George Everard, 1877
"Then Jesus said to his disciples: If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me." Matthew 16:24
The true believer must needs be a cross-bearer. The Master has plainly told us. The precept of cross-bearing is co-extensive with the promise of salvation — it carries with it the same breadth of expression. We have the "any man" of promise: "If any man thirsts — let him come unto Me and drink." So too of precept: "If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me." (Luke 9:23.) We have the "whoever" in the glorious promise of salvation: "Whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life." So too in plain word of duty: "Whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me, cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:27.)
When Peter would have Christ spare Himself and turn aside from the cross, the Lord rebuked him, and told Him that he too must be prepared to suffer, and even to sacrifice life itself for His sake. Nor is it otherwise in the history of the early Church and in the apostolic Epistles. All through, the Christian is seen to be a cross-bearer. The disciples rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer for Christ's sake. Paul, who bore in his body the marks of the Lord Jesus — the evidence of the persecutions he had endured — yet still desired "to know the fellowship of His sufferings" and to be "made conformable to His death." Timothy is reminded that "if we suffer with Christ, we shall reign with Him." And the Colossian Church is told that the Apostle rejoiced in his sufferings, and was content to "fill up that which is behind of the sufferings of Christ for His body's sake, which is the Church."
This is God's plan for our sanctification. In the path of cross-bearing, the Spirit molds the believer in the likeness of Christ. It is God's plan, moreover, to manifest to the world the reality of the Christian's faith — it is thus seen that he is of a different spirit to the world around; and thus, too, others are brought near to Christ.
But what is to be your motive in taking up your cross? It must not be a thought of winning eternal life and glory — your sufferings can never be the purchase-price of the eternal inheritance. Suffering is the path to Heaven — but not your right and title to it. The price has been paid once for all in the precious blood of Christ, and you can never add to it by anything of your own. Ah, let your motive ever be the sight of Christ's cross, and His free love in bearing it for You! He says to you, "My child, I bore my heavy cross for your sake. For you, I went to Gethsemane and Golgotha. For you, I tasted the bitter cup of shame and death. It was to remove your guilt and to give you peace — it was to raise you from the pit and to set you on a glorious throne."
"All this I did for thee!
What will you do for Me?"
Come, hearken to the voice of your Redeemer! Take gladly and thankfully the pardon and the peace, the comfort and the hope that spring up beneath His cross. Trust fully in Him to grant you a sincere and complete and present forgiveness of sins, and failures, and backslidings, and short-comings. Rest your weary soul beneath the shadow of this Tree of Life, and doubt not that He welcomes you to shore His everlasting love. Then, in His strength, and in His name, and in the joy of His salvation — go forth willingly to bear your cross, remembering that He is ever with you — that He bears the heaviest end, and will support and uphold you all your journey through.
But what is this cross-bearing? What does it imply? In what way are you to act so as to fulfill the precept?
There can be no doubt as to the main purpose and intention of it — it does not mean simply that you are to endure a certain amount of affliction. You are to take up your cross, and be willing, if God calls you, to die on it — you are to be prepared, if need be, to yield up life itself. You may be so placed that it is your duty to lay down your life for the brethren, or for the truth of God. Therefore you must cherish a martyr spirit. You must rise above a common every-day Christianity, that would have the comforts of the Gospel — but shrink from its high and lofty responsibilities. You must catch the Spirit of the Master. You must look for His mighty resurrection power, even the power of His Spirit, to rest upon you — to make you glory in tribulation, and count it all gain to renounce all things and count them but dung, that you may win Christ, and glorify His name either by life or by death.
It may be well to add a few hints as to the way in which you must exercise this cross-bearing spirit in daily life.
Remember you have to take up the cross laid on you by the Master — but not to make a cross for yourself. There is a self-denial which the Word of God does not require.
To put yourself needlessly to bodily pain,
to endure self-imposed penalties and austerities,
to shut yourself up within the four walls of a monastery,
to forsake those whom you are bound to love and honor —
such self-denial as this God neither demands nor will bless. There is neither peace of mind nor spiritual profit in a course like this. Neither are you required to seek for trials or to pray for them — crosses enough there will be of God's appointing, without adding to them.
Go straight on in the plain path of duty;
turn neither to the right hand nor to the left;
endeavor to fulfill every Christian duty to the utmost;
live for the good of others;
shine as a light in a dark world;
never be ashamed of the Captain beneath whose banner you serve;
glorify God by your devotedness in maintaining His honor and spreading His kingdom — and you will be sure to find crosses enough to tax your patience and endurance to the very utmost. Again and again you will have to cross your own will, and sacrifice your own inclinations. You will have to trample underfoot . . .
love of ease,
You will have to perform unpleasant duties.
You will meet with opposition from the world, and disappointment in your fellow-Christians. To bear all this meekly for Christ's sake, will require a life of continual self-denial.
