THE FOOT OF THE CROSS
by Octavius Winslow
Nearness to the Cross
"Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother's
sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene." John 19:25
It was a mournful yet an unspeakably precious and
enviable spot around which now clustered these holy watchers! They had been
to our Lord as ministering spirits in many an hour of weariness and need.
With true feminine delicacy, they had followed Him, silently and meekly, in
the distance, approaching His person but to receive from Him a blessing or
to bestow upon Him a charity. Their love was not ostentatious, nor were
their attentions officious and wearying. Gentle, yet softening as the dew-
silent, yet cheering as the sunbeam, they hovered around His lone and dreary
path, shedding upon it the luster and the soothing of their holy sympathy,
and in seasons of sinking necessity and exhausting toil, "ministering to Him
of their substance." And now that His disciples, pledged and sworn to a
friendship and faithfulness unto death, had, in the dark hour of His woe,
one by one all forsaken Him, these holy women drew near and took their
position as sentinels at the cross, watching the descending sun of His life,
as, amid suffering, darkness, and blood, it set in death. But a deeper love
and a higher life than nature owns had brought them here. Christ had wrought
wonders of grace for these women. They were lost, and He had found them;
sinners, and He had saved them. Their sins He was now bearing, their curse
He was now exhausting, their penalty of suffering He was now enduring. For
them were these agonies, this soul-sorrow, this blood-shedding, and this
death. And now that He was afflicted of God, tortured of man, deserted by
friends, insulted by foes, lo! amid the darkness and the earthquake, the
insults and the imprecations, "there stood by the cross of Jesus; His
mother, and His mother's sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary
Magdalene." Honored women! envied spot! But how suggestive in its spiritual
instruction is this scene! To its study let us devoutly turn.
Although eighteen hundred years have elapsed since that
scene occurred, the believer in Jesus still spiritually lives it over. The
cross of Christ is still the central object of attraction to the Church of
God. Around it in faith and love a countless throng daily, hourly gather of
Christ-believing, Christ-loving souls, finding cleansing in its blood,
extracting joy from its sorrow, deriving life from its death, and beholding
the brightness of glory blended with the darkness of shame.
But is this the true spiritual position and posture of
every believer in Jesus? Are all the professed disciples of the Savior
seeking and cultivating the religion that is drawn only from, and is
cherished only by, close communion with the cross of Christ? Are we walking
with God in a sense of pardoned sin, of personal acceptance, of filial
communion, of holy obedience, of unreserved consecration beneath the cross?
Do we delight to be here? Do we resort there that grace might be
replenished, that the fruits of the Spirit might be nourished, that
backslidings might be healed, that the conscience might be cleansed? Is the
cross of Jesus our confessional, our laver, our crucifixion, and our boast?
These are searching, solemn questions! Persuaded, as we are, that the foot
of the cross is the nearest spot to Heaven, that Heaven's choicest blessings
are found only there; that, beneath its warm sunshine the holy fruit of the
Spirit ripens, and that under its sacred shade the sweetest repose is
found; that, never is the believing soul so near to God, in such intimate
fellowship with Christ, more really under the direct teaching of the Holy
Spirit, as when there, we would sincerely employ every scriptural argument
and put forth every persuasive motive to allure the reader to this hallowed
spot, assured that, once he finds himself in believing, loving adoration at
the foot of Christ's cross, he has found himself at the focus of all divine
glory, and at the confluence of all spiritual blessing.
A few words of explanation in the outset. The foot of the
cross! What do we mean by the words? Literally, the cross was an ancient
instrument of torture among the Romans, to which only those were subjected
who were considered by the state as the greatest and most ignominious
malefactors. To be crucified was considered a mark of ineffable infamy and
disgrace, and its death one of lingering and indescribable agony. Such was
the nature, character, and instrument of our Lord's death! Jesus of Nazareth
was crucified upon a tree. The Son of God, suspended between two
malefactors, died the accursed death of the cross, voluntarily enduring its
torture, and uncomplainingly submitting to its infamy- to such suffering and
abasement could incarnate love stoop! Hence the frequent expression of the
Bible, "The cross of Christ."
