Here we have the first of a two-part meditation on the Cross penned by the dear departed pastor Horatius Bonar. This is excerpted from his book God’s Way of Holiness.
Before I can live a Christian life, I must be a Christian. Am I such? I ought to know this. Do I know it, and in knowing it, know whose I am and whom I serve? Or is my title to the name still questionable, still a matter of anxious debate and search?
If I am to live as a son of God, I must be a son, and I must know it. Otherwise my life will be an artificial imitation, a piece of barren mechanism, performing certain excellent movements, but destitute of vital heat and force. Here many fail. They try to live like sons in order to make themselves sons, forgetting God’s simple plan for attaining sonship at once, As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God” (John 1:12).
The faith of many among us is, after all, but an attempt to believe; their repentance but an attempt to repent; and, in so doing, they only use words which they have learned from others. It is not the love of holiness that actuates them, but (at best) the love of the love of holiness. It is not the love of God that fills them, but the love of the love of God.
God’s description of a Christian man is clear and well-defined. It has about it so little of the vague and wide that one wonders how any mistake should have arisen on this point, and so many dubious, so many false claims put in.
A Christian is one who “has tasted that the Lord is gracious” (1 Pet 2:3); who has been “begotten again unto a lively hope” (1 Pet 1:3); who has been “quickened together with Christ” (Eph 2:5); made a partaker of Christ (11eb 3:14); a partaker of the divine nature (2 Pet 1:4); who “has been delivered from this present evil world” (Gal 1:4).
Such is God’s description of one who has found his way to the cross, and is warranted in taking to himself the Antiochian name of “Christian,” or the apostolic name of “saint.” Of good about himself, previous to his receiving the record of the free forgiveness, he cannot speak. He remembers nothing lovable that could have recommended him to God; nothing fit that could have qualified him for the divine favor, save that he needed life. All that he can say for himself is that he “has known and believed the love that God hath to us” (1 John 4:16); and, in believing, has found that which makes him not merely a happy, but a holy man. He has discovered the fountainhead of a holy life.
Have I then found my way to the cross? If so, I am safe. I have the everlasting life. The first true touch of that cross has secured for me the eternal blessing. I am in the hands of Christ, and none shall pluck me out (John 10:28).
The cross makes us whole; not all at once indeed, but it does the work effectually. Before we reached it we were not “whole,” but broken and scattered, nay, without a center toward which to gravitate. The cross forms that center and, in doing so, it draws together the disordered fragments of our being; it “unites our heart” (Psa 86:11), producing a wholeness or unity which no object of less powerful attractiveness could accomplish. It is a wholeness or unity which, beginning with the individual, reproduces itself on a larger scale, but with the same center of gravitation, in the church of God.
Of spiritual health, the cross is the source. From it there goes forth the “virtue” (dunamis, the power, Luke 6:19) that heals all maladies, be they slight or deadly. For “by His stripes we are healed” (Isa 53:5); and in Him we find “the tree of life,” with its healing leaves (Rev 22:2). Golgotha has become Gilead, with its skillful Physician and its “bruised” balm (Jer 8:22; Isa 53:5). Old Latimer says well regarding the woman whom Christ cured, “She believed that Christ was such a healthful man that she should be sound as soon as she might touch Him.” The “whole head [was] sick, and the whole heart faint” (Isa 1:5); but now the sickness is gone, and the vigor comes again to the fainting heart. The look, or rather the Object looked at, has done its work (Isa 45:22); the serpent of brass has accomplished that which no earthly medicines could effect. Not to us can it now be said, “Thou hast no healing medicines” (Jer 30:13), for the word of the great Healer is, “I will bring health and cure; yea, I will cure them, and will reveal unto them the abundance of peace and truth” (Jer 33:6). Thus it is by the abundance of that peace and truth, revealed to us in the cross, that our cure is wrought.
The cure is not perfected in an hour. But, as the sight of the cross begins it, so does it complete it at last. The pulses of new health now beat in all our veins. Our whole being recognizes the potency of the divine medicine, and our diseases yield to it.
Yes, the cross heals. It possesses the double virtue of kaling sin and quickening holiness. It makes all the fruits of the flesh to wither, while it cherishes and ripens the fruit of the Spirit, which is “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance” (Gal 5:22). By this the hurt of the soul is not “healed slightly,” but truly and thoroughly. It acts like the fresh balm of southern air to one whose constitution the frost and damp of the far north had undermined. It gives new tone and energy to our faculties, a new bent and aim to all our purposes, and a new elevation to all our hopes and longings. It gives the death-blow to self, it mortifies our members which are upon the earth. It crucifies the flesh with its affections and lusts. Thus, looking continually to the cross, each day, as at the first, we are made sensible of the restoration of our soul’s health; evil loosens its hold, while good strengthens and ripens.
It is not merely that we “glory in the cross” (Gal 6:14), but we draw strength from it. It is the place of weakness, for there Christ “was crucified through weakness” (2 Cor 13:4); but it is, notwithstanding, the fountainhead of power to us. For as out of death came forth life, so out of weakness came forth strength. This is strength, not for one thing, but for everything. It is strength for activity or for endurance, for holiness as well as for work. He that would be holy or useful must keep near the cross. The cross is the secret of power, and the pledge of victory. With it we fight and overcome. No weapon can prosper against it, nor enemy prevail. With it we meet the fightings without as well as the fears within. With it we war the good warfare, we wrestle with principalities and powers, we “withstand” and we “stand” (Eph 6:11 – 13); we fight the good fight, we finish the course, we keep the faith (2 Tim 4:7).