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The Gospel of the Cross

Category Articles
Date May 13, 2002

The death of Christ is the first fact of the Christian Gospel, and its interpretation the first work of a apostolic preaching

by Samuel Chadwick

The Gospel of the Cross is that ‘Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures; and that he was buried; and that He hath been raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.’ According to the Scriptures there is a Divine necessity for the death of Christ. It was neither arbitrary nor accidental. All the writers of the New testament insist upon its necessity. The New Testament Gospel of the Cross is the same in John as in Paul, and Peter agrees with them both. The death of Christ is the first fact of the Christian Gospel, and its interpretation the first work of a apostolic preaching. In the Gospels our Lord insisted upon its necessity. ‘As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up,’ After the confession of Peter at Caesarea Philippi His teaching centred on the Cross. ‘From that time began Jesus to show His disciples, how that He must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and the third day be raised up.’ All the later teaching of Jesus centres in that MUST.

Immediately the fact was accomplished the interpretation began, and it is based entirely upon the Scriptures. To the disciples on the way to Emmaus the risen Lord said, ‘Behoved it not the Christ to suffer these things, and to enter into His glory? And beginning from Moses and from all the prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.’ What things? On the evening of the same day He was with the larger company in the Upper Room, and it is said, ‘Then opened He their mind that they might understand the Scriptures and He said unto them, Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer, and rise again from the dead the third day.’ It was the theme of the first Christian sermon preached by the Apostle Peter on the day of Pentecost, and it is central to all the teaching of the New Testament. To all the apostles the Cross of Christ is the basis of faith, the substance of the gospel, the inspiration of holiness, and the constraining passion of all redemptive toil and prayer. The death of Christ has stored up in it the redeeming virtue of the gospel. There is no gospel for sinners but in the Cross of Christ, for if the New Testament is the rule and standard of Christian doctrine there is no gospel but in the redeeming death of Jesus Christ the Son of God. We may like it or not like it, but it is idle to propagate the Christian religion on the basis, and with the authority, of the New Testament, unless we are prepared to receive its message into good and honest hearts, and that message is the gospel of a sin-bearing, sin-expiating love by which alone sinners may be saved by Grace through Faith.

No one can fail to see that ‘in all the teaching of the New Testament,’ Christ is set forth as taking the place of the sinner in His death. Every blessing of salvation is ascribed to the vicarious or substitutionary death of Christ. The passages are too numerous and too familiar for quotation. One or two of the great passages will suffice. Paul says: ‘Christ died for the ungodly . . . He commendeth His own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us’ (Rom. 5:6,8). ‘Him who knew no sin He made to be sin on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in Him’ (2 Cor. 5:21). ‘Christ also suffered for you . . . who His own self bare our sins in His body upon the tree’ (1 Peter 2:21-24). ‘He is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the whole world’ (1 John 2:2). ‘Christ suffered the just for the unjust, that He might bring us unto God’ (1 Peter 3:18). ‘Who loved me, and gave Himself up for me’ (Gal. 2:20).

To many these passages are an offence. They do not deny their logic, but they reject their teaching. To them a doctrine of substitution is inconceivable and even immoral. They deny both the necessity and the validity of atonement by the death of the Cross, and affirm that its propitiation is not necessary to salvation. To them, the parable of the Prodigal Son is the whole gospel, and in it there is neither mention nor sign of a Cross.

It is quite true that there is a way of preaching the Cross that approaches blasphemy. It pits the Son against the Father, and represents God as a reluctant Shylock who yields only when the utmost claim has been met. There was no antagonism between the Father and the Son. God was in Christ in all the suffering of redemption. The Son was the gift of the Father’s love. The love of God is commended, not conceded, in the death of Christ. Herein was the love of God manifested in us, not procured for us, that God sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. The Cross is the supreme manifestation of divine love, but it is that because it was for our sins He died. Love sums up all, for God is love, but in love is law. Love and holiness are not at variance, any more than Father and Son could ever be in antagonism, but love is not complacency. God is love, and God is fire. The death of Christ is set forth by God to be a propitiation through faith, by His blood, to show His righteousness. God could not connive at sin. The problem of redemption was to find a way by which a holy God could be just and the Justifier of the ungodly. The gospel of the Cross, as set forth in the New Testament, solves the problem, and opens a new and living way to the Father. Through the death of Christ, God is just and the Justifier of them that believe in Jesus. He so deals in the Cross with the sin of the world, that it is no more a barrier between Him and men. Unless the death of Christ did this for the world there is no gospel to preach to sinners, for there only is the sure ground of the Faith that saves. It rests upon the finished work of redeeming Love.

Most of the defective teaching about the Cross comes from false ideas about sin, or the misunderstanding of faith. If there be no sense of sin there can be no understanding of the Cross, and if there be no saving faith there can be no knowledge of its power. Christ died for sin, but His death brings no salvation from sin apart from faith. Substitution is made effective by identification. The fact that Christ died for me must be made operative by the faith which translates the Cross into the personal experience of crucifixion with Him. The Cross is neither for wearing nor bearing; it is a thing to die upon. Faith rests upon the death of Christ: ‘The answer of faith to the death of Christ is the believing abandonment of the soul to the righteousness of God that has satisfied the moral order of the world, and to the love of God which signifies its strength in what Christ has done for men.’

‘If one died for all, then were all dead.’ If Christ died for me, then I died in Him. Faith reckons on that fact. It identifies the believer with Christ in His death and in His resurrection, and God honours the faith by making the reckoning good. There is the familiar illustration of George Wyatt, whose place was taken in the American Civil War by Richard Pratt. Pratt was killed in action, and died as the substitute of Wyatt. Some time later Wyatt was again drawn for service, but he claimed exemption on the ground that he had already been killed in action. The court upheld the claim. In something like the same way faith puts in its claim. We are justified by faith. It is not a fiction, but a fact, because through faith there is revealed the righteousness of God.

The Cross accomplishes more than reconciliation. Sin goes deeper than relationship. Behind the sins there is sin. Sin may be pardoned, but unless the sin can be purged, the root of the evil will remain.

The Blood cleanses as well as cancels. The gospel of the Cross is that ‘The Blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth from all sin.’ The believer is not only crucified with Christ. He is alive in Christ, and Christ lives in him. He is dead to sin, dead to self, dead to the world, dead to the law; and he is alive in Christ, identified with Christ, indwelt by Christ. The faith that rests upon substitution realizes the completeness of its identification. It is Christ that saves. There is no salvation in the Cross, but in the Christ that died and rose again. That gospel saves everywhere and to the uttermost. In it there is pardon for the sinner, cleansing for the defiled, and victory over the world, the flesh and the devil. By the Cross there comes to the world joyful news of sins forgiven, Of hell subdued, and peace with heaven.


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