Symbolically, the cross of Christ represents the doctrine
of the cross, and is an expression equivalent to the atonement of the Son of
God, by which we, who were once at variance with God, rebels against His
being, government, and truth, are now reconciled, brought into a state of
at-one-ment with Jehovah. Thus, "we who some time were afar off, are made
near by the blood of Christ."
But, spiritually, we understand by the expression the
believer's close realization of the moral power of the cross, his fellowship
with Christ in His sufferings, and the believing, lowly posture of the soul
at the spot where concentrate the blessings of grace here, and where bloom
the first fruits of glory hereafter.
The spiritually depressed state of the soul which this
position meets, is more serious and prevalent than is generally suspected by
the saints of God. There is no part of the circumference of divine truth or
of Christian experience so remote from Christ the center, at which the
believer may not at some period of his course find himself in his
unsuspected wanderings. The planet revolving round the sun, the needle
pointing to the pole, have not a stronger tendency to oscillate from the
center of attraction, than the renewed soul to recede to a remote distance
from Jesus. Nearness to the cross! -alas! it is the exception and not the
rule. Standing by the cross! -it is the privileged position of the few and
not the many. The world, in some one, or all, of its many forms of power-
the creature, in its unsuspected yet insinuating influence- unbelief, in its
latent yet ever-potent force- sin, in its indwelling and ever-working sway,
allures the soul from the cross. And so the Christian disciple, unconscious
of the spiritual declension of his heart from Christ, finds himself moving
in a distant orbit, cold, and dreary, far remote from the warm, genial
influence of the Sun beneath whose divine beams he was wont so joyously to
bask in the days of his "first love." "And Peter followed Him afar off." And
in that distant walk, that orbit far removed from the Divine Center, that
starting off to the utmost limit of departure, he had become a wandering and
a blasted star forever- as he was an eclipsed constellation for the moment-
but for the power of God that kept him, and the Savior's love that
interceded for him, and the divine grace that restored him. That distance of
walk led to his denial of his Lord. To what deep declension must the work of
the Holy Spirit in his soul have sunk to have issued in an event in his
spiritual history so appalling, and in a crime against his Savior so great!
There is no security, as there is no enjoyment, of the believer in the
distance of his soul from the cross. We tread enchanted ground when we walk
where the sanctifying power of the cross is not recognized and felt. Jesus
is not known, His cross is not recognized, His love is not felt in the walks
of worldly gaiety and in the haunts of carnal pleasure. These things are
divided from the cross by a wide and ever-separating gulf. You cannot, my
reader, mingle with the world and maintain at the same time spiritual
nearness to the cross. The cross is the crucifier of the world, the death of
sin. Beneath its awful shadow, brought to its sacred foot, the world's glory
pales, sin's power is paralyzed, and Satan, the arch-tempter, recoiling from
its brightness and writhing beneath its death-bruise, relinquishes his
victim, and retires, defeated and dishonored, to his own place.
The inquiry naturally arises in this part of our subject,
What are some of THE EVIDENCES OF NEARNESS TO THE CROSS? In other words,
What are the true tests by which the believer may ascertain the spiritual
position of his soul? Without anticipating subsequent parts of this volume,
let a few words suffice to meet this inquiry.
The first we quote is, ardent love to Jesus. The cross,
rugged and gory, heavy and offensive, possesses no beauty or attraction
apart from Him who was nailed to its wood. That which makes Calvary the most
hallowed spot to the believer, and the cross the most attractive spectacle
on earth, is the wonderful Being who there poured out His soul unto death, a
self-consumed victim amid the fires of His own love. "Zeal for your house
will consume me." Associated with a Redeemer so divine, with a
salvation so stupendous, with sufferings so unparalleled, with a death so
atoning, with a heaven so glorious, with a fact so strange- the Sinless
condemned, that the guilty might go free; the Blessed bearing the curse,
that the accursed might bear the blessing; the Living dying, that the dead
might live; the Glorious covered with shame, that the abased might be
covered with glory; Christ enduring our hell, that we might enjoy His
heaven- blended, we say, with transfers so strange and with blessings so
precious, it is not surprising the warm and supreme attachment of the
believer to Him who died upon the cross. Here, then, is a true test of your
soul's nearness to the cross. Love to Jesus will sweetly attract and
powerfully detain you there, in devout, adoring contemplation. To him who
has no love to Christ, the cross of Christ has no attraction. A heart
chilled in its affection to the Savior will wander away in quest of objects
more congenial with its carnal taste. A trifle, a shadow, anything the most
childish and insignificant, will win and gratify a heart upon whose
affections Christ has no hold. Oh, it is astonishing what straws men will
gather, and what phantoms they will chase, when the soul's center is not the
cross of Jesus!
