TAKING UP THE CROSS.
FOUNDATION TEXT:-- "Then said Jesus unto His disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it." -- Matt. 16:24, 25.
A GREAT deal of misunderstanding exists in regard to this subject of "taking up the cross." Most people think it means doing the will of God under a feeling of great trial; giving up something that we very much want to keep, or performing some duty from which we exceedingly shrink. Consequently we often hear the expression used in reference to some act of obedience to what is thought to be the will of God, "Well, I suppose I must take up my cross and do it;" and the long face and accompanying sigh testify to how "heavy" this cross is felt to be. Now, I believe all this falls far short of what our Lord really meant when He said, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me." It is inconceivable to me that He could have meant that doing the will of God was to be a hard yoke and a heavy burden to the child of God. In fact, He Himself declared exactly the opposite, when He said that His yoke was easy and His burden light. Taking up the cross, therefore, cannot mean that it is to be hard to do God's will; and I believe a careful study of the subject will show us that it has a far deeper and wider signification.
As far as I can see, the cross in Scripture always means death.
"And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" (Phil. 2:8).
"And that He might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby" (Eph. 2:16).
The cross in connection with Christ always means the death of Christ. The only use of the cross is to put to death, not to keep alive. It may be a suffering death, but still it is sooner or later death. All through the Bible the meaning of the cross is simply and always death. In most cases this is manifest to every one; and why we have chosen to give it a different meaning in its mystical sense, and make it mean not death, but a living in misery, would be hard to explain. When, therefore, our Lord told His disciples that they could not be His disciples unless they took up the cross, He could not have meant that they were to find it hard to do His will; but He was, I believe, simply expressing in figurative language the fact that they were to be made partakers of His death and resurrection, by having their old man crucified with Him, and by living only in their new man, or, in other words, in the resurrection life of the Spirit.
"Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin" (Rom. 6:6).
"But 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. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature" (Gal. 6:14, 15).
Many people seem to think that the only thing proposed in religion is to improve the "old man," i.e., the flesh; and that the way to do this is to discipline and punish it until it is compelled to behave. Hence comes the asceticism of the Buddhist and others; and hence, also, comes the idea that the "cross" for Christians consists in the painful struggles of this helpless "old man" to do the will of God, a will which in the very nature of things the flesh cannot understand or love. But a true comprehension of the religion of Christ shows us that what is really meant is the death of this old man and the birth in us of a "new creature," begotten of God, whose tastes and instincts are all in harmony with God, and to whom the doing of God's will must be, and cannot help being, a joy and a delight. It is not the old man thwarted and made miserable, by being compelled to submit to a will it dislikes, but it is a new man, "created in Christ Jesus unto good works," and therefore doing these good works with ease and pleasure; a new nature, of divine origin, which is in harmony with the divine will, and therefore delights to do it.
"Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God" (2 Cor. 5:17, 18; also Eph. 4:22-24).
The "new creature" does not mean a new body, or a new intellect, but a new spirit, a new life. It means that the man who has become a new creature has had implanted within him the life principle of a new and spiritual nature, the life and nature of God. He is made a "partaker of the Divine nature." It is not his old fleshly nature made better, but a new and higher nature introduced; a nature belonging to a higher order of being. It is a life born of the Spirit, in contradistinction to the life born of the flesh.
"That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3:6).
"And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second man is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly" (1 Cor. 15:45-49).
That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and never can be anything else, no matter how much we discipline it. The only way to treat it is to nail it to the cross; or, in other words, put it to death; not keep it alive to make it suffer, but crucify it, that is, kill it, and let it be to us as a dead and buried thing.
"And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts" (Gal. 5:24).
To crucify, means to put to death, not to keep alive in misery. But so obscured has the whole subject become to the children of God, that I believe a great many feel as if they were crucifying self when they are simply seating self on a pinnacle, and are tormenting it and making it miserable. Man will undergo the most painful self-sacrifices, and call it "taking up the cross," and will find great satisfaction in it; and all the time will fail to understand that the true cross consists in counting the flesh, or the "old man," as an utterly worthless thing, fit only to be put to death. There is a subtle enjoyment in torturing the outward self, if only the interior self-life may be fed thereby. A man will make himself a fakir, if it is only self that does it, so that self can share in the glory. The flesh of man likes to have some credit; it cannot bear to be counted as dead and therefore ignored; and in all religions of legality it has a chance. This explains, I am sure, why there is so much legality among Christians. But did we read the Scriptures aright, we should see that the carnal mind, i.e., the fleshly mind (as it is literally translated), cannot serve God nor enter into His kingdom, no matter how much we may try, by all sorts of asceticism, to make it fit.
