Confrontation at Calvary

The author, Rex Edwards, describes in vivid detail the capitulation of a soul fortress that resisted every assault for over twenty years.

Rex D. Edwards, D. Div., is a member of the department of religion at Columbia Union College, Washington, D.C.

His scarcely audible voice expelled from quivering lips four words that betrayed the emotion of the moment—"I will do it!"

For more than twenty years this soft-spoken individual had been the target of his well-intentioned wife peppering him with spiritual volleys, an evangelist in a three-hour session battering him with eschatological terrorism, and various pastors continuing the siege operation with the cut and thrust of argument. But the battlements resisted all incursions.

When my turn came to join the siege I wondered what I could say that had not already been discussed. As evangelistic meetings continued, I noticed that his place in the auditorium was never vacant. He responded with only a few carefully chosen words and a firm handshake at the conclusion of each meeting.

The final week came. I set up an appointment. Inexorably the hands of the clock moved toward the moment of confrontation. Still I knew no strategy that would breach the wall of his heart. Meticulously I re viewed what I had been teaching my students in personal evangelism. After all, I was supposed to have all the answers. I reminded myself that success in winning souls comes only with dependence on the grace and power of God to convict and convert hearts. Mentally I probed the tension between human responsibility and divine sovereignty in the eventualistic initiative. I remembered that the call to discipleship is both a declaration of what God has done and an invitation to the performance of what God commands man to do. To extend the invitation was unavoidable.

And then it came again, a truth that had been persuasively emphasized in a classroom two decades before and reinforced in numerous evangelistic councils since: the Son of God uplifted upon the cross—this should be the foundation of every discourse. It is the "relentless love of God" externalized on Calvary that wins men to His side. Did not Paul, with magnificent daring, ex pose "the depth of God's compassion" by wielding the hammer of Calvary? Hearts were broken by his presentation of the love of God as revealed in the sacrifice of His only begotten Son. I recalled that it is "the account of His sufferings (italics supplied), His crucifixion, His resurrection" that reveals "the marvelous love of God" and "imparts a power to the truth." 1 Would this be the source of That Hideous Strength that would soften the heart?2

I had been reading Jim Bishop's The Day Christ Died, and quite suddenly felt impressed to pocket it, having first marked passages that focused on the Suffering One. And so the confrontation came. I shared my pilgrimage of faith—the adequacy of grace in my own experience. I spoke of the wonder of a God who will never stop loving us, of His sensitivity to our right to choose Him—or not to choose Him—but who nonetheless pursues us with "unperturbed pace, deliberate speed, majestic instancy" 3 ... of grace that offers us a life that measures with the life of God ... of the futility of a life that sees all the treasured honey spent and no new life to show . . . the emptiness of an existence that just fills in time until death . . . the extent to which Love spent itself—a God who deals with evil, taking the full effect upon Himself; of divine judgment upon sin not abrogated, but borne by Deity Himself ... the inscrutable synthesis of Suffering and Royalty made visible on Calvary . . . the awful cost.

I opened Bishop's book and began to read (it seemed the most natural thing to do): "They took Jesus to the nearest of the posts and removed all of his clothing and bent his body forward. They pulled both wrists down the far side of the post and tied them to the ring. . . . The fresh coolness of the morning breeze came down on the back of Jesus, and the muscles of his legs trembled involuntarily.. The soldier who per formed flagellations . . . bent down to see the face of the victim. He then moved to a position about six feet behind Jesus, and spread his legs. The flagellum [a short circular piece of wood with several strips of leather, at the end of which were sewn chunks of bone or small pieces of iron chain] was brought all the way back and whistled forward and made a dull drum sound as the strips of leather smashed against the back of the rib cage. The bits of bone and chain curled around the right side of the body and raised small subcutaneous hemorrhages on the chest. A moan escaped the lips of Jesus and he almost collapsed. The knees bent, then, by effort they straightened. . . . The lips of Jesus seemed to be moving in prayer. The flagellum now moved in slow heavy rhythm. ... It was over. . . . The executioner, with no more feelings of compassion than the priest had for the lamb with its head through the ring, untied the wrist ropes and Jesus at once fell off the pillar and rolled onto his back on the stones. He was unconscious." 4

I paused and searched the eyes of my listener. He was intent, his face reflecting both compassion and concern. I continued. The scenes of the trial . . . Via Dolorosa . . . the crucifixion . . . We seemed to be there . . . the pain of it all reenacted in our midst. . . . "His arms were now in the V position, . . . the pain in his wrists was beyond bearing, . . . muscle cramps knotted his forearms and upper arms . . . his pectoral muscles at the sides of his chest were momentarily paralyzed. This induced in him an involuntary panic; for he found that while he could draw air into his lungs, he was powerless to exhale. At once, Jesus raised himself on his bleeding feet. As the weight of his body came down on the insteps, the single nail pressed hard against the top of the wound. Slowly, steadily, Jesus was forced to raise himself higher. . . . When his shoulders were on a level with his hands, breathing was rapid and easier. . . . Then, unable to bear the pain below, which cramped legs and thighs . . . , he let his torso sag lower and lower, and his knees projected a little at a time until, with a deep sigh, he.-felt himself to be hanging by the wrists. . . ." 5

All at once the listener raised his hand. I stopped reading. He shuddered and his overladen heart uttered the words of surrender—"I will do it!" The cross had triumphed.

Later, I reflected. Brunner's line seemed pertinent: "In faith man ventures to be most daring, to identify himself with Christ, because Christ identifies with him." 6 His "incomparable originality" 7 in identifying Himself with those He came to save now evokes a parallel response—identification with Him. Truly, everything noble and generous in man will respond to the contemplation of the Christ upon the cross.

Notes:

1 Ellen G. White, Review and Herald, June 18, 1895.

2 C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1968).

3 Taken from Francis Thompson's poem "The Hound of Heaven."

4 Jim Bishop, The Day Christ Died (Perennial Library ed.; New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1965), pp. 260-264.

5 Ibid., p. 280.

6 Emil Brunner, Man in Revolt, p. 487.

7 Rudolf Otto, The Kingdom of God and the Son of Man, p. 255.

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Rex D. Edwards, D. Div., is a member of the department of religion at Columbia Union College, Washington, D.C.

January 1978

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