Melville Scott, The Harmony of the Collects, Epistles, and Gospels, Second Edition, 1903. Public Domain.
The Example of the Cross
HAVING learned on Passion Sunday the doctrine of the Cross as the sacrifice for sin and the ground of justification, we are now to regard its moral teaching as the example of godly life and the ideal of our sanctification. We are to learn to bear the Cross which bore our sins. As we draw nearer to Good Friday we are taught to concentrate our thoughts on the Person of the Divine Sufferer rather than on His redeeming work. This is both natural and right.
THE EPISTLE – Philippians 2:5-11 – THE HUMILITY OF CHRIST
The physical sufferings of our Lord are the outward and visible sign of something yet more wonderful, and the torn body reveals to us the holy mind. That mind is to be ours, especially in its unspeakable humility. Ours by nature it is not; ours by grace it yet may be, if we learn its beauty as God sees it and the Spirit shows it.
A. Christ’s Humility on the Throne.
Before His Incarnation Christ was in “the form of God,” possessing, that is, the very estate of Godhead, to which He refers as “the glory which He had with the Father before the world was” (S. John xvii. 5).
This inconceivable glory He was ready to sacrifice at the bidding of the higher call of Love, which is the very property of the Godhead.
“He regarded it not as a thing of price to be on an equality with God.”
We are, therefore, to trace back the humility of Christ to all eternity. It was not something assumed at His Incarnation, but was itself the cause of the Incarnation, for He was “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” (Rev. xiii. 8).
B. The Humility of the Incarnation.
This eternal submission to the law of Love was manifested in time. He “emptied Himself” (A.V., made Himself of no reputation) of His glory that He might manifest His goodness to men. He was more than a theophany or manifestation of God to men, for He manifested God in man, “being made in the likeness of men.”
Yet more, He took the lowest estate among men, for He “took the form of a slave.”
Some see only in this that Christ took our relation to God, becoming a slave that the slaves might become sons (cf. Gal. iv. 4), but even more may be meant, viz., that He became a slave among men as not only a servant, but a servant of the servants of God, though still “our Lord and Master” (cf. S. John xiii. 14).
Much controversy has taken place about the extent of the Kenosis (or self-emptying), but the fact is beyond human knowledge, and we regard S. Paul as simply using the clearest and homeliest words to convey what is beyond our conception, as in 2 Cor. viii. 9, “Though He was rich, yet for our sakes He became poor.” It is enough to say that our Lord chose to appear as naked Love, and win men’s loyalty by the glory of love and by that alone. If the phrase can be pardoned, our King came incognito that He might be received by acclamation rather than proclamation.
C. The Humility of the Cross.
Sharing our nature and all the outward circumstances, trials, and temptations of human life (“being found in fashion as a man”), and, also, living a life of obedience to His heavenly Father, He yet further voluntarily “humbled Himself,” and His obedience stood the last and final test of death. Having lived as man, He died as man, but not the common death of all men, but the shameful and cruel death of the Cross, reserved for slaves and malefactors.
D. The Exaltation of Humility.
Christ’s exaltation was grounded upon His humiliation, and His mediatorial crown was the reward of His Cross. This fact is for ever enshrined in the name of Jesus or Saviour. This name, His human name, the token of His Humility and of His Passion, is to be His name for ever. God has granted Him to bear (“given Him”) this name at His right hand (cf. Acts vii. 55, 56). Worship had been His as the Son of God, but from thenceforward He should receive worship as the Son of Man, and “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,” etc. (cf. Acts ii. 36). “God hath made Him both Lord and Christ, even this Jesus whom ye crucified.” This worship should be even for “the glory of God the Father,” for as it is to the glory of a King to be recognized as kingly when he no longer wears his crown, so it is to the honour of God that Christ should have left the throne of Heaven and won an empire in human hearts. God’s highest glory is not His power, but the power of His love.
THE GOSPEL – S. Matthew 27:1-54 – CHRIST’S PATIENCE
The mind of Christ has been our study in the Epistle; the acts of Christ are before us in the Gospel. Our Church desires us to take pattern from both of these: we are to learn humility from His mind; patience, which is the outward manifestation of humility, from His actions.
A. Patience with Judas.
Our Lord was “contented to be betrayed” by one of His own disciples, as recorded in the previous chapter, once part of this Gospel. Wonderful was His patience with Judas, his warnings, His tenderness, the absence of rebuke. This patience at last conquered, and Judas repented himself, cast down the price of treachery, confessed the innocence of his Master, and ended his wretched life. May we see to it that the long-suffering of Christ should lead us to repentance before it is too late.
B. Patience before Pilate.
Our Lord “answered Him to never a word.” He maintained a dignified silence except when truth demanded words. False accusers brought their many false accusations against Him, but it was as if He heard them not. We are to be thus patient, that we may earn the final beatitude: “Blessed are ye when men shall reproach you…and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake.”
C. Patience under Condemnation.
Our Lord was patient when a robber and a murderer was preferred by the people to Himself, and when falsely condemned for blasphemy and treason, the highest offences against the powers of heaven and the powers of earth. We are to be patient when others are preferred before us, when we are reproached for doing what we have not done, or saying what we have not said. If indignation seems only human, silence is divine.
D. Patience under Mockery.
Every action showed the intensity of contempt. It is wonderful that Christ should have suffered for men, yet more wonderful what He suffered from men. His shame pours scorn on our pride. Shall we play the king with a straw for our sceptre, the rags of sin for our robe, the briars of pride for our crown? Shall we not be content to bear shame? Shall we take it hard if men deride our very questionable claims, when Christ, the King of kings, was dressed in mock regalia as a pretender?
E. Patience upon the Cross.
Patience under pain, refusing the cup of partial relief: under the abuse of the thieves, the cruel indifference of the passers-by, the bitter taunts of the priests, the felt desertion even of God. Such patience shames us as pain-bearers, but how much more as pain-bringers by our impatience, unkindness, indifference, or even hatred!
F. The Victory of Patience.
The last loud cry was not of agony, but of victory–“It is finished”; thus Christ endured to the end. Three tokens of victory at once followed.
(1) The conquest of sin–marked by the rending of the veil of sin-woven separation between God and man.
(2) The conquest of death–marked by the rending of the tombs which held the saints of God.
(3) The conquest of a heart. The centurion was conquered by the patience of the Divine Sufferer, and yielded to strength made perfect in weakness, becoming the first captive of the Cross.
A prayer that the Divine intention of the Passion may be realised in us.
A. Its Source.
This was the Father’s “love,” not His wrath; His “tender love,” no mere name, but a yearning affection; His universal love, for He loved “mankind,” the race. Nothing was needed to persuade God to love men, and the atonement was not the cause but the consequence of Love.
B. Its Intention.
That men might imitate the mind of Christ as declared in the Epistle.
C. Its Realisation.
We pray that we, imitating the humility of Christ, may both show this by imitation of His patience, as described in the Gospel, and share in His exaltation.