The Love of the Cross
George Everard, 1877
"To know the love of Christ, which surpasses knowledge" Ephesians 3:19
On leaving the harbor and setting out on a sea voyage in my early days, my ear was struck with the sailor's cry, "Ten fathoms deep!" "Twenty fathoms deep!" and so on, as they sounded the depth of water through which the ship was passing. By-and-by the cry ceases — they reach the deep water where they need to sound no longer.
And so it is with the love of Christ — it is a deep we cannot reach! Who can fathom it? Who can conceive it? Who can express it? The Apostle can only stand on the shore and bid us pray, that we may know its height and depth and breadth and length. And then he tells us that "it surpasses knowledge." But let us dwell upon this heavenly theme. The faithful believer will love to ponder it; for in doing so he will learn more of Christ, and trust Him more, and love Him more, and possess Him more fully as his own everlasting Friend.
The Comforter, the Holy Spirit, will be ready to enlighten and teach us; for it is His special office to take of the things of Christ, and reveal them to His people.
Christ died for sinners. Not for the good and worthy — but for the lost and perishing, did He lay down His precious life.
When we had no strength to do right or to keep God's holy law,
when we willingly went astray,
when our evil hearts hated the God of love,
when we were rebels and enemies against the great King —
then He loved us and died for us, and by His death opened to us the gate of everlasting life! "You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:6-8
Ah, here is one depth — a marvelous depth — love, pity, salvation, for the ungodly and for sinners! Need I doubt whether He died for me? Nay, surely, for I am a sinner, and more sinful than tongue can tell; and as a sinner only — I go to Him and trust in Him. And I would know and feel this more and more — so I go to His mercy-seat for the broken and contrite heart that befits a guilty one like me.
But what a death He died! To die a common death for others would be love — but He died ten thousand deaths in one!
I have read of a soldier giving a cup of water on the battle-field to a dying comrade, and losing his life for his kindness; for a shell burst near the spot where he was tarrying, and he was killed. Here was kindness and love — here was life sacrificed for another's good. But the suffering was short. Death came in a moment, and the faithful friend was gone.
But not so in the death of Christ. Wave upon wave, depth upon depth of unknown and unutterable woe — did He experience for our sakes. And was not each depth of woe, an evidence of the marvelous depth of His love toward us?
There are four great depths in our Lord's Passion — and, as we look down into each, though it is but a little way, may He teach us something of the ocean-depths of His redeeming love!
1. I think of all He suffered in the flesh during those long hours of the night and day, between His apprehension in the garden and the yielding up His Spirit to His Father on the cross.
How was that sinless body tormented with cruel anguish!
I see those hands, ever stretched out to bless, now pierced with nails!
I see those feet, which ever went about doing good, carrying consolation and healing to the sad and suffering — now transfixed to the cross!
I see that brow, so full of holy benevolence, now covered with blood!
I see the scourging, and the weariness, and those parched lips, and those hours of bitter agony, as life slowly ebbed away.
Ah, the suffering and the love it manifested! Who shall tell what it was!
In my hours of pain and sickness, let me ever look back to Calvary! As I trust in Him, shall I not regard the suffering that may be appointed me, as light beside His; and not now the punishment of my sin — but rather the chastening of a Father's hand?
But I see another depth in those sufferings.
2. What shame, what scorn and mockery and indignity did Christ willingly endure! He is taken as a thief, with swords and staves. He stands for whole hours as a prisoner before vile and wretched men. He is buffeted — yes, He hides not His face from shame and spitting. His very deeds of mercy are cast in His teeth. A murderer and a robber is chosen instead of Him — the Prince of glory. Oh, what a depth of love do I see in the endurance of all this!
How hard do I find it to bear a word of reproach for His sake! How a slight, a cutting remark, a look — wounds and pains me! How great the trial is to any honorable and upright man, to be taken for a defrauder, and to be contemned by those who formerly had him in honor! And what must it have been to the Son of God, who had been honored and worshiped by the holy angels above — to be the scorn and mockery of men, the outcast of the people?
In this depth of shame and indignity, I see a vast deep of redeeming love!
I see yet another depth.
3. Let me think of the desolation of Christ in those dark hours. How forcible are the words spoken of Him in the prophetic Psalm: "Scorn has broken my heart and has left me helpless; I looked for sympathy, but there was none, for comforters, but I found none." Psalm 69:20
We think of David at Ziklag — his wives and children captive in the hands of the Amalekites, his abode laid waste, and all his friends turning against him and speaking of stoning him.
We think of Jeremiah sitting down amidst the ruins of the city, alone and desolate, lamenting the loss of the sons and daughters of Zion.
But no desolation was ever like that of Christ. He was hated and rejected by His own nation. Their chief men unite for His destruction. One of the twelve betrays Him to them. Another of the twelve, in the very midst of His trial, denies Him thrice. The rest all forsake Him and flee. Where are those who have been healed by Him? Where are those who have been comforted and instructed by His words of love? Not one will now stand up for Him, and plead His cause — not one will show the kindness and sympathy that might, in some measure, have alleviated His heavy sorrows.
