"THEY . . . CRUCIFIED THE LORD OF GLORY."
PAUL realized that the preaching of Christ crucified is to them that perish foolishness (1 Cor. i. 17); that it was a stumbling-block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles (1 Cor. i. 23), and yet he determined not to have any other message, although it caused him searching of heart, weakness, fear and much trembling, than Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor. ii. 3). This message of the Cross is so great a mystery, although it revealed the wisdom and the power of God, that it is revealed only through the Spirit who searches all things even the deep things of God (1 Cor. i. 10). In this connection of thought Paul uses the startling expression regarding the rulers of the world, ignorant of God's wisdom, that "had they known it they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory" (2 Cor. xxii. 8).
In his address to the elders of Ephesus, Paul uses words that are even bolder and more arresting: "Take heed unto yourselves and to all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit hath made you overseers, to feed the Church of God which he purchased with his own blood" (Acts xx. 28). We shrink from such bold and startling implications, the Lord of Glory on the Cross, the blood of God—but when we try to soften down the words, we find that the Greek text leaves no alternative.
It is true that in the American Revised Version we have "Lord" substituted for God in Acts xx. 28, but it is wholly unwarranted. Stokes, in the Expositor's Bible, says, "Some have read Lord instead of God, others have substituted Christ for it, but the Revised Version, following the text of Westcott and Hort [we may add Nestle], have accepted the strongest form of the verse on purely critical grounds."
Ignatius wrote to the Ephesians, fifty years later than Paul's letter, that believers were "kindled into living fire by the blood of God." Tertullian, a hundred years later, uses the same expression "the blood of God." In the other passage also the Greek text is undoubtedly genuine and the words were written by Paul twenty-seven years after the event—before the gospels themselves were current—"Had they known it they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory."
"Who is this King of Glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of Glory" (Ps. xxiv. 10). Both in the Old and New Testament the Lord of Glory signifies He whose attribute is glory (Ps. xxix. 1; Acts vii. 2; Eph. i. 17, and James. ii. 1), the Lord to whom glory belongs as His native right. The expression is theologically important because it implies the deity of our Lord. In passages like 1 Cor. xi. 20, "The Lord's death," and 1 Cor. xi. 27, "the body and blood of the Lord," the import is similar but the language less startling. Even in the days of His flesh, the Saviour was to Paul the Lord to whom all glory belongs as His native right. To him, no less than to John, the Word who became flesh, was "in the beginning with God; and the Word was God."
There is no mystery in heaven or earth so great as this—a suffering Deity, an Almighty Saviour nailed to the Cross. Yet this is what the words imply. It is at the Cross that we see in Christ the fulness of God's love and mercy bodily. It is at this point, in the last resort, that we become convinced—as the Centurion was—of His deity. It is a work that only God could do, which Christ works there "and the soul that is won for it is won for God in Him."
Christ is to Paul, through His death and resurrection, manifested as the very centre of the universe. He is the primary source of all creation, its principle of unity, its goal, and the explanation of all its mysteries (Col. i. 13-18). No one can read this passage and deny that it teaches Christ's equality in glory with God.
In reference to this same passage on the essential deity of "the Son of God's love in whom we have our redemption," the Roman Catholic mystic, John Cordelier, says: "If the Cross be anything at all it is the ground-plan of the universe. It stretches from Nebula to Nebula linking the furthest limits of the worlds, holding out to them the wounded hands of Love. All progress is born of that clash of love and pain which is the secret of its heart; its mysterious torment lies at the root of all our joy. It is odd indeed that any biologist can be other than a Christian, since he finds on every hand Christianity's sternest symbol scored deep in the very foundations of the House of Life; finds pain, struggle, and the sacrifice of the individual to be as essential to the diurnal processes of reproduction as to the slow-growing perfection of the type. Turn to the heights, turn to the deep, turn within, turn without; everywhere thou shalt find the Cross."
The same thought occurs in Studdert Kennedy's poem, "The Suffering God":—
"Father, if He the Christ, were Thy Revealer,
Truly the First Begotten of the Lord,
Then must Thou be a Sufferer and a Healer
Pierced to the heart by the sorrow of the sword.
