Taken and adapted from, The Training of the Twelve
Written by, A. B. Bruce
Referenced Texts: Matt. 16:24-28; Mark 9:34-38; Luke 9:23-27.
After one hard announcement, comes another not less hard…
…The Lord Jesus has told His disciples that He must one day be put to death; He now tells them, that as it fares with Him, so it must fare with them also. The second announcement was naturally occasioned by the way in which the first had been received. Peter had said, and all had felt, “This shall not be unto Thee.” Jesus replies in effect, “Say you so? I tell you that not only shall I, your Master, be crucified,–for such will be the manner of my death, –but ye too, faithfully following me, shall most certainly have your crosses to bear. ‘If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.’ “
The second announcement was not, like the first, made to the twelve only. This we might infer from the terms of the announcement, which are general, even if we had not been informed, as we are by Mark and Luke, that before making it Jesus called the people unto Him, with His disciples, and spake in the hearing of them all. The doctrine here taught, therefore, is for all Christians in all ages: not for apostles only, but for the humblest disciples; not for priests or preachers, but for the laity as well; not for monks living in cloisters, but for men living and working in the outside world. The King and Head of the church here proclaims a universal law binding on all His subjects, requiring all to bear a cross in fellowship with Himself.
We are not told how the second announcement was received by those who heard it, and particularly by the twelve. We can believe, however, that to Peter and his brethren it sounded less harsh than the first, and seemed, at least theoretically, more acceptable. Common experience might teach them that crosses, however unpleasant to flesh and blood, were nevertheless things that might be looked for in the lot of mere men. But what had Christ the Son of God to do with crosses? Ought He not to be exempt from the sufferings and indignities of ordinary mortals? If not, of what avail was His divine Sonship? In short, the difficulty for the twelve was probably, not that the servant should be no better than the Master, but that the Master should be no better than the servant.
Our perplexity, on the other hand, is apt to be just the reverse of this. Familiar with the doctrine that Jesus died on the cross in our room, we are apt to wonder what occasion there can be for our bearing a cross. If He suffered for us vicariously, what need, we are ready to inquire, for suffering on our part likewise? We need to be reminded that Christ’s sufferings, while in some respects peculiar, are in other respects common to Him with all in whom His spirit abides; that while, as redemptive, His death stands alone, as suffering for righteousness’ sake it is but the highest instance of a universal law, according to which all who live a true godly life must suffer hardship in a false evil world. And it is very observable that Jesus took a most effectual method of keeping this truth prominently before the mind of His followers in all ages, by proclaiming it with great emphasis on the first occasion on which He plainly announced that He Himself was to die, giving it, in fact, as the first lesson on the doctrine of His death: the first of four to be found in the Gospels. Thereby He in effect declared that only such as were willing to be crucified with Him should be saved by His death; nay, that willingness to bear a cross was indispensable to the right understanding of the doctrine of salvation through Him. It is as if above the door of the school in which the mystery of redemption was to be taught, He had inscribed the legend: Let no man who is unwilling to deny himself, and take up his cross, enter here.
In this great law of discipleship…
…the cross signifies not merely the external penalty of death, but all troubles that come on those who earnestly endeavor to live as Jesus lived in this world, and in consequence of that endeavor. Many and various are the afflictions of the righteous, differing in kind and degree, according to times and circumstances, and the callings and stations of individuals. For the righteous One, who died not only by the unjust, but for them, the appointed cup was filled with all possible ingredients of shame and pain, mingled together in the highest degree of bitterness. Not a few of His most honored servants have come very near their Master in the manner and measure of their afflictions for His sake, and have indeed drunk of His cup, and been baptized with His bloody baptism. But for the rank and file of the Christian host the hardships to be endured are ordinarily less severe, the cross to be borne less heavy. For one the cross may be the calumnies of lying lips, “which speak grievous things proudly and contemptuously against the righteous;” for another, failure to attain the much-worshipped idol success in life, so often reached by unholy means not available for a man who has a conscience; for a third, mere isolation and solitariness of spirit amid uncongenial, unsympathetic neighbors, not minded to live soberly, righteously, and godly, and not loving those who do so live.
The cross, therefore, is not the same for all. But that there is a cross of some shape for all true disciples is clearly implied in the words: “If any one will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross.” The plain meaning of these words is, that there is no following Jesus on any other terms–a doctrine which, however clearly taught in the Gospel, spurious Christians are unwilling to believe and resolute to deny. They take the edge off their Lord’s statement by explaining that it applies only to certain critical times, happily very different from their own; or that if it has some reference to all times, it is only applicable to such as are called to play a prominent part in public affairs as leaders of opinion, pioneers of progress, prophets denouncing the vices of the age, and uttering unwelcome oracles,–a proverbially dangerous occupation, as the Greek poet testified who said: “Apollo alone should prophesy, for he fears nobody.” To maintain that all who would live devoutly in Christ Jesus must suffer somehow, is, they think, to take too gloomy and morose a view of the wickedness of the world, or too high and exacting a view of the Christian life.
The righteousness which in ordinary times involves a cross is in their view folly and fanaticism. It is speaking when one should be silent, meddling in matters with which one has no concern; in a word, it is being righteous overmuch. Such thoughts as these, expressed or unexpressed, are sure to prevail extensively when religious profession is common. The fact that fidelity involves a cross, as also the fact that Christ was crucified just because He was righteous, are well understood by Christians when they are a suffering minority, as in primitive ages. But these truths are much lost sight of in peaceful, prosperous times. Then you shall find many holding most sound views of the cross Christ bore for them, but sadly ignorant concerning the cross they themselves have to bear in fellowship with Christ. Of this cross they are determined to know nothing. What it can mean, or whence it can come, they cannot comprehend; though had they the true spirit of self-denial required of disciples by Christ, they might find it for themselves in their daily life, in their business, in their home, nay, in their own heart, and have no need to seek for it in the ends of the earth, or to manufacture artificial crosses out of ascetic austerities.
