Cross-Bearing, The Law of Discipleship, and The Law of the Cross

 

Taken and adapted from, The Training of the Twelve
Written by, A. B. Bruce

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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.

Blessed are the Persecuted for Righteousness’ Sake

Taken from, “Plain Village Sermons on the Lord’s Prayer and the Beatitudes”
Written by, Henry Alford, (1810 – 1871)

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“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”    –Matt. 5:10-12

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Besides the blessings which are poured into the cup of Christ’s people, on account of those graces which he plants in their hearts…

…there are others coming from the natural and necessary temper of others towards them, and the situation of affairs with respect to them.

Now, they are described as a peculiar, a separated people; as citizens of a kingdom which is situated in another country, and having their affections fixed, and their rule of conduct laid down, not here, but in a place far away. Moreover, it is said that they are not com formed to the world in which they live, that they not only do not run with its inhabitants to that excess of riot and surfeiting; but that they do not, even in things seemingly innocent, suffer their hearts to be bound down to this lower world. Nor is this all: –they are transformed in the image of their minds, they are all united by faith to one living Head –even the Lord Jesus; and are all members of His body. They are begotten anew in Christ, and therefore they have lost their relish and taste for the old and cast off things of this vain world.

What, then, is the consequence? The children of the world, those who are living well contented to enjoy their present life, and caring for nothing beyond, think it strange that there should be those among them, who do not care for the life of which they make so much; and more than this, –they are moved by their holy and constant lives, to envy them, and to endeavor to remove them, if possible, out-of-the-way; for their own evil deeds cannot abide the light of truth and justice which these persons, by their presence, cast upon them. This same motive leads them also to speak evil of the saints of God, and to endeavor to reduce them down to their own level, that they may be able to carry on their bad practices, without the purity of the Christian character even giving warning to them to consider their path, and amend their ways.

And add to all these reasons the enmity natural to the heart of man, against everything that is of God, or belongs to the new nature, of which the members of Christ are partakers, and you will see abundant reason, independently of circumstances, why the servants of God should be held in hatred and contempt by the children of this world. At times these feelings have broken out openly, and they have been subjected to violent persecutions, and loss of goods and life; but in all times the world is of the same mind towards them –therefore the world hates them, because they are not of the world, as He Himself was not of the world.

And this has not been concealed from us by Christ; He has not held us out any prospect of ease and luxury. He has told us plainly, “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” Nay so far from concealing it from them, He makes it, as in the text, a part of their blessedness, that they are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. We have seen in the other blessings, that they belong to persons and qualities not highly esteemed by the world: but this seems the strangest blessing of the whole, that those should be blessed, who are persecuted –who are forsaken of their nearest friends, and made a gazing stock for all men.

We are naturally fond of the quiet and comfort of society, –of the smiles of our friends, and their confidence, and all the little advantages of friendly intercourse; we are fond of sharing our worldly advantages with those about us, and being counted as peaceful members of society, and respectable persons; we are jealous of our characters, and wish to keep them without stain among men, and our own advantage we consult, and eagerly pursue our own profit.

But here is a man who is cast out from society and comfort, –whose enemies are even those of his own household; who has few, and perhaps those, distant friends –and is left alone in the world: advantage she seems to have none, much less any with whom he can share them; owing to the malice of his adversaries, he is represented as a disturber of peace, and disreputable, his fair character in the eyes of men is blotted by their slanders, –he seems to neglect his own advantage, and seeks but little after that profit which all around him are going after, –he appears like one who has a mark set upon him that men should hate him, and cast him out from their company. One would think his very heart would sink within him, and that he would perish under the accumulated load of slight and injuries. But this is the very person who in the text, is pronounced blessed.

There must then be some upholding power, some mighty inward comfort which must work against the attacks of the enemies from without.

If we examine the nature of the blessing, we shall find that such does indeed exist: theirs is the kingdom of heaven. They are the sons of a king, waiting for their inheritance; nay, it is already theirs, they are counted in the Church, who is the body and spouse of that King, –even of Christ. He came down upon earth to purchase the Church to Himself; He stayed with her awhile here below; and He is gone up into heaven to prepare the heavenly mansions to receive her in.

Meanwhile He has left her on earth deprived of His bodily presence, but living on His precious promises, fed with His spiritual flesh and blood, to try her faithfulness to Him. She is espoused, betrothed, given in marriage to Christ, the King of heaven; and in her all His faithful ones, so that already, signed and sealed with a sure promise, the kingdom of heaven is theirs. And He has sent down to His earthly bride this memorable sentence, “To him that overcome will I grant to sit with Me in My throne, even as I overcame, and am set down with My Father in His throne.” Earthly power, riches, or kingdoms, belong not to the servants of Christ; yet however poor, however despised they are, they are princes in disguise: even now their royalty shews itself in an exalted and heavenly mind, in affections raised above the earth, in subduing their stubborn wills, and bringing every thought into subjection unto the righteous law within them: and they have their attendants too, –the ministering spirits who are sent forth to minister to those who shall be heirs of salvation; the angels of the Lord tarry round about them that fear Him, and if our eyes could be opened, and we could see the goodly company of heavenly guards which surround the head of the faithful servant of God, –if we could behold him in his most forsaken moment, when all are turned against him, thronged with bright ministers of joy and defense, we should see that not even Solomon in all his glory was attended like one of these.

When men revile them, and taunt them with lifting themselves above their neighbors, and cut them to the heart with bitter reproaches, they can hear the sweet voice of the heavenly Bridegroom saying to His Church, “Behold, thou art all fair My love, there is no spot in thee.” When the sons of the earth deprive them of their possessions, they can hear the same voice saying, “Fear not little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” And when they are put under severer trials than these, which are hard for flesh and blood to bear, cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover bonds and imprisonment; when their flesh and their heart fail, He who is the strength of their heart and their portion forever, is a very present help for them; and His golden words, “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life,” disarm all their tortures, and fix their eyes on Him who is waiting to receive their souls.

Thus great, thus exalted, is the blessing of those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. And there is yet more of it behind. “Rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven.” If a cup of cold water given in Christ’s name shall not lose its reward, surely those who suffer for Him, and are made outcasts for His sake, shall have great and worthy reward in His kingdom. It is one of the marks of God’s people, to have respect unto the recompense of the reward;” to be fully assured that works done in Christ and for His name’s sake shall not be forgotten; but are all recorded before Him. There is no surer sign of a humble spirit and one subjected to the will of God, than a clear and practical view of the nature of our Christian reward for works done in Christ.