"For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God" (Rom. 8:5-8).
When the Apostle says here that they that are "in the flesh" cannot please God, it is manifest he cannot mean, that they that are in the body cannot please God, for it is to people in the body that all his exhortations are addressed. The "flesh" here, therefore, must mean the lower nature in man, that part of his nature that is called "the carnal mind, or the old Adam." It is the part of man's being that must die in order that the "new man" or the spiritual nature may be born. If a caterpillar is to become a butterfly, the only way is for the caterpillar life to die in order that the butterfly life may be evolved. And just as the caterpillar cannot live the butterfly life, so also the "flesh" or "carnal nature" in us cannot live the spiritual life. It is in this sense that Paul says he is crucified with Christ.
"I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me" (Gal. 2:20).
"But 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).
By being "crucified to the world" Paul meant that he was dead to it. He did not mean that he was still alive to it, and was being made to suffer because he must give it up, but that he was absolutely dead to it, so that it no longer had any attractions for him. To be dead to a thing must mean that that thing has no power to attract. And this is what is meant in the Bible by "taking up the cross." It is to become so dead to the world (that is, the lower plane of living) that its power to tempt is gone. It is to have our affections so set on things above, that merely earthly things have lost their charm.
"If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God" (Col. 3:1-3).
To have our "affections set" on anything must mean that we love that thing; and if our affections are set on the will of God, we must love His will. It is impossible that God's will should seem hard to a man whose affections are set on it. It may be accompanied with hard things, but in itself it must be a delight. Our Lord could say, "I delight to do thy will, O my God!" because He was dead to everything that was contrary to His Father's will. His affections were set on the will of God; and until our affections are similarly so set on the will of God as to delight in it, we have not "taken up the cross" in the Scripture sense at all.
A good illustration of what I mean would be the change that takes place in the feelings of a little girl when she becomes a woman. As a child she loved to roll hoops, and climb trees, and make mud pies; and she hated to sit still and sew, or to learn long lessons, or to do hard work. To have been compelled to give up the one or to do the other, while still a child, would have been a bitter trial. But when the little girl becomes a woman, everything is reversed, and she loves the things she once hated, and hates the things she once loved. The woman "takes up the cross" to her childish plays; that is, she becomes dead to them, and no longer finds any pleasure in them. She delights in the pursuits of maturity and scorns the pursuits of childhood, just as once she delighted in the pursuits of childhood and scorned those of maturity.
I fear there are a great many Christians who look upon the Christian life, as I in my childish ignorance looked upon grown-up life. I thought that grown-up people wanted to play as much as I did, but that there was a law forbidding it after a certain age; and I pitied with all my heart everybody who had passed that age, which, somehow, I fixed in my mind at fifteen, and dreaded beyond measure the time when I should reach that age myself, and should have to "take up the cross" that awaited me there. In the same way I believe many Christians think religion means always to give up the things they love, and to do the things they hate; and they call this "taking up the cross," and actually think God enjoys this "grudging" service.
"Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver" (2 Cor. 9:7).
To my mind, grudging service is no more acceptable to God from us than it would be to us from one another; and such an idea of the "cross" as this, seems to me a very poor and low substitute for the glorious truth of our death with Christ, and our resurrection into the triumphant spiritual life hid with Christ in God. Surely, if we are born of God, we must love the things God loves, and hate the things He hates; and if we are one with Christ, it is out of the question that we should chafe against His will or find His service hard! Is it a sign of the highest sort of union between a husband and wife when the one finds it a great trial to please the other? Ought it not rather to be a joy to do so? And how much more is this true as regards our relations to Christ?
"Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh" (2 Cor. 4:10, 11).
Dying and death are very definite words, and can only mean that that which is said to be "crucified," and is therefore called dead, must be in a condition spiritually analogous to what death is physically, i.e., without life, or feeling, or capacity to suffer. Therefore, to such the doing of God's will cannot cause suffering, for the simple reason that that part of their being which dislikes God's will and shrinks from doing it, is dead, and only that part is alive that loves God's will and delights to do it.
"Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God" (Rom. 6:11-13).
