Project Canterbury

The Good News

By Bernard Iddings Bell, D.D.

Milwaukee: Morehouse Publishing, [1921]

Chapter III. The Heroic God

WE began in this book by meditating upon God, the Eternal One, the All-powerful, the All-extensive, the Everlasting. In the second chapter we considered how for us men and for our salvation, because He loved us and pitied our human limitations, God translated Himself into terms we could all understand. He became incarnate, took our human nature, was born, lived, worked, loved, helped, suffered, that we might see, in human terms, the invisible Deity. He is still incarnate, walking unseen but real among us. Our God is no transcendent mystery, but a human deity, a god brought down to our own scale, whose friendliness and kindliness and helpfulness we can feel.

In this chapter let us meditate upon the Cross.

Of course Christ's whole life is significant. Too much we remember Him in terms only of Bethlehem and Calvary. Too little we think of His contacts with people, especially sinners like us, when He was physically here. Possibly if we remembered them more it would help us to know how He regards us now. It may be it would help us to be more kindly to our fellow-sinners. He never scolded, except for pretence in religion, for the proud display of the outward shell of it while the heart was conceited and evil within. That He thundered against. But with those at whom the world casts stones and sneers,--the harlots, the vicious, the drunkards, the down-and-outs,--He ate and drank and made friends, and tried to show them how with His friendly help they could become real human beings, no matter how low they might have fallen. He would not stone the Magdalen. "Daughter", He said, "I condemn thee not. Go and sin no more." He did not curse the grafting Zacchaeus when He saw him perched in the sycamore tree. "Come down, Zacchaeus," He bade him, "for to-day I shall dine with you". To the thief He promised, "To-day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise." To the woman who had suffered terribly the physical punishment for immorality, He said "Go in peace, thy faith hath saved thee." So He loved the world. So He loves the world. So He loves you and me. He knows our limitations. He asks not that we perfectly and at once succeed, but only that we keep on trying, honestly, to become real human beings. His hand is lifted not to repulse us but to help us, to lift us up, to strengthen and encourage us. "The Son of Man came not into this world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved."

It is, however, of Calvary that I wish you would think more particularly just now.

Let us be careful to remember the Cross with the proper attitude of mind. Let us not pity Jesus. What a caricature of religion is that of one who pities Him crucified, as though the Cross were merely an instrument of pain and defeat. Why? Because tears and blood are there? Do we merely pity the heroic man who in No-man's-land gasped out his last painful breath, merely pity Edith Cavell, merely pity the wounded soldier who came back blind? Surely we are not stupid enough to see in them nothing more than the pitiable. Far less, then, may we pity Christ as He goes to Jerusalem, is tried, convicted on false evidence, beaten, spat upon, thorn-crowned, mocked, murdered. Many people seem to regard Him through it all as a poor, mistreated weakling. In their hearts and tones of voice they give to Him that name which the apostate emperor Julian applied to Him,--"the pale Galilaean." This figure who approaches in quiet simplicity, with unostentatious grit, the fate meted out by human wickedness, is by no means a weakling, unable to help Himself. This figure is none other than He "who, being in the form of God, thought it no robbery to be equal with God." This Crucified figure is that of supreme, omnipotent success. With one effort He could have destroyed His oppressors, punished His revilers, saved His life;--yes, and prevented forever the splendid power of His example over the lives of men, and ruined all the purpose of His coming to earth at all. He had said, "I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto Me". He has been so drawing them ever since. He draws them now.

He draws real men and real women,--not cowards, not cringers, not compromisers, not sycophants, not those who delight in softness and ease and enervating luxury. He attracts no such. They would rather have polite ethical cultures or expurgated Buddhism or faiths which deny pain and sin and reality. They wish none of the religion of the Cross. But He still does attract real men and women, and that, thank God, still means most of the human race.

A weakling? Jesus? I love to think of Him big, brawny as He must have been from labor at the carpenter's bench, mighty among men. I like to think of arms of muscle stretched upon that Cross. I like to remember how silly were those who stood beneath it and said, "He saved others. Himself He cannot save." When I remember that He could have used His mighty power for Himself, and that it was only for you and for me and for all men that He refused to do it, I cannot pity Him, One cannot pity a hero like that. One is permitted to adore Him.

