Jesus Christ and Him Crucified!
A sermon, preached by William Bacon Stevens in Philadelphia, October 11, 1865, on the occasion of the ordination of Charles Quintard
"When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you, except Jesus Christ and him crucified!" 1 Corinthians 2:1-2
Corinth, situated on that remarkable isthmus which united the Morea and the Peloponnesus, was one of the principal cities of Greece. If Athens boasted of its Acropolis, crowned with the statue of the virgin goddess — then Corinth prided itself in its Acro-Corinthus, towering two thousand feet above the sea, as if to guard that isthmus, which Xenophon has termed "the gate of the Peloponnesus."
Athens took the lead of Greece in intellectual culture and artistic treasures — but Corinth was the common market of the Aegean.
When Paul left Athens, he went at once to Corinth. At Athens he had encountered philosophers of various schools, and idolatry in its most fascinating form. He was now to meet a different class of people; the busy trader — the bustling merchant — the reckless sailor — the rough mechanic, and the varied elements which make up the noisy, sinful population of a great seaport.
Yet with a wisdom and skill imparted by the Holy Spirit, he accommodated himself to his new position, and began his great work of planting in that city, the very name of which was synonymous with immorality — the gospel of the Son of God. He succeeded. A church was gathered, and organized, and the new religion got a firm foothold in that great city. But how was this accomplished? What were the instrumentalities by which so great a triumph was achieved? Paul tells us in the text, "When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you, except Jesus Christ and him crucified!"
He did not then attempt to plant the religion of Jesus Christ on a worldly basis — such as eloquence, wisdom, or philosophy. The propagators of all new religions have established their tenets on a worldly basis, namely, by the sword — by civil compulsion — by the arts of superstition — or by the molding power of eloquence or human wisdom. Paul eschewed each and all of these, saying, "For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you, except Jesus Christ and him crucified!"
This declaration he made not to the ignorant and the unrefined — but to those who gloried in eloquence; who made their boast of wisdom, and who regarded as barbarians all who came not within the magic circle of Greek learning and Greek philosophy. It shows the boldness of the Apostle in thus setting at naught, that on which the Corinthians so much prided themselves; and also his confidence in the power of the truth which he preached, when he determined to set it forth, not in its most attractive phase to a Gentile mind — but in all its apparent ignominy and reproach — when he resolved to preach at Corinth, not Christ as a Prophet greater than the world's greatest seers, not Christ as a Priest higher than the highest Pontifex of earth, not Christ as a King seated on a throne of universal dominion — but Christ dying, Christ on the Cross, hung up between Heaven and earth, rejected by the Jews, despised by the Greeks, crucified by the Romans!
It must have seemed strange to that cultivated people to be told, that they must believe in the divine character and marvelous works and offered mediation of a Jew — a Jew crucified, a Jew whom his own nation hung on a tree — or else be forever lost. Yet as strange as it was, they were told with an emphasis and directness not qualified by courtly eloquence, or garnished with rhetorical grace — that unless they believed in and received this crucified Jesus as their Lord and Savior, they not only could not be saved — but would be visited with the eternal wrath of God!
The question then arises: What is it to know Jesus Christ and Him crucified? It is to understand and proclaim the plan of salvation, of which Christ is the central and controlling power — that scheme of grace revealed in God's word for the redemption of the world. If now we look for a moment at this great plan, we shall find that it incorporates within itself the very highest, broadest, deepest knowledge which the human mind is capable of receiving; and that which at first sight seems to be a very narrow circle of knowledge — the knowledge of Jesus Christ is, indeed, when truly understood — the widest circle which the intellect can compass, for the circumference of it takes in the very being and perfections of God, as well as the nature and destiny of man!
The aspect in which the Apostle contemplated Jesus Christ, was that of being in himself, as he says in another place, "the power of God, and the wisdom of God," centering, in himself . . .
the attributes of God,
the scheme of grace,
the offices necessary for salvation,
and the perfections of humanity.
There are two points which the Apostle brings out here, of vital importance.
He says, 1st, "For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ," that is, Christ in his PERSON.
And, 2ndly, "And him crucified," that is, Christ in his WORK.
