We are told that Christ was killed for us, that His death has washed out our sins, and that by dying He disabled death itself. That is the formula. That is Christianity. That is what has to be believed. Any theories we build up as to how Christ’s death did all this are, in my view, quite secondary: mere plans or diagrams to be left alone if they do not help us, and, even if they do help us, not to be confused with the thing itself. All the same, some of these theories are worth looking at.
I am not asking anyone to accept Christianity if his best reasoning tells him that the weight of the evidence is against it. That is not the point at which Faith comes in. But supposing a man’s reason once decides that the weight of the evidence is for it. I can tell that man what is going to happen to him in the next few weeks. There will come a moment when there is bad news, or he is in trouble, or is living among a lot of other people who do not believe it, and all at once his emotions will rise up and carry out a sort of blitz on his belief… Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable.
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
You will find this again and again about anything that is really Christian: every one is attracted by bits of it and wants to pick out those bits and leave the rest. That is why we do not get much further: and that is why people who are fighting for quite opposite things can both say they are fighting for Christianity.
If Christianity was something we were making up, of course we could make it easier. But it is not. We cannot compete, in simplicity, with people who are inventing religions. How could we? We are dealing with Fact. Of course anyone can be simple if he has no facts to bother about.
The meaning ordinarily attached to the word “cross” is that of a figure composed of two or more lines which intersect, or touch each other transversely. Thus, two pieces of wood, or other material, so placed in juxtaposition to one another, are understood to form a cross. It should be noted, however, that Lipsius and other writers speak of the single upright stake to which criminals were bound as a cross, and to such a stake the name of crux simplex has been applied. The usual conception, however, of a cross is that of a compound figure. Punishment by crucifixion was widely employed in ancient times. It is known to have been used by nations such as those of Assyria, Egypt, Persia, by the Greeks, Carthaginians, Macedonians, and from very early times by the Romans. It has been thought, too, that crucifixion was also used by the Jews themselves, and that there is an allusion to it (Deut. xxi. 22, 23) as a punishment to be inflicted.
The cross of Christ, as if it were the glittering eye of God, has in a most wondrous way held man spell-bound, and made him listen to its strange story “like a three years’ child” who “cannot choose but hear.” Were not the fact so familiar, men would call it miraculous. Had its action and history been capable of a priori statement, it would have seemed, even to the most credulous age, the maddest of mad and unsubstantial dreams. For it is not only that in the immense history of human experience it stands alone, a fact without a fellow, the most potent factor of human good, yet with what seems the least inherent fitness for it, but it even appears to contradict the most certain and common principles man has deduced from his experience. We do not wonder at the cross having been a stumbling-block to the Jew and foolishness to the Greek. We should have wondered much more had it been anything else.
The sects in the Church might be judged by a comparison of their favorite holidays. And so might eras in history be judged. It is matter of real interest, then, to see how all poets and prophets of all divisions of the Church unite on this day, to proclaim it the Sunday of Sundays, the High Holy Day of the year. For this is to say that poet and prophet, of every sect and those least sectarian, have found out at last that the Christian Religion stands for Life. Life instead of form; Life instead of Laws; Life instead of Grave-clothes; Life instead of Tombs; Life instead of Death ; — that is what Christianity means, and what it is for. You would be tempted to say that the Saviour had already enforced this completely in what he said to men; tempted to say that Easter morning was not needed either for illustration or enforcement. Certainly the gospel texts are full of the lesson. "Because I live, ye shall live also." "As the Father hath life in himself, so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself." "This is Life Eternal — to believe on thee." And central text of all, the text we have chosen for the motto of this church, "I have come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." If texts alone ever did anything, these and a thousand more would show what The Truth is, and The Way. But one is tempted, in bitter moods, to say that texts never do anything, that words never achieve or finish anything. One is tempted to remember how he said that any man who prepared God’s way is greater than any man who only proclaims it, how prophets and prophesying were done with, mere talk was over — praise the Lord! and energy, action, force had come in instead, praise the Lord! Yet, if anybody did still trust in talk, he might take a lesson from these Gospels.
Arundel. There must always be, so long as creeds are words and men are reasoning beings, a variety of interpretation and opinion as to the essentials or non-essentials of any religious faith. The frequently quoted maxim attributed to Augustine is epigrammatic and pretty: In necesaariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus charitas, but it leaves the main difficulty unsolved. What are necessaria, and why? and what is the boundary line between dubia and necessaria? Certainly the necessaria which can be gathered from the direct utterances of Jesus Christ may be packed in a very small dogmatic parcel.