Then must it mean, not only that Thy sorrow
Smote Thee that once upon the lonely tree,
But that to-day, to-night, and on the morrow
Still it will come, O Gallant God, to Thee.
* * * * *
Give me, for light, the sunshine of Thy sorrow;
Give me, for shelter, shadow of Thy cross;
Give me to share the glory of Thy morrow,
Gone from my heart the bitterness of loss."
It is not only that we see in Christ's death the supreme manifestation of God's love, but also of His infinite sorrow and compassion. "Like as a Father pitieth his children," is in the same Psalm that tells us that "as far as the East is from the West so far hath He removed our transgressions from us." "Sorrow and love flow mingled down," on the Cross—the sorrow of God and the love of God.
The whole Christian doctrine of the Atonement is rooted in the doctrine of the deity of Christ. Our belief in the latter determines our faith in the former. No mere man can pay the penalty of another man's sin. All objections to the vicarious sacrifice of Christ disappear before the tremendous fact of the majesty of the Person of Jesus. "It is perfectly true," says Dr. Gresham Machen, "that the Christ of modern naturalistic reconstruction never could have suffered for the sins of others; but it is very different in the case of the Lord of Glory. And if the notion of vicarious atonement be so absurd as modern opposition would lead us to believe, what shall be said of the Christian experience that has been based upon it? The modern liberal Church is fond of appealing to experience. But where shall true Christian experience be found if not in the blessed peace which comes from Calvary? That peace comes only when a man recognizes that all his striving to be right with God, all his feverish endeavour to keep the law before he can be saved, is unnecessary, and that the Lord Jesus has wiped out the handwriting that was against him by dying instead of him on the Cross. Who can measure the depth of the peace and joy that comes from this blessed knowledge? Is it a theory of the atonement, a delusion of man's fancy? Or is it the very truth of God?"
When Paul speaks of Jesus Christ as suffering on the Cross in such terms as we have quoted, he deals with facts so sublime that he calls them "the depths of God" (1 Cor. ii. 10). These matters are so deep that they are unfathomable to human philosophy. So high that they elude the most piercing gaze of the intellect. In parts of the great Pacific ocean deep-sea sounding apparatus fails. There are stellar spaces and nebulas that will not yield their secrets to the largest telescopes. "Things which the eye saw not, and ear heard not, and which entered not into the heart of man." But God reveals them even unto babes by His Holy Spirit, and although we cannot understand it, we can fall down in utter gratitude and humility.
"When I survey the wondrous Cross
On which the Prince of Glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss
And pour contempt on all my pride."
There was no separation of the two natures of our Lord on the Cross. His real humanity and His real deity were not mixed, nor confounded, but distinct and actually, both, wholly present. "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself." The sacrifice was not the human Christ pleasing God; it was God in the Christ reconciling man and in another sense reconciling Himself. It was not the death of a heroic man in obedience to God's will; it was the death of the Son of God for the sins of the world. Here, if anywhere, in the gospel story Christ manifested His glory—a glory as of the only begotten of the Father full of grace and truth. The atonement was an act of the whole Godhead. For God, the Father, so loved the world that He gave; God the Son laid down His life for others; God the Holy Spirit filled Jesus with His presence and power to endure such a death, and overcome it by His glorious resurrection (Rom. i. 4).
Not only at Bethlehem but on Calvary we may sing with the angels, "Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth and goodwill to men."
"Therefore," says Forsythe, "we press the words to their fullness of meaning: God was in Christ reconciling, not reconciling through Christ, but actually present as Christ reconciling, doing in Christ His own work of reconciliation. It was done by Godhead itself; and not by the Son alone. The old theologians were right when they insisted that the work of redemption was the work of the whole Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Spirit; and we express it when we baptize into the new life of reconcilement in the threefold name."
We must, however, go deeper still if we would know something of this mystery. It must not remain a mere doctrine but become an experience. We crucified the Lord of Glory. We were purchased by His blood.