And adoration grows each moment that we look on Him, contemplating such complete sacrifice, such utter selflessness. Pain plus pain. Added to all the physical woe, there is that which is the crowning blow, man's ingratitude. Even to that did He humble Himself. "He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not. He came unto His own, and His own received him not." Even to the death of the Cross He came, even to that gibbet reserved for the lowest grades of criminals; to the Cross, upon which no Roman citizen might ever, by law, be hanged; to the Cross, between two murderous thieves; to the Cross, below which yawning soldiers played at dice.

He who was hanged upon that Cross is the supreme success among all the sons of men. Would you behold the Superman? Here is the Superman.

Do you believe it? Have you the faith of the penitent thief? Have you vision enough to turn and say to him gibbeted, "Lord, Lord, remember me, when thou comest into Thy Kingdom?"

It takes faith to believe in the Triumph of the Crucified. It may have been easier to believe in the days when the world seemed more inclined to acknowledge His suzerainty. It is not easy to-day. Behold those who call themselves His followers. See how they deny His law of love, murderous in hate at the kill, snarling for very exhaustion when the kill is done. See how all society, industry, polities, business, are still conducted after nineteen hundred years, with a cynical frankness, on the purely pagan principle of self-interest. Ten years ago we blind folks used to flatter ourselves that our civilization was Christian. Do you remember? The war came. We now must face things as they are. We must see the world as it really is. Civilization stands stripped, stark-naked. It is hideously disgusting! That remarkable title which Edward Carpenter gave one of his books, Civilization: Its Cause and Cure, seems less bizarre than once it did. Christ cries from His Cross: "My Kingdom is built upon love, upon self-sinking. Greatness comes through taking up the cross of voluntary self-sacrifice and coming after Me. There is no other way. This is the Royal Way, the Way of the Cross." And behold a civilization based frankly upon exactly the opposite principle,--that achievement is a matter of force and coercion, that to be successful means to loll at ease while others serve one's needs.

While we are contemplating the Cross, all life around us, all our civilization, is crying out to us the futility of the Cross. Not in so many words. Civilization is too polite to denounce Christ. But it is sneering at Him. Listen. Hear its comment, rolling up from the city, from the country. Listen. "S-h-h-h-h. Don't get excited while these preachers talk to you about the Cross of Christ. Keep cool. Keep steady. Keep sane. It is all very well to honor Christ as a good fellow. Surely we all do that But from the point of view of practical business, social position, good politics, sane national policy, and that sort of thing, this Jesus is an impossible idealist, a dreamer of Utopias. Hear Jesus. Flatter Him. Patronize Him. Conventionalize Him. But don't be fool enough to obey Him."

(How the Pharisees on Calvary chuckled. They had saved their bacon. He was dying. How the Sadducees laughed and rubbed their gleeful hands. They had saved the dirty bargain by which they sold religion for the sake of Jewish safety guaranteed by Caesar. How the wise and the prudent did rejoice.)

Do we believe Him to be our King, demanding as of right our worship, our lives, our bodies and souls, our love, to do with as He wills, not as we will; demanding as of right that we be not conformed to the spirit of this world but transformed by His Spirit; demanding as of right that we renounce the Devil and all his works, the pomps and vanities of this wicked world, and the sinful lusts of the flesh, so that we will not follow or be led by them? Around us moves the heedless world. Men contemn and laugh at Him. Hear them. "Re saved others. Himself He cannot save. Christianity has failed. Jesus has failed. His idealism has proved unworkable. We have no king but Caesar! Come, let us enjoy the good things of the present, grabbing all we can, scrambling over one another to pluck the orchids of passion and luxury. Jesus is dying? He is done for, you poor fools, standing there looking on His Cross. You poor, medieval, old-fashioned dears, come on and let the poor fool die."

All through the ages the world and its wisdom have bade men recognize that Christ was wrong! But somehow the world is ever failing to bring about either social security or personal happiness; while those who have had the faith to believe Him more right and in the end more powerful than those who once did murder Him, and still would murder Him, are the ones who best promote common welfare and also most attain to personal joy in living. Before every man God hangs crucified. In the ears of every man sounds the plausible patter of the world. Every man must decide whether or not Christ is a deluded and ineffective failure or a heroic success worth following wheresoever He may lead.

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