The cross of Christ has been in all ages, a "Stumbling block to the Jew and foolishness to the Greek." The great Apostle of the Gentiles declared "We preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God." (1 Cor. 1:23,24) And the Holy Spirit speaking under the old dispensation by the prophet Isaiah confirms the language of the Apostle; "He is despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, and we hid as it were our faces from him; He was despised and we esteemed him not." (Isa. 53:3) Yet the salvation of immortal souls and the glory of God depended upon the atonement made by His death. As the Cross of Christ was the way to His glory; well might He thus reason with His disciples. "Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory?" (Luke 24:26) His cross is also the way to our enjoyment of glory; this was the cause of the Apostle's glorying in the cross. "God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ," (Gal. 6:14) he was sensible that without the cross there could be no crown. As He rose for our justification, so He died for our offenses. It was on the cross that Christ, as the great High Priest, offered Himself as the great atoning sacrifice, on the cross He exhibited His God-Head and Manhood, as Man in Suffering, and God in ability, and power of endurance. As God-man he triumphed on the Cross over sin and the sinner; and this, God enabling us, we will endeavor to prove.
That Christ triumphed on the cross is declared by the holy Apostle, "Blotting out the handwriting of the ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to His cross. And having spoiled principalities and powers, He made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it." (Col. 2:14,15)
There was a combination of circumstances in connection with the death of Christ on the Cross, which testify his glory and majesty in his twofold human and divine character.
1st. What a wonderful circumstance was the superscription written by Pilate, and affixed over His head upon the cross, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." Titles and inscriptions were placed over the heads of malefactors, in order that beholders might know the reason of their punishment, and derive admonition and warning from public disapprobation of their crimes. Pilate in this matter followed the Roman custom. But when I come to consider two things in this superscription, I am bound to look to a higher cause, namely, to God Himself. As the crucifixion of Christ was according to the "determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God," (Acts 2:23) so was the language of the superscription, determined by the invisible and constraining power of God over Pilate. "Him being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain." In this superscription we have the sum and substance of the whole gospel. First, when we consider the matter, and secondly, the manner of that superscription, we shall see this.
I. THE MATTER. "Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews." (John 19:19) Here we have Christ declared as the Saviour, the same title which Mary received from the angel. "His name shall be called Jesus," and the reason is given, "For he shall save His people from their sins." (Matt. 1:21) This title was preached by the Patriarchs Prophets and Apostles; "I have waited for thy salvation, O Lord," (Gen. 49:18) "The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my strength, in whom I will trust, my buckler and the horn of my salvation," (Ps. 18:2) "In thy salvation how greatly shall he rejoice," (Ps. 21:1) "And he shall send them a Saviour and a great One, and he shall deliver them," (Isa. 19:20) "I am the Lord, and beside me there is no Saviour, a just God and a Saviour." (Isa. 43:11) The Apostles held forth Christ as the Saviour of sinners; "Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins; unto you first, God having raised up his Son Jesus, send him to bless you." (Acts 5:31) What a glorious part of the gospel have we then, in this superscription--Salvation by Christ.
The title, Jesus, includes His priestly and prophetic offices, "He that is sent to save is also sent to bless. (Acts 3:26) The next thing we find in this superscription, is "King of the Jews;" this also is a glorious part of the gospel, the kingly office of Christ, and how blessedly is he spoken of as king in the old Testament. "Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion." (Ps. 2:6) He is declared as the "King of kings, and Lord of Lords." Angels and saints proclaim him as such, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory;" (Rev. 5:12) that "at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things in earth, and things under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father." (Phil. 2:10,11)
How mysterious is the constraining power of God, in compelling ungodly men, contrary to their inclination and will to proclaim his truth. It was not from love to Christ that Pilate set up these glorious titles. He that made man can do with him as "seemeth good" in His sight. He can compel a Caiaphas to preach Christ's passion, as suffering instead of His people in order to deliver them from eternal perdition, that it was expedient that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. (John 11:50) Well says the Holy Ghost, that "this he spake not of himself, but being High Priest that year he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation." Balaam the false prophet was constrained to preach the completeness and perfection of the Church in Christ. "He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel." (Num. 23:21) What a glorious truth is here declared by Balaam, the completeness and perfection of the church, as she stands justified in the righteousness of Christ before God! "This is the Lord's doing and it is marvellous in our eyes," (Ps. 118:23) when He works none can hinder, "My counsel shall stand and I will do all my pleasure." (Isa. 46:10) We may say of the gospel as the Psalmist says of the sun, "Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race." (Ps. 19:5) The gospel under the influence of the Spirit of God is as irresistible as the light of the sun; men may preach the truth of the gospel, and at the same time be destitute of the power in their own souls. It is possible to have a great light like that of the sun, without life. How important then is it for preachers especially to know whether they are quickened characters; what an awful thing, for a man to preach the gospel, and at last prove a Pilate, a Caiaphas, or a Balaam! But here is also sweet encouragement for sensible sinners; if thou art a gracious soul, a sufferer for Christ, His cross-bearer, if thou art contemned by the world, God will honor thee; He will work all things for thy good, men are at His command, their hearts are at his disposal. He can cause God's enemies to become unwilling blessings to thee on every side. The matter of this superscription on the cross is then no other than a declaration of the deity and humanity of Christ, as Immanuel, God with us, God in our nature as the King of saints, the overruling and constraining power of God, for the welfare of His people and for His own honor and glory.
