The Cross of Christ.
CHRIST CHURCH, WEST HAVEN,
REV'D OLIVER S. PRESCOTT.
Transcribed by Richard Mammana in 2012 from a copy provided by the Reverend Canon Jervis Zimmerman.
FATHERS OF ST. JOHN THE EVANGELIST,
AND, AMONG THEM,
TO ONE ESPECIALLY, TO WHOM THE AUTHOR OWES MORE
THAN CAN BE TOLD;
The following Sermon is one of a Lenten Course, on the Four Last Scenes in our Divine Lord's Life, on "The Upper Room," "The Garden," "The Judgment Hall," and "The Hill of Calvary." It is published in hope that it may be of some use to men, in the bold temptings of a day, so proud and so material as our own. Persons acquainted with certain books of devotion will not need to be told how largely the author has drawn upon them.
THE RECTORY, West Haven, Lent, 1867.
Ever since the world began hath Thy Seat been prepared: Thou art from Everlasting.—Ps. xciii. 3.
THIS Scripture contains two declarations:—the first, that from the beginning of the world, and therefore, from the very creation of time, a Seat had been prepared; and the second, that He to Whom that Seat belonged had Himself existed before creation. That is, that while the Seat was temporal, its Occupant was Eternal.
Now of all beings of whom we know anything, there is but One, Who, being from Everlasting, has manifested Himself in time; and that One is the God-Man, Christ, “Of the Substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and of the Substance of His Mother, born in the world; perfect God and perfect Man; but one Christ.”
And of this Christ we are elsewhere told, “He had not where to lay His Head.” True! He made the world and all that therein is, still coming into the world that He had made He indulged a poverty as perfect as it was voluntary. He had not where to lay His Head in life; He had not where to lay His Head in death, for He bowed it forward and gave up the
[7/8] Ghost. Notwithstanding all this, He was a King, and for Him a Seat had been prepared ever since the world began, and that Seat was his Cross. Above that Seat was His title written “Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews.” To that Seat He went up, and from It He reigned. In its pride and power of evil, the world thought a gibbet of infamy good enough for One Whom it knew not, for Ire was poor and had no social standing, no name, no influence, and but a few friends obscure like Himself, and in the lowliness of His humility, He, God as He was, bowed himself to the world’s judgement of Him, and accepted the seat it had prepared for Him. And that Seat was all His own; the world gave It to Him gladly, no one envied him Its possession, no one disputed with Him Its title. The world had cursed It, had cast It out as evil, could not bear any who had touched It, harmless wood as It was; and for this reason, it would seem, He claimed It, He went up to It, He sat upon It, He died embraced by It, and from Him virtue went out into It, and It became precious beyond all price. It has been, and is now, to some, foolishness, but He made It to confound the wise. It has been, and is now, to some, weak, but He made It to dash in pieces the mighty. It has been, and is now, to some, base, or despised, or as if It were not, and He made It to bring all these to nought. The world gave It to Him as an instrument of death, and He returned It to the world the very Tree of Life, priceless, beauteous, health-bringing, and blessed above all the Trees of that Paradise which God had planted. By nailing unto It the “hand-writing of ordinances that was against us,” we who were slaves of sin and children of wrath, are made freedmen of Christ and sons of the Father. By It joy came into the world, and sorrow and sighing [8/9] were put away. It supported upon Its arms the Dying Son of God, and It became consecrated forevermore. It was His all on earth, the only possession that He claimed; His bed, narrow, and hard, and strait, and on It He rested His sacred Back, which the scourgers had ploughed with furrows so deep, that the Jew Josephus declares, “the bones of His ribs might be seen.” It was His footstool, whereon He rested His Holy Feet, while, for six hours, He expiated our sins in His Agony. It was His ark, of a better covenant than that of Moses, for It held Him Who was the Framer of both the Testaments. It was His golden urn, for It contained the True Manna, even His Body and Blood, immolated and shed to keep our bodies and our souls to everlasting life. It was his Rod, whereby He wrought great miracles; His ,Stall; ever budding into life, and on which He leaned for support in His last journey. It was His treasury, stored with the most sacred of relics, the Bloody Nails, the Crown of Thorns, the Superscription that was written, and all His adorable Wounds
“O Cross most Holy,” cries a Saint of God, (Thomas A’Kempis,) “O Cross most holy, supremely to be venerated, worthily to be remembered, intimately to be loved, to be engraved upon the heart, to be imprinted upon the brow and the breast! Do thou save, free, bless, sanctify all my members, govern my senses and all my words and deeds, as long as I continue in this life; that by thee He may receive me, Who by thee redeemed me, Jesus Christ my Lord Who was crucified for me.”
