Given in Trinity Church, New York, on Good Friday, A.D. 1894
In the good Providence of God, we are permitted once again to keep watch during the hours of Good Friday around the Cross of Christ. We look, by faith, to the time when we shall see the sign of the Son of Man in heaven, and shall behold Him whom they pierced on His return to judge the earth and the world by fire. Until that day the servants can do no more than to heed and follow His command: "What I say unto you I say unto all, Watch." And therefore are we here to watch, with fear, with hope, with love, with searchings of heart, where our Lord was crucified.
It has usually been our custom to endeavor to transfer ourselves to that scene during the hours of the most dread Passion; to try to see Him on the Gross, and to imagine ourselves among that wild, disorderly throng which then possessed the place. Jesus Himself, all wounds and blood, was the object of our attention; and from the Blessed Feet up to the Head, we drew our lesson of the horror of sin, the love of God, the peril of those who stand apart and refuse this great salvation.
But now let us change the hour and look at Calvary from another point of view. Let us suppose that the day is far spent, and that it is towards evening. The sun, long hidden, has set; the stars are beginning to appear; the moon makes light in the sky. The Passion is over; the crowds have gone; the Roman soldiers have marched off. The hill is now desolate, and silence reigns upon the land. The crosses, three in number, stand where they were; but the bodies, at the request of the scrupulous Sabbath-keepers, have been taken away. These instruments of suffering and death are now the only objects on which the eye may rest; and two of them are soon forgotten, as the view of the one in the midst absorbs the powers of memory and thought.
Here is that Holy Cross on which did die the Lamb of God, the Altar on which was offered, once for all, the full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice for the sin of the whole world. Here is that gift which men prepared for their Saviour, in acknowledgment of what He had done for them, in testimony of their estimate of what He deserved to receive in return at their hands. On this hard frame of wood was He nailed up, a spectacle to the world and to angels and to men. There did He show the breadth of His love to sinners; there did He part from those whom, having loved in this world, He loved unto the end; and then, after going through such horror of great darkness as no fancy fathoms, did He announce the consummation of the end and yield up His spirit to the Father.
With thoughts and recollections of all this we now view that Cross, which stands, empty, silent, and portentous, in its place as the night creeps forward; and it speaks to us of many things, and its lessons sink into the soul and spirit, and they are for all ages and generations till the end.
For what does this Cross stand? What does it mean? Of what, as a symbol, does it preach? What truths does it tell, what falsehoods contradict, what hopes inspire? What things does this object teach us which no other object ever did or ever can? What in our life do we owe distinctly to the Cross as the representative of ideas, principles, motives without which our life would be undistinguishable from that of those who know not God? What and how much would go out of our life if the Cross were to cease and disappear, leaving for us other symbols and other inspirations?
Many are astray in this world; many wander; many are stumbling on the dark mountains. Many wait for light, but behold obscurity; for brightness, but they walk in darkness. They grope for the wall like the blind; they grope as if they had no eyes. They stumble at noonday as in the night. They are in desolate places, as dead men. We meet such persons every day. Now and then some of that number come to us and ask why we are not like themselves, what the Cross does for us, why we trust it as we do--men and women who would also have that peace if they could find it, that peace which none ever find away from Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. We would invite these seekers after the truth to come apart with us, and meditate of the meaning of the Cross.
Our Lord is seen by the bodily eye no more; He is gone into heaven, there to appear in the Presence of God for us; and, earnestly as we long for one view or even, might it be, for one glimpse of Him, to steady, support, help us on our way, the time for that is not come. But His symbol is always before our eyes. It is, strangely, stamped on many an object in the natural world. It reads itself into every man's experience, and tells him wondrous things in his listening soul. It is on the spires of churches; it is over the altars of His Presence; it is in our houses, our oratories; it is on the flags of many a Christian nation; it is a sign in earth, sea, and sky, which none can overlook. And it speaks; it tells truth; it reads lessons.
What is its voice I What are those truths? What are those lessons? Let us, in the twilight of Good Friday, and now in the Presence of the Lord, with His Eye upon us, try to answer those questions, for the good of our own souls, and for the help of those whom we perhaps may bring to Jesus out of the darkness and distraction of their life.
And to that end, and in order that we may better take in these lessons, it is proposed, in the meditations of this day, to look at the bare and silent Cross, and to hearken to the double voices which go from it. That Cross doth both bless and ban; it is both light and darkness. On one side, it gives the blessing of peace; on another side, it carries the curse of God.
We shall try to hear that twofold voice: to feel what the Cross is for good to the believer, and what for ill to the ungodly; its power to help, its power to cast down and overthrow; its preciousness to the men of faith, its dire utterance to those described as the enemies of the Cross of Christ, whose end is destruction.
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