The Offence of the Cross
by JOSEPH IRONS
"Then has the offence of the cross ceased." (Galatians 5:11)
Many are ready to cast the first stone at the person whose shameful conduct is but a picture of their own shameless hearts, while few indeed are found ready to expostulate with, and pray for, their backsliding brother; however, blessed be God, there are a few who know enough of the plague of their own hearts to convince them, that had they been left to themselves, no sin is too vile for them to have fallen into; such will inquire, How can I best proceed, in order to restore the man that is overtaken in a fault? I answer, Lead him to Calvary; there remind him how he has crucified the Son of God afresh; then assure him that the blood of the cross has efficacy enough to pardon the sins which grieve his heart, and heal the wounds occasioned by his fall, praying the Holy Ghost to sprinkle him afresh with pardoning blood.
Ever preserve the distinction between a broken-hearted backslider, and an incorrigible, licentious professor; the former demands every expression of Christian sympathy, the latter deserves the most severe censure, and should be avoided as a moral pestilence; they may always be known by the temper of mind manifested in the review of sin; the latter will treat it with indifference, and even glory in his shame; while the former will know and feel that it is an evil and a bitter thing to sin against God; the language of his heart will be, "I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me;" his peace is disturbed, his intimacy with heaven is suspended, and his soul refuses to be comforted, till, at the foot of the cross, he hears a voice from heaven proclaim, "I, even I, am He that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins." (Isa. 43:25) Then, viewing his suffering Surety, he loathes himself, and glories in the cross, because there alone his guilt is removed, his pardon sealed, and his peace restored. This also is the offence of the cross to those self-righteous persons who view with supercilious contempt the poor fallen child of God, and rather tread upon him than attempt to restore him, which proves that the glory of the cross (even the rich grace it affords) is to many the offence of the cross.
Moreover, if we consult established believers, we shall find that the distinguishing doctrines of the cross, which offend mere nominal Christians, are their glory; nor are they to be alarmed or allured from the precious truths which constitute the meat and drink of their souls. Tell them of their Father's everlasting love, their Surety's covenant responsibility, their Comforter's holy unction (all displayed on the cross), and their hearts glow with delight, their faith is strengthened, and their gratitude flows out in songs of praise and acts of obedience, so that they triumph in Christ, and make manifest the savour of His knowledge. Their union with Him is their security, His fullness their portion, and His life and death their perpetual glory; their growing acquaintance with Him endears Him to their hearts: and while they receive Him as the Father's unspeakable gift, revealed by the Holy Ghost to their souls, they adore their covenant God, Father, Son, and Spirit, view their salvation complete, and confidently march on to their journey's end, distinguished by the banner of the cross.
His ears are not offended at such doctrines as election, predestination, justification, freedom, and the like; for they direct His attention to the cross, around which he sees the grand constellation of gospel truths which enlighten his understanding, warm his heart, and influence his life. He may, indeed, be counted an Antinomian, but this will only prove to him that the offence of the cross has not ceased, while his life and conversation will testify that "the grace of God, which bringeth salvation, teaches him to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present world." (Titus 2:12)
I shall now, press some personal inquiries relative to what the cross of Christ is to you; for the most correct notions may be entertained of the cross, where no real benefit is experienced; it is, therefore, of infinite importance, that we individually investigate this point, lest we deceive ourselves, and the cross of Christ become of none effect to us. Can you, my brother, adopt the apostle's language? "I am crucified unto the world, and the world is crucified unto me?" This will decide your character before God, and prove the reality of your attachment to the cross. Examine yourselves, try your standing, bring your religion to the touchstone; have you any fellowship with the sufferings of Christ; are you made conformable to His death? In a word, are you in the daily habit of crucifying the old man, with his affections and lusts? Then draw the delightful conclusion, that Jesus groaned and bled for you, and that you, being crucified with Him, shall live with Him for ever.
"If any man will come after me," says Jesus, "let him deny himself, and take up his cross;" and when the Holy Spirit brings a sinner to the feet of Jesus, He always imparts grace and strength to obey this injunction, proud self is put down, that Christ may be exalted, and creature excellence gives place to the merits of the cross. Magdalene and Manasseh are no longer despised, but salvation is embraced upon the very same terms with them, and he who was once self-righteous feels and owns himself the chief of sinners.