What, beloved, is the state of your heart's love to
Christ? Turn not from the inquiry, shrink not from the scrutiny. The fervor
of its love will be the measure of your soul's nearness to the cross. Love
to Christ will bring you into frequent and close fellowship with Him in
suffering; and with a heart often sequestered from the world, and cloistered
amid the hallowed gloom of Gethsemane- at home with Christ in suffering- the
position of your soul will be that of the holy Mary's, standing by the cross
Attachment to the doctrines of the cross may be regarded
as a test of the believer's spiritual nearness to the Crucified. A lessening
of love to the person of Jesus will invariably be followed by a lessening of
love to the truth as it is in Jesus. Christ is the truth. The truth and
Christ are one and indivisible. There can be no real, certainly no healthy,
vigorous love to the person of Christ where there exists a latent laxity of
opinion respecting the gospel of Christ. Christ and His gospel stand or
fall, rise or sink together. "In vain you love Me," might the Savior say,
"while you undervalue my words. My doctrine is divine, and he that rejects
my words rejects Me." What, then, is your attachment to the gospel of
Christ? Is it increasingly precious to your soul, sanctifying to your heart,
influential in your life? Would you bid high for the truth of Jesus at any
cost of personal ease and worldly advantage, and sell it not for earth's
Do you increasingly love it because it searches, rebukes,
abases you, and yet strengthens, comforts, and sanctifies you? Do you feel a
growing love for those doctrines that are especially identical with, that
spring from, that are found beneath, and that lead the soul to, the cross of
Jesus? Thus may you test the proximity of your soul to the Crucified. Christ
precious to you, oh, how precious will be the truth He taught! Purer than
the purest silver, richer than the richest gold, sweeter than the sweetest
honey, lovelier than the fairest gem, will be to you those doctrines,
precepts, and promises which your Lord and Savior embodied in His teachings,
and enjoined upon your simple faith, your fervent love, your holy walk, your
zealous dissemination, and, if need be, your testimony at the martyr's
stake. The doctrine of the substitutionary offering, the expiatory
suffering, the atoning blood, the imputed righteousness of Christ, all based
upon, and deriving their virtue, their power, and their efficacy from, the
divine dignity and spotless holiness of His person, will be entwined with
your increasing love and unswerving faith.
The precepts which enjoin your bearing Christ's cross,
your confession of His name, your self-denying service in His cause, your
crucifixion to the world, and your simple, unreserved obedience to His
commands, will be to you His easy yoke and His lightsome burden. Test, then,
your spiritual nearness to the cross by your ardent attachment to the
doctrines of the cross. "If any man will do His will, He shall know of the
doctrine." "O how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day." "How
sweet are your words unto my taste! yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth."
"Your words were found, and I did eat them; and your word was unto me the
joy and rejoicing of my heart."
Loyalty to Christ is another evidence of nearness to the
cross. Disloyalty to the Savior and His truth creates an immeasurable
distance between Christ and the soul. Any, the slightest, compromise with
error, with the world, with sin, with the enemies of the cross, is
disloyalty to the Headship, the Crown, the Person, and the Gospel of the Son
of God. No proof is more unmistakable of a receding from the cross, of a
distance of the heart from Jesus, then infidelity to His person, government,
and truth. Peter compromised his loyalty to Christ when he followed his
Master 'afar off.' He disowned and denied Jesus, forswore and renounced
allegiance to his Savior, when he followed Him at a distance to the hall of
judgment, and then took his place among His enemies. Let but your love to
Jesus wane, your faith in His Word relax, your attachment to His cause
lessen, your interest in His people decline, and you are fast becoming a
disloyal subject of that Sovereign whose person you professed to love, whose
truth you affirmed to believe, whose cause you swore to defend, whose
fortunes and whose kingdom you avowed to follow and promote until death. Oh,
be loyal to Christ! -to the glory of His person, to the divinity of His
truth, to the interests of His Church, to the rights of His crown, to the
honor of His name! "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to
God the things that are God's."