Christ in his person and Christ in his work then, is the one great theme of the Apostle.
Let us see what is involved in a knowledge of each of these points.
To know Christ in hisPERSON, it is not enough that we know a man named Jesus, the reputed son of Joseph, the carpenter of Nazareth, who, more than eighteen hundred years ago, lived in Judea. It is not enough that we know Jesus as a teacher, instructing the people in the sublimest truths and mysteries, such truths as the greatest masters of human thought and the greatest founders of schools of philosophy only dimly saw or vaguely conjectured. It is not enough that we know Jesus as an exemplar, showing in his daily life, in his private as well as public acts, by his words as by his deeds, in the house and by the way, in his fellowship with the great as with the poor — the most spotless model of human conduct, so that his bitter enemies were compelled to say we "find no fault in him." It is not enough that we know Jesus as the founder of a new religion, like Confucius, or Budda, or Zoroaster, or Mohammed.
We may know Jesus in these several aspects through the pages of history, or by the traditions of men — and yet this knowledge may be no more influential on our lives than that which we thus have concerning Alexander the Great, or Plato the philosopher, or Pericles the statesman.
To know Christ in his person — is to know, recognize, and acknowledge Him in the divine constitution of his being, by which He is revealed to us as true God and true man united in one person — the Messiah of the Jews, the Christ of the Gentiles, the Savior of the world.
It is not necessary that we should know the metaphysics of this truth or the rationale of the hypostatic union of the two natures, human and divine; it is not necessary that we should explain the philosophy of such a scheme as He came to execute, or unravel the mysteries of his own incarnation and sacrifice; but it is necessary that we should fully accept the plain revelations of the Bible on this subject, and that we should take Christ and believe in Him just in the aspect, and in all the fullness of that aspect in which He is revealed to us in the Bible.
We must know Him to be man born of a woman, made in the likeness of sinful flesh, made like unto his brethren, with a true human body, a true human soul, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Judah, of the house of David, tempted in all points like as we are, a man of established personal identity, with a full and recognized social, civil, and religious status among the people with whom He dwelt.
Having at times no food, He is hungry;
having at times no water, He thirsts;
with long journeys, He is wearied;
prostrate with fatigue, He sleeps;
witnessing grief, He weeps;
moved by compassion, He blesses;
sorrowful in heart, He sighs;
needing divine strength, He prays;
loving God, He worships;
He repays affection with blessing;
He receives the gratuities of friends with thanks;
He dies on the Cross, as a condemned malefactor;
and with the human cry of surrender, "Father, in your hands I commend my spirit," He gives up His spirit.
Thus was He truly man. And had He not been this true man, one with us in nature, form, function, living and suffering and dying — He could not have . . .
stood in man's place,
borne man's sin,
endured man's penalty,
atoned for man's guilt, and
worked out man's salvation.
For, as Paul says, "In all things it behooved Him to be made like unto his brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God."
But much as we insist on the true manhood of Christ — He was something more. He was true God. In union with this human nature, was a divine nature; not such a union as elevated the human nature into the divine, nor yet dwarfed the divine nature by the human — but each perfectly separate — yet so conjointly acting in a way and process mysterious to us — yet fully revealed, as to constitute Him at once the "word" which "was God," and the "word" which "was made flesh" — the Immanuel, God with us.
Now to know Christ, even in this phase of his character, is to know the sublimest historical character in the annals of the world; one who by his simple teachings has . . .
overturned more institutions of error,
built up more grand schemes of right,
spread abroad more truth,
shed more light, and
dispensed more blessing —
than all other human beings combined!
You have only with a docile mind to open your Bible and read . . .
the acts done by Christ,
the attributes ascribed to Him,
the titles bestowed upon Him,
the divine worship given to Him,
the judgment which He is to exercise, and
the work which He came on earth to do —
to be convinced that, as the Apostle says, "In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily." This is that great mystery of godliness — God manifest in the flesh, which finite minds cannot comprehend, because the measuring lines of human reason stretch not out to the infinitude of God, and the sounding line of human thought strikes no bottom in the unfathomable depths of the divine existence!
