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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
A. D. Gillette, Philadelphia,
A sermon preached at the ordination of Lewis Smith, at Hatborough, Pa., Nov., 1846.
From The Baptist Preacher, 1847
“We preach Christ crucified.” I Cor. 1: 23
An aged, eminent minister, when dying, said, "Were I to live to preach again, I would preach nothing but Christ." If it be a question with any of you, my brethren, how this topic can be sufficiently expanded to fill all a preacher's duties, we answer by saying, the subject has glories of sufficient compass and variety to fill the anthems of eternity.
"Christ crucified" is a phrase combining all the sayings and doings of Jesus, as the author and finisher of man's faith and salvation. And hence, we preach Christ crucified—
I. In the glories of his person. "The brightness of his [Father's] glory, and the express image of his person." (Heb. 1:3) One with the Father, and with the Holy Spirit, in power and glory. This is to be taught and insisted upon, not in the metaphysical style of an iron age in theology, nor in the unyielding preciseness of the schools; but in the glowing and convincing language of revelation,—a revelation that speaks of Christ, the wisdom of God, and of itself as the power of God unto salvation, to everyone that believeth. Christ as the first-born among many brethren,—God manifest in the flesh,—who thought it not robbery to be equal with God, and hence receives unforbidden, the honors which are due only to one who has in himself the attributes of the Almighty.
To preach Christ crucified, is to set him forth as the first to engage in the heavenly meditations, which resulted in the great scheme of man's rescue from eternal burnings; and as the last to be present in applying the means he appointed for man's temporal and eternal well-doing. It is to preach Christ as him who knew no sin, but who was made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him; who liveth and was dead, and is alive forevermore; who hath the keys of death and hell at his girdle; who openeth and no man shutteth, and who shutteth and no man openeth.
Concerning whom every admirer of his person, his government and grace, exclaims, "Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee." (Ps. 73:25) "Thou art all my salvation and all my desire." "My Lord and my God, who alone hath immortality, dwelling in light unapproachable." In short, it is giving such views of the Lamb of God as Peter had when he said, "Lord, to whom shall we go?—thou hast the words of eternal life." (John 6:68)
The sun in the natural heavens is the centre around which all the lesser planets revolve. So Christ, the sun of righteousness with healing in his beams, is the centre of light and of attraction to all spiritual intelligences. His grace is the fountain of influence to the great kingdom of God. In him all the lines of the old and the new dispensation meet, and from him they all radiate. Jesus says, "Abraham rejoiced to see my day; he saw it and was glad; and before Abraham was, I am." (John 8:56) The blood of the sacrificial victims shadowed his approach; prophetic vision spoke of his sufferings, and consequent glory; and in the fulness of time, an unknown star directed the votaries of science and religion to the manger where he lay.
II. To preach Christ crucified, is to preach him in the fulness of his vicarious merit. This is eminently according to his own teaching; and apostolic example never failed to assure those who confided in abolished rituals, that Jesus and the resurrection was their only hope.
Jesus the Saviour is a name that implies the infinite sufficiency of the atonement; and this was unquestionably meant, when inspired men knew nothing among Jews or Gentiles— confiding Moses or idols—but "Jesus Christ and him crucified." (I Cor. 2:2) My brethren, it is the prime meaning of the Bible, that Christ Jesus, of the seed of David, was evidently set forth, crucified among men, and for men,—that all men through him might be saved. So, then, to preach Christ in the fulness of his vicarious merit, we have only to preach the truths conveyed by the Bible. To this only source should we be chained in the strong bonds of Christian fidelity,—speaking only as the oracles of God. "If any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth, that in all things God may be glorified." (I Pet. 4:11)
O! My brethren, it was the masterly conception of Christ's merits that made his early and best apostle—abating various motives—say, I rejoice that Christ is preached." Present him in his real character, and the sinner will soon learn that there is no other medium of acceptableness with God—no other way of escape from the wrath to come. Show his merits; hold up the mirror, the reflective power of God, true to life; let infinite love and purity and greatness be seen as they truly consist in Christ crucified, and enquiring hearts will repent of sin—will shelter themselves in his cleft side—will adore him Lord of all.
To preach Christ's vicarious merits, you must preach him as dying that sinners might live; that any now live only by the grace of one who died on the cross; that we are blessed only through one who was cursed for our sakes—and justified by one whom multitudes pronounced not fit to live; that the only value of our hope is by reason of the shame, scorn and sorrow endured by one whom the world despised and rejected —yea, that our surest, sweetest, strongest joys, take their rise from the place of skulls—the rent rocks of Calvary, and those horrid scenes upon which the sun at midday frowned—and at whose transactions inanimate nature put on shuddering animation, and from whose dreadful reality Jehovah, the father of the innocent sufferer, turned his face away.
