Christian at the Cross
“Now I saw in my dream that the highway, up which Christian was to go, was fenced on either side with a wall, and that wall was called Salvation. Up this way therefore did burdened Christian run, but not without great difficulty because of the load on his back. He ran thus till he came to a place somewhat ascending, and upon that place stood a cross, and a little below in the bottom a sepulchre.”
A VOICE said “Away, away to Calvary!” Yet he trembled at the voice, for he said within himself, “Why should I go thither, for there my blackest sin was committed; there I murdered the Saviour by my transgressions.” But Mercy beckoned and said, “Come, come away, poor sinner!” And the sinner followed. The chains were on his legs and hands, but he crept as best he could, till he came to the foot of the hill called Calvary, on the summit of which he saw a cross. O sinner, I would that thou wouldst stand at the foot of the cross, and think of Jesus till thou couldst find comfort! I believe the shortest way to faith is to consider well the object of faith. The true way to get comfort is not to try to comfort yourself away from the cross, but think of Christ dying for you till you are comforted; say unto your soul, “I will never remove from the cross until I am washed in this precious blood:
“ ‘Blest Saviour, at Thy feet I lie,
Here to receive a cure or die;
But grace forbids that painful fear,
Almighty grace, which triumphs here.’ ”
Healing came to the sin-bitten by looking at the serpent, not by looking at their own wounds, nor yet by hearing about the cure of others; and, even so, healing will come to you, not by looking at sin, nor hearing about Christ, so much as by fixing your mind’s eye upon the cross, and meditating upon Him who died thereon, till, as by considering His merits, you believe on Him, and so are saved.
“So I saw in my dream, that just as Christian came up with the cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back, and began to tumble, and so continued to do till it came to the mouth of the sepulchre, where it fell in, and I saw it no more.”
The Pilgrim was never eased of his burden till he came to the foot of the cross, and there he lost it for ever. Bunyan did not intend by this the Popish symbol which is now so commonly had in reverence; he had no respect for such baubles and idolatries. He meant that a burdened soul finds no peace until it trusts in the atoning Sacrifice of Jesus. Sin must be punished; conscience knows this, and makes the sinner tremble. Jesus was punished in the stead of those who trust Him, the believer knows this, and feels that he is justly secure from further penalty; his conscience rests, and his heart is glad. If Jesus bore the penalty of the law for me, then God is just, and yet I am safe. Two punishments for one offence cannot be demanded by justice; a suffering Jesus prevents the possibility of those being condemned for whom He died as a substitute. In the wounds of Jesus there is rest for the weary consciences, but nowhere else. They who trust in the merit of His atonement are saved from wrath through Him. When Dr. Neale, the eminent ritualist, Romanized “Pilgrim’s Progress,” he represented the pilgrim as coming to a certain bath, into which he was plunged, and there his burden was washed away. According to this doctored edition of the allegory, Christian was washed in the laver of baptism, and all his sins were thus removed. That is the High Church mode of getting rid of sin. The true way is to lose it at the cross. Now, mark what happened. According to Dr. Neale’s “Pilgrim’s Progress,” that burden grew again on the pilgrim’s back. I do not wonder at that; for a burden which baptism can remove is sure to come again, but the burden which is lost at the cross never appears again for ever.
“Then was Christian glad and lightsome, and said with a merry heart, He hath given me rest by His sorrow, and life by His death. Then he stood awhile to look and wonder, for it was very surprising to him that the sight of the cross should thus ease him of his burden. He looked, therefore, and looked again, even till the springs that were in his head sent the waters down his cheeks.”
Let awakened sinners beware of receiving comfort from those who depreciate repentance. It is after all no little thing. They tell us “It is only a change of mind.” But what a change of mind! The words sound little enough, but repentance itself is no trifle. They tell us that repentance does not necessarily imply sorrow for sin; but we solemnly warn them, and all others whom it may concern, that if their repentance has in it no grief for having offended, it is not repentance after a godly sort, and will need to be repented of. A dry-eyed repentance is no repentance. They who turn unto the Lord aright, mourn for sin and are in bitterness as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn. It is from the cross that both repentance and faith arise. We do not bring these graces to the cross but find them at the cross. They are love-tokens from Jesus. When He arises in us as the Sun of Righteousness, these are His early beams. Oh, that all poor sinners would come and sit in this sunshine.
When I think of my transgressions, better known to myself than to anyone else, and remember too that they are not known even to me as they are to God, I feel all hope swept away and my soul left in utter despair, until I come anew to the cross, and bethink me of who it was that died there, and what designs of infinite mercy are answered by His death. It is so sweet to look up at the Crucified One again, and say, “I have nought but Thee, my Lord, no confidence but Thee. If Thou be not accepted as my substitute I must perish, if God’s appointed Saviour be not enough I have no other, but I know thou art the Father’s well-beloved, and I am accepted in Thee. Thou art all I have, or want.”