While some vainly suppose that our own works can effect our salvation; and some on the other hand seem almost to forget that such a thing as the Christian reward is mentioned in Scripture; he who loves Christ by faith, fully assured of his union with Christ and salvation in Him, is also fully assured that not the meanest work done in His name shall be unrewarded; for he has the word, the eternal unalterable word of his Savior for it; and long as the seal on that bond of the Scripture remains, –long as those words remain which though heaven and earth pass away, shall not pass away, –so long shall the work and labor of love of Christ’s justified people not be forgotten, but be surely and gloriously rewarded. To those who are in Christ sin is not imputed: being received into Him their sins are canceled by His satisfaction; and therefore all that they do and suffer for, and in Him, is accepted by God the Father, and will be rewarded by Him. “Rejoice and be exceeding glad; for great is your reward in heaven.”

But there is another source of comfort still; indeed they seem inexhaustible and never-ending to those who are united to Christ. “So persecuted they the prophets which were before you.”

Ye that are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, lift up your eyes and look on the stars, and see if you can tell their number and names. Far more in number is the company who are gone before you from affliction like yours, to glory brighter than the brightest of those heavenly bodies. Once, and once only, are we told that any of them descended and were seen by men, –and then, even our Lord Himself put on for a moment the brightness of His glory to meet them; when He was transfigured on the mount, Moses and Elias, two of those that were persecuted for righteousness’ sake, appeared in glory and talked with Him: and the Apostles trembled as they entered into the cloud which surrounded them –so bright and so heavenly was their appearance. But, as we advance in this divine subject, grounds of support and joy seem to thicken upon us, and the seed-time of persecution and tears appears, indeed, to lead to a rich harvest of rejoicing; –“Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you; but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings, –that when His glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.”

Our profession is, to have been buried with Him by baptism into death; if therefore, we find ourselves made partakers visibly of His sufferings we, see accomplished in us what every Christian desires –likeness to Him; and the visible sign and participation of His death is openly shown forth in us. “If we be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye –for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you; on their part He is evil spoken of, but on your part He is glorified.”

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast in the Lord.

If you live united to Christ, you have trials and severe ones too; it is equally true in all times, that those who live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. Let not the neglect, the scorn, the taunts of men, turn you aside from the steady serving of God and cleaving unto Christ. Be not ashamed of His name in the presence of men: what are their taunts and scorn to you? You are kings; surely it is not for you to tremble at these poor foolish slaves of worldly thought –surely it is not for God’s ransomed ones and the heirs of glory, to tremble at the presence of an ignorant scoffer of this world.

Look forward but a few years, and where are all their taunts and bitter words, and scornful looks?  Whenever you feel tempted to deny or to compromise Christ, look straight to that day when you hope to awake up after His likeness; look to the great day of recognition and account, and as you wish to be acknowledged by Him at that day, so now let your acknowledgement of Him be. And if you fall into persecution, if ungodly companions ridicule you or hinder your faith; for this you are all the more blessed –for you will be, by a visible likeness, shewing forth your Savior, “you will be by their persecution driven to cling closer to Him, to commune with Him more in prayer, to grow in grace and in the knowledge of Him.

One word more.

God knows whether I be now speaking to any who have been, or are, the persecutors of the children of God –who by deed, word, look, or thought, have attempted to hinder the faith and progress in holiness, of a neighbor. If have been destroying the sheep of Christ whom He bought with His blood. And, as one of those appointed to watch over His fold, I solemnly tell you in His name, that “it had been better for you never to have been born.” “Whosoever offends (they are His own words) one of these little ones that believe on Me, it were better for him that a millstone were hung about his neck, and that he were cast into the sea.” You may well tremble before that king whom you have so grievously angered.

Turn then to the Lord and to His people, with weeping, and mourning, and praying, if perchance, this thought of your heart may be forgiven you. Far better is the state of those you persecute and despise, than your own; with all your scoffs and reproaches they are happier than you –they have no hurt from without, and what is more, they have no worm gnawing within. Here I leave the comparison, for I tremble to think of you, if I look forward any further. May God give you a better mind, even the spirit of true repentance. Oh shame and sorrow, that we should have to turn in a Christian Church to address such as these! When will the Lord come and purify His temple, and present us to His Father, an acceptable people, a pure and blessed Church?

Pray, my brethren, for that glorious time, when the number of the elect shall be accomplished, and those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake now, shall have entered on the possession of the kingdom!

Jesus Only!

Taken and adapted from, “Around the Wicket Gate”
Written by Charles Haddon Spurgeon, (1834-1892)

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We cannot too often or too plainly tell the seeking soul…

…that his only hope for salvation lies in the Lord Jesus Christ.

It lies in Him completely, only, and alone. To save both from the guilt and the power of sin, Jesus is all-sufficient. His name is called Jesus, because “He shall save his people from their sins” (Mat 1:21). “The Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins” (Mat 9:6). He is exalted on high “to give repentance…and forgiveness of sins” (Act 5:31). It pleased God from of old to devise a method of salvation which should be all contained in His only-begotten Son. The Lord Jesus, for the working out of this salvation, became man, and being found in fashion as a man, became obedient to death, even the death of the cross. If another way of deliverance had been possible, the cup of bitterness would have passed from Him. It stands to reason that the darling of heaven would not have died to save us if we could have been rescued at less expense. Infinite grace provided the great sacrifice; infinite love submitted to death for our sakes. How can we dream that there can be another way than the way which God has provided at such cost, and set forth in Holy Scripture so simply and so pressingly? Surely it is true that “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Act 4:12).

To suppose that the Lord Jesus has only half saved men…

…and that there is needed some work or feeling of their own to finish His work, is wicked. What is there of ours that could be added to His blood and righteousness? “All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Isa 64:6). Can these be patched on to the costly fabric of His divine righteousness? Rags and fine white linen! Our dross and His pure gold! It is an insult to the Savior to dream of such a thing. We have sinned enough, without adding this to all our other offences.

Even if we had any righteousness in which we could boast; if our fig leaves were broader than usual, and were not so utterly fading, it would be wisdom to put them away, and accept that righteousness which must be far more pleasing to God than anything of our own. The Lord must see more that is acceptable in His Son than in the best of us. The best of us! The words seem satirical, though they were not so intended. What best is there about any of us? “There is none that doeth good; no, not one” (Rom 3:12). I who write these lines, would most freely confess that I have not a thread of goodness of my own. I could not make up so much as a rag, or a piece of a rag. I am utterly destitute. But if I had the fairest suit of good works which even pride can imagine, I would tear it up that I might put on nothing but the garments of salvation, which are freely given by the Lord Jesus, out of the heavenly wardrobe of His own merits.

It is most glorifying to our Lord Jesus Christ that we should hope for every good thing from Him alone. This is to treat Him as He deserves to be treated; for as He is God, and beside Him there is none else, we are bound to look unto Him and be saved.

