Date: February 9, 1936
God forbid that I should glory save in the Cross of Jesus Christ, our Lord. – Galatians 6:14
Eternal God, merciful and almighty: Into the chill of this spiritually cold world send, we ask with all our hearts, the warming rays of a firmer, stronger faith in Thy Son, our ever-merciful Savior, who on the cross paid the fearful price for all human sin. Touch us, O heavenly Father, with Thy Spirit’s fire, so that our indifferent hearts may be stirred into flame for the cause of the Cross, for the happiness of our suffering fellow-men, and for our soul’s growth. Remove carnal blindness, soften hardened hearts, break down the pride and pretense of life, so that the sinner may be converted to Thee from the error of His ways. Make the Cross and the Crucified the balm and healing for earth’s endless sorrows. Strengthen the aged and support them in their declining days. Remember the tempesttossed, the broken-hearted, the world-weary, and guide them by Thy Spirit to Him who alone can lift life’s crushing burdens. All this, as every other need of soul and body which we commit to Thy fatherly love, we ask confidently; for we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
A HUNDRED YEARS ago an English merchant, sailing down the China Sea toward Macao, was startled to behold on an island shore a gigantic bronze cross, sharply etched against the sky. It had been placed there almost four hundred years before by Portuguese explorers; and though all else had collapsed, there stood the cross, defying the ages, triumphant over decay and ruin. It was a gripping, never-to-be-forgotten sight, that sacred symbol of Christ’s redemption, as it loomed high over China’s shores; and within a few moments the British trader, John Bowring, penned the hymn which has sung its way into millions of hearts:—
In the Cross of Christ I glory,
Towering o’er the wrecks of time.
The years moved on, and destiny was kind to John Bowring. He was knighted by a grateful king. Honors to which few men attain were heaped upon him. He became a respected statesman in Parliament and in British foreign affairs. A man of letters, he wrote thirty-six volumes. A renowned linguist, he spoke twenty-two languages fluently and was able to converse in a hundred different tongues; in his business he was blessed with prosperity and the applause of men. Yet throughout his successful public career the cross and the Crucified remained the climax of his hope and strength. Deeply chiseled into the memorial granite at his grave, large letters testify to his faithfulness in the heroic words of his own hymn:—
In the Cross of Christ I glory.
Long centuries before Bowring’s day this tribute to the Cross had been spoken by that mighty witness Paul of Tarsus, the apostle of Jesus Christ. Judging by human standards, his life lacked almost all the blessings that abounded in the English statesman’s career. St. Paul suffered blow upon blow through the deep-rooted hatred of his fellow-countrymen; he was persecuted to the blood; his head was the price of his loyalty to Christ; yet his faith refused to waver, and in his magnificent Letter to the Galatians (chapter 6, verse 14) he takes a solemn oath as he exults: “God forbid that I should glory save in the Cross of Jesus Christ, our Lord.”
This afternoon I ask all of you to make this resolution of
GLORYING IN THE CROSS
your own, to look to the Crucified for the healing of your souls, the purifying of your hearts, the strengthening of your lives.
WHY WE GLORY IN THE SAVIOR’S CROSS
We glory in the Cross of Christ not because Jesus gave us the Golden Rule, proved Himself the Superman of all history, the Preacher without parallel, the Servant of the lowly, not even because He led a sinless life; for there is more to the heart and center of the Christian faith than this. Nor do we glory in the Cross of Christ because of any human force or influence which men have repeatedly sought beneath that cross. When the early explorers came to the North American shores, the cross advanced with them, but too frequently it was a cross of bloody violence. Their own records tell us that within the shadow of the crucifix they would “torture the Indians and hang them in ropes high off the ground with weights on their feet and in other cases throw burning wax on them and whip them unmercifully,”—the same spirit that today attempts to use the cross as a sword, as a police measure, as a means for satisfying political ambitions of misguided clerics.
Above all the haze and confusion with which men have beclouded the cross one dominant glory shines as a radiance which nothing can dim. The cross is the evidence of God’s all-forgiving love, the highest and deepest devotion with which our heavenly Father could bless the world of sinful, ungrateful children; that priceless love for which all the hidden jewels and the secret treasures of the earth could offer no worthy payment, yet which is extended to us by the Father’s grace “without money and without price”; that divine and deathless love which tells us that, “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us,” that He, the Holy One of God, “who knew no sin,” moved by a love before which our human senses falter and fail, took upon Himself my sins and yours and on that cross paid the full price for our redemption, so that our sins become His sins, our agonies His agonies, our death His death, and, praise God! His life our life.
