The Burden of the Cross: Part 3

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It has already been pointed out in the previous papers that the cross became the indispensable characteristic of the immediate followers of Jesus, in consequence of His rejection by those to whom He presented Himself. For the same spirit of envy and cruel malice roused by the ministry of our Lord would be roused by the faithful ministry of His disciples. As He Himself forewarned them, “If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:2020Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. (John 15:20)). And every reference to the cross in the Gospels implies that its meaning is suffering for Christ's sake, and that it comprehends all the odium of every kind falling on those who represent Christ in the world.
It should be remarked however that a clear and definite distinction is made in scripture between coming unto Christ and corning after Him. The Lord Jesus freely invites any one in want to come to Him; but He carefully warns everyone who, desires (θέλγ) to come after Him of the burden of the cross. The condition of coming to Christ was only to have a need, bodily or spiritual: “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink” (John 7:3737In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. (John 7:37)). On the other hand, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:2323And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. (Luke 9:23)). Where it is a question of eternal salvation, “Him that cometh unto Me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:3737All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. (John 6:37)); but where it is a question of following Christ, “Whosoever doth not bear his cross and come after Me, cannot be My disciple” (John 14:2727Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. (John 14:27)). All who labor and who are heavy laden are unconditionally bidden to come to Him and receive rest from the burden of sin. Thereupon however they are to take up another burden, even the yoke of Jesus, in order to find that soul-rest which is the reward of implicit obedience to the divine mind (Matt. 11:28-3028Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28‑30)).
For after all His yoke is easy, His burden is light, and His cross is not a disgrace but a glory. The testimony of the good and pious Samuel Rutherford, who suffered not a little for Christ's sake, was, “The cross of Christ is the sweetest burden that ever I bare: it is such a burden as wings are to a bird or sails to a ship, to carry me forward to my harbor.” The secret of such bitter water tasting so sweet lies in the attractive and superabundant glory of the Person of the Christ. For who could endure the cross, were it not to follow Him? Who could bear to suffer wrongfully, were it not for Christ's sake? And it is noticeable that the Lord, directly after warning His followers of their painful portion in this world, unveils before His chief disciples in the mount of transfiguration the majesty of His Person and the glories that were to follow (Matt. 17:1-81And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart, 2And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light. 3And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him. 4Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here: if thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. 5While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him. 6And when the disciples heard it, they fell on their face, and were sore afraid. 7And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid. 8And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only. (Matthew 17:1‑8); 2 Peter 1:16-1816For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17For he received from God the Father honor and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. 18And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount. (2 Peter 1:16‑18)). They were to tell the vision to no man. It was for them, not for those who had rejected Him. It was given to strengthen and confirm their souls in a due appreciation of the worth of the Master for Whom they were called to suffer; so that the remembrance of His excellent glory might stay them in the darkest hour. For the Lord did not call upon His disciples to take a morbid pleasure in suffering for its own sake, as if persecution were synonymous with piety. The cross was not the occasion for mere stoical indifference to pain or heroic fortitude in the presence of severe calamities. Such virtues were exhibited by many who never heard even of the name of Christ, and yet who welcomed privation and grief as opportunities to display how mental discipline had rendered them superior to distresses which otherwise would have bowed them to the ground. But such opportunities, for the practice of self-control did not constitute the cross of Christ, any more than an iron will was the power of enduring it.
It was the thought of suffering for and with Christ that effectually sustained the soul of the Christian, not philosophical abstractions showing the purely subjective nature of sorrow and woe, or sentimental aphorisms as to the temporary character of anxiety and grief. And scripture plainly declares the cross to be the outward, as eternal life is the inward, link with Christ. On this account alone believers are bidden even to rejoice in tribulation. There is no hint of such a thing as a grim delight in increasing one's burden of sorrow; but there is the command to “rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when His glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye he reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye: for the Spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you... But let none of you suffer as a murderer or as a thief or as an evildoer or as a busybody in other men's matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed” (1 Peter 4:13-1613But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. 14If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified. 15But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men's matters. 16Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf. (1 Peter 4:13‑16)).