This is to treat Him as He loves to be treated, for He bids all those who labor and are heavy laden to come to Him, and He will give them rest. To imagine that He cannot save to the uttermost is to limit the Holy One of Israel, and put a slur upon His power; or else to slander the loving heart of the Friend of sinners, and cast a doubt upon His love. In either case, we should commit a cruel and wanton sin against the tenderest points of His honor, which are His ability and willingness to save all that come unto God by Him.

The child, in danger of the fire, just clings to the fireman, and trusts to him alone. She raises no question about the strength of his limbs to carry her, or the zeal of his heart to rescue her; but she clings. The heat is terrible, the smoke is blinding, but she clings; and her deliverer quickly bears her to safety. In the same childlike confidence cling to Jesus, who can and will bear you out of danger from the flames of sin.

The nature of the Lord Jesus should inspire us with the fullest confidence. As He is God, He is almighty to save; as He is man, He is filled with all fullness to bless; as He is God and man in one Majestic Person, He meets man in His creatureship and God in His holiness. The ladder is long enough to reach from Jacob prostrate on the earth, to Jehovah reigning in heaven. To bring another ladder would be to suppose that He failed to bridge the distance; and this would be grievously to dishonor Him. If even to add to His words is to draw a curse upon ourselves, what must it be to pretend to add to Himself? Remember that He, Himself, is the Way; and to suppose that we must, in some manner, add to the divine road, is to be arrogant enough to think of adding to Him. Away with such a notion! Loathe it as you would blasphemy; for in essence it is the worst of blasphemy against the Lord of love.

To come to Jesus with a price in our hand, would be insufferable pride…

…even if we had any price that we could bring. What does He need of us? What could we bring if He did need it? Would He sell the priceless blessings of His redemption? That which He wrought out in His heart’s blood, would He barter it with us for our tears, and vows, or for ceremonial observances, and feelings, and works? He is not reduced to make a market of Himself: He will give freely, as beseems His royal love; but He that offers a price to Him knows not with whom he is dealing, nor how grievously he vexes His free Spirit. Empty-handed sinners may have what they will. All that they can possibly need is in Jesus, and He gives it for the asking; but we must believe that He is all in all, and we must not dare to breathe a word about completing what He has finished, or fitting ourselves for what He gives to us as undeserving sinners.

The reason why we may hope for forgiveness of sin, and life eternal, by faith in the Lord Jesus, is that God has so appointed. He has pledged Himself in the gospel to save all who truly trust in the Lord Jesus, and He will never run back from His promise. He is so well pleased with His only-begotten Son, that He takes pleasure in all who lay hold upon Him as their one and only hope. The great God Himself has taken hold on him who has taken hold on His Son. He works salvation for all who look for that salvation to the once-slain Redeemer. For the honor of His Son, He will not suffer the man who trusts in Him to be ashamed. “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life” (Joh 3:36); for the ever-living God has taken him unto Himself, and has given to him to be a partaker of His life. If Jesus only be your trust, you need not fear but what you shall effectually be saved, both now and in the day of His appearing.

When a man confides, there is a point of union between him and God, that union guarantees blessing. Faith saves us because it makes us cling to Christ Jesus, and He is one with God, and thus brings us into connection with God.

Years ago, above the Falls of Niagara, a boat was upset, and two men were being carried down by the current, when persons on the shore managed to float a rope out to them, which rope was seized by them both. One of them held fast to it, and was safely drawn to the bank; but the other, seeing a great log come floating by, unwisely let go the rope, and clung to the great piece of timber, for it was the bigger thing of the two, and apparently better to cling to. Alas! The timber, with the man on it, went right over the vast abyss, because there was no union between the wood and the shore. The size of the log was no benefit to him who grasped it; it needed a connection with the shore to produce safety. So, when a man trusts to his works, or to his prayers, or almsgivings, or to sacraments, or to anything of that sort, he will not be saved, because there is no junction between him and God through Christ Jesus; but faith, though it may seem to be like a slender cord, is in the hand of the great God on the shore side; infinite power pulls in the connecting line, and thus draws the man from destruction. Oh, the blessedness of faith, because it unites us to God by the Savior, whom He has appointed, even Jesus Christ! O reader, is there not common sense in this matter? Think it over, and may there soon be a band of union between you and God, through your faith in Christ Jesus!

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Meet the Author and part of your Christian heritage: Charles Haddon Spurgeon (19 June 1834 – 31 January 1892) was a British Particular Baptist preacher. Spurgeon remains highly influential among Christians of different denominations, among whom he is known as the “Prince of Preachers”. He was a strong figure in the Reformed Baptist tradition, defending the Church in agreement with the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith understanding, and opposing the liberal and pragmatic theological tendencies in the Church of his day.

It is estimated that in his lifetime, Spurgeon preached to around 10,000,000 people, Spurgeon was the pastor of the congregation of the New Park Street Chapel (later the Metropolitan Tabernacle) in London for 38 years. He was part of several controversies with the Baptist Union of Great Britain and later had to leave the denomination. In 1857, he started a charity organization which is now called Spurgeon’s and works globally. He also founded Spurgeon’s College, which was named after him posthumously.

chspurgeon2Spurgeon was a prolific author of many types of works including sermons, an autobiography, commentaries, books on prayer, devotionals, magazines, poetry, hymns and more. Many sermons were transcribed as he spoke and were translated into many languages during his lifetime. Spurgeon produced powerful sermons of penetrating thought and precise exposition. His oratory skills held his listeners spellbound in the Metropolitan Tabernacle and many Christians have discovered Spurgeon’s messages to be among the best in Christian literature.

God’s Love Sandwiched Between Two Theives

Written by J.C. Ryle
Edited for space

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“And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? “And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds but this man hath done nothing amiss. “And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. “And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, today shalt thou be with me in Paradise.”
–Luke 23:39-43.

Few passages in the New Testament are more familiar to men’s ears.

And it is right and good that these verses should be well known. They have comforted many troubled minds. They have brought peace to many uneasy consciences. They have been a healing balm to many wounded hearts. They have been a medicine to many sin-sick souls. They have smoothed down not a few dying pillows. Wherever the Gospel of Christ is preached, they will always be honoured, loved, and had in remembrance.

First of all, you are meant to learn from these verses, Christ’s power and willingness to save sinners.

This is the main doctrine to be gathered from the history of the penitent thief. It teaches you that which ought to be music in the ears of all who hear it,—it teaches you that Jesus Christ is mighty to save.

I ask you if any man’s case could look more hopeless and desperate, than that of this penitent thief once did?

He was a wicked man,—a malefactor,—a thief, if not a murderer. We know this, for such only were crucified. He was suffering a just punishment for breaking the laws. And as he had lived wicked, so he seemed determined to die wicked,—for when he first was crucified, he railed on our Lord.

