[From Sermons, 2 vols. London, 1843, II: 258-88. Since readers will probably not be able to locate the print versions of this text, I have included page divisions of the original. Thus "276/277" indicates the end of page 276 and beginning of page 277 in the 1843 printing. -- George P. Landow, Professor of English and Art History, Brown University.]
"And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name: him they compelled to bear his cross." [MATT. XXVii. 32.]
THIS fact is also recorded, and almost in the same terms, by St. Mark and St. Luke; and we may think that three evangelists would scarcely have all inserted it in their narratives, had it not deserved more attention than it seems ordinarily to receive. The circumstance is not noticed by St. John, whose object. was rather to supply deficiencies in former gospels, than to repeat their statements. But St. John enables us better to understand the laying the cross upon Simon: for we could not determine from the three first evangelists whether or not it had been first laid upon Christ. This is an important point, as you will afterwards see: we could gather little or nothing from the fact that Simon was made to carry the cross, if we were not sure that it was first carried by Christ. But this is not affirmed either by St. Matthew, St. Mark, or St. Luke. These evangelists merely mention that th. soldiers, as they led away Jesus to crucify Him, met with Simon the Cyrenian, and compelled him to be the cross-bearer: but whatever we might have conjectured, or whatever we might have concluded from the usual practice of the Romans, we could not have been confident from this, that Christ had borne his cross till it was thus laid upon another.
But St. John, omitting all notice of Simon, expressly says of our Lord, " He, bearing his cross, went forth into a place, called the place of a skull." This is a beautiful instance of the nicety with which the fourth evangelist may be said to have observed what was wanting in the other three: he fills up, so to speak, a crevice, or puts in a link, so as to complete a narrative, or unite its scattered parts.
Combining the accounts of the several historians, we now know that when our Lord was given up by Pilate to the will of his enemies, the soldiers, as was the ordinary practice in regard of those sentenced to crucifixion, laid upon Him the cross whereon He was to die. After He had carried it a certain distance, the soldiers, for one reason or another, took it from Him, and placed it on a Cyrenian whom they happened to meet; and this Simon bore it to Calvary. We have no certain information as to [259/260] who Simon was, whether or not a disciple of Christ. He is mentioned by St. Mark as "the father of Alexander and Rufus:" but though this would seem to indicate that he and his family were well known at the time, it does not help us to determine particulars. The probability would seem to be, that he was at least disposed to favour Christ, and that this his disposition was matter of notoriety‹nothing is more likely than that it was on account of his attachment to Jesus, and for the sake therefore of exposing him to public ridicule, that the soldiers compelled him to carry the cross.
But allowing the probability that he was known to favour the cause of Christ, we have no means of ascertaining whether he were a Jew or a Gentile: for ecclesiastical history furnishes nothing respecting him beyond what is furnished by the evangelists. In the book indeed of the Acts of the Apostles, where the prophets and teachers in the Church of Antioch are enumerated, we have mention of "Simeon that was called Niger;" and many have imagined that this might be "Simon the Cyrenian" — the surname Niger, orblack, being thought to accord with the birthplace; for Cyrene was a city and province of Libya in Africa. If this identity were determined, there would be no doubt as to Simon's having been a Jew: but it is merely the resemblance in name which has led to the supposition; and even this resemblance is insufficient to support any theory; for the same Evangelist speaks of Simon the Cyrenian, and of Simeon, called [260/261] Niger. We must therefore be content to remain ignorant in regard of the individual who bore the cross of Christ; and w e may find that this ignorance will not interfere with the lessons to be drawn from the occurrence.
The occurrence itself, as we have already in- timated, is one which may be easily overlooked, but which perhaps only requires to be carefully considered in order to the being found full of interest and instruction. Let us then join ourselves to the multitude who are thronging round Jesus, as, with slow and fainting steps, He toils towards Calvary. There is a moment's pause: an individual is met, coming out of the country: the attendant soldiers seize him, and compel him to bear the cross which the Redeemer had hitherto carried. This is the incident which we are to ponder: we will go no further with the infuriated crowd; but, sitting down, will examine what truths and lessons may be derived from what has just been observed, namely, that "as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name: him they compelled to bear his cross."