Says Andrew Fuller, in beginning to write his System of Theology, "I wish to begin with the centre of Christianity, the doctrine of the cross, and work round it; or with what may be called the heart of Christianity, and to trace it through its principal veins, or relations, both in doctrine and practice. The whole Christian system appears to be presupposed by it, included in it, or to arise from it." How true! Other foundation can no man lay than is laid,—Jesus Christ the chief corner-stone,—he is of revelation the glory and joy—of grace and truth the exhaustless fountain.
III. To preach Christ crucified, is to preach those doctrines which pertain to man, as a being amenable to God. Do we discover to the view of our hearers the doctrine of human depravity? Then we magnify Christ as its only cure. Do we examine our relations to the divine law? It unfolds the riches of Christ's merits, by whose death its claims were all met and cancelled. Do we look to the importance of maintaining good works for necessary uses? We see Christ glorified in his followers' well-ordered lives. Is repentance insisted upon and exercised?
Christ is exalted as he alone who gives it. Is faith the theme? Christ is its author and finisher—cause and end. Are the works of creation, which set forth the eternal power and godhead of the Father, preached, as Paul on Mars Hill at Athens preached them? They lead us directly to the great fact of our necessity of applying to the blood of atonement; because "He [God] hath appointed a day in the which he will judge the world in righteousness, by that man whom he hath ordained, and hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead." (Acts 17:31)
Surely, whoever fails to preach Christ as the only refuge to the guilty, is himself guilty of not preaching as those early ministers did, who "counted all things but loss,” in comparison with “the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord." (Phil. 3:8) My brethren, on Christ crucified we build—lay all our hopes for religion and bliss, for this world and the next. Who leans elsewhere, leans on a broken staff that will pierce him sorely through. "He builds too low, who builds beneath the skies."
We may differ in the use of terms by which we speak of the atonement; but all who know and teach the nature of sin and the necessity of forgiveness, must be agreed in preaching Christ's death, as making provision in infinite mercy suited to the sorrows and necessities of the guilty; and that no other name is given under heaven among men whereby we must be saved, but the name of Jesus. When no helper was nigh, he saved poor, sinking Peter, who cried, "Lord save me!" (Matt 14:30) He spoke comfort and hope to the congealing heart of the thief on the cross, even when his own heart was being wrung with infinitely more than mortal anguish.
To do all this—so to preach as to shew Christ the dying sinner's only hope—only rescue from despair, and his safe convoy through nature's last dissolving struggle, man's final hour—is not only to repeat the ancient promises, or describe the bleeding victim—not merely to paint the dark crimson of that cloud that rose between Jesus on the cross and Jehovah on the throne—not to mimic the rumbling earthquake or thunder trumpet of Sinai.
No—it is to go even to Bethlehem and stop at the place over which the star stood still, and enter the stall, and behold there a virgin mother and her holy child Jesus—to be filled with faith in him as your Saviour, and so fired with zeal and love to him and the souls of men, as to go out into the world anointed with fresh courage, preaching Jesus “seen of angels, believed on in the world, received up into glory," where he is seated at the right hand of God the Father, living to intercede for us, whence also he will come to judge the world at the last day.
IV. To preach Christ crucified, is to preach him as man's example in moral excellence, one whom man is bound to imitate in all his imitable perfections; to preach him as the embodiment and exemplifier of zeal for his Father's honor, and the honor of his Father's law; as the true model of devotion to others' good; hostile resistance to the flatteries, temptations and frowns of censurable pleasure; unwavering directness in duty, despite the terrors of persecution, or rigorous exactions of unrighteousness; in short, as at all times doing not his own will, but the will of him that sent him; and though fearful danger threaten, abating nothing—so that he might finish his work. O, his was an unwasting ardor, a self-denying consecration of his all, for the redemption and establishment of his church—the salvation of souls—the universal victories of a religion pure and undefiled.
It is when Christ is thus preached and believed on that he becomes the all in all of every doctrine, and of every duty—the trust entire, in every emergency. Are you "in poverty's vale or abounding in wealth?" suffering physical or mental infirmities, loss of property, friends, or blighted hopes? In all these straits Christ is yours, and among you, "as one that comforteth the mourner." On him cast all your care, for he careth for you. He is your high tower, your rock of defence. If temptation or persecutions rage, you may invoke the might and majesty of his name. If the whirl of earthly delusions threatens to engulf you, hope casts her anchor on his scarred bosom, and finds safe soundings.
To those whose hearts contain only the shreds of tattered, torn and bleeding affections, Christ is preached as courting your love. Yes, he bled from his very heart's sincerest central fountains that just such hearts as sorrowing sinners mourn, might be given to him. Are adversity's winds blowing fiercely upon the weak, trying their faith?
Does the grave open and threaten to enclose you? Or is it rapidly enclosing the forms of beauty and loveliness that have long and closely clung to your hearts? Christ crucified invests the dying with the immortality of the patriarchs; wraps them in the imperishable folds of his own righteousness, and they walk through the valley and shadow of death fearing no evil—his imitable example having moulded them into his moral image, they resign this mortal to the dust of the ground, in the triumphant assurance that he will raise it up again and fashion it like unto his own most glorious body.