Statements similar to this abound in the New Testament, and examples too, showing that the glory of heaven is inseparably connected with that which the world least esteems and most despises. See the signal triumph of the man of faith in Acts 7. The placid joy of Stephen's spirit as he gazed on the glorified Son of man was wholly undisturbed by the missiles of religions hatred which crushed out the life of his frail body. Also, when the apostles were flogged by order of the council of canonical wisdom at Jerusalem, it served only as an occasion for their exultation that they should have been counted worthy to suffer shame for the name of Jesus (Acts 5:40-4140And to him they agreed: and when they had called the apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. (Acts 5:40‑41)). The apostle of the Gentiles, too, reiterates the same intense devotion to the cross in his epistle to the Galatians: “God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by Whom the world is crucified unto me and I unto the world” (Gal. 6:1414But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. (Galatians 6:14)).1
Thus it is evident that bearing the cross after Christ was a precious privilege of which the early disciples rejoiced to avail themselves. But is it to be supposed that such a privilege no longer exists? From the first to the last of the New Testament not so much as a single trace of such a thought appears. On the contrary the world and its prince are seen arrayed in deadly warfare against the saints of God to the very end (Rev. 20:99And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them. (Revelation 20:9)). Indeed how can we expect to find wolves making a compact of peace with the sheep of the flock, unless it he with some treacherous motive? Yet we do find, as a matter of secular history, that at the commencement of the fourth century Rome, the mistress of the world, adopted the cross to supplement the eagle as a military ensign. And Constantine sought to honor the cross to which he ascribed the success of his arms and the attainment of his ambition by putting a spear in that form into the hand of the statue erected for him at Rome. A most baleful sign indeed! The spear and the cross had met before but under totally different circumstances (John 19.14). But now a worldly policy had practically made the cross of Christ of none effect by taking it under its patronage in the most public manner. This unnatural alliance of light and darkness has not ceased even in this day. For we may still see the cross and the scepter abortively united where the divine will has not decreed them to be. See Phil. 2:5-115Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: 6Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. 9Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: 10That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; 11And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5‑11).
If then the world and professing Christendom aid and abet each other in the accomplishment of their own selfish aims, by a policy of mutual accommodation what is the path of the faithful disciple? Is he to vainly sigh for Diocletian persecutions and Inquisitorial tortures? Nay: let him only follow Christ, and the burden will come. For proximity to the Person, and conformity to the character, of the Lord Jesus can never be gained without shouldering the cross. Let the word and will of God be sought and obeyed in its minutest detail. Let everything compromising His name in the slightest degree he abandoned at whatever cost. Let the lowly meekness and the self-renunciation of our Lord he displayed in measure before a scoffing world. Then shall the cross be known in all its austerity. Yet he who knows most sorrow for Christ's sake shall know most glory when the Lord comes to be glorified in His saints (2 Thess. 1:1010When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day. (2 Thessalonians 1:10)). Though joy is by no means confined to a future day: even now we glory in tribulations (Rom. 5:33And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; (Romans 5:3)). And if in the world we have tribulation, in Him we have peace (John 16:3333These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)).
But not only from the world does the faithful disciple receive a cross. The lukewarm generation of professing Christians, which has a name to live but is dead, avoids with lofty scorn and persecutes with the most refined cruelty the humble believer who by his consistency reminds them of their inconsistency. And the child of God who prefers the simple but infallible word of scripture to the diversified but bewildering creeds of his fallible fellows, bolstered up, as they are, by custom, tradition, or convenience, must expect the isolation that invariably accompanies faithfulness in a degenerate age. For certainly the church has not improved since all deserted no less a one than the apostle Paul, leaving him to stand alone in his first defense at Rome. Nevertheless the Lord stood with him (2 Tim. 4:16-1716At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge. 17Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. (2 Timothy 4:16‑17)), as He will with every true-hearted follower, to give sufficient grace for the heaviest burden that may have to be borne for His sake.