Now it is very interesting to remark how the accomplishment of ancient prophecy seems often to have hung upon a thread, so that the least thing, a thought or a word, might have sufficed to prevent its occurrence. There are many predictions in reference to Christ, which could only be fulfilled by his enemies, and of which we might have expected that these enemies, anxious to disprove his claims, [261/262] would have been too shrewd to help the accomplish ment. The marvel is, that these enemies were not more on the alert; that they should have done, or allowed things which, on a moment's consideration, they might have seen to be evidences that Jesus was Messiah. One would have expected that, with prophecies in their hands which they themselves applied to the Christ, they would have taken pains to prevent, so far as possible, their apparent fulfilment in Jesus of Nazareth. And yet, as if judicially blinded, they themselves brought about the fulfilment, and that, too, in cases where prevention seemed quite in their power. Did they not know what Zechariah had predicted in reference to the price at which Christ wbuld be sold? and yet they sold Jesus for the very sum; a thought only being wanting, and one piece of money might have been added or taken off, and thus a noted prophecy have failed of accomplishment in Him whom they crucified. Thus again, how easy it would have been — and for men who were seeking to disprove the pretensions of Jesus, how natural — to take care that vinegar and gall should not be given Him on the cross, and that the soldiers should not part his garments amongst them, nor cast lots upon his vesture. There would have been no difficulty, in these and other similar respects, in hindering the fulfilment of prophecy: and the wonder is, that men, familiar with prophecy, accustomed to apply it to the Messiah, and eager at the same time to prove that Jesus was not the Messiah, should have [262/263] either effected or permitted the fulfilment, thus completing the evidence, which they had full power, as it seemed, to weaken or mutilate.
It is a striking proof of the thorough certainty with which God can reckon on every working of the human mind, that He should thus have put it into the power of the bitter enemies of Jesus to arrest the fulfilment of prophecies. He could so shape predictions that a single thought, and that the thought most likely to arise, would be enough to prevent their being accomplished in his Son; and yetbe as sure that every tittle would come accurately to pass, as if He had ordered it by a decree as abiding as Himself. It is not that God interfered, by any direct influence, to make men act as He had foretold that they would‹for this would be to suppose Him partaker in their wickedness, accomplishing as well as predicting. He left the enemies of Christ to themselves, quite at liberty to take their own course: but his prescience assured Him what that course would be; and, acting simply on his foreknowledge, He could place a prophecy within a hair-breadth, as we think, of being defeated, whilst its fulfilment was as certain as though it had occurred.
And we consider that we have in the narrative now under review an instance of prophecy thus accomplished, when it seemed within an ace of being unfulfilled. There is no mnre illustrious type of the Redeemer, presented in sacrifice to God, than Isaac [263-264] whom, at the Divine command, his father Abraham prepared to offer on Moriah. We have every reason for supposing that, in and through this typical oblation, God instructed the patriarch in the great truth of human redemption; so that it was as he stood by he altar, and lifted up his knife to slay his son, that Abraham discerned the shinings of Christ's day, and rejoiced in the knowledge of a propitiation for sin. And whatever the measure in which Abraham was instructed as to the figurative meaning of the offering up of Isaac, there can be no doubt with ourselves that herein was accurately pourtrayed the sacrifice of Christ — the sacrifice presented, in the fulness of time, on the very spot where Abraham was directed to immolate his son.
But it is among the most significant, perhaps, and certainly the most affecting, parts of the transaction, that Isaac was made to carry the wood on which he was to be presented in sacrifice to God. We read that "Abraham took the wood of the burnt-offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son." Are we to think that this was done without explicit direction from God? It is hardly credible. Abraham, full of tenderess towards Isaac, his whole soul yearning over the son of his love, and agonized by the command which he was hastening to obey, would not have laid the heavy burden on the lad, unless in conformity with an injunction from God. Of Abraham we are told, that he "took the fire in his hand, and a knife." So that the patriarch had [264/265] nothing but what was light to carry: the only burdensome thing — and it must have been burden- some, if there were wood enough for such a burnt-offering as Abraham expected‹was bound upon the child; incredible, we may say, had the father been left to himself: for the consciousness that he must soon pierce the heart of his son, would only make him more tender and affectionate till the fatal moment came. We take it therefore as expressly ordered by God, that the wood of the burnt-offering should be laid upon Isaac: it was a part of the type: and, taking the type as a prophecy, we might justly speak of a flaw in the fulfilment, were there nothing that answered to it in the oblation of Christ. And to those who knew nothing of the exact mode in which Christ was to suffer, this might have seemed one of the obscurest portions of the type: how the sacrifice could carry the wood on which he was to die, was a question that could hardly be answered, until it was known that the death would be the death of the cross.
