Glorying In The Cross

By Robert Murray McCheyne as preached on 25 Oct 1840
(minimally edited from reprint in Memoirs and Remains of R.M. McCheyne

[Christian Classics Foundation, 1997])

[E.d note: This affecting sermon was preached originally as an ‘Action Sermon," i.e. it was preached before the Lord’s Table just before the congregation partook of the Supper. We are publishing a week before our own communion next Sabbath, believing that it will be of better edification value if it is read before rather than after we come to the Table.]

"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" (Galatians 6:14).

I. The subject here spoken of by Paul —The Cross of Christ

This word is used in three different senses in the Bible. It is important to distinguish them.

1. It is used to signify the wooden cross—the tree upon which the Lord Jesus was crucified. The punishment of the cross was a Roman invention. It was made use of only in the case of slaves, or very notorious malefactors. The cross was made of two beams of wood crossing each other. It was laid on the ground, and the criminal stretched upon it. A nail was driven through each hand, and one nail through both the feet. It was then lifted upright, and let fall into a hole, where it was wedged in. The crucified man was then left to die, hanging by his hands and feet. This was the death to which Jesus stooped. "He endured the cross,despising the shame." "He became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" (Mt 27:40, 42; Mk 15:30, 32; Lk 23:26; Jn 19:17, 19, 25, 31; Eph 2:16).

2. It is used to signify the way of salvation by Jesus Christ crucified. So 1 Corinthians 1:18, "The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness, but unto us who are saved it is the power of God"; compared with verse 23, "We preach Christ crucified." Here it is plain that the preaching of the cross and the preaching of Christ crucified are the same thing. This is the meaning in the passage before us, "God forbid that I should glory." It is the name given to the whole plan of salvation by a crucified Redeemer. That little word implies the whole glorious work of Christ for us. It implies the love of God in giving His Son (Jn 3:16); the love of Christ in giving Himself (Eph 5:2); the incarnation of the Son of God; His substitution—one for many; His atoning sufferings and death. The whole work of Christ is included in that little word, the cross of Christ. And the reason is plain; His dying on the cross was the lowest point of His humiliation. It was there He cried, "It is finished! The work of My obedience is finished, My sufferings are finished, the work of redemption is complete, the wrath of My people is finished"; and He bowed the head and gave up the ghost. Hence His whole finished work is called the cross of Christ.

3. It is used to signify the sufferings borne in following Christ. "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me" (Mt 16:24). When a man determines to follow Christ, he must give up his sinful pleasures, his sinful companions; he meets with scorn, ridicule, contempt, hatred, the persecution of worldly friends; his name is cast out as evil. "He that will live godly in Christ Jesus must suffer persecution." Now, to meet all these is to "take up the cross." "He that taketh not up his cross and followeth after me, is not worthy of me." In the passage before us the words are used in the second meaning, the plan of salvation by a crucified Savior.

Dear friends, it is this that is set before you in the broken bread and poured out wine, the whole work of Christ for the salvation of sinners. The love and grace of the Lord Jesus are all gathered into a focus there. The love of the Father; the covenant with the Son; the love of Jesus; His incarnation, obedience, death; all are set before you in that broken bread and wine. It is a sweet, silent sermon. Many a sermon contains not Christ from beginning to end. Many show Him doubtfully and imperfectly. But here is nothing else but Christ, and Him crucified. Most rich and speaking ordinance! Pray that the very sight of that broken bread may break your hearts, and make them flow to the Lamb of God. Pray for conversions from the sight of the broken bread and poured out wine. Look attentively, dear souls and little children, when the bread is broken and the wine poured out. It is a heart–affecting sight. May the Holy Spirit bless it.

Dear believers, look you attentively, to get deeper, fuller views of the way of pardon and holiness. A look from the eye of Christ to Peter broke and melted his proud heart, and he went out and wept bitterly. Pray that a single look of that broken bread may do the same for you. When the Roman centurion that watched beside the cross of Jesus, saw Him die, and the rocks rend, he cried out, "Truly this was the Son of God!" Look at this broken bread, and you will see the same thing, and may your heart be made to cry after the Lord Jesus. When the dying thief looked on the pale face of Immanuel, and saw the holy majesty that beamed from His dying eye, he cried, "Lord, remember me!" This broken bread reveals the same thing. May the same grace be given you, and may you breathe the cry, Lord, remember me.