And he was a dying man. He hung there, nailed to a cross, from which he was never to come down alive. He had no longer power to stir hand or foot. His hours were numbered. The grave was ready for him. There was but a step between him and death. If ever there was a soul hovering on the brink of hell, it was the soul of this thief. If ever there was a case that seemed lost, gone, and past recovery, it was his. If ever there was a child of Adam whom the devil made sure of as his own, it was this man.

But see now what happened. He ceased to rail and blaspheme, as he had done at the first. He began to speak in another manner altogether. He turned to our blessed Lord in prayer. He prayed Jesus to “remember him when He came into His kingdom.” He asked that his soul might be cared for, his sins pardoned, and himself thought of in another world. Truly this was a wonderful change.

And then mark what kind of answer he received. Some would have said he was too wicked a man to be saved. But it was not so. Some would have fancied it was too late: the door was shut, and there was no room for mercy. But it proved not too late at all.

The Lord Jesus returned him an immediate answer,—spoke kindly to him,—assured him he should be with Him that day in Paradise: pardoned him completely,—cleansed him thoroughly from his sins,—received him graciously,—justified him freely,—raised him from the gates of hell,—gave him a title to glory. Of all the multitude of saved souls, none ever received so glorious an assurance of his own salvation, as did this penitent thief. Go over the whole list, from Genesis to Revelation, and you will find none who had such words spoken to them as these: “To-day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise.”

The Lord Jesus never gave so complete a proof of His power and will to save, as He did upon this occasion. In the day when He seemed most weak, He showed that He was a strong deliverer. In the hour when His body was racked with pain, He showed that he could feel tenderly for others. At the time when He Himself was dying, He conferred on a sinner eternal life.

Now, have I not a right to say, Christ is able to save to the uttermost all them that come unto God by Him? Behold the proof of it. If ever sinner was too far gone to be saved, it was this thief. Yet he was plucked as a brand from the fire.

Have I not a right to say, Christ will receive any poor sinner who comes to Him with the prayer of faith, and cast out none? Behold the proof of it. If ever there was one that seemed too bad to be received, this was the man. Yet the door of mercy was wide open even for him.

Have I not a right to say, by grace ye may be saved through faith, not of works: fear not, only believe? Behold the proof of it. This thief was never baptized. He belonged to no visible Church. He never received the Lord’s Supper. He never did any work for Christ. He never gave money to Christ’s cause. But he had faith, and so he was saved.

Have I not a right to say, the youngest faith will save a man’s soul, if it only be true? Behold the proof of it. This man’s faith was only one day old, but it led him to Christ, and preserved him from hell.

Why then should any man or woman despair with such a passage as this in the Bible? Jesus is a physician who can cure hopeless cases. He can quicken dead souls, and call the things which be not as though they were.

Never should any man or woman despair! Jesus is still the same now that He was eighteen hundred years ago. The keys of death and hell are in His hand. When He opens none can shut.

What though your sins be more in number than the hairs of your head? What though your evil habits have grown with your growth, and strength­ened with your strength? What though you have hitherto hated good, and loved evil, all the days of your life? These things are sad indeed; but there is hope, even for you. Christ can heal you. Christ can raise you from your low estate. Heaven is not shut against you. Christ is able to admit you, if you will humbly commit your soul into His hands.

Are your sins forgiven? If not, I set before you this day a full and free salvation. I invite you to follow the steps of the penitent thief: come to Christ, and live. I tell you that Jesus is very pitiful, and of tender mercy. I tell you He can do everything that your soul requires. Though your sins be as scarlet, He will make them white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. Why should you not be saved as well as another? Come unto Christ, and live.

Are you a true believer? If you are, you ought to glory in Christ.

Glory not in your own faith, your own feelings, your own knowledge, your own prayers, your own amendment, your own diligence. Glory in nothing but Christ. Alas, the best of us knows but little of that merciful and mighty Saviour! We do not exalt Him and glory in Him enough. Let us pray that we may see more of the fullness there is in Him. 

Remember to tell everyone about Christ. Tell the young, tell the poor, tell the aged, tell the ignorant, tell the sick, tell the dying,—tell them all about Christ. Tell them of His power, and tell them of His love. Tell them of His doings, and tell them of His feelings. Tell them what lie has done for the chief of sinners. Tell them what He is willing to do to the last day of time. Tell it them over and over again. Never be tired of speaking of Christ. Say to them, broadly and fully, freely and unconditionally, unreservedly and doubtingly, “Come unto Christ as the penitent thief did: come unto Christ, and you shall be saved.”

If some are saved in the very hour of death, others are not.

This is a truth that never ought to he passed over, and I dare not leave it unnoticed. It is a truth that stands out plainly in the sad end of the other malefactor, and is only too often forgotten.

What became of the other thief who was crucified?

Why did he not turn from his sin, and call upon the Lord? Why did he remain hardened and impenitent? Why was he not saved? It is useless to try to answer such questions. Let us be content to take the fact as we find it, and see what it is meant to teach us.

We have no right whatever to say this thief was a worse man than his companion.

There is nothing to prove it. Both plainly were wicked men. Both were receiving the due reward of their deeds. Both hung by the side of our Lord Jesus Christ. Both heard Him pray for His murderers. Both saw Rim suffer patiently. But while one repented, the other remained hardened. While one began to pray, the other went on railing. While one was converted in his last hours, the other died a bad man as he had lived. While one was taken to paradise, the other went to his own place, the place of the devil and his angels.

Now these things are written for our warning.

There is warning, as well as comfort in these verses, and that very solemn warning too. They tell me loudly, that though some may repent and be converted on their death-beds, it does not at all follow that all will A death-bed is not always a saving time.

They tell me loudly that two men may have the same opportunities of getting good for their souls,—may be placed in the same position, see the same things, and hear the same things; and yet only one shall take advantage of them, repent, believe, and be saved.

They tell me, above all, that repentance and faith are the gifts of God, and are not in a man’s own power; and that if any one flatters himself he can repent at his own time, choose his own season, seek the Lord when he pleases, and, like the penitent thief, be saved at the very last,—he may find at length he is greatly deceived.

Take heed that you do not fall into this mistake. Look at the history of men in the Bible, and see how often these notions I have been speaking of are contradicted. Mark well how many proofs there are that two men may have the same light offered them, and only one use it; and that no one has a right to take liberties with God’s mercy, and presume he will be able to repent just when he likes.

Look at Saul and David. They lived about the same time. They rose from the same rank in life. They were called to the same position in the world. They enjoyed the ministry of the same prophet, Samuel. They reigned the same number of years.—Yet one was saved and the other lost.

Look at Sergius Paulus and Gallio. They were both Roman Governors. They were both wise and prudent men in their generation. They both heard the apostle Paul preach. But one believed and was baptized,—the other “cared for none of these things.”

