The Offense of the Cross
This updated and revised manuscript is copyrighted ã 2000 by Tony Capoccia. All rights reserved.
“Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished.” [Galatians 5:11]
The religion of Jesus is the most peaceful, mild, and benevolent religion that was ever propagated. When we compare it with any set of dogmas invented by men, there is not one of them that can stand the least comparison with it for gentleness, mildness, and love. As for the Muslim religion, it is the religion of the vulture; but the religion of Jesus is that of the dove-all is mercy, all is mild; it is, like its Founder, an embodiment of pure benevolence, grace, and truth.
And yet, strange to say, gentle as the gospel is, and inoffensive as its professors have always proved themselves to be, when they have acted rightly-not resisting evil, but submitting to it, whatever it might be-yet there has never been anything which has caused more disturbance in the world than the Christian religion. It is not a sword, and yet it has brought war into the world; it is not a fire, and yet it has consumed many old institutions, and has burned much that men thought would last forever; it is the gospel of peace, and yet it has separated the dearest of friends, and caused terrible feuds and confusions everywhere. Though in itself it is all gentleness, yet it seems as if the flag of the peace were the battle flag, and as if raising up the peaceful cross had been the signal for war, like the blood-red fiery cross, which in the past they passed through Scotland, to summon the clans to battle. Strange, yet strangely true is it, that the cross of Christ has always been an offense, and that it has provoked the fiercest battles and the severest strifes which men have ever had with their fellowmen.
In considering our text, I will, first, discuss with you a little concerning what “the offense of the cross” is; secondly, how men show their offense against the cross; thirdly, I will have a little to say to those who are offended by the cross, to show them their folly; and, lastly, I will conclude with an inference or two, for the special benefit of Christian ministers, and the Church at large.
I. First, let us answer the question, WHAT EXACTLY IS “The OFFENSE OF THE
Our limited time prohibits any attempt to be elaborate, and we begin by saying that “the offense of the cross” lies, first, in the way in it deals with all human wisdom.
The philosopher looks at the cross, and then says, “I cannot see anything wonderful in it, even though I can see more clearly than the poor, humble peasant; I do not care about such a system of religion as that; any simpleton can understand the cross.” So he passes by, and merely sneers at it.
The man who loves controversy comes to the gospel, and finds that there is in it pure stubbornness. Such things are said to be true, and sinners must believe them, or else be damned. “I will not do so” he says; “I will not yield implicit faith to the gospel; I like disputing on points of doctrine; I like contradicting them; I will not listen to your preacher who says, ‘This is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.’ I will not listen to the man who speaks so authoritatively; I like men who will give me enough room to doubt, who let me believe what I like; I prefer to use my reason and common sense.” When you come to talk with him about the religion which says, “Believe that, or else be lost; believe that, or else be shut out of the light of salvation;” he turns on his heel, and says, “I will not believe any such thing.” And when he asks what it is he is to believe, he professes himself to be wiser even than the Word of God. “What!” says he “believe in the atonement? I can’t; it is contrary to my common sense. Believe the doctrine of election? Why, it shocks my humanity! Believe in the total depravity of human nature, and the impossibility of being saved without being born again? Why, I cannot receive such teaching for a single moment. It is contrary to all that I have ever been taught, and different from what any philosopher would ever have invented; so I will not receive it.” And he turns away with an abhorrence of the cross. He cannot stand it because of its great simplicity. If he could describe it as being so wonderful that he could by no means make the common people comprehend it, and that it was only because of his gigantic intellect that he was able to understand it himself, he would not mind accepting it; but as it is so plain and simple, he turns away from it in disgust. He cannot bear the gospel of the cross; it does not have enough worldly wisdom in it for him; and he either does not know or he forgets that the knowledge of Christ crucified is the most excellent of all the sciences, and that never is reason so glorified as when it humbly sits down under the shadow of the cross.
But there is something in the cross of Christ which hurts men’s pride even
more than this, and that is, it is opposed to all their ideas of human ability.
The man who is relying on his own strength for salvation, does not like the doctrine of the cross. If anyone preaches a gospel which tells the sinner that he has power to save himself; if he preaches a gospel which says that Christ died to put all men in a “savable” condition, that they only have to exercise the power they have, and they will be able to deliver themselves; if a man preaches something which exalts the skill and strength of the creature, he will never, never offend his unregenerate listeners. But if he starts to cast the sinner down in the dust, and to teach what Christ himself taught, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him;” and that, in the Scriptures, all men are declared to be “dead in transgressions and sins;” then the proud sinner will turn away, and say, “I am not going to be so insulted, as to have all my powers leveled to the ground! Am I to be made into a mere machine, or into a piece of clay, and to lie passive in the Potter’s hands? I will not submit to such an indignity.” If the minister will give him a little to do himself, and let him sacrifice a little to his own idol, he will drink down the false doctrine as the ox drinks down water; but since we tell him he is powerless, like the poor bleeding man when the Samaritan met him, he says, “I will have nothing to do with you.”