Now, as it was necessary to believe that Jesus Christ is a real man in order to qualify Him to be a real kinsman-redeemer for men, so also is it necessary to believe that Jesus Christ should be the true God in order to qualify Him to magnify the law, bear the penalty due to it, and make such an atonement as could satisfy an infinitely holy God and vindicate an infinitely holy law. No other than a divine being could reconcile God and man — for the presence of the divine nature gave . . .
to the obedience of Christ — a divine value,
and to the sacrifice of Christ — a divine efficacy,
and to the mediation of Christ — a divine sufficiency,
and to the redemption by Christ — a divine completeness,
and to the salvation of Christ — a divine fullness —
without which . . .
the obedience of the law would have been valueless,
the sacrifice of Christ — would have been inefficient,
the mediation of Christ — would have been insufficient,
the redemption of Christ — would have been incomplete, and
the salvation of Christ — would have been defective alike in its grace, its hopes, and its rewards here and hereafter.
There is then no true knowledge of Jesus Christ, which does not know Him in this double aspect as the God-man, Christ Jesus. Thus Paul knew, loved, worshiped, and preached Him. Thus the early church recognized and honored Him. Thus all the holy angels regarded Him, and thus will He be adored by the eternal worship of the General Assembly and Church of the new-born, whose names are written in Heaven.
We perceive, then, that there is involved in the knowledge of the person of Christ a knowledge of his full humanity and full deity in his divine constitution and attributes, and this comprehends a full knowledge of God as revealed in the face of Jesus Christ, for He, says Paul, is the brightness of the Father's glory and the express image of his person.
But we pass on to the second point, the knowledge of Christ in hisWORK, expressed by the Apostle in the phrase "Him crucified."
As all the knowledge which God has revealed to us concerning himself centers directly or indirectly in the person of Christ, as being the brightness of the Father's glory and the express image of his person — so all the operations of divine grace center in a crucified Christ as being the sole object of the world's faith and salvation. God's covenant of grace is in its every part morticed into the cross of Calvary. Take that cross away — and atonement, redemption and restoration to the favor and enjoyment of God, have no existence. They each derive their efficacy from their relation to the cross. Listen to a few quotations, to show how the Bible regards the cross. What was the one theme of Paul's preaching? Writing to the Corinthians, he says, "we preach Christ crucified," and in another place he calls it the preaching of the Cross. How was Christ presented as an object of faith to the people? As a lamb slain, as a sacrifice, or, as he tells the Galatians, "Christ has been evidently set forth crucified among you."
Through what instrumentality was peace and reconciliation effected? "Having made peace through the blood of the Cross," "we are reconciled in one body by the Cross." How was the old legal demand against us, that handwriting of ordinances, which was contrary to us, removed? It was done by Christ, says Paul, "taking it out of the way and nailing it to his Cross." What was it that has redeemed us unto God? Corruptible things, as silver and gold? No; but the precious blood of Christ as of a lamb, a bleeding lamb, the lamb slain on the altar of the Cross.
What did the Apostle regard as the concrete, the very quintessence of knowledge? To know Jesus Christ and Him crucified! How would the Apostle express our mortification of sin and our required deadness to the world? "I am crucified with Christ." What was the highest glory that fired the ambition of this great Apostle? "God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." Who is He who walks amidst the seven golden candlesticks, whose eyes were as a flame of fire, whose voice was as the sound of many waters, who had in his right hand seven stars, out of whose mouth went a two-edged sword, and whose countenance was as the sun shining in his strength? Let himself answer: "I am He who lives, and was dead and am alive for evermore."
Who is He who only of all the beings in Heaven could open the seven-sealed book and unfold the future of the Church of the world? "The Lamb in the midst of the throne as it had been slain." What is the chorus of that new song of the four and twenty elders which is sung by the angels round the throne, and the living creatures and the elders and ten thousand times ten thousand? "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain." Whence came that white-robed and palm-bearing throng who are before the throne of God and serve Him day and night in his temple? Those "who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb."