Hear St. Anselm meditating in the night watches before the crucifix: "What hast Thou done O most sweet Jesus, O friend most dear, to be entreated thus? . . . I am the blow which pained Thee; I the author of Thy death; I that laboured to torture Thee." And then he turns to us with the words that still ring clearly in our hearts: "Put all thy trust in His death once for all: have no confidence in anything else: confide wholly in that death: cover thyself wholly in that alone, wrap thyself wholly up in that death." Hear the learned and scholarly St. Bernard: "My highest philosophy is to know Jesus, and Jesus crucified." For "Calvary is the meeting place of lovers." Listen to the prayer ascribed to St. Francis: "O my Lord Jesus Christ, two graces do I beseech Thee to grant me before I die; the first that, during my life-time, I may feel in my soul and in my body, so far as may be possible, that pain which Thou, sweet Lord, didst suffer in the hour of Thy most bitter passion; the second is, that I may feel in my heart, so far as may be possible, that exceeding love whereby Thou, Son of God, wast enkindled to bear willingly such passion for us sinners."
The death of Christ differs, we know, from the death of prophets, patriots and martyrs in many respects. It was foretold in prophecy; it was for the propitiation of sin; it was accompanied by manifestation; it was followed by supernatural victory over death and resurrection. But the real point of difference is in the Person who died. "This was none other than the Son of God." In Him dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. The Word was made flesh and crucified for us.
"The blood of God out-poured upon the tree!
So reads the Book. O mind receive the thought;
Nor helpless murmur, thou hast vainly sought
Thought-room within thee for such mystery.
Thou foolish mindling! Dost thou hope to see
Undazed, untottering, all that God hath wrought?
Before His mighty 'shall' thy little 'ought'
Be shamed to silence and humility.
Come mindling, I will show thee what 'twere meet
That thou shouldst shrink from marvelling and flee
As unbelievable—nay wonderingly
With dazed but still with faithful praises greet;
Draw near and listen to this sweetest sweet,—
Thy God, O mindling, shed His blood for thee!"
On the Cross of Calvary is manifested the greatest thing in the world, LOVE; the darkest mystery of the universe, SIN; and the highest expression of God's character, HOLINESS. "He made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him." This manifestation is the atonement.
In a recently published life of Dr. Kali Charm Chatterjee, for forty-eight years one of the leading preachers of the Punjab, and a prince of the Church of India, we read the testimony:—
"It has often been asked why I renounced Hinduism and became a disciple of Christ. My answer is, that I was drawn almost unconsciously to Christ by His holy and blameless life, His devotion to the will of God and His works of mercy and benevolence toward suffering humanity. The excellence of His precepts as given in the Sermon on the Mount and His love of sinners won my admiration and my heart. I admired and loved Him. The incarnations I have been taught to worship, Rama, Krishna, Mahadeo and Kali were all incarnations of power—they were heroes, sinful men of like passion with ourselves. Christ only appeared to me as holy and worthy to be adored as God. But the doctrine which decided me to embrace the Christian religion and make a public profession of my faith was the doctrine of the vicarious death and sufferings of Christ. I felt myself a sinner and found in Christ one who had died for my sins—paid the penalty due to my sins. 'For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.' 'Not of works lest any man should boast.' This was the burden of the thought of my heart, Christ has died, and in doing so, paid a debt which man could never pay. This conviction which has grown stronger and stronger with my growth in Christian life and experience has now become a part of my life. It is the differentiating line between Christianity and other religions. I felt it so when I became a Christian, and I feel it most strongly now."
It is not only the vicarious death of a Saviour for sin that is the distinguishing mark of Christianity compared with all other religions, but the death of such a Saviour. Everything depends on the nature and character of the Being who renders the substituted satisfaction. Anselm in "the most profound, clear and logical tract of the eleventh century," Cur Deus Homo, remarks that "the life of the God-Man is so sublime and so precious that it is greater incomparably than those sins, which are exceeded beyond all power of estimation by His death; . . . I would sooner incur the aggregated guilt and misery of all the sins, past and future, of this world, and also of all the sin in addition that can possibly be conceived of, rather than incur the guilt of that one sin of killing the Lord of Glory." Only Deity, so he teaches, can satisfy the claims of Deity; but man has sinned and must render satisfaction for man's sin; consequently the required and the adequate satisfaction must be rendered by a God-man. This may sound like mediæval scholastic reasoning, but we find the same profound truths embodied in the creeds used in public worship, and in the hymns of the Christian Church.
