells the Galatians, "The life that I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me." (Galat. 2:20.) What made him so strong to labor? What made him so willing to work? What made him so unwearied in endeavoring to save some? What made him so persevering and patient? I will tell you the secret of it all. He was always feeding by faith on Christ's body and Christ's blood. Jesus crucified was the food and drink of his soul.
And we may rest assured that Paul was right. Depend upon it, the cross of Christ—the death of Christ on the cross to make atonement for sinners—is the center truth in the whole Bible. This is the truth we begin with when we open Genesis. The seed of the woman bruising the serpent's head is nothing else but a prophecy of Christ crucified. This is the truth that shines out, though veiled, all through the law of Moses, and the history of the Jews. The daily sacrifice, the passover lamb, the continual shedding of blood in the tabernacle and temple, all these were emblems of Christ crucified. This is the truth that we see honored in the vision of heaven before we close the book of Revelation. "In the midst of the throne and of the four beasts," we are told, "and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain." (Rev. 5:6.) Even in the midst of heavenly glory we get a view of Christ crucified. Take away the cross of Christ, and the Bible is a dark book. It is like the Egyptian hieroglyphics without the key that interprets their meaning—curious and wonderful—but of no real use.
Let every reader of this paper mark what I say. You may know a good deal about the Bible. You may know the outlines of the histories it contains, and the dates of the events described, just as a man knows the history of England. You may know the names of the men and women mentioned in it, just as a man knows Caesar, Alexander the Great, or Napoleon. You may know the several precepts of the Bible, and admire them, just as a man admires Plato, Aristotle, or Seneca. But if you have not yet found out that Christ crucified is the foundation of the whole volume, you have read your Bible hitherto to very little profit. Your religion is a heaven without a sun, an arch without a key-stone, a compass without a needle, a clock without spring or weights, a lamp without oil. It will not comfort you. It will not deliver your soul from hell.
Mark what I say again. You may know a good deal about Christ, by a kind of head knowledge. You may know who He was, and where He was born, and what He did. You may know His miracles, His sayings, His prophecies, and His ordinances. You may know how He lived, and how He suffered, and how He died. But unless you know the power of Christ's cross by experience—unless you know and feel within that the blood shed on that cross has washed away your own particular sins—unless you are willing to confess that your salvation depends entirely on the work that Christ did upon the cross—unless this be the case, Christ will profit you nothing. The mere knowing Christ's name will never save you. You must know His cross, and His blood, or else you will die in your sins.
"If our faith stops in Christ's life, and does not fasten upon His blood, it will not be justifying faith. His miracles, which prepared the world for His doctrines; His holiness, which fitted Himself for His sufferings, had been insufficient for us without the addition of the cross." Charnock. 1684.
As long as you live, beware of a religion in which there is not much of the cross. You live in times when the warning is sadly needful. Beware, I say again, of a religion without the cross.
There are hundreds of places of worship, in this day, in which there is everything almost except the cross. There is carved oak, and sculptured stone; there is stained glass, and brilliant painting; there are solemn services, and a constant round of ordinances; but the real cross of Christ is not there. Jesus crucified is not proclaimed in the pulpit. The Lamb of God is not lifted up, and salvation by faith in Him is not freely proclaimed. And hence all is wrong. Beware of such places of worship. They are not apostolic. They would not have satisfied Paul.
"Paul determined to know nothing else but Jesus Christ and Him crucified. But many manage the ministry as if they had taken up a contrary determination—even to know anything except Jesus Christ and Him crucified."—Traill. 1690.
There are thousands of religious books published in our times, in which there is everything except the cross. They are full of directions about sacraments, and praises of the Church. They abound in exhortations about holy living, and rules for the attainment of perfection. They have plenty of fonts and crosses, both inside and outside. But the real cross of Christ is left out. The Savior, and His work of atonement and complete salvation, are either not mentioned, or mentioned in an unscriptural way. And hence they are worse than useless. Beware of such books. They are not apostolic. They would never have satisfied Paul.
Paul boasted in nothing but the cross. Strive to be like him. Set Jesus crucified fully before the eyes of your soul. Listen not to any teaching which would interpose anything between you and Him. Do not fall into the old Galatian error—think not that anyone in this day is a better guide than the apostles. Do not be ashamed of the "old paths," in which men walked who were inspired by the Holy Spirit. Let not the vague talk of modern teachers, who speak great swelling words about "catholicity," and "the church," disturb your peace, and make you loose your hands from the cross. Churches, ministers, and sacraments, are all useful in their way—but they are not Christ crucified. Do not give Christ's honor to another. "He who boasts, let him boast in the Lord." (1 Cor. 1:1.)