Nothing is so difficult as to take a man out of himself; it is impossible, except by giving him a new nature. Man glories in anything that will bring honour to himself—anything that distinguishes him from his neighbour. It does not signify what it is (it may be that he is the tallest man); anything his pride may come into in that which gives him advantage over others. Some may glory in their talents. There are differences in men’s minds; vanity is seen more in some, wishing for the good opinion of others; pride more in others, having a good opinion of themselves. Wealth, knowledge, anything that distinguishes a man, he will glory in, and make a little world around himself by it.
There is another thing, too, that men glory in, besides talent, birth, wealth, etc., and that is his religion. Take a Jew, and you will find he glories in not being a Turk; the Christian, so called, glories in that he is not a heathen and a publican. Man will thus take the very thing that God has given to take him out of himself to accredit himself with. Those who are so deluded as to be throwing themselves down to Juggernaut may have less to glory in, or to fancy they can glory in; but the measure of truth, connected with the religion men hold, is the very occasion of their glorying. Thus the Turk, who owns God, will glory in his religion over those who do not; the Jew, in his religion—he has the truth, and “salvation is of the Jews”; the Gentile Christian, too, has truth, but then he prides himself upon it, and this brings in the mischief. The subtlety of the enemy is seen in proportion as it is truth in which he makes a man glory; and it is not so difficult to detect, either, for if you are proud of being a Christian, the whole thing is told at once.
It is quite another thing, of course, for the true, genuine child of God walking in the power of the cross, etc., who glories in that he knows God. With Jonah there was just this pride at work: he was proud of being a Jew, and would not go to Nineveh, as God told him, because he was afraid of losing his reputation. He had rather have seen all Nineveh destroyed, than have his own credit as a prophet lost. Jonah was a true prophet, but, glorying in himself, he turned his religion into a ground of self-glorying. Whatever you are decking yourself out with—it may even be with a knowledge of Scripture—it is glorying in the flesh. Ever so little a thing is enough to make us pleased with ourselves; what we should not notice in another is quite enough to raise our own importance.
Glorying in religion is a deeper thing. Whatever comes from man must be worthless. A man cannot glory in being a sinner. Conscience can never glory, and there is no true religion without the conscience—not speaking now of righteousness in Christ. What is it then in religion that man glories in? It always must have a legal character, because there must be something for him to do—hard penance, or anything, no matter at what cost, if it only glorifies self. “As many as desire to make a fair shew in the flesh constrain you to be circumcised… they desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh.” Man could bind heavy burdens. Why should he? Because self would have to do something. When man glories in self there may be the truth in a measure, but it is of the legal character always, because there must be something man can do for God. Glorying in the flesh is not glorying in sin, but, as in Philippians 3, religious glorying, glorying in something besides Christ.
But in the cross man has nothing to say to it. It is not my cross, but “the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,” and the only part I had in Christ’s cross was sin. My sin had to do with it, for it brought Him there. This puts man down altogether. That which saves man, and what God delights in, man could not put a finger to in bearing. “The foolishness of God is wiser than men.” The one single thing I have in the cross is my sin. There is this further thought: we are utterly lost without it. Divine love treats me as an utterly lost sinner, and the more I see that perfect divine love, the more I see how vile I am, utterly contemptible, defiled and lost. I have liked defiling myself; I am a wretched slave, dragged down to my defilement. The cross, when I see what it is, destroys my glorying in self, and puts truth in the inward parts, too, for it not only shews me how bad I am, but it makes me glad to confess my sin, instead of making excuses for it. I am awakened to say, I am guilty of having loved all this. Love opens the heart, and enables me to come and tell Him how bad I am. I thus delight to record all that He has done, all that I owe Him; and that is thankfulness. My heart tells out its vile-ness; there is no guile—not delighting in the sin, of course, but rejoicing in the remedy.