But the type was thoroughly fulfilled in this singular particular, when our Lord was led forth, carrying his cross. Thls was, to the letter, Isaac, bearing the wood for the burnt-offering. Yet how near was the prophecy to the being defeated! It was only for a part of the way that Christ carried the cross. The soldiers then took it from Him, and placed it on another. And they might at the first have seized on some bystander and given him the burden. It [265/266] could not have been indispensable that Christ should bear it Himself: for, on such supposition, they would hardly have transferred the load. And if any of the Pharisees or scribes, remembering the typical history of Isaac, and determining that it should not foreshadow that of Jesus, had suggested to the soldiery, perhaps with affected compassion, that it might be as well to lay the cross on another, it is probable enough that they would have acted on the suggestion, and done that at first which they were ready to do after a little delay. So near may the type have been to the being unfulfilled; so little may have been wanting to prevent the accomplishment of a signal prediction. But God, who could speak through his servant Zechariah of thirty pieces of silver as the price of the Messiah, and be confident that a prophecy, which He made it easy to defeat, would be fulfilled to the very letter, could command also the wood to be bound upon Isaac, and know that, notwithstanding the palpable character of the type, the cross would be bound upon Christ.
And this is the first reflection which we have to make, as we see that Simon the Cyrenian is constrained to carry the cross after Christ. Had we met the procession when a little further advanced, we might have said, This suffering man, who is led forth to death, cannot possibly be Messiah, the antitype to Isaac; for he does not bear the wood on which He is to die. But now we have beheld the transfer of the cross: we know that it was not laid [266-267] upon Simon, until it had been carried by Christ, until, that is, the type had been fulfilled, and Isaac had reappeared in a greater than himself. And it is the transfer of the cross which makes so remarkable the fulfilment of the type. Had Christ borne the cross to the end, we mlght have thought it a matter of course that the type should be fulfilled, regarding the fulfilment as assured by the known customs of a Roman execution. But the fulfilment is here in jeopardy: it lasted only a portion of the time: it might therefore have not occurred at all: caprice on the part of the soldiers, or design upon that of the scribes, might have entirely prevented it. And I seem to have before me a beautiful evidence how the foreknowledge of God can assure Him of the minutest particulars, of every turn of human thought, of every motion of the human will, when I find that Jesus did indeed come forth bearing his cross, and therefore accomplishing an illustrious prediction, but that shortly afterwards, in the course, for ought I know, of a very few minutes, the soldiers laid hold on one Simon, a Cyrenian, and compelled him to carry the cross after Christ.
But what induced the fierce and brutal soldiers to grant the Redeemer this little indulgence, and relieve Him for a time from the burden of the cross ? We have already supposed that Simon the Cyrenian was laid hold of, on account of his being known to favour Christ's cause, and partly, therefore, with the design of exposing him to ridicule. But it is not [267-268] be imagined that this was the only, nor even the chief, reason. Had not the condition of Christ been such as to suggest, in some sense, the necessity of relieving Him of the load, we can hardly think that the cross would have been removed. It may have been that even the soldiers were moved to something like pity, as they saw the Redeemer tottering beneath the weight. It may have been that they feared, that, if they now goaded on :the innocent sufferer, death would ensue before they reached the place of execution, and rob them of their viGtim. Or it may have been that those who were eager to crucify the Saviour were impatient of delay; his feeble steps were too slow for their malice; and they urged the removal of the cross, that they might accelerate the time of his being fastened to it with the nails.
But in any case, it must have been the exhausted condition of our Lord which gave occasion to the removal of the cross: it was transferred to Simon, because, to all appearance, Christ was unable to bear it to Calvary. And this is just that incidental notice which supplies the place of lengthened narrative, and lets us in, as it were, to the greatness of the Mediator's endurances. You cannot fail to be struck, when you read the accounts of the crucifixion, with the utter absence of those expressions of pain, or assertions of suffering, which abound in mere human histories of some tragic occurrence. If you except that most thrilling [268/269] exclamation, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" there is nothing whatsoever uttered by the suffering Redeemer, from wllich you can conclude that He suffered at all. And even this exclamation indicated mental, rather than bodily anguish: the deep and piteous cry was wrunlg from Christ, not by the tortures of crucifixion, but by the hiding, the eclipse, of the countenance of his Father. Indeed, it is also recorded by St. John, that Jesus, as He hung on the cross, exclaimed, "I thirst;" and this may be taken as an expression of corporeal suffering. But it is very observable, that the Evangelist distinctly states that Jesus said this, in order "that the Scripture might be ful- filled," for the sake of effecting the accomplishment of the prediction, "And in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink." It seems implied by St. John, that Christ would have said nothing as to his thirst, had He not remembered a prophecy which was yet unaccomplished, so that the exlamation is hardly to be given in proof of the greatness of bodily anguish.