And in that grand description of the marriage-supper in Heaven, when the bride of the Church has made herself ready — who is it that is represented as her spouse? One who sits upon a white horse leading the armies of Heaven, clad in white, also, on white horses; one on whose vesture and on whose thigh is a name written "King of Kings and Lord of Lords;" one who had on his head many crowns; and one — mark the emphatic language! "who was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood," the blood of the Cross, "and whose name is called the Word of God."
Thus the scheme of redemption in its every part and place, in earth and in Heaven — is linked with the Cross of Christ, so that he who knows Christ crucified — knows all the truths which center in and radiate from that one fact, which constitute the whole sum of saving knowledge! We are not to be saved by Christ as a teacher, by Christ as an example, by Christ as God manifest in the flesh — but by Christ's obedience and death — by his vicarious sacrifice, by his full and sufficient oblation and satisfaction on the Cross, by his blood shedding as of a lamb slain from the foundation of the world. Whatever else we may know of Christ — if we know not this, we have no saving knowledge and saving faith. But, if we know this, whatever else we may be ignorant of, we shall secure eternal life.
It is not necessary that we should understand earthly science, that we should grasp human philosophy, that we should range through secular history, that we should be skilled in the arts of painting and sculpture, that we should be learned in the affairs of government. These are all proper for us to know as dwellers on this material earth. But then, we are not to dwell here always, and our minds and souls are given us for higher ends than these. We need a knowledge that will not leave us at death, that will go with us into the eternal world, and constitute there the rudiments of that learning in which we shall be forever ripening and growing. He who knows Christ . . .
as the way to God,
as the truth of God,
as the life of God,
as the light of the world,
as the Lamb of God,
as the redeemer of the world,
as the Savior of the world —
knows that which is the highest reach of all knowledge, those deep and precious mysteries of faith which even the angels desire to look into!
Could we see as Paul saw, the boundless circumference of truth of which Christ and Him crucified is the center, and the present and eternal greatness and glory of these truths — we would not wonder that the Apostle could say, of all human acquirements, "whatever things were gain to me, I counted loss for Christ. Yes doubtless, and I count all things but loss, for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord." Or that he should tell the Corinthians when he came preaching among them, "I determined not to know anything among you, except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified:" for to know these two things, Christ in his person, and Christ in his work — constitutes the sum of that divine knowledge which God has revealed in his holy word.
It is upon this basis alone, that the church of the living God can be built up. The Apostle tells us, "No one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ!" This foundation is laid — laid not by man, but by God — laid in the eternal counsels of the Godhead. And upon this already laid basis, we as workers together with God are to build, and the strength and glory of our ministry depend on what and how we build thereon. If Christ in his person and Christ in his office — Christ the head of the Church, and the Church the body of Christ — are the foundation-stones, we shall build to the glory of God. But just in proportion as we substitute for these great truths, the weak fabric of human philosophy, or the painted imitations of living stones, colored by ecclesiastical art — then will our labor be in vain, and the sham work will bring upon us eternal disgrace.
There is a boasting philosophy and a science falsely so called abroad, which now as in the Apostle's day flout at the simple doctrines of the Gospel, and would supersede the ordinance of divine wisdom in the foolishness of preaching, by the words "which man's wisdom teaches," and which can only be rightly met as the stripling David met the giant of Gath, not in kingly armor forged by human hands — but by the smooth stones from the brook, and the child's sling of a childlike faith.
The great safety of the minister, amidst the perplexities of science, and philosophy, and social reforms, and human philanthropies — is in keeping near Christ and his cross. As he moves away from these, their attractive power is lessened; and not only so — but just as love and light and truth are weakened by removal, so his susceptibility to error increases — so his inability to stand upright is weakened — so his liability to be swerved by profane and vain babblings and oppositions of science, falsely so called, is made more sure.
Christ is the light of the world. There is no darkness of sin or of error, which that light will not scatter — if it only is made to shine upon it. There is no false science, or vain babbling, or deceiving philosophy, which the truth of the Cross will not dissipate — when once brought in contact with it. These battles with modern infidelity — with exegetical skepticism — with boastful science — with mere earthly schemes of man's advancement — are to be fought around the doctrine of a divine, crucified Savior! The combat is not to be removed from Calvary, to the academy. The arena of the school, is not to be substituted for the church of the living God. We are placed as ministers beside the Cross — there we must fight the Lord's battles — there herald the Lord's words — there resist the enemies of the Cross of Christ — there stand and labor until we die, resolving always and everywhere to determine to know nothing among men, except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.