Beloved, I think that you know, in your own experience, that it was Christ’s death that really operated most upon you in the matter of your conversion. I hear much talk about the example of Christ having great effect upon ungodly men; but I do not believe it, and certainly have never seen it. It has great effect upon men when they are born again, and are saved from the wrath to come, and are full of gratitude on this account; but before that happens, we have known men to admire the conduct of Christ, and even write books about the beauty of His character, while, at the same time, they have denied His Godhead. Thus they have rejected Him in His essential character, and there has been no effect produced upon their conduct by their cold admiration of His life. But when a man comes to see that he is pardoned and saved through the death of Jesus, he is moved to gratitude, and then to love. “We love Him because He first loved us.” That love which He displayed in His death has touched the mainspring of our being, and moved us with a passion to which we were strangers before; and, because of this, we hate the sins that once were sweet, and turn with all our hearts to the obedience that once was so unpleasant. There is more effect in faith in the blood of Christ to change the human character than in every other consideration. The cross once seen, sin is crucified: the passion of the Master once apprehended as being endured for us, we then feel that we are not our own, but are bought with a price. This perception of redeeming love, in the death of our Lord Jesus, makes all the difference: this prepares us for a higher and a better life than we have ever known before. It is His death that does it.
“Now, as he stood looking and weeping, behold three shining ones came to him, and saluted him with ‘Peace be to thee.’ So the first said to him, ‘Thy sins be forgiven;’ the second stripped him of his rags, and clothed him with change of raiment; the third also set a mark upon his forehead, and gave him a roll with a seal upon it, which he bid him look on as he ran, and that he should give it in at the celestial gate; so they went their way. Then Christian gave three leaps for joy, and went on singing:—
“ ‘Thus far did come loaden with my sin,
Nor could aught ease the grief that I was in,
Till I came hither: what a place is this!
Must here be the beginning of my bliss?
Must here the burden fall from off my back?
Must here the strings that bound it to me crack?
Blest Cross! blest sepulchre, blest rather be
The Man that there was put to shame for me!’ ”
Imagine the experience of some dear friend, who has just believed in Jesus, and to whom the Spirit of God bears witness that he is forgiven. What sort of a man will he be? I will try to picture him to you. Already I see his eyes glistening with a light I never saw there before. The man looks positively handsome; you would hardly recognize him if you knew him before this great change happened to him. He had a burden on his mind that made him always look careworn. That has gone, and now he looks supremely blest. But I also see tears in his eyes; how came they there? He was not much given to weeping in his old days? He is grieving to think that he should ever have offended so kind a God; for nothing makes us so sorry for sin as the sense of being completely forgiven. He knows he is pardoned, he is sure of it; he knows that God loves him, and now he loathes himself that he should ever have sunk so low. Yet, if you will take one of his tears, and put it under a microscope, or analyze its component parts, you will find that there is no bitterness in it. Joy is mingled with his sorrow as he stands at the foot of the cross, and bathes his Lord’s feet with his penitential yet rain-bowed tears. Now see him go home. He has some Christian friends there, I hope; and if so, he will not be long with them before they begin to notice the change in him, and he is not long before he wants to tell them the blessed secret. Mother wants to know what has happened to her boy, and his arms are thrown around her neck as he says, “Mother, I have found the Lord.” She is very delighted, and perhaps very surprised, for it was not his usual way to talk about religion; he used sometimes to sneer and jeer at it. Will he go to bed without prayer? No; he needs nobody to tell him to pray; he has been praying all the way home, and while he has been sitting there. These are the first real prayers he has ever presented; but it has now become as natural for him to pray as it is for a living man to breathe.
The time when Christians begin to sing in the ways of the Lord is when they first lose their burden at the foot of the Cross. Not even the songs of the angels seem so sweet as the first song of rapture which gushes from the inmost soul of the forgiven child of God. Well might poor Pilgrim, having lost his load, give three great leaps for joy and go on singing:—
“Blest Cross! blest sepulchre! blest rather be
The Man that there was put to shame for me!”