And it might not be very difficult to arrange something like a plausible theory that the Redeemer was incapable of suffering in the body: for it is evident enough that He did not die through any extremity of nature; He was not exhausted, but voluntarily breathed out his soul: and when you add this to the fact, that not a word escaped Him from which we can certainly gather that He suffered [269/270] in the flesh, there might certainly seem some ground for supposing, that, though He bore a human form, He was not accessible to human pain. And we need not stay to show you how fatal such a supposition would be to the whole Christian system: for you all know, that, had not Christ been, in the strictest sense, a man, a man like one of ourselves, sin only excepted, He could not have acted as our surety in turning away from us the anger of God. But a man like one of ourselves He could not have been, unless, like one of ourselves, He had been accessible to pain, so as to feel, and to suffer keenly in feeling, the scourging, and the buffeting, and the driving of. the nails. It seems therefore as if it would be inexpressibly valuable to us, were it only submitting to the fearful processes of crucifixion. Had but the least sign of anguish escaped Him — of bodily anguish; for mental is quite another thing; He evinced this in the garden as well as on the cross; but it was purely mental, and proved nothing as to his flesh; — had then the least sign of bodily anguish escaped Him, a look, a cry, a convulsive start, and had it been mentioned by Evangelists, it would have served to identify the Redeemer with ourselves, to make us feel that He was indeed "bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh." But a crucifixion without the slightest manifestation of pain, nay, with such manifestation of superiority to pain, that the crucified one could [270/271] count over what prophecies yet remained to be accomplished, give directions as to a home for his mother, and determine at what rmoment his soul should depart; this almost looks as though He who hung upon the cross had no feeling of the torture; and how then could He have been my kinsman in all but depravity, my brother in all but my guilt?
But here the incident, on which we are discoursing, comes in, and scatters all doubt. I could not spare this incident: it just serves to assure me of the bodily sufferings of Christ: it is to me what an extorted groan would have been, a decisive witness, that the marvellous patience of the Redeemer in no degree indicated that He did not feel in the flesh. For why is the cross taken from Him, and placed upon Simon? Because He could scarcely advance, so exhausted was He with what He had endured, and so oppressed by the burden. He had alread been scourged and buffeted. He had been smitten on the head with a reed: his brow had been pierced with the thorns: cruel insults had been heaped upon Him; for the soldiers had arrayed Him in purple, and bowed tauntingly before Him," saying, Hail, king of the Jews." And there is not the least hint given by the Evangelists, that, throughout this fierce and ignominious treatment, He gave any indication of pain: He might have been more than a stoic, indifferent to pain; He might have been of a nature which was incapable of pain. But when [271/272] the cross was laid upon Him, and, after a time, He grew faint beneath the load — ah, then was it seen how what He passed through told upon the body: He had felt, if He had not shown his feeling; and now as He tottered feebly on, almost prostrated by his burden, a sinking sufferer whose every step seemed likely to be his last, indeed, indeed, it was evident that He was but a man, in the having flesh which could quiver, if He were more than a man in his power over body and soul. And thus is the incident narrated in our text, and which may be easily passed by with but cursory notice, most consolatory to those who seek to be assured that the Mediator "suffered, being tempted," and that the mysterious fact of his combining in one person the Divine nature and the human, did not exempt Him from such capacity of pain as might qualify Him to sympathize with the groaning and oppressed.