We glory in that all-compassionate love because of the wide sweep with which it invites all the children of men to peace and pardon. Our Government keeps undesirables from its shores and a Western city bars the destitute; but in this love, which knows no limits, there is mercy even for the lowliest, the poorest, the most repulsive of all sinners. The man who financed the war may indulge in the folly of exalting the leisure class as the saviors of America and indicting the hard-working, self-sacrificing mother who brings up her children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” While plutocrats may make these distinctions, Christ always championed the cause of the poor, the down trodden, the forsaken.
If we stop to remind ourselves that the cross is the one constant, all-enduring fact of history; that, while political programs and legislative acts are altered from year to year, the message of the Cross has never been amended and that not one iota of its promise has changed as centuries have piled upon centuries; if we recall the absolute certainty of this love, so that, though mountains depart and hills be removed, nevertheless the kindness of God’s mercy in Christ shall not depart nor the covenant of Calvary be broken; if we summarize all these cross-riveted blessings, what is there in life that can stand even comparison with these free mercies, these world-wide promises, this ageless grace, this unconditional love of the Cross?
We glory in the Cross of Christ, the Gospel, because that barbarous cross to which He was affixed has become the greatest moral force in all the world. Have you noticed how frequently honest Modernists have confessed their failure to grip human hearts, how repeatedly college men and women have admitted the inability of modern education to raise moral standards? And if you want to convince yourself of the building power of the Cross, close your eyes for a moment and picture this nation without Christ, with every trace of His Cross, His Bible, His Church, wiped off the face of the earth, and you will see a reign of unbridled lust, a chaos in which only the fittest survive, a nightmare in which men leap at one another’s throats and the stronger stamp their heels on the broken backs of the weaker. Erase that picture and behold this nation saturated with the Gospel, glorifying the Cross from coast to coast, and you will see a nation of inner progress and happiness, a law-abiding people that lives the truly abundant life, with a peace and quietude utterly unknown to millions in this distressed day.
Even unbelief has conceded the truth of the apostolic statement: “Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” Charles Darwin, who distinctly taught that we are descended from an apelike creature, visited Tierra del Fuego on his scientific voyage aboard the Beagle. He found the Patagonians there so low mentally and morally that he could hardly classify these degenerate and depraved creatures as human beings. Years later he returned, and to his astonishment, he found virtue, kindness, education, instead of vice, cruelty, and ignorance. What had produced that startling transformation in a few brief years? Missionaries of God had brought the Cross to Tierra del Fuego, and Charles Darwin, skeptic though he was, showed that he, too, recognized the regenerating power of the Cross by sending an annual donation to the Patagonian missionary society.
We glory in the Cross of Christ because of its sustaining comfort. Jesus tells us: “Fear not.” He promises: “I will not leave you comfortless.” He pledges: “I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” He entreats us: “Let not your heart be troubled.” He assures us: “Your sorrows shall be turned into joy, . . . and your joy no man taketh from you.” And when we stand beneath the cross and gaze up to Him, we realize that Christ died to prove these promises to all men, that faith breathes a hope, a joy, a consolation, that only God can give. Take the Cross away, and there is no answer to human suffering, no solution to the problem of sorrow, no antidote to the poison of worry, no freedom from the tyranny of fear. But keeping the Cross and the Crucified in a living faith and rising above the worst that the world can heap upon us, we can exult: “In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us.”
Now, this is not mere theory or a pious wish. A woman in this radio audience writes me that her youngest child has tuberculosis of the hip and ankle and that her husband lies in a sanatorium, suffering from tuberculosis of the throat and lungs and praying for the end. What comfort can any Christless creed give that woman? Whisperings of mercy killing, suggestions of divorce, a dozen other faulty proposals? Yet what does Christ offer her? In her letter, which shows a type of bravery infinitely higher than that which we reward with medals and Congressional citations she writes: “Even though there are times when the loneliness of being separated from our beloved husband and father is almost unbearable, when it seems so hard to understand why our baby has to suffer so, I am glad God has picked me out for this particular trial. I hope I may be found true and tried and that we all may be purged by this fire for whatever plan Christ has for us.”