Fidelity to God will not render you less, but all the
more, faithful to man. You will not be less fitted for the relations and
duties of the life that now is, but all the more competent, because daily
advancing in fitness for the life that is to come. Let stern, uncompromising
fidelity to Christ, then, evidence the closeness of your fellowship with Him
in His sufferings. Keep that impressive spectacle ever in view- the
dying of the Lord Jesus in your stead- and the foe that would tamper with
your loyalty to the Savior will be disarmed of his power, and, like unto the
noble army of martyrs, you will "overcome him by the blood of the Lamb."
We will supply but another test of your close communion
with the Crucified- the spiritual barometer of the soul. Nothing will more
satisfactorily indicate your exact position in relation to the cross than
the state of your spiritual life. The divine life in the soul flourishes or
decays, is vigorous or sickly, in exact proportion to its proximity to the
cross of Jesus. As Christ is our life, so our life must be sustained by
Christ. If your Christianity is healthy; your breathings after God and
holiness and heaven deep and fervent; your love to Jesus constant and
intense; and you are aiming to walk after the simplicity of Christ, bringing
every thought into obedience to Him, then you may safely infer that you
stand spiritually, where stood literally the holy women- close by the cross
of Jesus. Here alone spiritual religion flourishes. Here only the believing
soul is as a well-watered garden. If, as the naturalist tells us, beneath
the Upas tree all natural life expires, it may with more significance be
affirmed that beneath the cross of Jesus all spiritual life lives.
"There stood by the cross of Jesus- His mother."
Significant and touching words! -replete with teaching and with tenderness.
Who can portray that scene? who describe the love of that Son- the sorrow of
that mother? Such a Son! Such a mother! The love of Jesus was now
illustrating its greatness by the vastness of its achievement- the salvation
of His Church; and its tenderness in that gentle look of affection which He
bent upon the woman who stood by His cross in all the depth and constancy of
a mother's love.
But we turn from a scene which distances all human
description, to you, my reader. It is possible that your present position
bears some resemblance to this. You may be watching by the couch of a
suffering, dying one, whom you deeply, tenderly love- perchance, love as a
parent, yes, as a mother only can. Take your place with Mary- by the
cross of Jesus. There meet and blend suffering and love, sorrow and
sympathy. Standing in faith by the cross, you are near the suffering Savior,
the loving Son, the sympathizing Brother born for your present grief. Jesus,
in the depth and tenderness of His love, is at this moment all that He was
when, in soul-travail, He cast that ineffable look of filial love and
sympathy upon His anguished mother. He can enter into your circumstances,
understand your grief, sustain and soothe your spirit as one only can who
has partaken of the cup of woe which now trembles in your hand. Drink that
cup submissive to His will, for He drank deeply of it before you, and has
left the fragrance of His sympathy upon its brim. Your sorrow is not new to
He can embosom Himself in a parent's grief as no other
being could. He knows a mother's heart, compassionates a mother's sorrow.
You may be sorrowing for a child, perhaps over his folly, his waywardness,
his sin; or, you are watching by your child's couch of weakness, or the bed
of suffering, or the pillow of death. Oh, is there a place more appropriate
for you as a smitten parent, a mourning mother, a spirit overwhelmed with
anguish, hope and fear alternately struggling in your breast, watching the
languor which you cannot rouse, the sufferings you cannot relieve, the
disease you cannot avert, the advancing foe you cannot arrest, the
approaching wrench you cannot avert. Is there a spot where your spirit will
be more calmed, your heart more comforted, your will more subdued, your soul
more strengthened, your mind more sweetly responsive to the words of Jesus,
"Your will be done," than beneath the cross? Close to it stand, believing,
loving, clinging, until this calamity be overpast.