You say, “Moral justice cannot take the innocent for the guilty, even if the innocent were to offer itself; to suppose justice to do this, is to destroy the principle of its existence, which is the thing itself; it is then no longer justice, it is indiscriminate revenge.” Before this question can be decided, we must inquire, What is moral justice, as it applies to God? That it must be something different with him, from what it is with us, will appear from this consideration: God can, when, how, or where he pleases, deprive men of their lives, without any visible cause for such actions; yet God, notwithstanding this, is morally just in all his ways. Apply this to man; we cannot, consistently with moral justice, deprive men of their lives, without a previous forfeiture of the same to moral justice. Unless the cause of death, with us, be equal to the death inflicted, the act is injustice, and the death assassination and murder; but God cannot commit murder; therefore the deprivation of life, of any of his creatures, by him, must not only be reconcilable with justice, but founded on its very principles and nature. Neither can God be guided by the same laws, nor actuated by the same motives, with which we are. To talk of laws, and apply them both to God and man, is derogatory to his nature, for the reasons assigned above; and that, which derogates from God, cannot be applied to him. The rules, which regulate his ways and conduct in the economy of things, are such as we know little of; and what is justice with God, will in many cases, be injustice with us. It is a principle, which must be admitted, that the same power, which has a right to establish a law, must have a right to repeal that law; but God had a morally just right to establish, both the laws of nature, and the laws of his word; therefore, he has the same morally just right to suspend, or finally repeal either.
The great design of God in the gospel is to clear up this mist of sin and corruption, which we are here surrounded with, and to bring up his creatures out of the shadow of death to the region of light above, the land of truth and holiness. The great mystery of the gospel is to establish a godlike frame and disposition of spirit, which consists in righteousness and true holiness, in the hearts of men. And Christ, who is the great and mighty Saviour, came on purpose into the world, not only to save us from fire and brimstone, but also to save us from our sins. Christ hath therefore made an expiation of our sins by his death upon the cross, that we, being thus delivered out of the hands of these our greatest enemies, might serve God without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of our life. This “grace of God, that bringeth salvation,” hath therefore “appeared unto all men, in the gospel, that it might teach us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and that we should live soberly, righteously and godlily in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify to himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” “These things I write unto you (saith our apostle a little before my text) that you sin not;” therein expressing the end of the whole gospel, which is, not only to cover sin by spreading the purple robe of Christ’s death and sufferings over it, whilst it still remaineth in us with all its filth and noisomeness unremoved; but also to convey a powerful and mighty spirit of holiness, to cleanse us and free us from it. And this is a greater grace of God to us, than the former, which still go both together in the gospel; besides the free remission and pardon of sin in the blood of Christ, the delivering of us from the power of sin, by the Spirit of Christ dwelling in our hearts.
Let us endeavour to promote the Gospel of peace, the dovelike Gospel, with a dove-like spirit. This was the way by which the Gospel at first was propagated in the world; Christ did not cry, nor lift up His voice in the streets; a bruised reed He did not break, and the smoking flax He did not quench; and yet He brought forth judgment unto victory. He whispered the Gospel to us from Mount Zion in a still voice; and yet the sound thereof went out quickly throughout all the earth. The Gospel at first came down upon the world gently and softly, like the dew upon Gideon’s fleece; and yet it quickly soaked quite through it; and doubtless this is the most effectual way to promote it further. Sweetness and ingenuity will more command men’s minds than passion, sourness, and severity; as the soft pillow sooner breaks the flint than the hardest marble. Let us follow truth in love; and of the two, indeed, be contented rather to miss of the conveying of a speculative truth than to part with love. When we would convince men of any error by the strength of truth, let us withal pour the sweet balm of love upon their heads. Truth and love are the two most powerful things in the world; and when they both go together they cannot easily be withstood. The golden beams of truth and the silken cords of love twisted together will draw men on with a sweet violence, whether they will or no. Let us take heed we do not sometimes call that zeal for God and His Gospel which is nothing else but our own tempestuous and stormy passion. True zeal is a sweet, heavenly, and gentle flame, which maketh us active for God, but always within the sphere of love. It never calls for fire from heaven to consume those who differ a little from us in their apprehensions. It is like that kind of lightning (which the philosophers speak of) that melts the sword within, but singeth not the scabbard; it strives to save the soul, but hurteth not the body. True zeal is a loving thing, and makes us always active to edification, and not to destruction.