Three days ago I stood beside the casket of a young Christian mother of five children who had been suddenly snatched out of life. When death came to serve its summons, what comfort could there have been without Christ in those parting hours? At best a few stumbling, halting generalities like the empty echo of Ingersoll’s well-known funeral oration, a flowery array of hopeless hope. But how the Cross blessed her dying moments! Fully aware that her last hour had come, she bade farewell to her husband and the five children, adding: “This is the last time that we say goodbye.” And triumphing even over death, her faith exclaimed: “But what a happy reunion we shall have in heaven!” As we carried the lifeless remains to God’s acre, I prayed that, with death following us at every step, every one in this vast radio family would find that same sustaining comfort, which our holy, ever-blessed, eternally glorious Savior offers to every one of you.
HOW WE ARE TO GLORY IN THE SAVIOR’S CROSS
If the Cross grants all these blessings, it is not enough that we merely respect it, that we admire it, that we accept it in an indifferent faith. Ours must be an unquenchable ardor, a holy enthusiasm for the Cross. We must believe in it heroically.
In a day of spiritual lukewarmness, when too many are neither hot nor cold; when many fires of Christian heroism have burned to cold ashes; when people have time for bridge parties and oyster suppers and theatricals, all in the name of the Church, but no time for that personal, insistent testimony to the Cross, we need fearless champions of the Savior who ask no quarter in their loyalty to the Crucified and give none. If we pause to picture to ourselves how red-blooded Christian loyalty could capture one stronghold of sin after another in this nation, restrict the debauch of our young people through commercialized vice, banish the publishers of erotic, sensual books and pamphlets, cleanse the corruption of American politics, check the bribery of American courts, restrain the tragedies of home-wrecking, check the dishonesty in American business; if above and below all this you can envision these Christians testifying to the Cross and bringing to Christ thousands who might otherwise be lost forever; and if you can contrast with this the Christians—and their number is truly legion—who have never raised a little finger or spoken even in a whisper of the Savior’s death that promises our life,—then you can understand that the appeal of this critical hour is for Christ-centered heroism: “God forbid that I should glory save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
If, by the grace of God, you ask how your faith and fervor may be strengthened, let me suggest, first of all, that you study the cross, the meaning of those two pieces of wood, those four nails, those seven sacred words, that you may learn what priceless, immeasurable pledge of God’s holy, heavenly love is granted through the sinremoving self-sacrifice of Christ.
And when you have come to the cross and cry out: “O my Savior, on this cross Thou hast suffered for me; here Thou didst die for me to make me Thine,” you cannot hide the cross or neglect its message. You must talk of that message; you must testify to its power; you must remember the Savior’s injunction “Ye shall be witnesses unto Me.” Translated into the problems and opportunities of this new age, this exalting the Cross of Christ means that you share its blessings with others; that, unashamed of Christ and confident of His help, you seek to win some helpless soul for the joy of salvation. I can understand why people who have repeatedly closed their hearts to Christ can discuss the sordid topics of the day without speaking a word for Christ; but I cannot understand why Christians, well informed in regard to the latest crimes and scandals, can seal their lips in silence when the salvation of souls is at stake. God, give us soldiers of the Cross who by word and testimony will lift its glory high until its world-wide radiance brings many souls to Christ!
A sullen hatred of the Cross creeps into newspapers and spreads over magazine pages. It raises its voice on the radio and makes itself heard in our schools. It invades our American churches and enthrones itself securely in many theological seminaries. I ask you: Can we glory in the Cross without voicing an unmistakable protest against all this? Can we stand by idly when unbelief seeks to tear out the heart of Christianity? Let this one basic truth sink deeply into our Christian consciousness: unless the spirit of protest is strengthened; unless we believe in militant Christian preparedness and are ready to enlist in an aggressive defense of the Cross, the blessings of God may be snatched away.
We must live the Cross, too. High above the campus of our Seminary, on the antenna of this radio station, almost directly above me as I now speak, is a huge cross which, with its electrical illumination at night, dominates a great part of St. Louis. Most of you cannot lift the cross to these heights; but however restricted the circle of your influence may be, you, too, can raise the cross. If men eagerly exhibit the emblems of a thousand societies, should we not be ready to display the holiest symbol of all history? To remind them of their Savior, to bear testimony to His grace, millions of Christians wear a cross. A hundred thousand of our great radio family are happy to own the miniature golden cross which has become the emblem of our radio crusade for Christ. Today I am asking many more thousands to accept this cross, not as a charm, but as a token of their living faith, a constant reminder of their Savior’s suffering, a pledge of His undying love.
For when we glory in the Cross and in the love of the Crucified, then the highest joys of heaven and earth are ours. Come, then, “for all things are ready.” Amen.
Published with the permission of The Maier Center, Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48105.