“God forbid,” says the Apostle, writing to the Galatians, “that I should glory, save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And why? Because the Cross was all His, and all that was His here on earth; His [9/10] sole possession; Whose marks, if we bear, no one can trouble us or make us afraid, for He is all and in all, our Prophet, Priest and King, and His Cross is at one and the same time His Pulpit, His Altar, His Throne, in which He instructs us, at which He intercedes for us, and from which He reigns over us. In Him It also, is all in all and everything. It is the Key of the House of David, wherewith the Son of David opens Heaven to them that knock to Him. It is the government that is upon the shoulder of the Prince of Peace, for He is our Peace, having reconciled God to us in Himself. It is the two pillars, between which a second Samson is set to die, and in His death to overcome His own and the enemies of all His people. It is the wood which another Isaac bears up the Mount of Sacrifice, where the very and true God provides Himself; a Lamb for a burnt-offering. It is the seal of His servants in their foreheads. It is the sign of His coming to Judgement. It is the measure of the world and of all things that are therein.
And now, brought nigh as we are to the Cross, let us look unto It as the Pulpit of Christ the Prophet—the Altar of Christ the Priest—the Throne of Christ the King, that when, as in the last days of the Fast, It shall be set up in the midst of us, we may go into Its presence knowing what It is, and may make It ours forevermore, our shield, our refuge, and our joy.
Hundreds of years before the events had their place in time, which made the Friday of the Great Week, forever, “Good Friday” in our tongue. God promised by His Prophet Isaiah, that “though He should give men the bread of adversity, and the waters of affliction, yet their teachers should not be removed into a corner any more, but their eyes should see their [10/11] teachers, and their ears should hear a voice behind them, saying, this is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand and when ye turn to the left.” This promise was made good when, as the Divine Teacher, the Master, Christ ascended to His Seat, that He might gather unto Him all who would be pupils in the school of Christian perfection. In Him one sees and is taught, how faith, hope, charity, prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance become heroic. Of all these virtues He is the one complete Pattern and Example, and He wins to them all who are His, for He was lifted up that He might exemplify them, and in so doing, might draw all men unto Him. He was the Son of God, and the Son of Man. As the Son of God, He was from Everlasting. Heaven was His Throne, and the earth was His footstool. “He ascended upon the Cherubim and came flying upon the wings of the wind.” He only was Almighty, He only was Allwise; by Him all things, that are in Heaven and that are in earth; Angels in their multitudinous orders, and men in their many generations, were made, and “in Him they live and move and have their being.” As the Son of Man, a Seat had been prepared for Him—prepared not in love, nor duty, nor reverence, but in cold mocking and despite, and hate; a Seat to which a friend betrayed Him with a kiss; and to which His Sacred Body, worn and wearied in three years of days spent in labour, and three years of nights spent in prayer, was held by a triple support of nails clinching His tender Flesh to the unfeeling wood, so that He could neither move to the one side nor the other, nor find a resting place for His Head even in His last agony. So did He fill the chair of the Master, and His Cross was made a pulpit. As “the Priests’ lips were to keep knowledge,” so did His, find He spake [11/12] seven times,—words full of all instruction needful for us “to treasure in our hearts that we should not sin against Him.” He had before taught the ways of truth and virtue, but from the pulpit on Calvary He showed, to them who could bear it, while the world should last, the ways of saintliness and perfection. For three and thirty years, by word and work, labouring as a carpenter for the support of the Blessed Mother, whose only son He was, or “going about and doing good,” He fulfilled the function of the Teacher; and now, sitting upon His Holy Seat, He made a short work in righteousness of His prophetic office, and epitomized and abridged all His other teachings with unexampled perfectness. As in the beginning of His Ministry, He went up into Mount Olivet, “and when He was set, His disciples came unto Him, and He opened His mouth and taught them, saying,” the Eight Beatitudes, thereby promulgating the fundamental Law of the Gospel counsels; so now, in the ending of that ministry, He goes up into Mount Calvary, and “when He is set,” He puts in practice His doctrine, He does what He has taught, and gives to men the pattern of Evangelical Virtue in its heroic fullness.