We tell you again, we could not spare this incident: it would leave a gap in the evangelical histories, which it would be quite beyond our power to fill. We have indeed evidence that Christ could hunger, and thirst, and be weary; and all such evidence is most precious, as testifying to the real humanity of the Saviour. But nevertheless, the evidence is far from being considerable: and if you get it against the account of a crucifixion, in which there is not the least proof that any pain was felt, you might find it hard to furnish a convincing demonstration that Christ suffered in the body like [272/273] one of ourselves. What we want is a clear witness, that He was no more incapable of bodily pain than any other of our race: but just where you woul most naturally look for this uitness, in the record of those endurances through which He presented Him self in sacrifice to God, you cannot find it in th very lowest degree, if you remove the account of the bearing the cross. I look with a sort of fearfulness and awe upon the Mediator, as malice and cruelty seem unable to wring from Him a sigh or a groan. I gaze in utter amazement, as He is lacerated by stripes, stricken by rude hands, baited by the rabble, and yet suffers no sign to escape Him that He feels the wounds, and writhes under the indignities. And as He is nailed to the cross, and then that cross, straining under its living burden, is lifted from the earth, and made to quiver in its socket, I can but expect the low moan of anguish, if not the wild and piercing shriek; and it startles me more, that there should be deep, sepulchral, silence, than had the air been rent with the cries of the sufferer. Is this man, as well as God, over whom pain would seem to have no power? Is his humanity any thing more than a phantom? is it real, if thus, to all appearance, inaccessible to pain? Ah, it is not inaccessible to pain: the scourging has been felt, the driving of the nails has been felt, the fixing the cross has been felt. If yonder victim have power to suppress the indications of agony, his agony is not the less actual, not the less intense. [273/274] He has already shown that He feels what He endures. He has already given evidence enough to assure the most doubtful, that He is verily a man, with all a man's susceptibilities, his consciousness of pain, his capacity of being tortured. For as He came out from the city, bearing his cross, so worn down was He by his sufferings, so faint with loss of blood, so exhausted by fatigue, that even his remorseless enemies either pitied Him, or feared that He would die before He was crucified: "the soldiers found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name, and him they compelled to bear his cross."
Now hitherto we have considered the incident of the transfer of the cross, with reference exclusively to our Saviour; examining it first in connexion with an ancient type, and then as illustrating the reality of those sufferings through which Christ made atonement for the sins of the world. We have not yet treated the incident as itself typical or symbolical; though we can hardly doubt that an event, which has apparently so much of significance, was designed to be received by us as a parable, and interpreted as a lesson to the Church.
It can hardly fail to occur to you, that, on more than one occasion, Christ had spoken of taking up and carrying the cross, when He wished to represent what would be required of his disciples. "And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me." "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his [274/275] cross, and follow me." "Go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow me." There cannot well be doubt, that, in adopting this peculiar imagery, in making the bearing of the cross the test of discipleship, our Lord had respect to his own crucifixion: the metaphor, the figure of speech, was one whose use must have arisen from the death which He foreknew that He should die. And it is only in consistence with the uniform course of our Saviour's public teaching, that we should expect the same lesson in significative emblems or actions as we find delivered in his sermons or conversations. You are all aware that miracles served as parables; that much which Christ was in the habit of asserting in words, He set forth figuratively in those actions which attested Him to be a teacher commissioned by God. The miracles were thus not only his credentials as a Prophet: they declared the subject matter of his teaching, as well as substantiated his authority to teach. And if the duty of taking up the cross, frequently urged as it was in the discourses of Christ, had been one which admitted of being readily set forth in his miracles, we may believe that we should long before have had its figurative as well as its verbal announcement. But as Christ was literally to bear his cross only once, there may have been nothing to suggest, or give occasion for, the typical exhibition until that day of [275/276] wonder and of fear, when He was delivered to the will of his enemies. Then however was it ordered that the truth, so often urged in discourse, should be displayed in significant action: when the Redeemer has literally a cross to bear, that cross is also literally borne by one of his adherents.
And we do not know whether the figurative lesson ought not to be considered as going beyond the verbal. What the Saviour had spoken of, and what He had enjoined, was simply the bearing the cross — the performing duties, and the submitting to endurances, from which nature might be averse, but which were appointed unto those who would gain eternal life. He had not spoken of his own cross as that which his disciples were to carry: but now, before He departs from the world, He would teach them that they must not only bear some cross or another, if they would follow Him to glory, but that very cross which He carried Himself. And it may be in reference to this, to the sameness of the cross borne by the Master and the disciples, that St. Paul uses a very remarkable expression in writing to the Colossians: "I fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the Church." There was no deficiency in the afflictions of Christ, so far as they were pro- pitiatory; and if there had been, no Apostle, and no company of Apostles, could have filled up that which was-behind. Yet this is what St. Paul represents himself as doing; and we can only understand him [276/277] as speaking of his afflictions, as arising from the same causes, and endured for the same ends, as those of the Redeemer, and moreover as necessary to the Church — not indeed in the sense of expiating its guilt, but in that of being instrumental to the adding to its numbers. St. Paul, like Christ, was persecuted for righteousness' sake: like Christ, he submitted to persecution, for the purpose of benefiting others; therefore his sufferings might be spoken of as a part of that aggregate of woe, which had to be sustained in order to the salvation of the body, the Church. So that the representation of the Apostle in regard of himself; is precisely that which we might draw from Christ's last instance of symbolical teaching — the disciple bore the cross which his master had borne; even as that laid upon Simon, had been carried by Christ.
