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THE REASON OF THE CROSS.
To the cross of deepest woe.” We have endeavoured, in the two preceding papers, to describe, first, the height from which Christ condescended ; and secondly, the depth to which He stooped. Our endeavours have been weak and insufficient, as all such endeavours must be. An archangel, with a far more accurate knowledge of the subject than we can in this life hope to attain, would shrink from such an attempt. He would see, much better than we can see, the impossibility, to such minds as his, and still more to such minds as ours, of fathoming or measuring such heights and depths; and, consequently, he would abstain from all such attempts. But our position is a very different one. We are not so overwhelmed, as he would be, with a sense of the immensity of the task; and we have motives for attempting it, of which he knows nothing. We cannot rightly appreciate the difficulties; we do not see, as clearly as he does, the loftiness of the heights, or the appalling deepness of the depths; and therefore our ignorance diminishes our awe. But the chief difference is this : we live among men; we perceive that, weak and imperfect as are our conceptions, those conceptions are still far beyond the thoughts entertained by thousands among whom we dwell; and therefore, small as may be our elevation above the fogs and mire in which men generally grovel, we long to call them to rise out of those fogs and that mire, and to strive to get a footing, though it be but on the lowest steps of the ascent which leads to “ the hill of Zion.”
We have tried, therefore, to point out some features of that blessedness which the Lord of Glory gave up when He “made Himself of no reputation, and came to live among weak and foolish and sinful men. We have also endeavoured to touch upon one feature of the sufferings which He resolved to undergo. That feature we suppose to have been the chief of all; namely, the sense of wrath, of anger, of condemnation, due to men, but concentrated and poured upon His single person, until, at last, it crushed His human soul, and He“ bowed His head and gave up the ghost.”
On this point, however, we must not anticipate what we shall presently have to say. The fact at which we have arrived in our enquiry is merely that of certain tremendous mental sufferings, undergone by Christ, both while upon the Cross and for some time previous; and the chief topic of the investigation Vol. 68.-No. 377.
is that which we have twice indicated in a scriptural phrase, “What meaneth this ?”
We have already made known our own view, in words which have dropped from us during the enquiry; but our purpose is to present the views of others rather than urge our own interpretation.
“ The Reason of the Cross” was plainly stated fifteen hundred years ago, by the whole Church-before that Church became divided, distracted, and, in a great measure, apostatein its principal creed, the Nicene, which, wherever the Christian name is bome, is still the unvarying symbol. “Who (Jesus) for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven. ..... And was made man : and was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate.” This has been the firm belief, the cherished trust, of every theologian whose memory is fragrant among us, for the whole eighteen hundred years which have passed since the days of the apostles. Ignatius and Polycarp, Cyprian and Augustine, Claudius of Turin and Huss, Luther and Calvin, Cranmer and Jewell, Hooker and Bunyan, all rested their whole hopes on this one simple but stupendous fact,~"He, for our salvation, came down from heaven ; was made man; and was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate.”
But dissentients soon sprang up in the visible Church: some men have been found who doubted whether Christ really “came down from heaven ;” and who would only admit that He “was crucified for us,” and “for our salvation," in a very limited sense. And within the last three centuries, since the days of Socinus, their ideas, purified, modified, and refined by modern scholarship and long experience, have of late years spread widely in the Church. Our present enquiry cannot be completed without looking to this school of writers for their interpretation. It would be easy to shut out all such questions, and to resort to “orthodox” writers, and to them only, for an explanation of the great transaction which took place on Calvary; but this limitation of view would not be safe. * Prove all things," said the apostle; and we shall not follow his counsel by refusing to look at any views but those which coincide with our own. · The problem, then, being the real character and purpose of the transaction which took place on Calvary, let us see what some leading writers of the school have said upon it.
If we begin with Dr. Channing, we do so not merely because he was one of the principal writers of that class in modern times, but because he was recognized, approved, and applauded by such a man as Frederick Robertson, of Brighton ; and has passed, in consequence of that recommendation, into high respect and regard among Broad Churchmen of our own
day. Dr. Channing, as an established and eminent religious teacher for more than thirty years, could not avoid sometimes touching the subject which is now before us. And he thus handles it :
“Not long ago, it was common to hear of Christ as having died to appease God's wrath, and to pay the debt of sinners to his inflexible justice. We conceive that Jesus is dishonoured, not glorified, by ascribing to Him an influence which clouds the splendour of the Divine benevolence.