To the law of the cross Jesus annexed three reasons designed to make the obeying of it easier, by showing disciples that, in rendering obedience to the stern requirement, they attend to their own true interest. Each reason is introduced by a “For.”
The first reason is: “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” In this startling paradox the word “life” is used in a double sense. In the first clause of each member of the sentence it signifies natural life, with all the adjuncts that make it pleasant and enjoyable; in the second, it means the spiritual life of a renewed soul. The deep, pregnant saying may therefore be thus expanded and paraphrased: Whosoever will save, such as in making it his first business to save or preserve, his natural life and worldly well-being, shall lose the higher life, the life indeed; and whosoever is willing to lose his natural life for my sake shall find the true eternal life. According to this maxim we must lose something, it is not possible to live without sacrifice of some kind; the only question being what shall be sacrificed–the lower or the higher life, animal happiness or spiritual blessedness. If we choose the higher, we must be prepared to deny ourselves and take up our cross, though the actual amount of the loss we are called on to bear may be small; for godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, as well as of that which is to come. If, on the other hand, we choose the lower, and resolve to have it at all hazards, we must inevitably lose the higher. The soul’s life, and all the imperishable goods of the soul,–righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness, –are the price we pay for worldly enjoyment.
This price is too great: and that is what Jesus next told His hearers as the second persuasive to cross-bearing. “For what,” He went on to ask, “is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” The two questions set forth the incomparable value of the soul on both sides of a commercial transaction. The soul, or life, in the true sense of the word, is too dear a price to pay even for the whole world, not to say for that small portion of it which falls to the lot of any one individual. He who gains the world at such a cost is a loser by the bargain. On the other hand, the whole world is too small, yea, an utterly inadequate price, to pay for the ransom of the soul once lost. What shall a man give in exchange for the priceless thing he has foolishly bartered away? “Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before Him with burnt-offerings, with calves of a year old? will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” No! O man; not any of these things, nor any thing else thou hast to give; not the fruit of thy merchandise, not ten thousands of pounds sterling. Thou canst not buy back thy soul, which thou hast bartered for the world, with all that thou hast of the world. The redemption of the soul is indeed precious; it cannot be delivered from the bondage of sin by corruptible things, such as silver and gold: the attempt to purchase pardon and peace and life that way can only make thy case more hopeless, and add to thy condemnation.
The appeal contained in these solemn questions comes home with irresistible force to all who are in their right mind. Such feel that no outward good can be compared in value to having a “saved soul,” ie. being a right-minded Christian man.
All, however, are not so minded. Multitudes account their souls of very small value indeed. Judas sold his soul for thirty pieces of silver; and not a few who probably deem themselves better that he would part with theirs for the most paltry worldly advantage. The great ambition of the million is to be happy as animals, not to be blessed as “saved,” noble-spirited, sanctified men. “Who will show us any good?” is that which the many say. “Give us health, wealth, houses, lands, honors, and we care not for righteousness, either imputed or personal, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Ghost. These may be good also in their way, and if one could have them along with the other, without trouble or sacrifice, it were perhaps well; but we cannot consent, for their sakes, to deny ourselves any pleasure, or voluntarily endure any hardship.”
The third argument in favor of cross-bearing is drawn from the second advent. “For the son of man shall come in the glory of His Father, with His angels; and then shall He reward every man according to his works.” These words suggest a contrast between the present and the future state of the speaker, and imply a promise of a corresponding contrast between the present and the future of His faithful followers. Now Jesus is the Son of man, destined ere many weeks pass to be crucified at Jerusalem. At the end of the days He will appear invested with the manifest glory of Messiah, attended with a mighty host of ministering spirits; His reward for enduring the cross, despising the shame. Then will He reward every man according to the tenor of his present life.
To the cross-bearers He will grant a crown of righteousness; to the cross-spurners He will assign, as their due, shame and everlasting contempt.
Stern doctrine, distasteful to the modern mind on various grounds, specially on these two: because it sets before us alternatives in the life beyond, and because it seeks to propagate heroic virtue by hope of reward, instead of exhibiting virtue as its own reward. As to the former, the alternative of the promised reward is certainly a great mystery and burden to the spirit; but it is to be feared that an alternative is involved in any earnest doctrine of moral distinctions or of human freedom and responsibility. As to the other, Christians need not be afraid of degenerating into moral vulgarity in Christ’s company.
There is no vulgarity or impurity in the virtue which is sustained by the hope of eternal life. That hope is not selfishness, but simply self-consistency. It is simply believing in the reality of the kingdom for which you labor and suffer; involving, of course, the reality of each individual Christian’s interest therein, your own not excepted.
Such faith is even necessary to heroism. For who would fight and suffer for a dream? What patriot would risk his life for his country’s cause who did not hope for the restoration of her independence? And who but a pedant would say that the purity of his patriotism was sullied, because his hope for the whole nation did not exclude all reference to himself as an individual citizen?
Equally necessary is it that a Christian should believe in the kingdom of glory, and equally natural and proper that he should cherish the hope of a personal share in its honors and felicities. Where such faith and hope are not, little Christian heroism will be found. For as an ancient Church Father said, “There is no certain work where there is an uncertain reward.”
Men cannot be heroes in doubt or despair. They cannot struggle after perfection and a divine kingdom, skeptical the while whether these things be more than devout imaginations, unrealizable ideals. In such a mood they will take things easy, and make secular happiness their chief concern.