Paul, as he stood in Corinth, might have preached to such a polished people with all the charms and ornaments of rhetoric and philosophy — but he eschewed this wisdom of words, and excellency of speech. He might have preached social reforms — political discourses — sermons on patriotism that would have almost called from their graves the old heroes of Greece. He might, as the modern pulpit is too apt to do, have run the whole round of popular and sensational topics, and made the Church another market-place for those who, like the Athenians, "spent their time in nothing else but either to hear or tell some new thing." But he did none of these things!
He lived in an age of stirring events in the political world, when emperors were deposed, and armies were set against armies, and the empire of Rome itself began to crack and split beneath the rapacity of politicians; he lived among a people as excitable or even more so than ourselves — more licentious, full of idolatry, with scarcely a redeeming virtue, and whose only glory was a sunset glory, the lingering rays of a greatness that had even then gone down behind the horizon. And yet observe how Paul spurns all these things — philosophy, politics, social economics, human philanthropies; and standing on that isthmus, with the shadow of the Acro-Corinthus falling on him, and the murmur of the two seas sounding beside him, and the temples and statues of the heathen gods before him — he tells the people "I determined not to know anything among you, except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified!"
The pulpit loses its dignity, when it descends to any other theme; the pulpit is shorn of its spiritual power, when it speaks of anything but Christ and his atoning work. We are not the ambassadors of men, nor of societies, nor of governments, nor of the world — but of God. It is God's work that we are to do, not man's — and that work is to preach the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The man who preaches to advance his own glory as a scholar or a theologian, is like Phidias, who introduced his own portrait among the effigies on the shield of Minerva, an act which the Athenians even punished as gross impiety. The man who aims simply to please the tastes of his audience, and caters to their morbid appetite for the showy, the exciting, and the rhetorical, instead of feeding them with the bread of life — is like Nero sending his ships to Egypt, the granary of the world, not for grain to feed the famishing thousands of Rome — but for sand for the wrestlers in the circus! The man who preaches a Platonized theology, or an Aristotelian philosophy as a substitute for the pure Word of God, is like those medieval monks who erased the manuscript texts of the Epistles of Paul, and on the vellum wrote the dogmas of the schoolmen or the legends of the fathers! The man who preaches politics and makes the pulpit a platform for tirades against the State, or a rostrum for harangues about national politics — is like the soldier of Titus who threw a firebrand into the temple of God. The man who preaches Christ with an unrenewed heart, is like that mirror of ice made by a Polar navigator, by which he so concentrated the rays of the Arctic sun into one focus, as to kindle a fire by it, while yet itself was unthawed by its beams.
Only as we preach Christ in the love and faith and hope of the Redeemer, and with an eye single to his glory — can we fulfill the terms of our commission, follow the example of Paul, and glorify our Father who is in Heaven.
Such, brother beloved, is the glorious Gospel which is committed to your trust as a Leader of the Church, and which you are to commission others to preach. It is the most precious deposit which God can give to man. An angel might covet the work to be entrusted to you; an archangel might receive new honor in the discharge of such a ministry.
Try and comprehend the vastness of the theme! Christ in his person! Christ in his work! Study this truth until your mind is imbued with its doctrine, and your heart steeped in its grace. Make all your studies, however wide their range, converge to the developing of this central, sun-like truth. Seek to have Christ formed within you as the hope of glory, as the motive power of your spirit. Hide your life with Christ in God, as the sole ground of your personal safety and salvation. Put on Christ in the outward aspects of your behavior, so that those around you shall take knowledge of you that you have been with Jesus. Preach the Lord Jesus Christ fully, freely, purely. Let Him be the Alpha and Omega of all your ministrations, and thus making Christ all in all in your heart, your mind, your house, your preaching, your pastorate — yours will be a Christ-honored and a Christ-honoring pastorate. And when He who was crucified in shame shall appear in great glory — then shall you rejoice that you did so, and shall hear Him say, "Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord!"