“ This system teaches that sin exposes us to endless punishment ; and that the whole human race, being involved in sin, owe this awful penalty to the justice of their Creator. It teaches that this penalty cannot be remitted, in consistency with the honour of the Divine law, unless a substitute be found to endure it, or to suffer an equivalent. It also teaches, that from the nature of the case, no substitute is adequate to this work save the infinite God himself, and, accordingly, God, in His second person, took on Him human nature, that He might pay to His own justice the debt of punishment incurred by men, and might thus reconcile forgiveness with the claims and threatenings of His law. This doctrine seems to carry on its front strong marks of absurdity."*
Having thus rejected and contemned the faith which is held by more than nineteen-twentieths of those who bear the Christian name, it was necessary that Dr. Channing should propose some different view. This he does in the following passage:
“It is not the greatness of Christ's sufferings on the Cross which is to move our whole souls ; but the greatness of the spirit with which He suffered. There, in death, He proved his entire consecration of Himself to the cause of God and mankind. There His love flowed forth towards his friends, his enemies, and the human race. It is moral greatness, it is victorious love, it is the energy of principle, which gives such interest to the Cross of Christ. To live as Christ lived, to die as Christ died, to give up ourselves as sacrifices to God, to conscience, to whatever good interest we can advance, these are the lessons written with the blood of Jesus.”+
And again :
“I see nothing in Jesus of the overpowering compassion which is often ascribed to Him. His character rarely exhibited strong emotion. It was distinguished by calmness, firmness, and conscious dignity. Jesus had a mind too elevated to be absorbed and borne away by pity, or any other passion. He felt, indeed, deeply for human suffering and grief; but his chief sympathy was with the mind, with its sins and moral diseases, and especially with its capacity for improvement and everlasting greatness and glory..... It is his consecration to this sublime end which constitutes his glory.” I
* Dr. Channing's Works, vol. i. p. 546. + Ibid. vol. ii. p. 142. I Ibid. p. 143,
In these passages we have the whole that the greatest of modern Unitarians can advance in favour of his view. Let us calmly and patiently ponder it for a few moments, and see if it can be reconciled, even with the most ordinary dictates of reason and common sense.
The first thing that strikes us is, the quiet and adroit way in which the main difficulties of the case are evaded. How could two great facts of the history,–Gethsemane, and “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani,”-how could these be reconciled with Dr. Channing's view ? In no possible way. Therefore they are wholly forgotten, and never once alluded to.
But when these, and all kindred ideas, are banished from the thoughts, what remains ? Our question is, and has been throughout this inquiry, - What meaneth this? What was the real nature of that great sacrifice, which Christ offered up upon the cross ? And what is Dr. Channing's reply?
“There, in death, Christ proved his entire consecration of himself to the cause of God and mankind. There his love flowed forth towards his friends, his enemies, and the human race. It is moral greatness, it is victorious love, it is the energy of principle, which gives such interest to the Cross of Christ.”
We feel that we have here some glowing phrases, some well-balanced sentences, but very little real meaning. Was the death of Christ, in its main characteristics, just such a death as that of Socrates, or of Polycarp, or of Huss, or of Savonarola ? Did it exceed them only as “one star excelleth another star in glory”?
If so, how came we by Christianity? What possessed the apostles to spend and sacrifice their lives merely to tell to people in all parts of the earth what a death of “moral greatness and victorious love” a young Jew had died just outside the walls of Jerusalem ? Take the single case of St. Paul ;“In labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.” (2 Cor. xi. 23—27.) What madness had possessed him thus to spend his life, if he had nothing more to tell the nations, than that Christ had shown "the energy of principle” by dying on the Cross.
But no one can read Paul's own writings with a candid and honest mind, and entertain any such notions as Dr. Channing would teach us. The great topic of all his preaching and writing, was “the Gospel,” “the gospel of your salvation." And this was no question of taste, or of “moral beauty," with him. He plainly declares, “ A necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel.”
Place these facts, these declarations, by the side of Dr. Channing's definitions : “It is moral greatness, it is victorious love, it is the energy of principle, which give such interest to the death of Christ.” Do we not see, at a glance, that Dr. Channing wholly fails to understand or appreciate the lesson of the Cross? If the transaction on Calvary had no more bearing on the condition and hopes of the human race, than the death of Savonarola, then the rise and progress and establishment of Christianity in the world is a problem unsolved and insoluble. But we know better than this. We know that Christians have gone and are going, all over the earth, with the life-giving message, “God hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him." “ It pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness dwell : and having made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him to reconcile all things unto Himself.”
We cannot linger any more over Dr. Channing's well-turned periods. To the ear they have a pleasing sound, but to the heart they are utterly disappointing. He has entirely failed to give any rational answer to our question, “What meaneth this?” If the Cross, and the human form suspended upon it, had had no higher or better meaning than Dr. Channing attributes to it, Christianity would have been a forgotten thing before the last of the apostles had been laid in his tomb.
In England we have a follower of Dr. Channing, and one not greatly his inferior, in the Rev. James Martineau. He treads most faithfully in Dr. Channing's footsteps, when he writes as follows :
“ Calvary's mournful hill appears, covered with silence now, but distinctly showing the heavenly light that struggled there through the stormiest elements of guilt.
“Our first impression is, that the scene requires no interpretation, but speaks for itself: that it has no mystery, except that which belongs to deep guilt, and the sanctities of disinterested love. To raise our eye to that serene countenance, to listen to that submissive voice, to note the subjects of its utterance, would give us no idea of any mystic horror concealed behind the human features of the scene: of any invisible contortions, as from the lash of demons, in the soul of that holy victim ; of any sympathetic connection of that cross with the bottomless pit on the one hand, and the highest