Let not the symbolical lesson be hastily dismissed, as though it were not important enough to be carefullly pondered, or as though we were too familiar with it to require that it be often repeated. There is no greater mistake than that which would represent it as an easy thing to attain eternal life. Just because Christianity is the revelation of a free pardon to transgressors, the announcement of a wondrous interposition of Deity on our behalf — an interposition through which there has been provided for the guilty, without money and without price, whatsoever is required to their full justification -therefore is it surmised that there is little, if any [277/278] thing, for the guilty to do, and that salvation asks no effort, seeing that confessedly no effort could deserve it. But again and again must the protest be delivered against a theory so opposed to the Gospel, and so fatal to the soul. There are such things as conditions of salvation: it is not legalizing, it is not frustrating the grace of God, to assert and insist on conditions of salvation. Salvation is a free gift: let the tongue cleave to the roof of the mouth, rather than give utterance to a syllable which shall seem to impeach the freeness of the gift. But the gift is bestowed only upon those who "by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory, honour, and immortality." Since it is still a gift, it cannot be the "patient continuance" which procures it: for then it would be debt, and no longer gift. The "patient continuance" however is required of all who hope for the gift, required as a condition, a condition without which God does not please to bestow, but which, in no degree whatsoever, obliges Him to bestow, and which therefore, when most rigidly performed, takes not one tittle away from the unlimited freeness of the gift. And thus with all its gratuitousness, with all its assertion of human insufficiency, and all its proffers of forgiveness and righteousness, the Gospel lays an unceasing demand on every energy, requiring of us that we work out with fear and trembling," that salvation for ourselves, which we thankfully confess to have been wrought out for us by Christ. [278/279]
In short, the bearing the cross is revealed as the indispensable prerequisite to the wearing the crown. And the memorable thing is, that it is Christ's cross which must be borne. You are not to think that every cross is the cross which the Saviour requires you to take up. Many a cross is of our own manufacture: our troubles are often but the consequences of our sins, and we may not dignify these by supposing them the cross which is to distinguish the Christian. Crosses they may be; but they are not the cross which was laid upon Simon, and which had first been on Christ. The cross of Christ is endurance for the glory of God, and the furtherance of the Gospel: "this is thankworthy," saith St. Peter, "if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully." It is something more than self-denial, though frequently spoken of as though it were the same; for our Lord distinguishes them when He says, in words already quoted, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." We read of the Apostles of Christ, that they rejoiced that "they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name," ‹and this was both bearing his cross, and feeling it an honour to bear it. So that he alone bears Christ's cross who suffers in his cause, who has troubles to endure simply because he is a Christian.
And be ye thoroughly assured, that "the offence of the cross" has not ceased. He who glories in the cross of Christ, will certainly find that cross laid upon [279/280] himself. He cannot separate from the world without incurring the frown and derision of the world; and these are but the modern forms of persecution, less virulent indeed than the ancient, but often to the filll as galling and oppressive. And if there be one of you who is not aware that he has a cross of this kind to carry, that religion exposes him to any measure of obloquy, contempt, or opposition, let him rather fear that he is not a real Christian, than question whether Christ's cross have indeed been transferred to his disciples. You may not have the cross: but it should suggest to you the enquiry, Can I be a disciple? And further, let the followers of Christ learn, that nothing whatsoever is to be gained by those compromises which may be made with the hope of conciliating the world. If you truly belong to Christ, you must bear the fFown of the world; and all that you will get by evading, or trying to disarm it, is, that, when it comes, as come it must, it will be all the severer for having been shunned. Where had Simon the Cyrenian been, whilst Christ was enduring shame and indignity? Not in Jerusalem: he was met, as St. Mark states, "coming out of the country." Supposing him a disciple, he ought to have remained with Christ in his hour of danger: but he had probably gone out of the way, wishing to let the storm blow over before he shewed himself in the city: and now he may have been returning, calculating that the worst was past, and that no harm could happen to him from his [280/281] reputed adherence to Christ. This was dec]ining the cross; and the short-sighted policy met a full retribution. He is compelled to bear the cross. The soldiers seize him, the multitude scoff him; and he has perhaps a thousandfold more to sus- tain than had he not thought to ward off, by a cowardly absence, wllat in one form or another a Christian must bear, or be a Christian in nothing but name.