To be a cross-bearer, requires that you should be quite prepared to brave reproach and ridicule, and even harsh treatment it may be, in confessing and following Christ. You must make up your mind to own Christ as your Lord and King, in all places and in all companies where you may be placed. When the woman had touched Christ's garment and had gained an immediate and perfect cure, He would not let her go away unobserved. She could not be hidden — she must come forth and confess what she had done, and what Christ had done for her. Even so, must you act. Humbly, prayerfully, wisely — yet withal boldly and fearlessly — stand forth as a witness for Christ's name; and though it will often bring you discomfort or loss — yet it will deepen your piety and make your crown brighter by-and-by.
When Dilawur Khan — a very devoted native convert in India — was sorely persecuted and ill-treated for Christ's sake, he would take it meekly and cheerfully, and even glory in it: "I never lost a little finger for Christ," he would say; "but He gave His whole body for me!" Even so let us never be ashamed of Christ, but ever glory in His grace and love.
You must not turn from the path of the cross, when it comes to you through keeping God's commandments and following the dictates of your conscience. Do not turn from the hot, sultry mountain side, or the track to the summit — when the sharp briars and thorns or the rough stones wound or cut your feet. It is the way home — it is the way the Master went, and you must faithfully keep to it.
For instance, it may be easier to let a man pass by whom you are bound to reprove, or to permit some wrong to be practiced and say nothing about it. But would Jesus have done it? Does He not require it at your hand?
Then, too, you may find many a cross to take up in business matters. To be true and honest, as before God, is not easy. An employer may expect you to hide the truth, or speak falsely; those about you may say that trade lies cannot be avoided; deceit may appear as it were the only policy you could follow, or you must lose a situation and perhaps experience great difficulties. What are you to do? If you are Christ's disciple, there is only one course to adopt. Do what is right — and suffer for it! "But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. 1 Peter 3:14
Act according to the plain precepts of the Word, and leave all consequences with God. Don't worship the golden image — though you may be cast in the furnace for refusing. Stand alone, if need be, and remember there is One who can deliver and save, so that not a hair of your head shall perish. Or, if God should permit you to be tried for your faithfulness, refuse to sin, though you die for it. Nor shall it be loss. You shall receive a hundred-fold more in some shape — and hereafter the crown of everlasting life.
In the various providential sorrows and afflictions which may come to you — you must accept them as from the hand of God, and take Christ as your Pattern and Example in the endurance of them.
It may be pain and bodily suffering;
it may be gradual failure of health;
it may be straitness of means or actual poverty;
it may be the loss of a parent, or a husband, or a child.
But whatever it is — do not murmur or repine. Trust all in God's hand — and yield to His wise disposings. Let God's will be your pillow. Fret not, fear not, faint not. Forget not His loving-kindness in the past, nor His tender care for you in the present. Though He slays you — yet put your trust in Him.
Another point is important. Be willing to put your shoulder beneath the cross which others have to bear. Share the burdens of those who live with you. Let your heart go out in sympathy towards a sorrowing or suffering fellow-Christian. Stretch out your hand to lift the load from one sore oppressed with care and grief. Don't shrink from the trouble or expense which may thus come to you. "Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ." Galatians 6:2
For all this, you have need of heavenly strength. But the strength is provided for you. Weak in yourself, you may yet be strong in the Lord.
He will strengthen you with might by His Spirit.
He will nourish and sustain you by the manna of His Word.
He will uphold you, that your foot shall not slip.
Take up your cross — let not its weight
Fill your weak spirit with alarm.
His strength shall bear your spirit up,
And brace your heart and nerve your arm.
Take up your cross and follow Christ:
Nor think until death to lay it down;
For only he who bears the cross
May hope to wear the glorious crown.
O merciful God, my Father in Christ Jesus, I draw near to You in His name. Teach me to pray aright. Grant me Your help and grace continually. Put forth Your mighty power in me, and quicken me by Your holy Spirit. Fill me with hearty thankfulness to You for Your great salvation, and teach me to follow in the footsteps of the Good Shepherd. O Gracious Savior, I thank You that You bore the bitter cup of agony and shame for my sake. Make me willing to deny myself and take up my cross and follow You. Give me such love to You that I may desire in all things to be like You. Crucify in me all sin and self-pleasing. May I shrink from no cost or trial which You may appoint. Make me ready to sacrifice ease and comfort in doing Your will, and to count all things but loss for the knowledge of Yourself.
Blessed Lord, give me true sympathy for the sorrows and sufferings of those around me. Show me how to bear the burdens of Your people. Lead me in the path of self-denial — and may I never turn away my eyes from the miseries You would have me relieve. Make me to weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice.
Endue me perfectly with Your own mind and Spirit. Draw me — and I shall run after You. And when my work on earth is done — may I reign with You in glory. Hear me, O merciful Redeemer; and sanctify me wholly, both in body and soul, for Your name's sake. Amen.