The manner of the superscription. Here again is manifest the infinite wisdom of God in constraining Pilate to write it in Hebrew, in Greek, and in Latin. Surely there must be the mind of God in this also; it was foretold by the prophets that the gospel should be preached in all the world, "There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard, their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. (Ps. 19:3,4) This the apostle applies to the preaching of the gospel among the Gentiles. "But I say, have they not heard, yes, verily their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world. But, I say, did not Israel know? First, Moses saith, I will provoke you to jealousy by them that are no people, and by a foolish nation, I will anger you. But Esaias is very bold, and saith, I was found of them that sought me not, I was made manifest unto them that asked not after me. I said behold me! Behold me! Unto a nation that was not called by my name. (Isa. 65:1) Even us whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles. (Rom. 9:24) I will call them my people, which were not my people, and her beloved, which was not beloved." (Rom. 9:25) Now these predictions were determined according to the foreknowledge of God in this everlasting counsel, and executed and fulfilled by Christ on the cross, in breaking down the partition wall between Jew and Gentile, that he might gather in one, the children of God that were scattered abroad, and that the Triumph of Christ on the Cross should be preached to all nations, and to this end it was that he commissioned His disciples to "preach the gospel to every creature." The apostle's determination was, "to know nothing among men save Christ, and him crucified," which is the glory of the gospel, preached first to the Hebrews, and afterwards to the Greeks and Latins. Indeed from history we find that there were these three distinct churches, although the former did not last long as a separate Church, it being soon amalgamated with the other Churches, and by virtue of Christ crucified they were all united in one spirit, Christ being the Head of the whole body.
In the manner of the superscription, we may also see the sweet harmony of the Old and New Testament; the language of the former being Hebrew, and of the latter Greek, thus both pointing to Christ, like the two cherubim on the mercy-seat, looking one to another, and towards the mercy-seat; this being so blessedly overruled by God to show forth the glory and majesty of Christ, as the One to whom both the Old and New Testaments are alike and equally pointing, in spite of the Jews and Pilate, as the very Messiah.
This blessed news of Christ crucified was not to be confined in a small locality, such as the land of Judea; the glorious tidings must be heard through all the earth. The voice of the gospel is full of power, and full of majesty. It broke down the power of pagan Rome; it stopped the mouths of heathen oracles. By the power of the Spirit, it broke down Papal Rome; and by the same power, Romanism will be entirely demolished, the gospel extending its triumphs from pole to pole. The Holy Spirit bears witness in the work to the assurance that true and experimental knowledge of Christ, will one day cover the earth, as the waters cover the sea. Although my brethren Jews, as a nation; rejected Christ and despised the gospel, yet thousands through grace believed. Peter was the apostle to the Hebrews; Paul carried the gospel to the Greeks and Latins, or Gentiles, as it is written, "And it shall come to pass in that day, that the great trumpet shall be blown," (Isa. 27:13)--this great trumpet is the everlasting gospel,--"and they shall come." Mark the word "shall." God does not come as a beggar, "If you please, or will you please." He comes with his omnipotence arm, or, as Luther says, "With his sweet omnipotence," makes his people willing in the day of his power; (Ps. 110:3) opens their hearts, as He did Lydia's; (Acts 16:14) binds the strong man, (Matt. 12:29) demolishes his castle, defaces his image, beautifies the soul with the graces of the Spirit, and erects in the heart a temple and a throne for himself; there he is to be worshipped in spirit and in truth. There the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost conjointly abide. Sinner, is thy heart the temple of the Holy Ghost? Art thou a spiritual worshipper? Dost thou believe with that faith which is of the operation of God the Holy Ghost? If otherwise, if thou diest in an impenitent state, ignorant of Him, the Holy Spirit and of thyself, thou art lost to all eternity.