The character thus decided will soon give offence to ungodly friends and relatives, by rejecting the vanities with which Satan amuses his slaves, such as cards, theatres, etc., his heaven-born soul aspires above them, and refuses to stoop to such beggarly elements; it is his privilege to hold communion with a crucified Saviour, which has spoiled him for carnal company and vain amusements, having infinitely higher enjoyments and nobler pursuits. The doctrines of the cross are now his glory, Calvary his favourite retreat, and ransomed sinners are his chosen companions.
Whenever the doctrines of the cross are proclaimed in the hearing of one thus taught of God, they not only convince the judgment and enlighten the understanding, but impart a holy savour to the soul, being accompanied with the unction of the Holy One. They are not mere matters of speculation, but food for the experience, strengthening, and invigorating the new nature to run the heavenly race and fight the good fight of faith; yea, they are as marrow and fatness to the soul, which, when once tasted and enjoyed, will be habitually desired.
Personal examination relative to these things will bring our religion to the test, which I am persuaded much of the religion of the present day will not bear. "Prophesy smooth things unto us," is the cry of the multitude, and "Peace, peace," is the answer of blind guides, "when there is no peace." Oh, how shall Zion's watchmen deliver themselves from the blood of souls if they now refrain from sounding an alarm in the camp? How shall Zion's sons escape in the day of visitation, who are now offended at the faithful exposure of their depraved and corrupt hearts?
My brethren, beware of that tame, temporizing spirit which (to avoid the offence of the cross) conceals the plain, soul-humbling truths of the word of God, and accommodates the life and conversation to the taste of carnal minds; mark the characters who can (with equal readiness) assume the appearance of religion in religious company, and discard, or even despise, it in worldly company, who can occupy a pew in the Church of God and a seat in the theatre, with the same motive (viz. amusement), who can talk freely on Bible truths and religious matters with the cards in their hands, or when about to skip the floor with other self-deluded slaves of sin and folly. Such are, indeed, the enemies of the cross of Christ; yet these are not infrequently the first to raise an outcry against Antinomianism, while their own licentious conduct is awful evidence that they are the most conspicuous Antinomians themselves.
How stands this matter with you, my dear hearers? Have you religion enough to offend the world and separate you from it? Be sure of this, you cannot maintain a life of communion with God, and confederacy with the world at the same time, for Christ Himself hath declared, "ye cannot serve God and mammon." The spirit of the world is hostile to the interest of Jesus and His saints, so that, "whosoever will be a friend of the world, is the enemy of God." (James 4:40 On the contrary, real spiritual intimacy with heaven, in which God and the soul are closely engaged with each other, will so ennoble the mind and draw off the affections from terrene objects, that it will be dragging the soul out of its proper element, to associate it with those who do not know and love our Lord Jesus Christ, consequently, a separation is desired and preserved, and this offends the carnal mind, so that in fact, there is no avoiding this offence of the cross, for if the Christian withdraw himself from those who are strangers to God, this will offend; could he associate with them, yet, acting in character, he must carry the savour of the doctrines and merits of the cross with him, and these are sure to excite indignation and contempt.
Do not think it strange, ye who are suffering persecution for the cross of Christ, it is no new thing, "he that is born after the flesh, will persecute him that is born after the Spirit," and, rest assured, that if your conscientious scruples, and constant rejection of the vanities which invite your attention, subject you to the ridicule and scorn of former friends, and even dear relatives, it is one conspicuous mark of your belonging to God; hesitate not, then, to take up the cross, esteem even its reproach, greater riches than all the worldling can possess, consider Him that endured "the contradiction of sinners against himself, lest you be weary and faint in your minds," and while you have constant proof that the offence of the cross hath not ceased, yet dare to be on the Lord's side and decided for Him, notwithstanding the sneer of the Infidel, and the reproach of the vain-glorious Pharisee.
Thus glorying in the cross, your confidence will find a firm basis to rest upon, and full authority for its exercise under the most trying dispensations, and having (through grace) a well founded assurance that all the blessings connected with the cross are yours, for time and eternity, you will be enabled to preserve a holy calm amidst the storms of life, confiding in the inviolable faithfulness of Him who conquered sin, death, and hell for you upon the cross. Take your standing, then, upon Mount Calvary, and from thence look back to the eternal purposes of Divine love appointing and securing a full atonement for your guilt, and look forward to the accomplishment of those purposes in the bestowment of a crown of glory in the realms of bliss; such confidence is only to be obtained at the foot of the cross, by decision for God, and when once obtained, it enables the soul to repel temptation, endure affliction, and bring a revenue of praise to the crucified Redeemer. Confidence thus gained, proceeds to claim relation to Jehovah in His Trinity of Persons, rejoicing in the paternal love of God the Father, as the source of all spiritual blessings, living upon the covenant fullness of God the Son, as the elder brother of the saints, and looking for the constant teaching and holy operation of God the Spirit, yea, expecting the glorious Triune Jehovah, to accomplish in Him all the good pleasure of His goodness and the work of faith with power, until glory shall consummate what grace has begun, and believing expectation he exchanged for everlasting hallelujahs.