Be ye certain, then, not only that, if Christians, you must carry Christ's cross, but that you make it all the heavier by avoiding it when it lies in the clear path of duty. There is no such way of incurring shame as the being ashamed of Christ. For if you be not left, in just judgment on your cowardice and desertion, to harden into mere nominal disciples, of whom Christ will be ashamed when He cometh with his angels, you may be sure that you shall be punished with an aggravated measure of the very contempt which you have thought to avoid. Even the world respects consistency: and its bitterest scorn is for those who have tried to disarm it by concealing, if not abjuring, their principles. Simon might have remained in Jerusalem, and then have followed Christ to Calvary with but little observation: but forasmuch as he is met, " coming out of the country," he shall be the sport of the rabble, a mark for universal ridicule and scorn.
And yet even in his case, there is one other particular which should be noted for the comfort of the Church. The cross was carried by Christ, before it [281/282] was carried by Simon. The arrangement might have been different: the disciple might have borne the burden the first part of the way, and then it might have been laid on the Master. But our comfort is, that the cross which we must carry has been already carried by Christ, and therefore, like the grave which He entered, been stripped of its hatefulness. It might almost be said to have changed its nature through being laid on the Son of God: it left behind it its terribleness, its oppressiveness: and now, as transferred to the disciple, it is indeed a cross, but a cross which it is a privilege to bear, a cross which God never fails to give strength to bear, a cross which, as leading to a crown, may justly be prized, so that we would not have it off our shoulders, till the diadem is on our brow. "If ye be reproached for the name of Christ" — and this is the cross — "happy are ye; for the Spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you." O see ye not, then, how eloquent and comprehensive a homily was delivered through the simple incident related in our text? It is one of Christ's last and most impressive sermons. He would not leave the world without furnishing a standing memorial, that his disciples must bear the same cross as Himself, inasmuch as, like Himself, they must endure the world's hatred as champions and examples of truth. And together with this memorial He would shew, by a powerful instance, that, in religion, a temporizing policy is sure to defeat itself, so that to fly from the cross is commonly to meet it, dilated in size, and heavier [282/283] in material. But He had one more truth to represent at the same time — the beautiful, comforting truth, that He has borne what his followers have to bear, and thereby so lightened it, that, as with death, which He made sleep to the believer, the burden but quickens the step towards the "exceeding and eternal weight of glory." And that He might effect and convey all this through one great significant action, it was ordered, we may believe, that, as they led away Jesus, carrying like Isaac the wood for the burnt-offering, the soldiers laid hold on one Simon, a Cyrenian, coming out of the country, and him they compelled to bear his cross.
And is this all that was typically represented b the laying of the cross on Simon the Cyrenian? Indeed we ought never to press a type too far: it is easy, by indulging the imagination, to injure or bring into discredit the whole of the figurative lesson. Yet there is one thing more which we would venture to advance, though we may not speak with the same confidence as when asserting that Christ taught by action, as He had before taught by word, that his disciples must suffer with Him, if they ever hope to reign. We have already mentioned our inability to ascertain any particulars respecting Simon, or even to determine whether he were a Jew or a Pagan. Many of the ancient fathers suppose him to have been a Pagan and consider that, in being made to bear the cross after Christ, He typified the conversion of idolatrous nations which either have been [283/284] or will be brought to a profession of faith in our Lord. And there are no such reasons against this opinion as can require its rejection, nor such even as can shew that the weight of probability is on the -opposite side. We must be therefore at liberty to entertain the opinion, and, at least, to point out the inferences which would follow on supposition of its truth.
But once let it be considered that Simon was a Pagan, and our text becomes one of those bright, prophetic lines which shoot through centuries of gloom, giving promise of a morning, if they cannot scatter night. It is not the single fact of his having been a heathen on which we would now fasten: for there are scriptural assertions in abundance, that the heathen have been given to Christ for an inheritance, and that all the ends of the earth shall yet look to Him'as a Saviour; so that if the laying of the cross upon Simon merely intimated prophetically the conversion of the Gentiles, it would be but one in a series of predictions, and might not claim any special attention. But Simon was a Cyrenian — this is carefully noted by each of the three evangelists — and Cyrene, as we mentioned in commencing our discourse, was a city and province of Africa. Then it was on an African that the cross was laid‹on an inhabitant, a native, of that country which, from the earliest days, has been burdened with a curse; the malediction pronounced upon Ham, "a servant of servants shall he be unto his [284/285] brethren," having been fearfully exacted, so that those sprung from the second son of Noah have, all along, been ground down and trampled on by the descendants of the other two.