Look at the world around you. See what is going on continually under your eyes. Two sisters will often attend the same ministry, listen to the same truths, hear the same sermons; and yet only one shall be converted unto God, while the other remains totally unmoved. Two friends often read the same religious book. One is so moved by it, that he gives up all for Christ; the other sees nothing at all in it, and continues the same as before. Hundreds have read Doddridge’s “Rise and Progress” without profit: with Wilberforce it was one of the beginnings of spiritual life. Thousands have read Wilberforce’s “Practical View of Christianity,” and laid it down again unaltered;—from the time Legh Richmond read it he became another man. No man has any warrant for saying, Salvation is in my own power.

I want you to beware of presumption. Do not abuse God’s mercy and compassion. Do not continue in sin, I beseech you, and think you can repent, and believe, and be saved, just when you like, when you please, when you will, and when you choose. I would always set before you an open door. I would always say, “While there is life there is hope.” But if you would be wise, put nothing off that concerns your soul.

I want you to beware of letting slip good thoughts and godly convictions, if you have them. Cherish them and nourish them, lest you lose them for ever. Make the most of them, lest they take to themselves wings and flee away. Have you an inclination to begin praying? Put it in practice at once. Have you an idea of beginning really to serve Christ? Set about it at once. Are you enjoying any spiritual light? See that you live up to your light. Trifle not with opportunities, lest the day come when you will want to use them, and not be able. Linger not, lest you become wise too late.

You may say, perhaps, “it is never too late to repent.” I answer, That is right enough, but late repentance is seldom true. And I say further, You cannot be certain if you put off repenting, you will repent at all.

You may say, “Why should I be afraid?—the penitent thief was saved.” I answer, That is true, but look again at the passage which tells you that the other thief was lost.

The Spirit always leads saved souls in one way.

The Spirit always works in one way, and that whether He converts a man in an hour, as He did the penitent thief,—or whether by slow degrees, as he does others, the steps by which He leads souls to heaven are always the same.

I want you to shake off the common notion that there is some easy royal road to heaven from a dying bed. I want you thoroughly to understand that every saved soul goes through the same experience, and that the leading principles of the penitent thief’s religion were just the same as those of the oldest saint that ever lived.

See then, for one thing, how strong was the faith of this man.

He called Jesus, “Lord.” He declared his belief that He would have a kingdom. He believed that He was able to give him eternal life and glory, and in this belief prayed to Him. He maintained His innocence of all the charges brought against Him. “This man,” said he, “hath done nothing amiss.” Others perhaps may have thought the Lord innocent,—none said so openly but this poor dying man. And when did all this happen? It happened when the whole nation had denied Christ,—shouting, “Crucify Him: crucify Him. We have no king but Cæsar!”—when the chief priests and Pharisees had condemned and found Him guilty of death,—when even His own disciples had forsaken Him and fled,—when He was hanging, faint, bleeding and dying on the cross, numbered with transgressors, and accounted accursed. This was the hour when the thief believed in Christ, and prayed to Him. Surely such faith was never seen since the world began.

The disciples had seen mighty signs and miracles. They had seen the dead raised with a word,—and lepers healed with a touch,—the blind receiving sight,—the dumb made to speak,—the lame made to walk. They had seen thousands fed with a few loaves and fishes. They had seen their Master walking on the water as on dry land. They had all of them heard Him speak as no man ever spake, and hold out promises of good things yet to come. They had some of them had a foretaste of His glory in the mount of transfiguration. Doubtless their faith was the gift of God, but still they had much to help it.

The dying thief saw none of the things I have mentioned. He only saw our Lord in agony, and in weakness, in suffering, and in pain. He saw Him undergoing. a dishonourable punishment; deserted, mocked, despised, blasphemed. He saw Him rejected by all the great, and wise, and noble of His own people,—His strength dried up like a potsherd, His life drawing nigh to the grave. (Ps. 22:15; 88:3) He saw no sceptre, no royal crown, no outward dominion, no glory, no majesty, no power, no signs of might. And yet the dying thief believed, and looked forward to Christ’s kingdom.

See another thing, what a right sense of sin the thief had. He says to his companion, “We receive the due reward of our deeds.” He acknowledges his own ungodliness, and the justice of his punishment. He makes no attempt to justify himself, or excuse his wickedness. He speaks like a man humbled and self-abased by the remembrance of past iniquities. This is what all God’s children feel. They are ready to allow they are poor hell-deserving sinners. They can say with their hearts, as well as with their lips, “We have left undone the things that we ought to have done, and we have done those things that we ought not to have done, and there is no health in us.”

Do you feel your sin?

Then see another thing, what brotherly love the thief showed to his companion. He tried to stop his railing and blaspheming, and bring him to a better mind. “Dost not thou fear God,” he says, “seeing thou art in the same condemnation?” There is no surer mark of grace than this. Grace shakes a man out of his selfishness, and makes him feel for the souls of others. When the Samaritan woman was converted, she left her water-pot and ran to the city, saying, “Come, see a man that told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?” When Saul was converted, immediately he went to the synagogue at Damascus, and testified to his brethren of Israel, that Jesus was the Christ.

Would you know if you have the Spirit? Then where is your charity and love to souls?

In one word, you see in the penitent thief a finished work of the Holy Ghost. Every part of the believer’s character may be traced in him. Short as his life was after conversion, he found time to leave abundant evidence that he was a child of God. His faith, his prayer, his humility, his brotherly love, are unmistakable witnesses of the reality of his repentance. He was not a penitent in name only, but in deed and in truth.

It may be you are a believer, and yet tremble at the thought of the grave. It seems cold and dreary. You feel as if all before you was dark, and gloomy, and comfortless. Fear not, but be encouraged by this text. You are going to paradise, and Christ will be there.

Some of us know by bitter experience, what a long and weary time it is between the death of those we love, and the hour when we bury them out of our sight. Such weeks are the slowest, saddest, heaviest weeks in all our lives. But, blessed be God, the souls of departed saints are free from the very moment their last breath is drawn. While we are weeping, and the coffin preparing, and the mourning being provided, and the last painful arrangement being made, the spirits of our beloved ones are enjoying the presence of Christ. They are freed for ever from the burden of the flesh. They are “where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest.”

Here is encouragement for you. See what the penitent thief did, and do likewise. See how he prayed,—see how he called on the Lord Jesus Christ,—see what an answer of peace he obtained. Brother or sister, why should not you do the same? Why should not you also be saved?

Some are proud and presumptuous men of the world,—Are you that man? Then take warning. See how the impenitent thief died as he had lived, and beware lest you come to a like end. Oh, erring brother or sister, be not too confident, lest you die in your sins! Seek the Lord while He may be found. Turn you, turn: why will you die?

