* Synopsis of a sermon preached in Oxford Town Hall, England.
ALTHOUGH surveying may not be our profession, we all do a little of it! The painter, the cook, the embroiderer, and all associated with the creative arts constantly survey their work. Travelers are great surveyors—wherever one goes, especially where one finds a memorial or some famous piece of architecture, groups of people can be seen surveying it with meticulous care or with much enthusiasm. The Colosseum and the ancient temples of Rome; the Parthenon and the Acropolis in Greece; the Pyramids in Egypt; the Lincoln Memorial in the United States; the Livingstone Monument in Africa; Stonehenge, the Abbey, the Martyrs' Memorial in Scotland; and countless others— all are being constantly surveyed by the peoples of all nations.
Yet any or all of these memorials of the past pale into insignificance when compared with the simple memorial of redeeming love—the cross of Calvary. Dr. Isaac Watts, the liberator of English hymnody, was the one who spoke about "surveying the cross" and used the phrase in one of the most popular hymns in all Christendom:
When I survey the wondrous cross On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss, And pour contempt on all my pride.
Of course Dr. Watts derived his inspiration for this great hymn from Paul, who in his day had acclaimed: "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. 6:14).
And where did the apostle Paul receive his inspiration for this great text? Why, from his Lord Himself, for it was Jesus who gave to him and to us all that universally loved and known verse in John 3:16: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." From Jesus to the apostle Paul, and on to Dr. Watts and the famous hymn. And what is it that inspires all their words? Why, the good news, the glad tidings of salvation, the great fact of Jesus' coming to save, to rescue man from the dilemma occasioned by sin; God loving the world, by which He means particularly the peoples who live therein. And to bring salvation, a great plan was set in motion to make it possible; a drama was staged, and it was staged around the cross. Listen to these inspired words that throw light upon this drama: "When the fulness of time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman" (Gal. 4:4).
A very ordinary event, and one common to mankind. And Jesus was to make His debut as we all do, so that from the outset He could be identified with us. The prophets loved to talk about this drama. When Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, he had the Prince of glory in mind as Jesus afterward explained (John 3:14). Zechariah observed: "They shall look upon me whom they have pierced" (Zech. 12:10). And Isaiah, whose book is often called the "gospel of Isaiah," devotes a whole chapter to the drama of the cross—"He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief . . ." (Isaiah 53); and though writing six centuries before Calvary, he appeals on behalf of the Son of God: "Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth" (Isa. 45:22); while in chapter 63, verse 8, we find these heartening words, "so he was their Saviour." This is the gospel, the glad tidings that were to be brought to sinful man.
Lifted up was He to die:
"It is finished," was His cry:
Now in heaven exalted high,
Hallelujah! what a Saviour!
Oh, yes, the cross needs to be surveyed by us all. Dr. Watts rightly called it "the wondrous cross." That's what it is—wonderful; it's grand, for upon it not a mere man died, but "the Prince of glory." He was faultless, and that fact was noted by His enemies. The thief observed: "This man hath done nothing amiss." Pilate had said, "I find no fault in this man." The centurion declared: "Certainly this was a righteous man"; while the scribes unconsciously affirmed the greatness of His love and mission: "He saved others; himself he cannot save."
Gathered around the cross were all kinds of people—mockers, scoffers, the credulous, enemies, soldiers of Rome, weeping women, and wondering disciples. There in the center hung the lonely Christ. And how lonely!—all men had forsaken Him. Isaiah foretold of Him: "I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with me" (Isa. 63:3). In the extremity of His suffering and in the acuteness of His loneliness the Saviour cried agonizingly to His Father: "Why hast thou forsaken me?" Heaven and earth seemed closed to Him as He paid the supreme sacrifice for the sins of His people. And remember, He was paying the price of your own penalty—a dreadful price indeed. He "was delivered for our offences" (Rom. 4:25).