And again the cross offends men and women, because it is contrary to their ideas of human worth.
There is not a soul in all the world that, by nature, loves to be stripped of all worth. No! the last thing a man likes to part with is his righteousness. I have known poor sinners stand on Sinai’s top until their knees knocked together, yet they have clung to their self-righteousness even there. I have known men stand where God’s earthquakes were shaking the ground under their feet, and the thunder and lightning were playing above their heads; yet they still held fast their self-righteousness. It is a hard thing to get that away from men. You know how Bunyan says, in his book Pilgrims Progress, that when Great-heart killed Giant Despair, the giant “had, as they say, as many lives as a cat;” and I am sure that self- righteousness has many more lives than that; it is the hardest thing in the world to kill. You may cut and pull out the evil weed of self-righteousness; but when you think you have gotten the last bit of its root, it will be shooting up again before you can sharpen your knife to cut it out once more. This evil thing is bred in man’s nature. When you preach against it, see how men will snarl at you; they cannot stand that doctrine.
I sometimes receive letters from persons who say, “We wouldn’t be surprised if your entire congregation were living in sin, because you are always preaching against man’s righteousness, and inviting poor sinners to come to Christ by simple faith, and be saved by grace alone.” I daresay they would not be surprised if such a thing were to happen; but I would be surprised if my people, as a whole, did, in fact, live in sin, and I bless God that I have no reason to wonder about that matter, for a holier people you will not find this side heaven than those who receive into their hearts the doctrine of Christ’s imputed righteousness. This I will say of them, that grace has produced in them good fruits, such that they do walk in the fear of the Lord, in love to one another, and in the practice of honesty and godliness. But men of the world cannot stand this teaching, because it makes nothing of the worth of which they think so much about. Tell men that they are very good people; they will like to hear that. Give people a good reason to be proud of themselves, and they will like to listen to you; but that pride is the ruin of thousands and thousands of people. I am sure it is only when we begin to say,
“I’m a poor sinner, and only Jesus Christ is everything to me,”
that we are saved. But as long as we are content with ourselves in our
natural sinful condition, there is not the slightest hope for us. So, you see,
this is “the offense of the cross,” that we do not let men trust in their
But there is another offense, which is a very painful one, and the world has never yet forgiven the cross for that “offense”-the offense that the cross will not recognize any distinctions between mankind.
The cross makes moral and immoral persons go to heaven by the same road; the cross makes rich and poor enter heaven by the same door; the cross makes the philosopher and peasant walk on the same highway of holiness; the cross procures the same crown for the poor creature with one talent that the man with ten talents will receive. Therefore, the wise man says, “What! am I to be saved by the same cross which saves a man who does not even know the alphabet?” The very rich and sophisticated lady asks, “Am I to be saved in the same fashion as my servant-girl?” The gentleman says, “Am I to be saved the same way as the common laborer?” And he who boasts of his self-righteousness cries, “What! am I to walk close to a prostitute, to be side by side with a drunkard on the road to heaven? Then, I will not go to heaven at all.” Then, sir, you will be lost. There are not two roads to heaven; it is the same road for everyone who goes there; and therefore, the cross has always been offensive to men of wealth, knowledge, and power-very few kings and queens have ever bent humbly before it. Men have covered up the cross with some fine decoration, and they have said that they loved it; but it was not the cross they cared for, rather it was the religious ornament.