There grace will be given you to bear this crushing
trial, strength to pass through this weary watching, love to sustain this
bitter anguish, sympathy to soften and to soothe this hour of sad and final
parting. Mourning, sorrowing mother! Jesus invites you to His sheltering,
soothing cross, "Come, my people, enter into your chambers, and shut your
doors about you; hide yourself, as it were, for a little moment." There is
nothing but love and sympathy and repose for the mourning, anguished spirit
prostrate beneath the cross of Jesus. Its divine light is on you, its sacred
shadow is over you, its invincible shield is around you. There Jesus speaks-
"It is I; do not be afraid. I, who know a son's suffering and a mother's
anguish. I, who control the winds and the waves, who stills the tempest and
calm the sea. I, who have promised that my grace shall be sufficient, and
that my strength shall be perfected in weakness. Approach my cross, shelter
near my wounded side, get within my bleeding heart- there is love and there
is room and there is rest for you there."
"Tossed with rough winds, and faint with fear,
Above the tempest, soft and clear,
What still small accents greet my ear!
It is I; do not be afraid!
"It is I who led your steps aright;
It is I who gave your blind eyes sight;
It is I, your Lord, your Life, your Light.
It is I; do not be afraid!
"These raging winds, this surging sea,
Bear not a breath of wrath to thee;
That storm has all been spent on Me.
It is I; do not be afraid!
"This bitter cup fear not to drink;
I know it well- oh! do not shrink;
I tasted it over Kedron's brink.
It is I; do not be afraid!
"My eyes are watching by your bed,
My arms are underneath your head,
My blessing is around you shed.
It is I; do not be afraid!
"When on the other side your feet
Shall rest mid thousand welcomes sweet.
One well-known voice your heart shall greet!
It is I; do not be afraid!
"From out of the dazzling majesty,
Gently he'll lay His hand on thee,
Whispering, 'Beloved, do you love me?'
It is I; do not be afraid!"
Once more heed the exhortation- stand close to the cross
of Jesus! It is the most accessible and precious spot this side of heaven-
the most solemn and awesome one this side of eternity. It is the focus of
divine love, sympathy, and power. Stand by it in suffering, in persecution,
in temptation. Standby it in the brightness of prosperity and in the gloom
of adversity. Shrink not from its offence, humiliation, and woe. Defend it
when scorned, despised, and denied. Stand up for Jesus and the gospel of
Jesus. Oh, whatever you do, or whatever you endure, be loyal to Christ's
cross. Go to it in trouble, repair to it in weakness, cling to it in danger,
hide beneath it when the wintry storm rushes fiercely over you. Near to the
cross, you are near a Father's heart, a Savior's side. You seem to enter the
gate of heaven, to stand beneath the vestibule of glory. You "come unto
Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and
to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of
the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and
to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the Mediator of the
new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling."
Nothing but a believing proximity to the cross of Jesus
brings the soul into a present fellowship with these gospel, precious, and
transcendent blessings. Again, I reiterate the fact, that nothing but love
will welcome your approach to the cross of Jesus- love that pardons all your
sins, flows over all your unworthiness, heals all your wounds, soothes all
your sorrows, and will shelter you within its blessed pavilion until earth
is changed for heaven, and you lay down the warrior's sword for the victor's
palm, and spring from the foot of the cross to the foot of the throne-
"forever with the Lord."
"Sweet the moments, rich in blessing,
Which before the cross I spend,
Life, and health, and peace possessing,
From the sinner's dying Friend.
"Here I'll sit forever viewing
Mercy's streams, in streams of blood;
Precious drops! my soul bedewing,
Plead and claim my peace with God.
"Truly blessed is this station,
Low before His cross to lie;
While I see divine compassion
Floating in His languid eye,
"Here it is I find my heaven,
While upon the cross I gaze
Love I much? I've more forgiven;
I'm a miracle of grace.
"Love and grief my heart dividing,
With my tears His feet I'll bathe,
Constant still in faith abiding;
Life deriving from His death.
"May I still enjoy this feeling,
In all need to Jesus go;
Prove His blood each day more healing,
And Himself more fully know."