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
Almost all men have something wherein to glory. Every bird has its own note of song. It is a poor heart that never rejoices: it is a dull packhorse that is altogether without bells. Men usually rejoice in something or other, and many men so rejoice in that which they choose that they become boastful and full of vain glory. It is very sad that men should be ruined by their glory; and yet many are so. Many glory in their shame, and more glory in that which is mere emptiness. Some glory in their physical strength, in which an ox excels them; or in their gold, which is but thick clay; or in their gifts, which are but talents with which they are entrusted. The pounds entrusted to their stewardship are thought by men to belong to themselves, and therefore they rob God of the glory of them.
O my hearers, hear ye the voice of wisdom, which crieth, He that glorieth, let him glory only in the Lord. To live for personal glory is to be dead while we live. Be not so foolish as to perish for a bubble. Many a man has thrown his soul away for a little honor, or for the transient satisfaction of success in trifles. O men, your tendency is to glory in somewhat; your wisdom will be to find a glory worthy of an immortal mind.
The Apostle Paul had a rich choice of things in which he could have gloried. If it had been his mind to have remained among his own people, he might have been one of their most honored rabbis. He saith in his Epistle to the Philippians, in the third chapter, If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. He says that he profited in the Jews religion above many, his equals in his own nation; and he stood high in the esteem of his fellow-professors. But when he was converted to the faith of the Lord Jesus, he said, What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord. As soon as he was converted he forsook all glorying in his former religion and zeal, and cried, God forbid that I should glory in my birth, my education, my proficiency in Scripture, or my regard to orthodox ritual. God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul might also, if he had so chosen, have gloried in his sufferings for the cross of Christ; for he had been a living martyr, a perpetual self-sacrifice to the cause of the crucified. He says, Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labors 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. He was once driven to give a summary of these sufferings to establish his apostleship; but before he did so he wrote, Would to God ye could bear with me a little in my folly. In his heart he was saying all the while, God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The great apostle had yet another reason for glorying, if he had chosen to do so; for he could speak of visions and revelations of the Lord. He says, I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, .... caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man .... how that he was caught up into Paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. He was in danger of being exalted above measure by reason of the abundance of these revelations, and hence he was humbled by a painful thorn in the flesh. Paul, when hard driven by the necessity to maintain his position in the Corinthian church, was forced to mention these things but he liked not such glorying, he was most at ease when he said, God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Brethren, notice that Paul does not here say that he gloried in Christ, though he did so with all his heart; but he declares that he gloried most in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, which in the eyes of men was the very lowest and most inglorious part of the history of the Lord Jesus. He could have gloried in the incarnation: angels sang of it, wise men came from the far East to behold it. Did not the new-born King awake the song from heaven of Glory to God in the highest? He might have gloried in the life of Christ: was there ever such another, so benevolent and blameless? He might have gloried in the resurrection of Christ: it is the worlds great hope concerning those that are asleep. He might have gloried in our Lords ascension; for he led captivity captive, and all his followers glory in his victory. He might have gloried in his Second Advent, and I doubt not that he did; for the Lord shall soon descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and the trump of God, to be admired in all them that believe.
Yet the apostle selected beyond all these that center of the Christian system, that point which is most assailed by its foes, that focus of the worlds derision the cross, and, putting all else somewhat into the shade, he exclaims, God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Learn, then, that the highest glory of our holy religion is the cross. The history of grace begins earlier and goes on later, but in its middle point stands the cross. Of two eternities this is the hinge: of past decrees and future glories this is the pivot. Let us come to the cross this morning, and think of it, till each one of us, in the power of the Spirit of God, shall say, God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I. First, as the Lord shall help me (for who shall describe the: cross without the help of him that did hang upon it?) WHAT DID PAUL MEAN BY THE CROSS? Did he not include under this term, first, the fact of the cross: secondly, the doctrine of the cross: and thirdly, the cross of the doctrine?
I think he meant, first of all, the fact of the cross. Our Lord Jesus Christ did really die upon a gibbet, the death of a felon. He was literally put to death upon a tree, accursed in the esteem of men. I beg you to notice how the apostle puts it the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. In his epistles he sometimes saith Christ, at another time Jesus, frequently Lord, oftentimes our Lord; but here he saith our Lord Jesus Christ. There is a sort of pomp of words in this full description, as if in contrast to the shame of the cross. The terms are intended in some small measure to express the dignity of him who was put to so ignominious a death. He is Christ the anointed, and Jesus the Savior; he is the Lord, the Lord of all, and he is our Lord Jesus Christ. He is not a Lord without subjects, for he is our Lord; nor is he a Savior without saved ones, for he is our Lord Jesus; nor has he the anointing for himself alone, for all of us have a share in him as our Christ: in all he is ours, and was so upon the cross.