II. This brings me now to tell you, in the second place, HOW PERSONS SHOW THEIR OFFENSE AGAINST THE CROSS OF CHRIST.
In times past, they did it by burning, torturing, and tormenting Christians, making them suffer all kinds of indescribable agonies. But that method did not satisfy, so the devil adopts other measures now. He found that the more he oppressed them, like Israel in Egypt, the more they multiplied; so now he acts in another way. How does he do it? Not exactly by open persecution; but “the offense of the cross” shows itself, sometimes, by private persecution. Not all of you hear of the persecution that is going on with regard to the Lord’s people. Every now and then, things of this sort come to my attention, though you may not know of them. So many drunken husbands persecute their wives almost incessantly because of their wife’s deep love for God! Many young men and women are called to suffer persecution from father and mother and sister and brother, because of Christ! Persecution is not over yet; it works in a sly way, and not openly before the world. It is not openly displayed in our cities, as it was in the past, though there may be many houses in our neighborhoods that reeks of it. It does not display its true colors, but watches for its prey in a covert way. It is not the lion, but the prowling jackal, though it is as wild and as ravenous as ever. And when persecution does not display itself in positive acts, it operates by means of jeers and scoffs, and by the shrug of the shoulder; and, let me say, more men have been ruined by this practice than by the severest slanders. Men who shrug their shoulders generally do a great deal more harm then they may be aware of. Recently, when sitting at dinner, I had mentioned a person’s name, and someone shrugged his shoulders, and said, “Oh!”-well, with that shrug and word the man’s character was half gone. If the person had anything to say against the other, why couldn’t he simply state it clearly, and not leave us in the dark to guess all kinds of iniquities? Another man will say, “I don’t wish to persecute you; you can go to church as often as you like;” yet there is on his face the cold sneer, and on his lip the cruel jest or slander; every idle rumor is circulated, and everything that can be invented against the minister of the gospel and against Christian people-all still showing that there is now, as there was in the days of the apostles, an “offense of the cross.”
But I will tell you what Satan’s favorite scheme is nowadays; it is not to oppose the cross, but to surround the cross, and try to get the cross to alter its shape a little.
Men who hate the doctrines of the cross, say, “We, too, preach the gospel.” They alter it; they misshape it; they make it “another gospel, which is no gospel at all.” Let others say, if they will, that yes and no can meet together; that fire and water can kiss each other; that Christ and Belial can be twins: the true minister of Jesus Christ cannot do that. Truth is truth; and whatever is the opposite of it cannot be truth. That which opposes truth must certainly be error and falsehood. But it is the fashion nowadays to try to blend the two things together.
Look at many of the churches; they say that they hold the truth. Look at their doctrines; there you will find all the five points of Calvinism. And if you ask the ministers whether they believe in the doctrine of election? “Certainly,” they reply. If you ask them whether they believe all the great cardinal truths of the gospel; they say, “Oh, yes, certainly we believe them; but we don’t think that they ought to be preached to the common people.” Ah, sirs! you have a fine opinion of yourselves, if you don’t think that “the common people” are as good as you are, and that they can receive the doctrines of grace as well as you can. They say, “Oh! but those doctrines are dangerous; they drive the people to Antinomianism-to believing that they can save themselves.” My dear friends, they say this; but when we write to them about their improper beliefs, they reply, “Oh, we are as sound as you are!” Yes; but it is one thing to be sound, and another thing to preach sound truth. I will never believe a man to be better than what he preaches; if a man does not proclaim “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” then we will be greatly opposed to him because he says that he believes it. We would rather he did not believe it at all than that he should conceal his real sentiments. Such men, who hide the truth, prove that they are as much offended with the cross as if they openly tried to refute its doctrines. God send us the day when the pure, unadulterated doctrines of the grace of God, which is in Christ Jesus, will be proclaimed in every church, and heard in every street, and accepted by every professed Christian!
III. Now I come, in the third place, TO SAY SOMETHING TO THOSE WHO ARE OFFENDED BY THE CROSS,
First, let me say that it is very foolish for a man who does not believe the gospel to oppose those who do.
If a man personally does not love the gospel, he should leave others alone
that do. He does not love the gospel; and because others do, he hates them. Why,
surely, what you do not want yourselves, you might let other people have in
peace! You need not oppose them for carrying away what you consider worthless
rubbish. Why should you be so offended, and endeavor to make a stand against the
truth, since you cannot, in your present condition, get anything out of it?
Then, next, how foolish it is to be offended at the cross, seeing that you cannot stop its progress!
He who would place himself before a fast moving railway car will be crushed, and would be just as foolish as you who are opposing the gospel. If it is true, remember that “truth is mighty, and must prevail.” Who are you to attempt to stand against it? You will be crushed; but let me tell you that, when the railway car runs over you, the wheel will not be raised even an inch by your size. For what are you? A tiny gnat, a creeping worm, which that wheel will crush to less than nothing, and not leave you even a name as having been an opponent of the gospel. There have been men who have stood up, and said, “We will stop the chariot of Christ.” Thousands have looked at them, and have been afraid. Their trumpets have blown loud and long, and some poor Christians have said, “Stand aside! Here comes a man who will stop the chariot of the Lord Jesus.” At one time, it was Tom Paine; then it was Robert Owen; but what became of them? Did the chariot stop for them? No; it went on just as if there had never been a Tom Paine or a Robert Owen on the earth.