Then we have, on the other side, farther, God’s delight in the cross. “Having made peace through the blood of the cross,” God gives us to delight with Him in the value of it. And first we see in it God’s unutterable love—not love called out, like ours, by a lovable object. No; “God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” It was love acting in its own proper energy— from itself only—so properly divine that a soul expecting it, as a matter of course, could not be a fit object for it. God’s work and God’s way are shewn in a manner that man could not and ought not to have thought of. I am a poor miserable sinner, and there I see God’s love in giving His own Son. When He forgives, there is the positive active energy of love in giving the best thing—the thing nearest to itself—for sin, which is the thing farthest from itself, giving it to be “made sin.” When I look at the cross, I see perfect and infinite love, God giving His Son to be “made sin”; I see perfect and infinite wisdom also.
With a conscience, I cannot enjoy God’s love without seeing Him dealing about my sins. Even a sparrow God can be good to, it is true; but can God accept me in my sins? Can He accept an imperfect offering? As Micah says, Can I give “the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” Cain brought the fruit of his own work, without any sense of sin: the hardness of his heart was proved by it, and an utter forgetful-ness about his sin. I see in the cross what my sin is. I cannot look at that as God sees it without learning God. Man has forgotten God enough to rise up against Him who was God’s remedy for his misery. Then judgment must be exercised: God’s authority must be vindicated. “It became him … to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.” Are angels to see man flying in God’s face, and He take no notice of it? No! Therefore, “it became him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things,” etc. God is a righteous judge, and judgment must be executed. There is judgment as well as love seen in the cross; not only Christ, the Holy One, being made sin, but undergoing the judgment due to sin. There is the unsparing wrath of God against the sin, but God’s perfect love to the sinner. There His majesty, which we insulted, is vindicated: even the Son bows to that. If He is to keep up the brightness of the Father’s glory, He must vindicate His character in this way. God’s truth was proved at the cross. “The wages of sin is death.” Man had forgotten this; but Christ stands up, the witness of God in such a world, that what God has said is true. “The wages of sin is death.” The love with which God wins man to Him proves this very thing at the same time.
There is more in the cross. God accomplishes all His purposes by it. He is bringing “many sons to glory,” and how could He bring these defiled sinners into the same glory with His own Son? Why, God has so fully accomplished the work that, when in the glory with Him, we shall be a part of the display of that glory. Therefore He says, “That in the ages to come, he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace”—a Mary Magdalene, a thief upon the cross, trophies of that grace, through all eternity! And how could He set them in such a place with His own Son? His own glory and love rise over all our sin and put it all away: He Himself has done it.
For us, then, the cross has done two things: it has given peace of conscience—and not what man can see outside, and then spoil. No, He has “perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” All sin is blotted out and put away. I can glory in the cross, then, for my sins are gone!
Again, “After that ye have known God, or rather are known of God”—poor wretched things that we are, to be made the vessels of such love and grace. The conscience has certainty and peace, and more than that, a confidence that Adam in innocence could never have had. There is communion and peace in my own soul, and there is another thing also—I have clearness of understanding in the ways of God. Should I go through a course of ceremonies, genuflexions, etc., to add to my perfectness which I have through the cross? You do not know the cross; you do not know what Christ— what God—has done by the cross, if you are trying other things to make you better. “Can the Ethiopian change his skin?” When you know not the cross, you may use all these efforts to satisfy and quiet your conscience. When you know it, it leaves spiritual affections free. When I see the cross, I can love God. If I have offended Him, I can go off to Him directly and tell Him; for I am a child, and my relationship is not thereby altered. My fellowship is with the Father and the Son—this is my happy privilege.
When I can glory in the cross, there is an end of glorying in self; for I am nothing but a sinner. He has brought us to God by the cross, for Christ has suffered, the just for the unjust. Are our souls glorying in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, or in vanity, or in self? If you are not glorying in the cross, it is your own loss, not to say your own sin; for you can never see God’s love, God’s holiness, God’s wisdom, God’s truth, as on the cross. Even where you are you may learn it, for you have not to climb up somewhere to get it; but it has come to you where you are. It is not, when you are better you may come. You cannot come when you are better, though it will make you better. It is as a sinner you must come. The apostle came as “the chief of sinners.” Then “the world,” as he says, “is crucified to me, and I to the world.” The very nature which is connected with the world is what occasioned Christ’s death, therefore, when I glory in the cross, I am crucified to the world.