The characters described, who shall "come at the sound of the trumpet," are those that are "ready to perish in the land of Assyria, and the outcasts in the land of Egypt, and worship the Lord in the holy mount at Jerusalem." Mark the characters who are brought by the grace of God to Christ. Who are they? Not the righteous; what a mercy that Christ is not come to call the righteous; as there are none righteous, so none could be saved. "They are all gone aside, they are altogether become filthy, there is none that doeth good, no, not one, there is none that understand and seek God, they are corrupt, they have done abominable works." (Ps. 14:1-3) Herein lies the blessedness of the gospel, that God's mercy is irreversible, that "the gifts and calling of God are without repentance." (Rom. 11:29) Oh for a heart to love Him, and a tongue to praise Him. What kind of sinners has Christ come to call? The vilest and baseth? Yea, the chiefest of sinners. Assyria and Egypt were two idolatrous nations, being "aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenant of promise." But now in Christ, the partition wall is broken down. (Eph. 2:12,14) Thus we find the Psalmist declaring that the greatest enemies of the church should be brought to Zion "at the sound of the trumpet." "Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God." (Ps. 87:3) This refers to the gospel dispensation, "I will make mention of Rahab and Babylon to them that know me, behold Philistia and Tyre with Ethiopia, this man was born there." (Ps. 87:4) Those nations who were alienated from the profession of truth shall be brought under Zion's wings, and pay allegiance to her king. Strangers shall be brought into her bosom, not only Philistia and Tyre, nations on her borders, but Egypt and Ethiopia, nations more remote shall be registered as born in Zion: distance shall not hinder the relationship to Zion, they shall all suck from the same breast the consolations of Zion. They shall drink the new wine of the kingdom, and enjoy the sincere milk of the gospel. Rahab or Egypt, Rahab signifies "pride," or "fierceness," the fiercest people shall be subdued to Zion by the power of the gospel: Egypt, the wisest and most learned nation; the most idolatrous and superstitions; all nations in God's due order of events shall cast their idols away, shall come to Zion and worship the true God. Philistia, her perpetual invader shall be reconciled, and contend earnestly for the "faith once delivered to the saints." (Jude 3) Babylon the strongest and most powerful of empires, a nation designated in the scriptures of truth, as luxurious, cruel, and proud. Tyre, the metropolis of the commerce of the ancient world: the Ethiopians and whole posterity of cursed Cain, whose souls are blacker than their bodies, men buried in sin, benighted with ignorance, poisoned with pride, the most fierce and envenomed enemies of the truth as it is in Jesus, shall be constrained by infinite grace, and brought to Zion by the spirit of God, through the preaching of the triumph of Christ on the Cross, and become manifestly His people by regeneration, one with his saints and one with Him. For precisely such are the holy privileges the citizens of Zion enjoy, "But now in Christ Jesus, ye who sometimes were afar off, are made nigh by the blood of Christ." (Eph. 2:13)
Those who come to Christ are a people who are "ready to perish;" the Spirit of God opens their eyes that they may see their lost and ruined state, puts a cry in their hearts, "helps their infirmities" with "groanings which cannot be uttered," (Rom. 8:26) enables them to wrestle with God for mercy; their cry being, "Lord, save, or I perish." (Matt. 8:25) These are such sinners as Jesus receives, for "the whole need not a physician, but they that are sick." (Matt. 9:12) It is for such that He "opens His mouth, and pleads--those who, in their own sense of unworthiness are "appointed to destruction." David prays that the Lord might "open his eyes to behold wondrous things in the law" of God. (Ps. 119:18) Where can we see the wonders of God, but in the triumph of Christ on the Cross of Calvary? Here we behold the infinite wisdom of Jehovah the Father. Here we behold the deity and humanity of the great Redeemer of sinners. Angels stand and gaze with wonder and admiration. But man by nature cannot see it; his attention and admiration, are absorbed by any thing, and everything, excepting Christ crucified. How is this, what is the cause? "O heavens, be astonished." (Jer. 2:12) Is it not because man is by nature blind? We read that "the god of this world has blinded their eyes," and Christ alone by his Spirit, can "open the blind eyes," He "gives" faith to look upon Him whom they have pierced." (Zech. 12:10) Reader, have you ever prayed like David to the Lord, that he might open your eyes to behold wondrous things in Christ crucified? I know the doctrine of the cross is a "stumbling block to the Jew, and foolishness to the Greek," (1 Cor. 1:23) the contempt of many who in our day, pride themselves on their supposed discernment; but I must tell you there is "no salvation in any other." (Acts 4:12) Such is the emphatic declaration of Him who cannot lie. In this superscription, the wisdom of God was further manifest in not permitting Pilate to alter it, and in this particular, we have a marked exhibition of the triumph of Christ on the Cross. "What I have written, I have written," as though he would unconsciously say, "He is the Saviour and King, He was appointed from all eternity by God the Father, and I cannot alter it; although he hangs on the cross He is the Son of God; the only begotten of the Father, and the Creator of heaven and earth, this I have written, and intend to abide by it." God is not like man to lie, nor the Son of Man to repent. There are many devices in a man's heart, nevertheless the counsel of the Lord that shall stand contrary to the devices of the Jews and of Pilate. The Jews could persuade Pilate, contrary to his conscience, to crucify the Lord of life and glory, because it was fore-determined, and for the same reason they could not prevail upon him to alter what he had written. And this superscription remains, and was intended to remain as an eternal monument of the immutability of God and of the glory and majesty of Christ; for the perpetual comfort of His church, and for the confusion of its enemies.