Africa — the very name is sufficient to call up a blush, wheresoever there are the feelings of a man. The wrongs of the negro fill perhaps the darkest page in the history of our race. But whilst those who have oppressed the Africans have been just as criminal as though the oppression had not been distinctly predicted, it is vain to shut our eyes to the fact, that the period has not yet closed during which, by Divine appointment, this tribe of human kind is to be injured and enslaved. Those philanthropic individuals acted nobly and well, who fought in this country the battle of the slave, and would not rest till the senate branded and proscribed the traffic in human sinew and bone. And our country did gloriously when she threw down her millions as a ransom, resolving to extinguish slavery in her colonies, but to maintain, at the same time, good faith and justice. We speak of all this as noble and excellent, because we believe it to have been our duty as Christians to set ourselves against slavery as hostile to the spirit of the Gospel, and to attempt this duty at all costs, and, what is more, all risks. But if we were to argue from consequences, in place of from principles, we might almost hesitate to rejoice that the attack upon slavery had ever been made. Notwithstanding all that has been done for [285/286] Africa, Africa, alas! is as wretched as ever, as much rifled of her children, as though the ancestral curse were not yet worn out, and, whilst it were in force, the effort to benefit could only work injury. But is this to continue? Undoubtedly not, — for every prophecy which asserts the universal diffusion of Christianity must be considered as announcing a time when the wrongs of Africa shall terminate, and her tortured children enter into the liberty of the sons of God.
But where there is special wretchedness one seems to crave a special prophecy. It is such a trial of faith to find that we seem unable to do anything for Africa, her vast deserts being still the grave of all who would explore them, and the bondage of her children only growing with efforts for their emancipation, that we long for specific predictions, assuring us that Africa is not excluded from the promised glory, but will throw off every shackle, whether of the mind or the body. There are such predictions. "Princes shall come out of Egypt; the Morian's land shall soon stretch out her hands unto God." "Behold, Philistia and Tyre, with Ethiopia; this man was born there." "The labour of Egypt, and merchandize of Ethiopia and of the Sabeans, men of stature, shall come over unto thee, and they shall be thine." I rejoice in prophecies which tell of blessings for Ethiopia. I remember the question, "Can the Ethiopian change his skin?" and I feel that these prophecies belong to the negro. When [286/287] the eunuch of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, goes on his way rejoicing because believing in Jesus, I seem to have a pledge of mercy in store for the negro. But all this hardly comes up to the measure of the case. O for an ampler prophecy, a more express type. There is scarce enough in such passing intimations as these, to sustain the faith which is staggered by the increasing wretchedness of Africa, and its undiminished wickedness. Then let us go and look on the Redeemer as He toils towards Calvary. Who is it that, in the ordering of Providence, has been appointed to carry his cross? A Cyrenian, an African. I read the prophecy, I apprehend the type. Land, that hath long been accursed, whose children have verily been the servants of servants, over which hath hung so ponderous a gloom, that those most hopeful of improvement in human condition have almost turned from thee in despair — bright times await thee. Thou art not in bondage for ever: thy chains shall yet be dashed away: the star of Bethlehem, the sun of righteousness, shall yet break upon thy provinces and gleam in thy waters: the anthem which ascribes praise, and glory, and honour to the Lamb that was slain, shall float through thy forests, and be echoed by thy mountains. Not without a meaning was one of thy sons selected to bear the cross after Christ, and thus to fill a post ta which the martyrs and confessors of every age of Christianity have counted it their highest honour to succeed. It was as though to tell us that [287/288] even Africa shall yet be brought to the discipleship of Jesus. Europe gave not this type of the Gentile world submitting itself to Christ. Asia was not permitted to own the favoured individual. America, as yet unknown to the rest of the earth, might not send the representative of heathenism. Africa is the privileged country: an African follows Jesus — oh, the darkness of many generations seems scattered; and I rejoice in the assurance that the land of slaves shall be the home of freedom, the land of misery the home of happiness, the land of idolatry the home of Christianity, when I observe that it was one Simon, a Cyrenian, whom the soldiers seized and constrained to bear the cross after Christ.
Added 1999; last modified 4 April 2015