Ile went up to His Seat and made It blessed, for It was “the Wood whereby came righteousness.” He carried to It “our sins in His own Body,” and so He became our “Great High Priest forever according to the order of Melchisedeck.” He was the world’s best benefactor, and the world rewarded as it best could His real service; It set up for Him a throne, and bowed the knee and worshipped Him--but the throne was a Cross and the worship was a mockery; It made for Him a Crown,--but it was of thorns: It gave to Him a Sceptre—but it was a reed: It put rings on [12/13] His Hands,—but they were the living circlets of the nails; It made for Him a robe of divers colours,—but it was His own Flesh, striped and marked with blows, punctured with wounds, gashed with scourges, and stained and dyed with blood and sweat. So attired, by the willing hands of those He came to succour and to save, He went up to His Altar, to offer His Sacrifice, not of beasts, but of Himself; not for His own sins, but for ours; and He was there consumed entire, burnt up with the fires of physical torment and the flames of interiour love.
As a Prophet He taught—as a Priest He suffered, and His whole Soul was in His words and in His work. With His mouth He confessed “A Body hast thou prepared me,” and that Body, in which He came to do His Father’s Will, He offered in sacrifice. It was held seemingly by the three Nails, but really, by the powers of His Will—love for us, obedience to the Father, a desire for glory of God and men. His very posture tells of this, (St. Augustine,) “His head was bent downwards to kiss us, His Arms were stretched out to embrace us, and His Bosom was bared to receive us.”
He had come, who was from Everlasting, to occupy the Seat that had been prepared for Him “ever since the world began.” Prophecies were being accomplished, types fulfilled, promises made good; shadows were fading out that realities might come in, and old things were passing away that all things might be made new in the new creation of God. The waves of eternal counsels and decrees—of all the seas of supernatural love and mercy, were rolling up to Calvary, and breaking there, at the foot of a monument which should abide eternally, the central point of time and of all things thereunto pertaining. All man’s past and all [13/14] his future, was drawing to its focus, and that focus was the Cross of Christ. The dead from righteous Abel, to the last who is to pass away with passing time, were in the everlasting Will and Purpose of the Father, gathering beneath the gaze of His Dying Son, and for them all, and for each of all, Ile, in the red vestments of His Priesthood, offered Himself upon His Altar.
And the red vestments of His Priesthood were royal robes, and his Altar became a Throne, for he not only died upon, but “He reigned from the Tree.” “If He be the King of Israel,” said some, mocking Him, “let Him come down from the Cross and we will believe on Him; and because He was that King, He would not leave His Seat, to which the powers of earth had nailed the superscription of His title in Hebrew, Greek and Latin; nor His Crown, wherewith His mother, the Synagogue, had crowned Him; nor the Sceptre, which the people had brought to His Hands; nor the government, which, by the will of God, was upon His shoulder. Others said, “He saved others, Himself He cannot save.” Had He come down, He would have saved none, and salvation for Himself He did not need. He was ruling royally, making the madness of the people to praise Him, remaining upon His Seat that He might come forth from the sepulchre: He came not down from the Cross, but He came up from the grave and from hell, breaking in pieces all their iron gates, and grinding to powder all their brazen bolts; bringing with Him the captives of His bow and of His spear; and leading through the open portals, the white-robed tribes, which He had redeemed from the dominion of their enemies.
Beloved, from the height of His Cross Christ instructs us, that He may make us kings and priests; and that His Cross may be to us an Altar and a Throne. Where [14/15] He is, He would that we should be; and what He made Himself for us, He would that we should make ourselves for Him. These are the days of His Passion and our peace—His last days, in which we “journey with Him to Jerusalem,” to His Cross and Crown. Only by making ourselves cross-bearers with Him, can we be like Him, or follow after Him.