Before I close, one thing more must be urged upon your attention, viz., that decision for God and glorying in the cross, will draw forth unfeigned gratitude in various habitual expressions. I cannot conceive it possible for a pardoned sinner to see all his guilt and shame laid on his suffering Surety, without feeling a spirit of thankfullness arising in his soul; the assurance that the curse and condemnation he deserved were nailed to the cross, must endear the great sacrifice to his heart, and the very peace made by the blood of the cross being enjoyed in his experience, will call forth the grateful enquiry, "how shall I honour the Price of Peace, by whose mediation I enjoy the commencement of heaven upon earth?"
Tell me no more of the doctrines of the cross leading to licentiousness, it is a foul libel upon the truth of God, for we are surrounded with innumerable facts, which prove they are the basis of a sinner's hope, the comfort of a believer's heart, and the actuating principles of his life. I should be ashamed to own that man as a Christian, who receives the doctrines of the cross into his creed, and rejects the claims of the cross upon his life, that faith which neither purifies the heart, nor works by love, is no better than the faith of devils, it is dead, and consequently, neither appropriates covenant blessings or renounces carnal things, neither lays hold on Christ or overcomes the world; but the faith of God's elect being of Divine origin, looks upwards and tends upwards; yea, it walks with God, and is "the substance of things hoped for" to heaven-born souls.
I shall conclude with a word of admonition to three distinct characters, viz., those who are blind to the glories, and strangers to the efficacy of the cross, those who are relying upon the atonement and living upon the blessings of the cross, and those whose office it is to stand forth as ambassadors, to proclaim all the doctrines of the cross.
Let the first of these know, that the rejection of the atonement is the sealing of damnation, and that to live and die unacquainted with Him who hung upon the cross, is to live and die accursed of God, and to be everlastingly the prey of the devil. Hardened sinners, think of this! Socinians, Deists, Atheists, think of this! Proud formal professors, think of this! Nothing can cleanse or save you but "the blood of the cross;" that indeed is all-sufficient, but if rejected or neglected, "there remaineth no more (or no other) sacrifice for sin, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation," to devour you as adversaries of God, when there shall none to deliver.
Ye who proved the efficacy of the blood of the cross, ever bear in mind your infinite obligations to Him, who "bare your sins in His own body on the tree." It cost Him His life to redeem your souls, and He claims your life to be devoted to glorify His name. We do not expect to gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles, but every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, and ye who have been able to appropriate the benefits of the cross, are expected to be crucified to the world that ye may live unto God. Oh how little real intimacy with heaven and spirituality in worship, is to be found among the disciples of Christ! How do matters of opinion and controversy employ the time and attention which might be so much better occupied in communion with God: my brethren, turn a deaf ear to the cries of lo here! And lo there! Of the present day, these indeed abound, but be assured, that the love of novelty is the bane of soul-prosperity, and the substitution of public glare for the hidden life of a believer, is the common delusion of this generation, look well therefore to our personal intimacy with God, consider whose ye are, maintain your high character, and be neither afraid or ashamed to take up the cross, and follow Jesus "through evil and through good report," until the cross is exchanged for the crown, and the victory of Calvary is consummated by the triumph of heaven.
And oh, ye ministers of my God, who stand forth to proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ, shun not to declare all the counsel of God, be not "ashamed of the gospel of Christ," nor attempt to avoid the offence of the cross, by concealing its grand distinguishing doctrines. Ye cannot be faithful to God and souls, without giving offence to the world, yet cease not to proclaim a full and free salvation by "the blood of the cross," and like your Divine Master endure its reproach and despise its shame, until you sit down at His right hand.
Oh that the blessing of Jehovah, Father, Son, and Spirit, may accompany these observations, with saving conviction and holy unction to many precious souls, so shall the triumphs of the cross be thereby extended, and a revenue of praise brought to Israel's covenant God. Amen.