Some are professing believers in Christ.—Are you such an one? Then take the penitent thief’s religion as a measure by which to prove your own. See that you know something of true repentance and saving faith, of real humility and fervent charity. Brother or sister, do not be satisfied with the world’s standard of Christianity. Be of one mind with the penitent thief, and you will be wise.

Some are mourning over departed believers.—Are you such an one? Then take comfort from this Scripture. See how your beloved ones are in the best of hands. They cannot be better off. They never were so well in their lives as they are now. They are with Jesus, whom their souls loved on earth. Oh, cease from your selfish mourning! Rejoice rather that they are freed from trouble, and have entered into rest.

Some aged servants of Christ.—Are you such an one? Then see from these verses how near you are to home. A few more days of labour and sorrow, and the King of kings shall send for you; and in a moment your warfare shall be at end, and all shall be peace.

Christ’s Farewell to the World and the Last Supper

Thoughts and excerpts taken from, THE LAST SUPPER OF OUR LORD AND HIS WORDS OF CONSOLATION TO THE DISCIPLES,
Written by J. Marshall Lang

Edited for thought and sense

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“Before the feast of the Passover,” the short but wonderful life has been lived…

Only three years of teaching and labour! But if we “count time by heart-throbs,” if we measure existence by the thought, the feeling, the action, compressed within it, what ages on ages do these three years represent ! The Evangelist, with a simplicity which appeals to the heart, closes his Gospel with the sentence, “There are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.” –John 20:25

It is to a very brief portion of this life “one night, only a part of that one night” that our attention will be drawn. The night in which the fulness of the Savior’s love is poured forth and His deepest longing is told! The part of that night which was spent in the upper room at Jerusalem, and on the way thence towards the brook Kedron! We join the disciples at the Supper Table where the earthly human fellowship of the Son of God with those who hear His voice is consummated, where also the cloud begins to receive Him out of their sight. Truly “the place whereon we stand is holy; ” let us seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit of Truth, of whom it is said, “He shall glorify me: for He shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you.” –John 16:14

“Before the feast of the Passover” the last words of Jesus to the world were spoken. These words are set before us between the 35th and the 50th verses of the twelfth chapter of John’s Gospel; St John interjecting an explanation, for which he claims divine authority, of the unbelief of the people. Solemn and weighty is the Farewell-testimony of the incarnate Truth! The verses which contain the testimony are regarded by many commentators, not as marking a discourse uttered at one time, but “as a summary of the Lord’s teaching, gathered up in view of the approaching crisis”(Westcott “Speakers Commentaries Pg 187). I can scarcely reconcile the language of the 44th verse with this view. “Jesus cried and said ” is suggestive to me, not of an epitome of many sayings scattered over a period, but of a distinct and definite speech. And I am disposed, therefore, to look on the passage thus introduced as the concluding part of the address broken off towards the end of the 36th verse, to be reckoned among those things of which it is affirmed that when Jesus had spoken them, “He departed and did hide Himself.”

“Therefore they could not believe…”

…sentence is a very strong one. It is a conclusion arrived at from the study of a scripture of Isaiah, “He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart: that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.” Let us apprehend the point of the Evangelist’s sentence and the Prophet’s Scripture.

The Hebrews never conceived of ” they knew nothing of ” a mere mechanical law. They regarded all law, all sequence, as a mode of God’s power. And as, overlooking intermediate and subordinate causes, they spoke of Him as making day and night, as related directly and personally to all that is, so they spoke of Him as also causing spiritual day and night. In the stolidity which is inevitable when the
soul refuses the report of the messengers of God, and closes itself against the evidence of light, they beheld law; and, beholding law, they discerned God. In the working of the law they did not hesitate to trace the action of God, to declare, ” It is He who has blinded the eyes and hardened the heart.” In point of fact, the blindness is because the necessary conditions of spiritual sight have been traversed.

St John dwells much on cans and cannots. “The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what he sees the Father do.” “I can of mine own self do nothing.” That is,”it is the necessity of the Divine Sonship to do all in perfect sympathy with and correspondence to the Father.” And, again, as to Discipleship: “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him.” ” Except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.” In these and in other places the can and cannot have a moral significance. They refer to impossibilities which have their root in the presence or absence of certain inward states or dispositions. And similarly,the could not of the passage before us implies the want of the disposition to believe, the operation of a spirit of mind which is wholly incompatible with a loyal and earnest trust in Jesus Christ.

For example, the people, we are told, meet the Lord with the objection,” We have heard out of the law that Christ abides for ever: and how sayest thou, The Son of man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of man? ” Two difficulties have been raised in their minds by the saying, “I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” The one; the law speaks of a king whose “dominion is an everlasting dominion.” Yet Jesus speaks of being “lifted up from the earth.” The other; Jesus assumes the title Son of Man, yet they knew the Messiah as the Son of David. Was then the Son of Man other than the Messiah? If not other, if the same, why use the non-national term? Now, Christ does not deny the reality of these difficulties. He does not find fault with them for having, and for expressing, such difficulties. That is not His way. He is no brow-beater of honest doubt. But what He urges is,” Do not thrust the difficulties between you and the testimony which God has given to this Son of Man. If you cannot see who He is, if you cannot discern the inner glory of His being, at least recognize the force of Divine life that is in Him. You have not forgotten Lazarus called by Him out of the grave and raised from the dead. You know how many signs of this life have been set before you. Yield your minds to this evidence. Leave the perplexities for solution in the future. Take the blessing of the light that is now with you.” They would not do so. They determined that they must have an answer to their hows. Intellectual cavilings were allowed to intercept spiritual light, to prevent spiritual vision. And such being their temperament, they could not believe.

Is it too much to say that, for the same reason, there are many amongst the people of the nineteenth century who cannot believe? I do not allude to the occasions of unbelief which are part of the deeper spiritual history of a man ; I allude to a type of mind which is often praised as the sign of intellectual smartness –disputatious, so occupied with little points that the effect of the conjunct testimony is lost, so constantly posing as a debater or a critic, that the light cannot get fully into the heart which, by its own shining, would illumine what seems to be doubtful.

Farther, the passage is suggestive of a spiritual inaction which involves the loss of faith. For, let us note what is said as to the chief rulers. “Many believed on Him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the Synagogue. For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” Compare this statement with that contained in a previous chapter of this Gospel. At the Feast of Tabernacles, the Priests and Pharisees sent officers to apprehend Jesus. The officers failed to do so, excusing themselves by saying, “Never man spake like that man.” “Have any of the Rulers or of the Pharisees believed in Him?” was the immediate retort. One alone, Nicodemus, ventured to protest against the summary procedure of his colleagues, and by so doing aroused their suspicion. Now, we have the assurance that, even in the Sanhedrin, there was a considerable party in favor of the Prophet of Nazareth, although prudent considerations prevented them from confessing Him. No doubt, it was cowardly conduct.