V. To preach Christ crucified, we must preach his moral precepts. Apostolic example is equivalent to divine command: and both are given that men may repent of sin and believe on Christ, in order to be saved. Christ crucified must, then, be preached as the subject of faith; belief in whom must be insisted on in all gospel sermons.
Christ's requirements, from the least to the greatest, must be plainly taught and practiced, both by them who preach and them who hear. Believing in Christ crucified ourselves, and pointing to him in our ministry, others must with the heart believe on him unto righteousness, and with the mouth confess him unto salvation; must profess him by being buried with him in baptism, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; must imitate the lamb-like, peace-pursuing, peace-loving example of Christ, who will heal all your moral maladies, direct your purposes in their proper channels, and, as it is his prerogative, justly but mildly reprove your vagrancies.
And when you come to stand before God in judgment, he will stand near you and say to justice, "Put up thy sword—I have found a ransom— I have redeemed this soul by my blood—he is mine to place among my jewels—to sparkle in my crown as a trophy of my war upon sin."
For the purposes of application, we remark:
1. Gospel example and experience shew us how and in what manner to preach "Christ crucified."
"Not with enticing words that man's wisdom teacheth, but in demonstration of the Spirit and with power." (I Cor. 2:4) Our hopes of success should not rest upon the form of words, or the style of speech—these are important in their places, and vastly more so than many suppose—yet we are to expect success, if we have the appliances, only because we use Christ's means—means which he has promised to accompany by his almighty Spirit, our only surety.
The apostles were taught personally by Jesus, the great teacher, three years, and hence were well taught. In preaching, Christ's apostles laid their inspired tongues on all creation, and it wheeled into line direct in the campaign of truth against error, for the sake of man's salvation and his Maker's glory
2. The characters and qualifications of the men first appointed to preach Christ crucified, shew that success in the world's conquest was based upon their theme—not themselves.
These had little worldly eminence, and it is well they had no more; for they were not sent to herald earthly, but heavenly greatness. O! It was a grand idea that preachers of a crucified Saviour should be men in whose condition and conduct was shadowed forth a participation in the lowliness and humbleness which the Divine author of this glorious scheme assumed.
How foolish appears the wisdom of this world's plans compared with redemption by the blood of Christ. God hath chosen the weak things of this world to confound the mighty, in determining by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. And he has enforced and illustrated it, in his calling not many wise men after the flesh, not many noble, to be proclaimers of his mercy to the lost and dying, whom he came to seek and to save. In this how evident it is that he would have the excellence of the power to consist, not in man, but in God—so that he that glorieth should glory in the Lord alone.
My young brother—I may add, I trust, my son in the gospel—for I well remember, and this day pleasingly recalls that solemn hour, when you came to me enquiring, "Pastor, what shall I do?" and when having obtained instruction and precious faith, you said, "See here is water, what doth hinder me to be baptized?"
And I think of that happy hour, when these hands led you down into the water and baptized you, and you gave yourself to Christ and his church by the will of God—whom I bless this day for having kept you, that your garments are unspotted from the world. He has preserved also your health, and prospered you thus far in your studies through college—called and directed your way into the ministry, in this great State and this inviting field. My brother, continue faithful, and my heart shall be as your heart, our Master being judge.
From what I have said, and from your own knowledge, you have learned, that you are not called into the ministry and this day ordained, to preach yourself—but Christ Jesus the Lord, and yourself the people's servant for Jesus' sake. Christ, I trust, is formed in your heart the hope of glory. He, as the hope of the hopeless, will be your theme of themes. Without him crucified, your best sermons will be soulless—lifeless.
Egypt, Tyre, Greece and Rome, Caesar, Cromwell, Washington and Napoleon, may be used as the artist uses his brush, to illustrate, bring out to view your thoughts,—but never to become the subject-matter of discourse. You will preach the advent, labors, death, resurrection, ascension, and final coming of Christ. You will dwell on him as a Prophet, Priest, King, Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace.
At proper times, and always in a devout and reverent manner, you will dwell on the agonies of his soul in the garden and on the cross. In short, whatever the scroll of inspiration reveals, will be evolved in your ministry.
You will begin with in his pupilage, as a sinner against the nature of a holy, and the claims of a divine law. You will urge his obedience to authorities, his benevolence in giving for good purposes, from the little or much his Creator gives to him. You will preach, and enforce as a ruler in Christ's church, the discipline becoming the professed disciples of Jesus to maintain and observe.
You will teach the duty of prayer in the closet, the family and social circle. You will announce God's requirements of man, "to do justly, and love mercy, and to walk humbly with [his] God;" (Micah 6:8) urge them to the spirit and practice of the meekness and gentleness of Christ—to reason upon righteousness, temperance and a judgment to come, and whatever else becomes good living and sound doctrine, that you may now know or yet learn from the Holy Scriptures—and in so doing you may both save yourself and them that hear you.
All this you may do faithfully, and yet be censured,—for either preaching Christ crucified too much, or not enough,—but you will feel that it is a small thing to be judged with man's judgment.