Let all the infidels in the world know assuredly that the gospel will win its way, whatever they may do. Poor creatures! their efforts to oppose it are not worthy of our notice; and we need not fear that they can stop the truth. They are like a gnat who thinks he can quench the sun. Go, tiny insect, and do it, if you can. You will only burn your wings, and die. Likewise, there may be a fly who thinks it could drink the ocean dry. Drink the ocean, if you can; more likely, you will sink in it, and so it will drink you.
You who despise and oppose the gospel; what can you do? It comes on “conquering and to conquer.” I always think that, the more enemies the gospel has, the more it will advance. As the old warrior said, “The more enemies there are, the more there are to be killed, the more there are to be taken prisoners, and the more there are to run away.” Double your numbers, you opposers of the gospel! Come on against us with a still mightier power! Rage even more loudly! Slander us in even a more disgusting manner! Do what you can, victory is ours, for it is predestinated. The massive column of Divine Predestination stands firm, and on its top there are the eagle wings bestowing victory for every believer, and for the whole Church of the Living Christ. God’s truth must and will conquer; therefore how can you, you foolish creature, hope to oppose the gospel because it offends you? The rock, which was cut out without human hands, cannot be broken by you; but if it falls on you, it will grind you to powder.
But another thought, and I will be done with this part of my subject.
O unbeliever! if you hate the gospel, let me solemnly say to you how doubly foolish you are to be offended with Christ, who is the only One who can save you!
How can the drowning man be offended with the rope which is thrown to him, and which is the only means of his escape; how can the dying patient be offended with the cup of medicine which is put to his lips, and which alone can save his body from death; how can the man whose house is burning be offended with the fireman who roughly puts the ladder against his window-likewise, how is it that you would be offended with Christ. Offended with him who would snatch you as “a firebrand from the burning”? Offended with him who alone can quench for you the fire of hell? Offended with him whose blood alone can wash you white, and give you a place with him in everlasting glory? Offended with him? Then you are indeed mad. No chaos or confusion can ever produce a maniac more foolish than you are.
Ah, you despisers of the gospel, you will wonder and perish! You are offended with the gospel because it says that you have no righteousness or worth in yourself; but you haven’t any, then why are you offended? You are offended at the gospel because it does not ask anything of you in order that you may be saved; yet, if it did demand anything of you as a condition of your salvation, you would be lost. It is just the gospel for you; it is made on purpose; it fits your condition; it is adapted to your case; and yet you are offended with it! Oh, how can you be so foolish? Did you ever hear of a man who was offended with a railway car that was carrying him, because it had wheels? Why should you be offended with the gospel chariot because it could not advance except on the wheels of free grace? What! you are offended with the gospel because it humbles you? Don’t you know that it is the very best place for you? The devil would have you very proud if he could; but that would be only that he might ruin you.
My dear friends, I beg you, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ himself, please consider why you are offended with the gospel. I know it goes against your prejudices; when you first hear it, you do not love it; but, remember, it is your only hope of salvation. Are you offended with the only thing that can save you? Offended with that which can put a crown on your head, a palm-branch in your hand, and give you bliss forever? Then, I think, when you sink into hell, you will look up to heaven, and say, “Ah, Christ! I was offended with you, and now I see that you were the only Savior. I hated your name, of which it is written, ‘At the name of Jesus, every knee will bow. ’ I hated that Savior who was the only Savior able to redeem sinners from sin.”
IV. Lastly, I will DRAW ONE OR TWO INFERENCES.
The first is this, If the cross of Christ is an offense, and always was an offense, what is the reason why so many professing Christians have such peace from January to December, and never have any trouble about the Cross?
Old John Berridge said, “If you do not preach the gospel, you may sleep soundly enough; but if you do preach it faithfully, you will hardly have a sound place in your skin, for you will soon have plenty of enemies attacking you.” How is it that we never hear of any slander against a great many ministers? Everything is easy and comfortable for them; nobody is ever offended with their preaching, in fact, people go out of their church doors, and say, “What a nice sermon! It was just the thing for everybody, and nobody could be offended.” They do not preach the gospel fully, or they would be sure to offend some people. Suppose that somebody says to me, “Do you know that Mrs. So-and-so was highly offended with your last sermon?” That is of no concern to me if I know that I have preached the truth. A celebrated preacher was once said that he had pleased all his listeners. “Ah!” he said, “there is another sermon lost.” The most effective sermons are those which make the enemies of the gospel bite their lips, and gnash their teeth. Rowland Hill used to say, “That preaching is worth very little that cannot make the devil growl. He preaches only a little truth if the old lion is not roaring against him.” Depend on it, Satan hates the gospel as much as he ever has, and likewise, the world hates it as much as it always has. If there is not, nowadays, as much persecution and hatred as there used to be against the Gospel, then it is simply because men do not proclaim the plain, simple truth as their forefathers did. People go to hear nice velvet-tongued preachers; they like the minister to speak smooth things to them.
