THE PREACHING OF THE CROSS
‘For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God’. I Corinthians 1.18
In the text there are four points to consider:
1. What is, and what is not, meant by the Cross
2. What the preaching of the cross is
3. Why it is foolishness to them that perish
4. Why it is the power of God to them that are saved.
1. By ‘the Cross’ is not meant any reference to the material wood on which the sinless body of Christ was crucified, since that could effect nothing. If that were actually in existence, it would not bring peace or pardon or life or eternal salvation, which are the principal fruits of the cross of Christ. How fruitless then, must be any worship or religion that consists in adoration of a material image of the Cross.
By ‘the Cross’ is not meant that which follows the outward profession of the name of Christ of which the Lord said, “Let him take up his cross and follow me”. Herein believers in some measure enter into the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings, but this fellowship is a fruit of the cross of Christ.
By ‘the Cross’ is meant the sufferings and death of the Son of God in human nature, together with the doctrines that emanate therefrom, which are called the doctrines of the cross.
The cross of Christ was divinely appointed by the eternal purpose of God, divinely agreed by the Son of God in the Covenant of Grace. Wherefore He is said to be ‘the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world’ (Rev. 13.8). The cross of Christ was willingly submitted to: ‘Lo, I come … to do thy will, O God’ (Hebrews 10.7). He was straitened till it was accomplished. His enemies were not more willing to put Him to death than He was to undergo it. The ardent prayer of Christ in Gethsemane does not show any unwillingness to drink the cup of suffering but only the reality of His human nature and the greatness of that suffering.
The justice of God is clearly displayed in the Cross of Christ. How great since it required such an appeasing as this. How infinite since it required an infinite sacrifice. How holy since nothing could satisfy it except one so holy as the Son of God.
The cross of Christ means the shame and ignominy with which it was endured. It was a death for malefactors. Therefore He despised the shame for the joy that was set before Him. The salvation of the Church was of so great a joy to Christ that He endured the shame of the Cross
The high priest, the Jews, the Roman soldiers united against Him “Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round” (Psalm 22.12): “they pierced my hands and my feet” (Ps. 22.16) And in this He was supported by the Holy Spirit; therefore it is said that He ‘through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God’ (Hebrews 9.14).
The Cross, as intended in the text, means, therefore, the bodily and spiritual sufferings which Christ endured. The more we are led into this mystery, and are enabled by faith to perceive herein the purpose of God in the salvation of the Church, so we shall enter into the Apostle’s words, “God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ”.
2. Notice in the next point: What the preaching of the Cross is. It was the will of God that the doctrines of the Cross should be preached to all the world. Nor did He lack ministers, for He called a Peter from his nets Paul from his persecuting career and others from their callings, and divinely fitted them, and spiritually qualified them for this work.
Notice how Paul preached the Cross:
a. That He who suffered thereon was the Son of God (Acts 9.20). This
they did not believe: “If thou be the Son of God, etc.”. Herein lays a
foundation truth of the Gospel. If He that was crucified be the Son of God there is divine virtue, divine efficacy, infinite comprehensiveness in it. Herein it is that the death of One atones for so many: herein is such a firm and solid foundation of the Church’s hope and glory.
b. He preached the Cross in this, that there is forgiveness of sins thereby ‘Through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins:’ (Act;
13.38). There is nothing so necessary to enter heaven as this. Sin forms an insuperable barrier between a sinner and God; brings him under eternal wrath and condemnation; and this felt in the experience, brings fear of death, judgment and eternal misery. The preaching of the Cross and forgiveness thereby is ‘the trumpet’. ‘And it shall come to pass in that day, that the great trumpet shall be blown, and they shall come which were ready to perish…’ (Isaiah 27.13).
As the foundation of a believer’s hope, confidence, peace, and future glory, this theme should be the very essence of a gospel ministry. This will be profitable and bring liberty; besides, nothing else will stand to preacher or hearer in the day of judgment.
3. In the third place this preaching is to some foolishness.
Since men are sunk in ruin, why do they not at once grasp at this, the
only way of salvation? Because:
a. They do not know that they are lost, nor see nor feel their need of salvation.
Therefore the preaching of the Cross appears useless. They do not see why the apostle should undergo so many privations for what seems nothing more than to publish an opinion. b. They have no faith, ‘the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it’ (Heb. 4.2). Faith operates in the heart and co-operates with the preaching of the Cross. Otherwise, as in this case, it is all external. Observe, there must be something more than mere hearing or the most faithful sermon will be in itself ineffective. c. It leaves no room for human wisdom, power or strength; lays the knife at the root of all human attainments. Man’s pride is in his wisdom. This preaching makes the wisdom of this world, foolishness. They glory in their strength; this makes it utter weakness. d.
It is foolishness because it insists on separation from the things of this world. They who glory in the Cross are crucified to this world and this world to them. They who would carry this world to the verge of heaven and then effect an exchange will see nothing but foolishness in this preaching.
Notice the stamp upon all to whom this preaching is foolishness ‘them that are lost’. Fatal mark, the very stamp of condemnation if we see no glory, no wisdom, no preciousness in the preaching of the Cross. God Himself stamps upon us this condemnation.
4. Notice in the fourth and last point, why the preaching of the Cross is, to them that are saved, ‘the power of God’.
Herein lays a real evidence of our salvation if we can say that it has been powerful to us.
a. It is one of the chief means used by God to convey into the hearts of sinners the powerful effects of the Cross. The Cross of Christ is very powerful in itself. There was the great battle between the powers of Heaven and of Hell; there the Captain of our Salvation engaged the enemies of the Church. How they assaulted the Son of God; how they wounded Him. He looked for some to help and there was none.