But, next, I said that Paul gloried in the doctrine of the cross, and it was so. What is that doctrine of the cross, of which it is written that it is to them that perish foolishness, but unto us who are saved it is the power of God and the wisdom of God? In one word, it is the doctrine of the atonement, the doctrine that the Lord Jesus Christ was made sin for us, that Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many and that God hath set him forth to be the propitiation for our sins. Paul saith, When we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly: and again, Now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. The doctrine of the cross is that of sacrifice for sin: Jesus is the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world. God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
The doctrine is that of a full atonement made, and the utmost ransom paid. Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree. In Christ upon the cross we see the Just dying for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, the innocent bearing the crimes of the guilty, that they might be forgiven and accepted. That is the doctrine of the cross, of which Paul was never ashamed.
This also is a necessary part of the doctrine: that whosoever believeth in him is justified from all sin; that whosoever trusts in the Lord Jesus Christ is in that moment forgiven, justified, and accepted in the Beloved. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up; that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. Pauls doctrine was, It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy; and it was his constant teaching that salvation is not of doings, nor of ceremonies, but simply and alone by believing in Jesus. We are to accept by an act of trust that righteousness which is already finished and completed by the death of our blessed Lord upon the cross. He who does not preach atonement by the blood of Jesus does not preach the cross; and he who does not declare justification by faith in Christ Jesus has missed the mark altogether. This is the very bowels of the Christian system. If our ministry shall be without blood it is without life, for the blood is the life thereof. He that preacheth not justification by faith knows not the doctrine of grace; for the Scripture saith, Therefore it is of faith that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed. Paul gloried both in the fact of the cross and in the doctrine of the cross.
But the apostle also gloried in the cross of the doctrine, for the death of the Son of God upon the cross is the crux of Christianity. Here is the difficulty, the stumbling block, and rock of offense. The Jew could not endure a crucified Messiah: he looked for pomp and power. Multitudinous ceremonies and divers washings and sacrifices, were these all to be put away and nothing left but a bleeding Savior? At the mention of the cross the philosophic Greek thought himself insulted, and vilified the preacher as a fool. In effect he said, You are not a man of thought and intellect; you are not abreast of the times, but are sticking in the mire of antiquated prophecies. Why not advance with the discoveries of modern thought? The apostle, teaching a simple fact which a child might comprehend, found in it the wisdom of God. Christ upon the cross working out the salvation of men was more to him than all the sayings of the sages. As for the Roman, he would give no heed to any glorying in a dead Jew, a crucified Jew! Crushing the world beneath his iron heel, he declared that such romancing should never win him from the gods of his fathers. Paul did not blench before the sharp and practical reply of the conquerors of the world. He trembled not before Nero in his palace. Whether to Greek or Jew, Roman or barbarian, bond or free, he was not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, but gloried in the cross. Though the testimony that the one all-sufficient atonement was provided on the cross stirs the enmity of man, and provokes opposition, yet Paul was so far from attempting to mitigate that opposition, that he determined to know nothing save Jesus Christ and him crucified. His motto was We preach Christ crucified. He had the cross for his philosophy, the cross for his tradition, the cross for his gospel, the cross for his glory, and nothing else.
II. But, secondly, WHY DID PAUL GLORY IN THE CROSS? He did not do so because he was in want of a theme; for, as I have shown you, he had a wide field for boasting if he had chosen to occupy it. He gloried in the cross from solemn and deliberate choice. He had counted the cost, he had surveyed the whole range of subjects with eagle eye, and he knew what he did, and why he did it. He was master of the art of thinking. As a metaphysician, none could excel him; as a logical thinker, none could have gone beyond him. He stands almost alone in the early Christian church, as a master mind. Others may have been more poetic, or more simple, but none were more thoughtful or argumentative than he. With decision and firmness Paul sets aside everything else, and definitely declares, throughout his whole life, I glory in the cross. He does this exclusively, saying, God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross. There are many other precious things, but he puts them all upon the shelf in comparison with the cross. He will not even make his chief point any of the great scriptural doctrines, nor even an instructive and godly ordinance. No, the cross is to the front. This constellation is chief in Pauls sky. The choice of the cross he makes devoutly, for although the expression used in our English version may not stand, yet I do not doubt that Paul would have used it, and would have called upon God to witness that he abjured all other ground of glorying save the atoning sacrifice.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ, my God;
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.
He would have called God to witness that he knew no ambition save that of bringing glory to the cross of Christ. As I think of this I am ready to say, Amen to Paul, and bid you sing that stirring verse
It is the old cross still,
Its triumphs let us tell,
The grace of God here shone
Through Christ, the blessed Son,
Who did for sin atone;
Hallelujah for the cross!