It is vain for man to oppose the kingdom of Christ. He declares that "His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom" therefore it must stand in spite of man and the malice of hell. All opposition will be of no avail, it is founded upon the Rock Christ Jesus, the "rain may descend," the "floods come," and the "winds blow," and beat upon "that house" but it cannot fall for it is "founded upon a rock," and the very "gates of hell shall not prevail against it." Oh! Happy soul, yea, thrice happy if thou art a subject of this kingdom, a son or daughter of Zion. For, "of Zion it shall be said, this and that man was born in her, and the Highest himself shall establish her, the Lord shall count when he writeth up the people that this man was born there." (Ps. 87:5,6) But what will become of those who are strangers to this kingdom. Drunkard! What will become of you? Remember, that in hell you will have to drink the cup of God's wrath. Whoremonger! Thy ungratified lust will torment thee in the eternal flames which are unquenchable. Murderer! What will become of you, "no murderer shall inherit the kingdom of heaven." Idolater! You idols shall not deliver you in the great day of God's wrath. It matters not whether it be the pope who wears the triple crown, who boasts of being Peter' successor, and of having the keys of death and of hell. Alas! Even he will find his mistake, and that heaven and hell are not at his disposal but at Christ's the sole Head of the Church whose exclusive prerogative it is to open and to shut heaven. Infidel and Atheist! What will become of you? That God whom you now deny will be your Judge, that heaven which you mock, you will long to be admitted into, but the door will be shut. You laugh at hell and mock at calamity, living and dying in your unbelief hell will be your eternal abode. You are fearless now, but there is one who will "laugh at your calamity and mock when your fear cometh." May the Spirit of God open your eyes to see your danger; may He enable you in consciousness of that danger to flee to Christ for shelter. What will become of those who say the Scriptures of truth are of less than divine and unalterable authority? If the writing of a heathen might not be altered, "what I have written, I have written," how much more the writings of the Divine penmen, Moses, the prophets, and the holy apostles? If the Scriptures of truth are not in every word dictated by infallible authority (I speak with holy reverence) there can be no God. For the Scriptures declare "thus saith the Lord." Either the Lord told the sacred writers to say so, or he did not. If he did, then their authority is infallible. If He did not, would god suffer a book to be in existence which forges His name and authority? What an awful thought! Would God defend such a book? Has not the very hell itself risen against it, to destroy it from off the face of the earth, and yet the attempt has in all ages evidently been blasted by the Author of that blessed book. Antiochus Epiphanes, king of Syria, cut to pieces the copies of the books of the law wherever he found them and burnt them. This man did of a dreadful disorder in his bowels, his body was covered with worms, his flesh mortified, and was attended with an intolerable stench. Dioclesian, the Roman Emperor, by special edict, ordered all the books of the New Testament to be burnt, that, if possible, he might root Christianity out of the world and once fancied he had done it. But when he found he had not accomplished his design, through madness and despair, in the height of his imperial glory, he abdicated his empire, retired to a private life and at last poisoned himself. The one showed a malicious despite to the books of the Old Testament, the other more especially to those of the New, and both attempts were highly resented by the Divine Being who hereby demonstrated Himself as their infallible Author.
Here is a solemn lesson for professors. Pilate would not alter his writing, yet thousands who at the present day make a profession are changeable as the wind, today they are for truth, tomorrow for error, one day for free grace, another day for free will, one day in the church, the next in the world, one day mad for religion, the next mad through intoxicating liquor; on Sunday, they are even in the pulpit, like angels. On Monday, they will contradict all by their walk and conversation. Better had it been for such that "they had never known the way of truth." "These are spots in our feasts of charity, when they feast with us feeding themselves without fear; clouds are they without water, carried about of wind, trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead plucked up by the roots." (Jude 11,12)