Another Lent is passing, let us use it as if it were to be our last. Gird we up the loins of our minds to renewed devotion, to greater holiness, to stricter guard over ourselves, to bolder approach to Him. Venture much, aye, venture all, that you may keep close to Him, as He passes close by you., Fight your way like men, or like the Maries, through all that hinders your nearness to Him. Fast from food, fast from sleep, fast from intercourse with those you love, “let the bridegroom go forth from his chamber, and the bride out of her closet;” keep hand and heart and tongue from things pleasant; use hardness with yourselves even to beating under the body with St. Paul, and crucifying the will with the master, lest you fail of your portion in His Passion. Let the eye fast from the evil freedom with which it has wandered into sin. Let the ear fast from sounds, which can drown the thrilling whisper, whereby He, in His last, moments, speaks to those who listen to him. Let the tongue fast from idle news and vain conversation. And above all, let the soul fast from vices, and from its own self-will. Upon these, and upon all else, lay the Cross, that you may be altogether His whose It is, and who by It bought you to Himself. He treads the Dolorous Way from the Judgement hall to Calvary; join ye yourselves unto Him in that sorrowful procession; press on to Him through the crowd that throngs His steps—it is His last journey. Do not [15/16] let anything come between you and Him; give Him the sympathy of your devotion, which shall be as a cup of cold water to His parched Lips; wipe the blinding blood and sweat from His marred Face; lift the Cross from Him falling to the ground beneath its cruel weight, and take some portion of its burden upon your own shoulders,—It will not crush you, but, if It do, better be crushed beneath It, than live without It. He permits such offices of friendship, and rewards them, not only with the Image, but with the reality of Himself. He delights in your companionship, for thirst for it He suffered; refuse it not to Him, drive Him not from you as did that wretched Jew of the legend; desert Him not as did His dismayed disciples; deny him not with Peter; betray Him not with Judas. Do not, be afraid of doing too many, or too great things, for Him; of going too .far in His service, of being righteous overmuch; of praying, of serving, of adoring more than is needful. Do not heed the mockings of the world, which will tempt you to forsake Him, if you are really united to Him, even as it tempted Him to forsake His Cross. Satan had nothing in Him while He hung upon It, and He can have nothing in you so long as you cling close unto It, so long as you hold It up before him that he may note approach you. By It he was baffled and conquered once by Christ, and by It Christ, in you, can baffle and conquer him again, and hold him captive. Go to It, then, where our Mother, His Bride, sets it up; twine your arms about It; be nailed to It, if there be need, so will you be like Him; so will you, with Him, “reign from the Tree,” and thence, will you be raised to His Throne; and at your feet will break all powers of [16/17] spiritual and human wickedness, and fall harmless the darts and arrows of all adversaries.
The world will not believe it, but it is a fact, that, the Cross is the only thing the world has given to a son of man, that is really worth possessing; and the only thing it can give, that is really worth the seeking, Willingly our Blessed Master accepted It, and how can we be like Him if we refuse It? It is consecrated by the touch of His Body, and attended by Hosts of Angels; for “where the Body is, there will the eagles be.” The world accounts the love of It madness, and the preaching of It foolishness; but He, who made the world, chose It for His Own, and adorned It with His Members as with goodly pearls, and illuminated It with His Words, and stained It with His Blood, and planted It firmly among and above all human and spiritual Powers.
Christ went up from Bethany—the House of Affliction, to Jerusalem—the City of Peace. Let us go with Him, to die with Him to this world, that He may take us to live with Him in the World to come. Let us learn to regard all things about us, as He regarded them; to measure their value by His standard; and to account ourselves most blessed, if, when we come to die, we shall find that we have won from earth, not honours, riches, power, success, ease, influence, a name not anything of its, which men think well of and esteem, but, simply a Cross, for without that all else is nothing, for that is the true measure of all things in time and in eternity.
Beloved, God forbid that we should glory, at any time, or in any place; in Lent or in Easter; in life, or death, or in the Day of Judgement; save in the Cross of our LORD JESUS CHRIST, “to some a stumbling-block, [17/18] and to some foolishness,” but to the called, the justified, the sanctified, the great Power of God and the Wisdom of God.
And now to the God, Who by His Cross and Passion, has redeemed us, with the Father and the Holy Spirit be the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.
PRAISED BE GOD DAILY.