It is dangerous to play with convictions, dangerous even to delay the expression of them in appropriate action. All persons, indeed, are not alike. There are peculiarities of disposition which must be respected. Some are reserved in any indication of feeling, reticent in speech, afraid, sometimes morbidly so, of any exaggeration, and thus it happens that they rather conceal than reveal their true selves. A stranger is apt to misjudge them. But it is well to remind such persons that they run the risk of both weakening their own faith and love, and hiding, as the Psalmist puts it, the righteousness of God. Their witness for the Lord may be muffled, their service may be hindered. What Christ Himself insists upon is, that he who is but a fainthearted believer, who is not truly with Him, is, for practical purposes, really against Him. Alas! do we not all need to be warned of the two great enemies, cowardice and indolence? ” the coward which shrinks from “the offense of the cross;” the indolent which is the parent of faithlessness. In the parable no turpitude is charged against the servant who hid the talent. The indictment is: “Thou wicked and slothful? From him the talent is taken.” The word of faith which we preach is, that if thou shalt confess with thy month the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation?

What then is the action in which faith is preserved and perfected? For the answer, we shall listen to Jesus only. The substance of His instruction is contained in the two sentences, “Believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light.” “Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you.” In other words, no question is to be allowed to divert the mind from that which is its present and immediate duty, which is the free, unreserved, acceptance of the light that is shining on the soul. “Whatsoever doth make manifest is light:” where God is manifested in the righteousness which is so narrow, and the charity which is so broad: where human nature is manifested in what is worst and in what is best ” the depths disclosed and the heights revealed; where there is “truth followed in love:” there is light.

“While ye have light” is the cry of Jesus. It is the last opportunity. He is about to depart. And the farewell is solemn, pathetic, gentle. “If any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.”

One hour –then, “He that rejects Me, and receives not My words, hath one that judges him. “Who?” The word that I have spoken the same shall judge him at the last day. Thus the Lord, the “swift witness” of the kingdom shakes off the dust of His feet as He leaves the unbelieving world. Shortly hence it will marvel at His silence. For His own followers –as may it be ours to see! –the best speech has been kept until now.

Just a Bit O’ History… Psalm 31: ‘The Final Watchword’

Psalm 31


jessta12This psalm sparkles all through with lamps, which have lighted the steps of men in dark places. Above all, the 5th verse has given the closing words to many a life. It was one of the seven sayings on the cross, and the last.
–‘Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.’  

It was the dying word of Stephen, addressed to Christ himself, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ It was the parting word of Luther, of Knox, of John Huss, of Jerome of Prague, of Julian Palmer, one of the noted martyrs in the reign of the English Mary, of Francis Teissier, the first martyr of the Desert, who ascended the scaffold singing it, in 1686, and of countless more.

The Lord himself gave the word, and great has been the company of those who published it.

No watchword of the Captain of salvation has been taken up by so many sons whom he has led to glory through the valley of the shadow of death.

Let us try to catch more fully the accents of some of them.

On the 6th of July 1415, the anniversary of his birth, John Huss was burned to death in a field near the ancient city of Constance. He had come there from Bohemia, under a warrant of safety from the hand of the Emperor Sigismund, for the violation of which the pope granted absolution, pressing it on the reluctant monarch. The doctrines for which Huss was condemned were essentially those which Luther proclaimed a century later. A brass tablet let into the floor of the cathedral marks the spot where Huss stood, while seven bishops removed his priestly dress piece by piece, and placed on his head a paper crown painted with demons. They addressed him, ‘We deliver thy soul to Satan.’ ‘But I,‘ he said, ‘commend it into thy hands, Lord Jesus Christ, who hast redeemed me.’ When taken to the place of execution he fell on his knees, and repeated in prayer some of the psalms, especially the 51st and 53rd. He was heard to repeat frequently the words: ‘Into thy hands I commit my spirit; thou hast redeemed me, Lord God of truth.’ When he arose, he said, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, stand by me, that by thy and thy Father’s help, I may endure this painful and shameful death which I suffer for thy word.’ When the fire was kindled he cried three times, ‘Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me.’ At the third time his voice was stifled by the smoke, but they saw his lips still moving. His ashes were cast into the Rhine, and for a century it seemed as if fire and water had triumphed over truth.

Luther died in 1546. His last words were, ‘0 my heavenly Father, the God and Father of my Lord Jesus Christ, the God of all consolation, I give thee thanks that thou hast revealed to me thy dear Son Jesus Christ, in whom I believe, whom I have preached and confessed, whom I have loved and honoured. I pray thee, 0 Lord Jesus Christ, to take my soul into thy keeping.’ Then he said thrice, ‘Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: thou hast redeemed me, Lord God of truth;’ and, without a struggle, he yielded up his breath.

John Knox died on the 24th Nov. 1572, when dark clouds were gathering again round the Reformed Churches, at home and abroad, after the terrible massacre of St. Bartholomew. On Friday, 21st, he ordered his coffin to be made, and was much engaged all day in meditation and prayer. These words were often in his mouth, ‘Come, Lord Jesus. Sweet Jesus, into thy hands I commit my spirit. Be merciful, Lord, to thy Church which thou hast redeemed. Give peace to this afflicted Commonwealth. Raise up faithful pastors who will take the charge of thy Church.’

From this time till his death his pious exclamations were so many, that those who waited on him could remember only a small part; for they were seldom silent, except when they were employed in reading or prayer. 

On Monday the 24th he said, ‘I Now, for the last time, I commend my spirit, soul, and body,’ touching three of his fingers ‘into thy hand, 0 Lord.’ About eleven o’clock at night he gave a deep sigh, and said, ‘Now, it is come.’ Richard Bannatyne, his faithful attendant, immediately drew near, and desired him to think upon those comfortable promises of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, which he had so often declared to others; and, perceiving that he was speechless, requested him to give them a sign that he heard them, and that he died in peace. Upon this he lifted up one of his hands, and, sighing twice, expired.

Nearly a century after this, on a dark morning, Dec. 22, 1666, the words were the parting-song of Hugh M’Kail, at the Grassmarket, Edinburgh, in the version now used in Scotland,

‘Into thine hands I do commit
My spirit; for thou art he,
0 thou, Jehovah, God of truth,
Who hast redeemed me.’

We have already, at Psalm 16th, spoken of his imprisonment. He was among those who came from the west before the fight at Pentland, but wishful to enter Edinburgh on a mission to friends, he was taken at Braid’s Craigs, and, after suffering the torture of the boot, was condemned to death. ‘About two of the clock,’ says the narrative,’ he was carried to the scaffold with five others, who suffered with him, where he appeared to the conviction of all that formerly knew him, with a fairer, better, and more staid countenance than ever they had before observed.

