Excerpts taken and adapted from, “Jesus Christ and Him Crucified.”
Written by John Jenkins. A Sermon preached after his Installation to the Calvary Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, 1853.
“For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
–1 Corinthians 2:2
If a simple literary student of the New Testament should read this determination without knowing which of the apostles was its author, he might suspect any one of them rather than Paul. To him, it would sound more like the utterance of an unlettered fisherman, than that of a finished scholar; a scholar whose privilege it had been to sit at the feet of Gamaliel. It would puzzle him to know why a man of letters and of taste, a man of more than usual intellectual eminence, and who was thoroughly versed in the various systems of philosophy, should have come to so extraordinary conclusion; especially when he considered that the apostle was addressing educated Greeks.
If, through lack of early literary advantages and present intellectual vigor, he had been driven to the necessity of harping upon one subject, it would not have been so surprising to our literary student, but it lies beyond the compass of his natural reason to understand, why that the doctrine of Christianity, which of all others is clothed with greatest shame, which was an offense to the Jew, which was foolishness to the Greek, should be selected by a man whom everyone acknowledges to have been intellectually great, as the all-absorbing theme of his ministrations. Yet, so it was: “I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom declaring unto you the testimony of God; for I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
Who will deny that there are men in our own day who thus argue? If a minister express and fulfill a resolution equivalent to that of the text; if, in his ministrations, he is accustomed to give prominence to the necessity of a Savior, to the divinity of Christ, to the humanity and condescension of Christ, to the sacrifice and atonement of Christ; if he is wont to impart a Christian hue to all his expositions and predilections; if it is his habit to constitute Christ the sole center of his theology, of his morals, of his philosophy; there are not wanting those who are ready to pronounce him unlettered and unfurnished.
In their estimation, the educated minister was the man of talent, of taste and of reading. In their estimation the man who is “up with the age,” will not be ever dwelling upon evangelical themes; he will diversify his preaching with essays on morality, and even on abstruse questions in metaphysics; he will charm the ears of the literati of his congregation with speculations in philosophy; he will come before them with “excellency of speech” and will instruct them through the medium of “enticing words of man’s wisdom.”
Yes, I say again, that the doctrine of a crucified Jesus is the central orb of the Christian system upon which it’s every other doctrine is suspended, and to which it’s every other doctrine is attracted. You cannot find me a single truth in our religion which does not draw its light, its beauty, and its power, from the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. The several doctrines of religion hang around the glorious cross, as the planetary orbs hang around the sun; they are bright, because they are connected with the cross; they illuminate our dark hearts because they borrow their light from the cross; they are harmonious, because the mighty cross, –that vast orb of truth, “Christ and him crucified,” –causes them, by its gravitating power to pursue undeviatingly their respective circuits in the system of truth.
Where am I to acquire this knowledge? To what instructor am I to apply for the fullest acquaintance with the Divine character which it is possible to obtain in this world? Shall I go to creation, to the magnificent works of God’s hands by which I am surrounded? I will not be slow to confess that I see much here which illustrates the nature of God. But is this all that I can know of God? There is yet within my heart a void which is not filled; there are yet cravings in this immortal part which this knowledge does not satisfy; my conscience tells me that I am a sinner; my conscience suggests to me a question which nature in its varied glory and bounty has not yet answered; it is this: “How can I, as a sinner, meet an all-powerful, an all-righteous and, all-wise, or even an infinitely benevolent Being?”
The book of nature cannot tell me. There is not a sun that shines in any one of the innumerable systems with which the heavens are studded, that can tell me. The highest mountain that rears its head towards God’s dwelling place is silent here. I go in vain to the shores of either the wild Atlantic or the broad Pacific for an answer to the question. Is there then nothing more to be known of God? Must my troubled conscience remain in suspense, in despondency, yea even in despair? No! I may know more of God.
He has given me another book besides the book of nature. He has given me this Bible of Revelation; I open its pages. I find that it does not contradict, but that it confirms the utterances of the Bible of nature. I find here, too, that “a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is He,”–that He is “glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders;” but I find also other disclosures of the Divine character. I here read, that He is “the Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering and abundant in goodness;” and if you ask me where I find the brightest display of this wonderful attribute of the Divine character, upon what leaf in this large volume I learn most of God’s mercy to sinners, I reply, upon that leaf whose lines I read out to you this evening, that leaf which contains the wonderful story of the cross, “of Christ, the God-man, bleeding, agonizing, expiring upon the cross.” It is here I learn that “God is love.” It is upon Calvary, in the midst of its murderous scenes, that I see how God can be “justified yet the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus.” Not only then, do I discover the infinite compassion of the Divine Being when I gaze upon the crucified Son of God, but I learn also his infinite purity and his unbending justice.
The thundering’s of Sinai even, give no such impressive lessons of the Divine righteousness and truth, as the groans of the Son of God on Cavalry. When I read the words which Jehovah inscribed upon the tables of the Decalogue, I am filled with reverence of the Divine purity, but I seem to be inspired with a yet deeper feeling of awe when I listen to that mysterious utterance of Christ upon the cross, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me.”
If I am to show the undivided harmony in which these perfections concentrate in Him, you will see that I can only do this within the region of Calvary, only by adhering to the determination of the apostle,” not to know anything among you save Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
The doctrine of man, if I may so express myself, of man’s nature, of man’s relation to God, of man’s wants, of man’s destiny, is another principal doctrine of religion. Indeed, you could not supply a more comprehensive definition of what religion is than to say, that it is a knowledge of God in his character and his requirements; and a knowledge of man’s self in his nature, his relations, and his duties.
But where am I to know what man is? Shall I subject him to a metaphysical anatomy? I learn from this the phenomena of his mind; I gather what are its powers and its susceptibilities; mark its sensations and its internal affections. But how does this help me to arrive at a religious view of man’s nature? Again: By observation and experiment I learn that the mind of man is corrupt, that it is thoroughly disordered, that he is not living so as to secure the favor of a holy God, but this knowledge does not reveal to me either the origin or the nature of sin.
Where can I obtain a knowledge of man? Only in the word of God. Here I learn the circumstances and design of his creation. Here I read of his fearful fall from rectitude and from God. Here is revealed to me the heinous character of sin. Here I am informed of the certain consequences of sin. Here God hath revealed his wrath from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of man. Here I discover the immortality.
When I gaze upon the Son of God hanging on the cross, and see him bowing his head, and with the last, lingering, expiring cry of “it is finished,” giving up the ghost, it is then I learn that my salvation is completed, that the work is finished, and that my gracious Savior hath obtained eternal redemption for me. I look upon the cross, and I see it so radiant with the Father’s love, that I am encouraged to exclaim, “He that spared not his own Son, but freely gave up him for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us redemption unto life? I see myself a vile and sinful enemy at the foot of the cross, and when I am accepted through its sacrifice, I am emboldened to say, “If when we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more being reconciled, we shall be saved through his life.”
Ask yourselves, indeed, if in view of a suffering Jesus, your hearts are not melted, what other sight will be likely to soften you? Not surely the flames of perdition!
If Calvary will not draw you to God, Sinai, I fear, will not drive you.