Oh, get ripening views of Christ, dear believers! The corn in harvest sometimes ripens more in one day than in weeks before. So some Christians gain more grace in one day than for months before. Pray that this may be a ripening harvest day in your souls.

II. Paul’s feelings towards the Cross—"God forbid that I should glory..."

1. It is implied that he had utterly forsaken the way of righteousness by deeds of the law. Every natural man seeks salvation by making himself better in the sight of God. He tries to mend his life; he puts a bridle on his tongue; he tries to command his feelings and thoughts, all to make himself better in the sight of God. Or he goes further: tries to cover his past sins by religious observances; he becomes a religious man, prays, weeps, reads, attends sacraments, is deeply occupied in religion, and tries to get it into his heart; all to make himself appear good in the eye of God, that he may lay God under debt to pardon and love him.

Paul tried this plan for long. He was a Pharisee, touching the righteousness in the law blameless; he lived an outwardly blameless life, and was highly thought of as a most religious man. "But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ." When it pleased God to open his eyes, he gave up this way of self–righteousness forever and ever; he had no more any peace from looking in—"we have no confidence in the flesh"; he bade farewell for ever to that way of seeking peace. Nay, he trampled it under his feet. "I do count them but dung that I may win Christ." Oh, it is a glorious thing when a man is brought to trample under feet his own righteousness; it is the hardest thing in the world.

2. He betook himself to the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul got such a view of the glory, brightness, and excellency of the way of salvation by Jesus, that it filled his whole heart. All other things sank into littleness. Every mountain and hill was brought low, the crooked was made straight, the rough places smooth, and the glory of the Lord was revealed. As the rising sun makes all the stars disappear, so the rising of Christ upon his soul made everything else disappear. Jesus, suffering for us, filled his eye, filled his heart. He saw, believed, and was happy. Christ for us, answered all his need. From the cross of Christ a ray of heavenly light flamed to his soul, filling him with light and joy unspeakable. He felt that God was glorified, and he was saved; he cleaved to the Lord with full purpose of heart. Like Edwards, "I was unspeakably pleased."

3. He gloried in the cross. He confessed Christ before men; he was not ashamed of Christ before that adulterous generation; he gloried that this was his way of pardon, peace, and holiness. Ah, what a change! Once he blasphemed the name of Jesus, and persecuted to the death those that called on His name; now it is all his boast. "Straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God." Once he gloried in his blameless life when he was among Pharisees; now he glories in this, that he is the chief of sinners, but that Christ died for such as he. Once he gloried in his learning when he sat at the feet of Gamaliel; now he glories in being reckoned a fool for Christ’s sake, in being a little child, led by the hand of Jesus. At the Lord’s Table, among his friends, in heathen cities, at Athens, at Rome, among the wise or unwise, before kings and princes, he glories in it as the only thing worthy of being known—the way of salvation by Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

Dear friends, have you been brought to glory only in the cross of Christ?

Have you given over the old way of salvation by the deeds of the law? Your natural heart is set upon that way. You are always for making yourself better and better, till you can lay God under obligation to pardon you. You are always for looking in for righteousness. You are looking in at your convictions and sorrow for past sins, your tears and anxious prayers; or you are looking in at your amendment, the forsaking of wicked courses and struggles after a new life; or you are looking at your own religious exercises, your fervency and enlarged heart in prayer, or in the house of God; or you are looking at the work of the Holy Spirit in you, the graces of the Spirit. Alas! alas! The bed is shorter than that you can stretch yourself on it, the covering is narrower than that you can wrap yourself in it. Despair of pardon in that way. Give it up forever. Your heart is desperately wicked. Every righteousness in which your heart has anything to do is vile and polluted, and cannot appear in His sight. Count it all loss, filthy rags, dung, that you may win Christ.

Betake to the Lord Jesus Christ. Believe the love of the Lord Jesus Christ. He delights in mercy; He is ready to forgive; in Him compassions flow; He justifies the ungodly. Have you seen the glory of the cross of Jesus? Has it attracted your heart? Do you feel unspeakably pleased with that way of salvation? Do you see that God is glorified when you are saved? That God is a God of majesty, truth, unsullied holiness, and inflexible justice, and yet you are justified? Does the cross of Christ kill your heart; Does it make a great calm in your soul, a heavenly rest? Do you love that word: "the righteousness of God," the righteousness which is by faith, the righteousness without works? Do you sit within sight of the cross? Does your soul rest there?