Being come to the foot of the ladder, he directed his speech northward to the multitude, saying that “as his years in the world had been few (only twenty-six), so his words at that time should not be many.” Having done speaking to the people, who heard him with great attention, he sang a part of the 31st Psalm, and then prayed with such power and fervency as forced many to weep bitterly. Having ended, he gave his cloak and hat from him; and when he turned himself and took hold of the ladder to go up, he said, with an audible voice, “I care no more to go up this ladder, and over it, than if I were going home to my father’s house.”

As he went up, hearing a great noise among the people, he called down to his fellow sufferers, “Friends and fellow-sufferers, be not afraid! Every step of this ladder is a degree nearer heaven.” ‘His farewell address is known to all acquainted with Scottish history, and is one of the most rapt and seraphic of that fervid time. Death touched his lips with a live coal from the altar before it closed them. The deaths of such men produced so much sympathy that at length drums were beat to drown their voice, and the place of execution was transferred to some distance from the city, between Edinburgh and Leith.

Psalm 31

In thee, O Lord, do I put my trust; let me never be ashamed: deliver me in thy righteousness. Bow down thine ear to me; deliver me speedily: be thou my strong rock, for an house of defence to save me. For thou art my rock and my fortress; therefore for thy name’s sake lead me, and guide me. Pull me out of the net that they have laid privily for me: for thou art my strength. Into thine hand I commit my spirit: thou hast redeemed me, O Lord God of truth. I have hated them that regard lying vanities: but I trust in the Lord. I will be glad and rejoice in thy mercy: for thou hast considered my trouble; thou hast known my soul in adversities; And hast not shut me up into the hand of the enemy: thou hast set my feet in a large room. Have mercy upon me, O Lord, for I am in trouble: mine eye is consumed with grief, yea, my soul and my belly. For my life is spent with grief, and my years with sighing: my strength faileth because of mine iniquity, and my bones are consumed. I was a reproach among all mine enemies, but especially among my neighbours, and a fear to mine acquaintance: they that did see me without fled from me. I am forgotten as a dead man out of mind: I am like a broken vessel. For I have heard the slander of many: fear was on every side: while they took counsel together against me, they devised to take away my life. But I trusted in thee, O Lord: I said, Thou art my God. My times are in thy hand: deliver me from the hand of mine enemies, and from them that persecute me. Make thy face to shine upon thy servant: save me for thy mercies’ sake. Let me not be ashamed, O Lord; for I have called upon thee: let the wicked be ashamed, and let them be silent in the grave. Let the lying lips be put to silence; which speak grievous things proudly and contemptuously against the righteous. Oh how great is thy goodness, which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee; which thou hast wrought for them that trust in thee before the sons of men! Thou shalt hide them in the secret of thy presence from the pride of man: thou shalt keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues. Blessed be the Lord: for he hath shewed me his marvellous kindness in a strong city. For I said in my haste, I am cut off from before thine eyes: nevertheless thou heardest the voice of my supplications when I cried unto thee. O love the Lord, all ye his saints: for the Lord preserveth the faithful, and plentifully rewardeth the proud doer. Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the Lord.

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Written by John Ker, D. D.
Taken from, “The Psalms in History and Biography”.

“The Cross of Christ”

Taken from, “The Cross of Christ.”
Written by, J. C. Ryle

Edited for thought and sense

Cross of Christ image 2What do you think about the cross of Christ?

The question may be one that you consider of little importance: but it deeply concerns the everlasting welfare of your soul.

Two thousand years ago there was a man who said that he “gloried” in the cross of Christ. He was one who turned the world upside down by the doctrines he preached. He was one who did more to establish Christianity than any man that ever lived. Yet what does He tell the Galatians?—”God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal. 6:14).

The “cross of Christ” must needs be an important subject, when an inspired apostle can speak of it in this way. Let me try to show you what the expression means. Once know what the cross of Christ means, and then you may be able, by God’s help, to see the importance of it to your soul.

The cross in the Bible sometimes means that wooden cross on which the Lord Jesus was nailed and put to death on Mount Calvary. This is what St. 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 St. Paul gloried. He would have shrunk with horror from the idea of glorying 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 that taketh not his cross, and followeth after Me, is not worthy of Me” (Matt. x. 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 Saviour. This is the meaning in which Paul uses the expression, when he tells the Corinthians, “The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness” (1 Cor. 1:18). This is the meaning in which he wrote to the Galatians, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross.” He simply meant, “I glory in nothing but Christ crucified, as the salvation of my soul.”

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 glory. 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 save 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.

This is what he lived upon all his life, from the time of his conversion. He tells the Galatians, “The life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). What made him so strong to labour? What made him so willing to work? What made him so unwearied in endeavouring 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 meat and drink of his soul.

And you 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 centre 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 the temple,—all these were emblems of Christ crucified. This is the truth that we see honoured in the vision of heaven, before we close the book of Revelations. “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 catch 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.

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. 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 almost everything 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. Reader, beware of such places of worship. They are not apostolical. They would not have satisfied St. Paul.

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 Saviour and His dying love, are either not mentioned, or mentioned in an unscriptural way. And hence they are worse than useless. Reader, beware of such books. They are not apostolical They would never have satisfied St. Paul.

St. Paul gloried 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 any thing 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 Ghost. Let not the vague talk of men who speak great swelling words about catholicity, and the church, and the ministry, 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 honour to another. “He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.”

What you think now about the cross of Christ I cannot tell; but I can wish you nothing better than this,—that you may be able to say with the apostle Paul, before you die or meet the Lord, “God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

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Meet the author and part of your Christian heritage: John Charles Ryle (10 May 1816 – 10 June 1900) was the first Anglican bishop of Liverpool. Ryle was born at Macclesfield, and was educated at Eton and at Christ Church, Oxford, where he was Craven Scholar in 1836. The son of a wealthy banker, he was destined for a career in politics before choosing a path of ordained ministry. While hearing Ephesians 2 read in church in 1838, he felt a spiritual awakening and was ordained by Bishop Sumner at Winchester in 1842. For 38 years he was a parish priest, first at Helmingham and later at Stradbrooke, in Suffolk. He became a leader of the evangelical party in the Church of England and was noted for his doctrinal essays and polemical writings.

Ryle was a strong supporter of the evangelical school and a critic of Ritualism. He was a writer, pastor and an evangelical preacher. Among his longer works are Christian Leaders of the Eighteenth Century (1869), Expository Thoughts on the Gospels (7 vols, 1856–69), Principles for Churchmen (1884). Ryle was described as having a commanding presence and vigorous in advocating his principles albeit with a warm disposition. He was also credited with having success in evangelizing the blue collar community. His second son, Herbert Edward Ryle also a clergyman, became Dean of Westminster.