"There was no other good enough
To pay the price of sin;
He, only, could unlock the gate
Of heaven and let us in."
The average man rebels at a doctrinal statement, but there is nothing that will so deepen our devotional spirit and save us from superficiality in prayer as meditation on these great truths. The theology of the creeds and catechisms when rightly understood appeals to the heart quite as much as to the head, to the imagination as well as to the understanding. Meditation on "the depths of God" in the Scriptures is inevitably difficult and may at first seem dry. But it is like practising scales in music; sooner or later the notes of dogma will become spiritual harmony and he who perseveres will know something more of "the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God."
So we come back to Paul's words (nay to the inspired word of God): "They crucified the Lord of Glory"; "the Church of God which He purchased with His own blood."
In the person of Jesus Christ there are two natures. The true Deity and true humanity are united but there is no mixtures of natures. God suffered on the Cross, not in God's nature but in man's nature. "When the apostle," remarks Hooker, "saith of the Jews that they crucified the Lord of Glory (1 Cor. ii. 8), we must needs understand the whole person of Christ, who, being Lord of Glory, was indeed crucified, but not in that nature for which He is termed the Lord of Glory. In like manner, when the Son of Man, being on earth, affirmeth that the Son of Man was in heaven at the same instant ( John iii. 13), by the Son of Man must necessarily be meant the whole person of Christ, who being man upon earth, filled heaven with His glorious presence, but not according to that nature for which the title of Man is given Him."
Just before He was condemned to death, Jesus Christ Himself before the high priest made the strongest possible confession of His essential humanity and Deity. The account is given in each of the synoptic gospels (Matt. xxvi. 64; Mark xiv. 62; Luke xxii. 70). "But Jesus held His peace. And the high priest stood up and said, Answerest thou nothing? . . . I adjure thee by the living God that thou tell us whether thou art the Christ the Son of God. Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said [in Mark's account, I am]; nevertheless I say unto you, Henceforth ye shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven. Then the high priest rent his garments saying He hath spoken blasphemy ... He is worthy of death. Then they did spit on His face . . . What further need have we of witness, for we ourselves have heard from His own mouth."
None of them, wrote Paul, understood, "for had they known it they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory." "Two natures met together in our Redeemer," says the great theologian, Leo the Great, "and while the properties of each remained, so great a unity was made of either substance, that from the time that the Word was made flesh in the virgin's womb, we may neither think of Him as God without this which is man, nor as man without this which is God. Each nature certifies its own reality under distinct actions, but neither disjoins itself from connexion with the other. Nothing is wanting from either towards the other; there is entire littleness in majesty, entire majesty in littleness; unity does not introduce confusion, nor does propriety divide unity. There is one thing passible, another impassible, yet His is the contumely whose is the glory. His is the infirmity whose is the power; the selfsame Person is both capable, and conqueror, of death. God did then take on Him whole man, and so knit Himself into him, and him into Himself, in pity and in power, that either nature was in the other, and neither in the other lost its own property."
So in the death of Jesus Christ on the Cross the human agony and disgrace is converted into a truly divine suffering by reason of the divinity that is united with the human soul and body in the unity of one self-consciousness. The passion is infinite because the Person is infinite. The Son of God loved me and gave Himself for me. God purchased the Church with His own blood.
"Lord, when I am weary with toiling,
And burdensome seem Thy commands,
If my load should lead to complaining,
Lord, show me Thy Hands,
Thy nail-pierced Hands, Thy cross-torn Hands,
My Saviour, show me Thy Hands.
Christ, if ever my footsteps should falter,
And I be prepared for retreat,
If desert or thorn cause lamenting,
Lord, show me Thy Feet,
Thy bleeding Feet, Thy nail-scarred Feet,—
My Jesus, show me Thy Feet.
O God, dare I show Thee
MY hands and MY feet."
— BRENTON THOBURN BADLEY.