“I won’t go to hear Mr. So-and-so,” one says, “for he will surely offend me.” Now what is the reason for this? It is because he preaches the whole gospel, the pure truth of God. But do men think that we want to offend them? No, God knows, the hard things we often say cause us more pain than they cause our listeners. But it is good when we care very little for the opinion of men, and when we have learned to live above the world. Once let ministers faithfully proclaim the plain, simple gospel, and we will soon hear the laughter, and scorn, and jeers. It was an ill day when the sons of God made affinity with the daughters of men; and it will be a sad day for the Church of the Living Christ when the world speaks well of it, and everybody commends it. The religion that is most spoken against is usually the religion where Christ dwells the most; but the religion that is rich with worldly wealth, and bounced on the knees of honor, is usually the most corrupt. Preach the gospel boldly, consistently, continuously, strongly, and completely, and you will not have to wait long before you hear something about “the offense of the cross.”
My last remark is this. O my brothers and sisters, we have good reason to bless and extol our gracious God, if the cross of Christ is not an offense to us!
I hope many here can unite with me in saying that there is nothing in the Bible that offends us, and there is nothing in the gospel that offends us now. If there is anything you do not understand, you do not hate it; if it seems dark and mysterious, you do not reject it, but you are willing to learn all you can about it. Ah, my God! if all I have ever preached is false, I stand prepared to disown it when you will teach me better; if all I have ever learned was a mistake, and I have not learned it from you, then I will not be ashamed to recant it in that hour when you yourself will teach me, and show me my error. We are not ashamed to bring ourselves wholly into the mold of Scripture, to take it just as it stands, to believe it, and to receive it.
My friends, if this describes your attitude towards the Cross and God’s Holy Word then you are saved, for no man or woman can say that they accept the gospel in its entirety, loves every bit of it, and receives it in their heart, and can still be a stranger to it. I have heard preachers ignorantly talk about “natural” love to the gospel; there cannot be such a thing. I heard someone say that there was a “natural” love to Christ; it is all rubbish. Nature cannot produce a love for Christ, nor love to any good thing; that must come from God, for all love is from him. There is nothing good in us by nature. Every conviction must, in some way or other, come from the Holy Spirit. Even if it is a temporary one, it must be traced to him, if it is good. Oh, let us adore, and exalt, and magnify the mighty grace that has made us love the gospel! For I am sure, with some of us, there was a time when we hated it as much as any people in all the world ever did. Old John Newton used to say, “You who are called Calvinists-though you are not merely Calvinists, but the old, legitimate successors of Christ-you ought above all men to be very gentle with your opponents, for, remember, according to your own principles, they cannot learn truth unless they are taught of God; and if you have been taught of God, you ought to bless his name; and if they have not, you should not be angry with them, but pray to God to give them a better education.” My friends, do not let us make any extra “offense of the cross” by our own bad attitude, but let us show our love to the cross by loving and trying to bless those who have been offended with it.
Ah! poor sinner, what do you say? Are you offended by the cross? No, you are not, for it is there that you wish to be set free from your sins. Do you desire this moment to come to Christ? You say, “I have no offense against Christ. Oh, that I knew where I might find him! I would come even to where he sits.” Well, if you want Christ, Christ wants you; if you desire Christ, Christ desires you. Yes, more than you desire him; if you have one spark of desire for Christ, then Christ has a whole burning mountain of desire for you. He loves you better than you can ever love him. Rest assured that you did not first seek God. If you are seeking Jesus, he has first sought you. Come, then, you destitute, weary, lost, helpless, ruined, chief of sinners; come, put your trust in his blood and his perfect righteousness, and you will go on your way rejoicing in Christ, set free from sin, delivered from iniquity, rendered as safe, though not as happy, as the very angels that now sing high hosannas before the throne of the Most High! Amen.
A copy of this sermon, Preached by Tony Capoccia, is available on Audio Tape Cassette or CD at www.gospelgems.com
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