‘Many hands were raised to wound him:
None would interpose to save’.
How powerfully they assaulted Him. If He be overcome the Church is for ever lost: hell swallows the whole human race, but He overcame. He conquered though He fell and in that dreadful night did all the powers of hell destroy. Therefore the 24th Psalm, ‘Lift up your heads, O ye gates… Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord strong in battle… He is the King of glory’. Also in the Revelation ‘On his head were many crowns’ (Rev. 19.12).
Now the same foes that were defeated by the Lord Jesus, hold the souls of His people under their sway. They are held captive at the Devil’s will, so that they need to be overcome again. But the first victory ensures the second.
b. Because it is accompanied by the Spirit of power. How useless is
preaching without this. How we may speak strongly and encouragingly and truthfully, and we may think powerfully, and yet there are no results: sinners are not converted nor the Lord’s people strengthened. In fact, the ministry is only like a cloud without water, under which souls may get as dry and hard as the cracking earth in summer. But when the Spirit of power attends it, how the word, and the Cross of Christ as held forth to sin-burdened sinners, how powerfully it works. How it turns a heart as hard as a millstone into a melting spring of love to Jesus Christ and raises up hope in the mind of one who feels ready to sink into eternal despair. It is the trumpet that shall sound when they that were ready to perish shall come. It shall turn their hell into heaven. To this precious experience I set my own seal.
c. It is powerful because it works powerful results. We, who have heard this preaching, should ask ourselves what effects it has had on us. The Apostle said, “To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life” (2 Corinthians
2.16). Observe every gospel sermon will be either life or death to us. Christ said, “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life” (John 6.63) and “the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day” (John 12.48).
But what does it so powerfully work? It works life. Nothing else does. The Law thunders curse and death. Our own righteousness works death eternal for it can never stand in the judgment; our own wisdom will never atone for our own sin. What then can work life? Why! the Cross of Christ.
‘Death’s within thee, all about thee,
But the remedy’s without thee;
See it in thy Saviour’s blood’.
It was when Moses lifted up the brazen serpent, that they who were bitten could look and live. Well, the ministry should be like the pole. which is only useful as far as it holds forth Jesus Christ, the Sin-healer in the form of the sinner. But that must be powerful which can work life in the hearts of sinners so very much dead.
Again it maintains life. The life of grace gets down to a spark Deadness of spirit; carnality of mind; pride, that greatest of all enemies love of the world, are like so much water on the fire of grace; and so effectually does it damp, that our efforts to stand against these things are powerless. Who does not sometimes fear that eternal life will go out’?
But what can stand against these just opponents and maintain life in the soul in spite of all? I answer from my own experience – the power of the Cross; whether it be in preaching or hearing, and in this way the preaching of the Cross is the power of God.
Again, it works felt reconciliation. Not real reconciliation, for that was effected once and for all in the death of God’s Son. But we can only safely know if we were reconciled then, by the realisation of it now. What a great thing! Heaven is opened to receive me to eternal mansions if I am reconciled to God. What a precious experience; how deep; how real; how abiding; how solid! Herein lies an evidence if a man is sent to preach – does his ministry work these solid things in the hearers, or does it merely set off his natural abilities? Herein, also, is a real test for hearers – do they merely like the man? Are they interested? do they say “He is a promising young man’? Or do they enter into this, and can they set their seal to these God-given evidences?
Observe again, it works peace in the conscience and comfort in the heart. But it does this in a discriminating way. It does not cry, ‘Peace’ where there is no peace. It does not give comfort in the face of eternal misery. It points to the foundation of peace and to the source of comfort, ‘The Cross of Christ’. It shows to whom this peace and comfort belongs.
Suppose there is a man who is a believer and who is in much darkness of mind and enduring temptation, joined perhaps with outward trials. And then within there is an accusing conscience, raking up past sins, seeming like a great white throne in his own heart, or as Bunyan says, “Mr. Recorder”. He feels that his religion is all pretence, that all he may have said will rise up in judgment against him. Comfort he has none. He can take none in himself or even in reading God’s Word. Where can he find such peace as shall quiet his conscience? What shall speak peace to the restless sea that he feels within, or where is such comfort as that he can look on all his outward troubles with contentment? Well! Suppose he hears the preaching of the Cross, and the merit of Christ’s atonement, the cleansing power of His precious blood, the gracious invitations of the Gospel reach his outward ear, and then enter into his soul, with such sweetness and power, as side by side with his own sin he sees the blood of Christ, and the one so much abounds over the other. And as conscience speaks loud and condemning, the blood of Christ speaks better things than that of Abel. As he feels that sin abounds, he begins to see how grace abounds over it, and divine love begins to operate in his heart, and love within begins to be attracted back again to Christ and the fear of death is so far removed as that he would depart and be with Christ which is far better. This is powerful working.
Again, it works holy confidence. ‘We are always confident,’ fears are gone while the power of the Gospel is felt. Confident of our acceptance with God; confident that that which He has begun. He will perfect at last.
Thou, Lord, wilt carry on,
And perfectly perform,
The work Thou hast begun
In me, a sinful worm”
Lastly, see the stamp the Holy Spirit puts on this kind of hearing. To them that are saved it is the power of God. Saved, eternally saved. The preaching of the Cross never works these powerful things in the hearts of lost sinners. ‘Lost’ is the fatal mark on the one; ‘Saved’ is the blessed mark on the other. Saved from sin; from the sulphurous flames of endless misery; from the abode of devils and lost spirits. Saved to the realms of endless glory, endless happiness, endless holiness. O! may the power of the Cross be the power of my heart’s experience!