Seven Discoveries of the Cross
With Dr. Watts, let us survey the cross more intimately. Don't you think we should? "Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by?" (Lam. 1:12). This more intimate survey reveals how "wondrous" is His cross, for we discover:
1. The cross was occupied by no less a person than the Creator Himself.
2. The cross graphically portrays "love divine."
3. The cross discovers, for the outcasts of sin, a wonderful Friend.
4. The cross is a meeting place for all peoples.
5. The cross reveals how awful is the tragedy of sin and the sacrifice needed to deal with it.
6. The cross and its message are tremendously personal.
7. The cross provides a basis and a promise of a new order and a new world.
Let us look at these discoveries a little more closely, for they provide the reason for Paul's conviction: "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross."
1. Many Christians do not understand that God's Son—man's Saviour—was the divine
agent in creation, and that all things in heaven and in earth were "created by him, and for him" (Col. 1:16, 17). The apostle John records: "All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made" (John 1:3). This remarkable revelation makes the cross and its sacrifice so much more wonderful. To think that man's Creator subsequently died for him! When one looks at the mighty mountains, or the majestic waves sweeping in upon the shore, at the same time remembering Plunkett's expression, "His strong heart moves the ever-beating sea," he may well marvel. But when one recalls that that "strong heart" surrendered His life for sinful man, he begins faintly to realize the greatness and the grandness of redemption. No matter what one sees or handles in the realm of nature—be it the lovely flower, the majestic tree, the carpet of grassy green, the stars and spinning worlds above, the moon or the planet—all were made by Him, the Saviour of the world. And yet He condescended to become The Man that that which was lost might be reclaimed. O wondrous redemption!
2. The cross portrays what Wesley called "love divine," and what Dr. Watts called "love so amazing, so divine." "Did e'er such love and sorrow meet?" No, never! The suffering Saviour never sought vengeance or reprisal. Rather would He beseech: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." Hebrews 2:9 emphasizes this point: "But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man."
See, from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down;
Did e'er such love and sorrow meet?
Or thorns compose so rich a crcm'n?
3. Sin makes a man feel an outcast, forlorn, and friendless. The cross provides a friend for the friendless, a friendly Saviour. Said He, "I have called you friends"; "Ye are my friends." And He is a friend that never fails, ever loyal, ever ready to champion our cause. One realizes all this only by surveying the cross. It is a great eye opener.
What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear;
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer.
4. The cross dissolves all our hates. Peoples of all races and tongues can come there, all barriers broken down. There they find the universal language spoken, the language of love.
The cross becomes a universal meeting place. There "God commendeth his love toward us." The cross also brought to an end the shadowy system of ceremonialism, an end to the old covenant. There, by the precious blood of Jesus, the new covenant was introduced and ratified.
5. But of course the cross—as we continue our survey—is seen to be an awful and tragic thing. All have sinned, and "the wages of sin is death." Sinless Man alone could satisfy the demands that sin imposed. That was the reason for the miracle of the Incarnation, which the poor deluded and faithless modernist now denies. And because of that miracle we have a Saviour who is able to "save ... to the uttermost."
6. When surveying the cross one must think not only of the universal appeal that it offers but also of the individual appeal. The message and the love of the cross must become personal. It was for you that Christ died; for you His blood (or the surrender of His life) provided power and grace to offer your own life in glad surrender. From the cross there comes a personal appeal to your own heart: "Come unto me. . . . And ye shall find rest unto your souls." For you, by the offering of Calvary, He can and will "break the power of canceled sin" and "set the prisoner free."
As we have partially surveyed the cross we have indeed found that it is a "wondrous cross," where "amazing love" was manifested. And though nearly two thousand years have passed by, men and women in every land still come under its loving influence. Have you come to the cross? Have you surveyed it and found it to be the cross of love, the cross of invitation, the cross that offers life eternal? "I gave My life for thee," says Jesus. "What hast thou given for Me?" I wonder! Alongside the suffering Christ a thief hung upon a cross and witnessed the scenes of suffering, the manifestation of divine love. There he surrendered his life to Jesus as in simple faith he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingly power." The response was immediate: "You will be with me in Paradise." (Luke 23:42, 43, R.S.V.) If you will come and kneel at the cross and seek that love and forgiving love it offers, you, too, will find friendship, love, and salvation full and free. Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a tribute far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my life, my soul, my all.