Glory only in the cross of Christ. Observe, there cannot be a secret Christian. Grace is like ointment hid in the hand, it betrays itself. A lively Christian cannot keep silence. If you truly feel the sweetness of the cross of Christ, you will be constrained to confess Christ before men. "It is like the best wine, that goes down sweetly, causing lips to speak." Do you confess Him in your family? Do you make it known there that you are Christ’s? Remember, you must be decided in your own house. It is the mark of a hypocrite to be a Christian everywhere except at home. Among your companions, do you own Him a friend whom you have found? In the shop and in the market, are you willing to be known as a man washed in the blood of the Lamb? Do you long that all your dealings be under the sweet rules of the gospel? Come, then, to the Lord’s Table, and confess Him that has saved your soul. Oh, grant that it may be a true, free, and full confession. This is my sweet food, my lamb, my righteousness, my Lord and my God, my all in all. "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross." Once you gloried in riches, friends, fame, sin; now in a crucified Jesus.

III. The effects —"The world is crucified to me, and I unto the world"

"If any man be in Christ Jesus, he is a new creature." When the blind beggar of Jericho got his eyes opened by the Lord, this world was all changed to him, and he to the world. So it was with Paul. No sooner did he rise from his knees, with the peace of Jesus in his heart, than the world got its deathblow in his eyes. As he hurried over the smooth stones of the streets of Damascus, or looked down from the flat roof of his house upon the lovely gardens on the banks of the Abana, the world and all its dazzling show seemed to his eye a poor, shriveled, crucified thing. Once it was his all. Once its soft and slippery flatteries were pleasant as music to his ear. Riches, beauty, pleasure, all that the natural eye admires, his heart was once set upon; but the moment he believed on Jesus, all these began to die. True, they were not dead, but they were nailed to a cross. They no more had that living attraction for him they once had; and now every day they began to lose their power. As a dying man on the cross grows weaker and weaker every moment, while his heart’s blood trickles from the deep gashes in his hands and feet, so the world, that was once his all, began to lose every moment its attractive power. He tasted so much sweetness in Christ, in pardon, access to God, the smile of God, the indwelling Spirit, that the world became every day a more tasteless world to him.

Another effect was, "I to the world."—As Paul laid his hand upon his own bosom, he felt that it also was changed. Once it was as a mettled race horse that paces the ground and cannot be bridled in; once it was like the foxhounds on the scent, impatient of the leash. His heart thus rushed after fame, honor, worldly praise; but now it was nailed to the cross, a broken, contrite heart. True, it was not dead. Many a fitful start his old nature gave, that drove him to his knees and made him cry for grace to help; but still, the more he looked to the cross of Jesus, the more his old heart began to die. Every day he felt less desire for sin, more desire for Christ, and God, and perfect holiness.

Some may discover that they have never come to Christ. Has the world been crucified to you? Once it was your all—its praise, its riches, its songs, and merrymakings. Has it been nailed to the cross in your sight? Oh! put your hand on your heart. Has it lost its burning desire after earthly things? They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh, with its affections and lusts. Do you feel that Jesus has put the nails through your lusts? Do you wish they were dead? What answer can you make, sons and daughters of pleasure, to whom the dance, and song, and the glass, and witty repartee, are the sum of happiness? You are none of Christ’s.

What answer can you make, lovers of money, sordid moneymakers, who had rather have a few more sovereigns than the grace of God in your heart? What answer can you make, flesh–pleasers, night–walkers, lovers of darkness? You are not Christ’s. You have not come to Christ. The world is all alive to you, and you are living to the world. You cannot glory in the cross, and love the world. Ah! poor deluded souls, you have never seen the glory of the way of pardon by Jesus. Go on; love the world; grasp every pleasure; gather heaps of money; feed and fatten on your lusts; take your fill. What will it profit you when you lose your own soul?

Some are saying, Oh, that the world were crucified to me, and I to the world! Oh, that my heart were as dead as a stone to the world, and alive to Jesus! Do you truly wish it? Look, then, to the cross. Behold the amazing gift of love. Salvation is promised to a look. Sit down, like Mary, and gaze upon a crucified Jesus. So will the world, become a dim and dying thing. When you gaze upon the sun, it makes everything else dark; when you taste honey, it makes everything else tasteless: so when your soul feeds on Jesus, it takes away the sweetness of all earthly things; praise, pleasure, fleshly lusts, all lose their sweetness. Keep a continued gaze. Run, looking unto Jesus. Look, till the way of salvation by Jesus fills up the whole horizon, so glorious and peace–speaking. So will the world be crucified to you, and you unto the world.