"Reckoning ourselves to be dead indeed unto sin" is only another expression for "taking up our cross and denying ourselves." It simply means that we are to look upon ourselves as dead to the things of the flesh that once attracted us, and as alive only to the higher things of God. Or, in other words, we are to live in the higher part of our nature instead of in the lower. There are always two attitudes of mind towards anything, between which we may choose. Either we may take hold of things on the plane of flesh, or we may take hold of them on the plane of spirit; and it is to do the latter that the Apostle exhorts us when he tells us to reckon ourselves "alive unto God."
"And ye are complete in Him, which is the head of all principality and power: in whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: buried with Him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with Him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised Him from the dead" (Col. 2:10-12).
Certainly a thing that is "buried" cannot be at the same time alive to suffering. Paul's whole argument in the sixth of Romans is founded on this.
"What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death? Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life" (Rom. 6:1-4).
He does not say we ought not to sin, which might imply that secretly we wanted to, but were restrained by certain considerations; but he says, "we are dead to sin, and therefore we cannot sin," i.e., we do not want to. This, I think, is what John means in that passage in his Epistle which some find so difficult.
"Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for His seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God" (1 John 3:9).
That part of us which is born of God, the spiritual man in us, cannot sin, because it is holy in its very nature or essence. If we sin, therefore, it must be because we have permitted that in us which is born of the flesh to have some life; and have submitted ourselves, i.e., our personality, more or less to its control. And not only would I say this concerning sin, but I would also say it concerning that shrinking from and dislike of God's will which so many Christians think constitutes the cross. The spiritual man in us cannot dislike God's will, for in the very nature of things that which is born of God must love the will of God. That which shrinks therefore and suffers, must be the self-life; and the self-life we are commanded to crucify and deny (Mark 8:34, 35).
To deny anything means that you do not recognise its existence. To deny ourselves therefore does not mean to keep self alive, and let it be made miserable by forcing it to do God's will; but it means to deny the very existence of self, and to live only in that part of our nature that loves God's will and delights to do it. We can see what the Scriptures mean by denying, if we refer to the story of Peter (see Matt. 26:34, 35, 69-75).
Peter simply said, "I know not the man," and this was denying Christ. And similarly if we would deny self, we must say to self, "I do not know you." Fenelon tells us that the true self-denial consists in looking upon this "I," of whom we are all so fond, as a stranger in whom we take no interest. "I do not know you," we must say. "You may be the most interesting or the most ill-used person in the world, but you need not bring your tales to me, for you are a stranger to me, and I take no interest in you." If any one objects that it is not possible to lose all interest in self after this fashion, I would ask them, if they have never known what it was to be so overmastered by some strong emotion of love, or of joy, or of sorrow, as to forget and deny self utterly, and not even to notice what happens to it? We say at such times, "I entirely forgot myself," and what is this but to deny self in the most effectual sort of way?
"Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong" (2 Cor. 12:10).
The Apostle did not look upon his trials as a heavy "cross," hard to be borne, but he "took pleasure" in them. He had so effectually taken up the true cross by which he was "crucified to the world," as to delight in the will of God, even when it involved trials and persecutions, and distresses and necessities.
The true lover takes pleasure in suffering, if needs be, for the one he loves; and if we love our Lord, it is not anything very mystical for us to "take pleasure" in suffering endured for His sake.
This seems to me simple common-sense; and although we may not all have attained to it, yet it is of the utmost importance that we should not hinder our advance thitherward by cherishing false notions of what we are called to as children of God, and by degrading the grand Scripture idea of denying ourselves and taking up our cross, to the poor paltry fact of being compelled to give up things we love, and to do things we dislike. If things are wrong we ought to hate them, and want to give them up; and if duties are right, we ought to love them, and delight to do them. And we shall do this, if we have truly "taken up our cross," and are indeed "crucified with Christ."
I know these expressions, "crucified with Christ," and "dead to sin," are looked upon as being very mysterious and occult; and simple-minded Christians think they describe experiences that but few can comprehend or attain to. But whatever mystical meaning they may have, there is a practical common-sense meaning as well, that the most simple-minded can understand. They mean just what is meant by the ordinary expression of being "dead" to anything. For instance, I suppose all my readers are "dead" to stealing or murder; that is, they do not want to commit either of these crimes. They are "crucified to the world" as regards these sins, and no doubt as regards many others. They have "taken up the cross" to them. Now, there is nothing mysterious or occult in this common experience, and it will serve as a sample of what the Bible means when it tells us we must "take up the cross" and be "crucified with Christ." It means simply this, that, just as now we have "taken up the cross" to some of the things that are contrary to the will of God, and are "dead" to them, so must we henceforth "take up the cross," and be "dead" to all that is opposed to His will.
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