But chief of all these, was that exceeding great and bitter cry, "My God! My God! Why have you forsaken Me!"
Ah, this forsaking of God, this hiding of the light of heaven — this was far more than all! Here was desolation indeed? Forsaken by man — this is much. But forsaken by His own Father, as to the comfort of His presence, as to the sweet assurance of His love — this were above all things terrible! And with this, we couple another depth — all the soul-anguish that came to Him through our sin. Here is that which we cannot conceive or tell.
The travail of His soul in the work of atonement, in taking upon Him our guilt and condemnation, in making amends to Divine justice for a broken law — all this is in a region which no eye of man has seen, and no foot of man has trodden! So that here, most of all, we see the incomprehensible love, surpassing all knowledge. Oh, to bear such desolation of spirit, to drink such a cup of soul-anguish for our salvation — what can it mean? How can it be?
Jesus, the sinner's Friend,
We cannot speak Your praise:
No mortal voice can sing the song
That ransomed hearts would raise!
One thought more.
4. We see the marvels of this love, in the purpose of it all. It is for . . .
our deliverance from all condemnation,
our acceptance as dear children of the Father in Heaven.
Innumerable are the benefits purchased for us by the precious blood-shedding of the Son of God — and on every one of them we see inscribed the love that endured so great things for us.
Where else could such love have been found? What earthly friend would have thus sacrificed himself, to obtain peace and life and salvation for us?
A few words, once spoken by the late Sir James Simpson of Edinburgh, before a large number of his fellow-citizens, put it in a very telling way. This excellent man, laden with honors for his discoveries in medical science, late in life attained the still higher honor of rejoicing in the privilege of a son of God. Let us hear his words:
"When I was a student at the University, I saw a sight I never can forget — a man brought out to die. His arms were pinioned, his face already pale as death; thousands of eager eyes were upon him as he came up from the jail. Did any friend come up and loose the rope, and say, Put it round my neck! No, he underwent the penalty of the law! For many offences? No — for one offence: he had stolen money from a stage coach! He broke the law in one point, and died for it. It was the penalty of a changing human law — the last instance of death for that particular offence.
"But I saw another sight — myself a sinner, standing on the brink of ruin, deserving nothing but Hell. For one sin? No — for many, many sins committed against the unchanging laws of God. But again I looked, and saw Jesus, my Substitute, scourged in my stead and dying on the cross for me. I looked, I cried, and I was forgiven."
Oh, that each believer may truly see this great love, and more fervently love Him who first loved us!
It is a privilege beyond all price, that we may love Christ — that we may have an object that will never disappoint our affections.
He who once died for us, is now our living Redeemer — still retaining all the love He had for us when on earth. And, in the power of His endless love, giving us a safe resting-place for our longing hearts. It is well to set our love on the changeless, ever-living Friend.
Let me lean most on any man — and in an hour I may lose my treasure — and my heart's affections will be like ivy trailing on the ground, when the tree on which it grew has fallen. But let me lean only on Christ, let my heart cleave intensely to Him — and I shall never lose the One dearest to me, the One who alone can satisfy my soul forever.
"For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again." 2 Corinthians 5:14-15
Beneath the cross of Jesus, I gladly take my stand,
The shadow of a mighty Rock, within a weary land,
A home within the wilderness, a rest upon the way.
From the burning of the noontide heat, and the burden of the day.
O safe and happy shelter — O refuge tried and sweet —
O trysting-place where Heaven's love and Heaven's justice meet.
As to the holy Patriarch, that wondrous dream was given,
So seems my Savior's cross, to me a ladder up to Heaven.
Upon the cross of Jesus, mine eye at times can see
The very dying form of One, who suffered there for me;
And from my smitten heart with tears, two wonders I confess,
The wonders of His glorious love — and my own unworthiness.
I stand beneath its shadow, as my abiding place,
I ask no other sunshine, than the sunshine of His face.
Content to let the world go by, to know no gain nor loss,
My sinful self, my only shame — my glory all the cross.
O blessed and merciful Redeemer, I would come to Your footstool. Draw me — and I will run after You. Reveal to me Your heart of love, and make the light of Your countenance to shine upon me. O send Your Spirit to lead me into the fuller knowledge of Yourself.
I thank You, O gracious Savior, for laying down Your life for my sake. I thank You for the pain, and mockery, and desolation of heart You willingly endured. I thank You for drinking to the very dregs, the bitter cup of holy wrath, which my sins deserved. I thank You for all wondrous benefits You have thus purchased for me. O that You would make my heart Your dwelling-place, and fill me with Your love. I bless You, that I may love You; and that in loving You, my soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness. O make me love You more and more continually. May Your love constrain me to live to Your glory. Crucify within me all selfishness and self-will, and teach me to serve You and do Your will. Make me like Yourself — meek and gentle and loving unto all men. Fulfill these my desires, and make me wholly Yours, for Your name's sake. Amen.