Believer, do you recollect the day when your fetters fell off? Do you remember the place where Jesus met you and said, “I have loved thee with an everlasting love; I have blotted out as a cloud thy transgressions, and as a thick cloud thy sins; they shall not be mentioned against thee any more for ever?” Oh! what a sweet season is that when Jesus takes away the pain of sin. When the Lord first pardoned my sin, I was so joyous that I could scarce refrain from dancing. I thought on my road home from the house where I had been set at liberty, that I must tell the stones in the street the story of my deliverance. So full was my soul of joy, that I wanted to tell every snowflake that was falling from the Heaven of the wondrous love of Jesus, who had blotted out the sins of one of the chief of rebels. That happy day, when I found the Saviour and learned to cling to His dear feet, was a day never to be forgotten by me. I can testify that the joy of that day was utterly indescribable. There was no expression, however fanatical, which would have been out of keeping with the joy of my spirit at that hour. Many days of Christian experience have passed since then, but there has never been one which has had the full exhilaration, the sparkling delight which that first day had. I thought I could have sprung from the seat on which I sat, and have called out with the wildest of those Methodist brethren who were present, “I am forgiven! I am forgiven! A monument of grace! A sinner saved by blood.” My spirit saw its chains broken to pieces, I felt that I was an emancipated soul, an heir of heaven, a forgiven one, accepted in Jesus, plucked out of the miry clay and out of the horrible pit, with my feet set upon a rock, and my goings established. I could understand what John Bunyan meant, when he declared that he wanted to tell the crows on the ploughed land all about his conversion.
I have heard a Christian say that when he found the Saviour he was so happy that he did not know how to contain himself, and he sang like a whole band of music,
“Happy day, happy day,
When Jesus washed my sins away.”
It is the privilege of true believers to be “singing all the time.” Joy in God is suitable to our condition.
“Why should the children of a King
Go mourning all their days?”
Joy in the Lord is more injurious to Satan’s empire than anything. I am of the same mind as Luther, who, when he heard any bad news, used to say, “Come, let us sing a psalm, and spite the devil.”
“They shall sing in the ways of the Lord.” When the ways get very rough, and become the paths of suffering, and the pains are frequent and intense, sing still. No music that goes up to the throne of God is sweeter in Jehovah’s ear than the song of suffering saints. They shall bless Him upon their beds and sing His high praises in the fire. To go right through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and sing all the way; to climb the Hill Difficulty, and to sing up its crags; to pass by Giant Grim, and even by the Castle of Giant Despair, and through the Enchanted Ground and still to keep singing, and to come to the river’s brink and descend into it still singing—this is lovely in a Christian. May the statutes of the Lord be our songs in the house of our pilgrimage, till we mount to sing above!
We owe all to Jesus crucified. What is your life, my brethren, but the cross? Whence comes the bread of your soul but from the cross? What is your joy but the cross? What is your delight, what is your heaven, but the Blessed One, once crucified for you, who ever liveth to make intercession for you? Cling to the cross, then. Put both arms around it! Hold to the Crucified, and never let Him go. Come afresh to the cross at this moment, and rest there now and for ever! Then, with the power of God resting upon you, go forth and preach the cross! Tell out the story of the bleeding Lamb. Repeat the wondrous tale, and nothing else. Never mind how you do it, only proclaim that Jesus died for sinners. The cross held up by a babe’s hand is just as powerful as if a giant held it up. The power lies in the word itself, or rather in the Holy Spirit who works by it and with it.
O glorious Christ, when I have had a vision of Thy cross, I have seen it at first like a common gibbet, and Thou wast hanging on it like a felon; but, as I have looked, I have seen it begin to rise, and tower aloft till it has reached the highest heaven, and by its mighty power has lifted up myriads to the throne of God. I have seen its arms extend and expand until they have embraced all the earth. I have seen the foot of it go down deep as our helpless miseries are; and what a vision I have had of Thy magnificence, O Thou crucified One!
Brethren, believe in the power of the cross for the conversion of those around yon. Do not say of any man that he cannot be saved. The blood of Jesus is omnipotent. Do not say of any district that it is too sunken, or of any class of men that they are too far gone: the word of the cross reclaims the lost. Believe it to be the power of God, and you shall find it so. Believe in Christ crucified, and preach boldly in His name, and you shall see great and gladsome things. Do not doubt the ultimate triumph of Christianity. Do not let a mistrust flit across your soul. The cross must conquer; it must blossom with a crown, a crown commensurate with the person of the Crucified, and the bitterness of His agony. His reward shall parallel His sorrows. Trust in God, and lift your banner high, and now with psalms and songs advance to battle, for the Lord of hosts is with us, the Son of the Highest leads our van. Onward, with blast of silver trumpet and shout of those that seize the spoil. Let no man’s heart fail him! Christ hath died! Atonement is complete! God is satisfied! Peace is proclaimed! Heaven glitters with proofs of mercy already bestowed upon ten thousand times ten thousand! Hell is trembling, heaven adoring, earth waiting. Advance, ye saints, to certain victory! You shall overcome through the blood of the Lamb.