Posted by: rcottrill | July 18, 2018

Take Up Thy Cross

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Words: Charles William Everest (b. May 27, 1814; d. Jan, 11, 1877)
Music: Germany, by William Gardiner (b. Mar. 15, 1770; d. Nov. 16, 1853)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (none)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org

Note: Charles Everest served as an Episcopal (Anglican) pastor in the state of Connecticut. He wrote a book of poems Visions of Death, and Other Poems, from which the present hymn was taken. Another hymn (by Thomas Shepherd) with a similar theme asks, Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone?

Unconditional surrender is a term most commonly used in military combat. It calls for the total yielding of the enemy, with no guarantees apart from those assured by international law. President Franklin Roosevelt spoke of it in 1943, defining what the Allies would demand of the Axis powers to end the Second World War.

But earlier, when the words were spoken by a Union General in the American Civil War, they actually became his nickname. During the 1862 Battle of Fort Donelson, General Ulysses S. Grant received a request for lenient terms of capitulation from the opposing Confederate forces. Grant responded, “No terms except unconditional and immediate surrender.” President Lincoln quipped that Grant’s first two initials stood for Unconditional Surrender.

In Christian experience, this full surrender is described by Christ using a special term. Over the three years before He was crucified, the Lord spent time teaching and training His followers, preparing them for what was to come. To make it clearly understood what that involved, He used a description several times that would mean much more to people of that day than it does to us. He told them they must take up their cross.

Crucifixion was the common form of execution in the Roman world. The agonizing, prolonged, and very public means of killing condemned criminals, struck terror into the hearts of observers. This was intentional. Rome wanted deter any who had thoughts of committing a similar misdeed.

It was in that historical context Christ said:

“He who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me (Matt. 10:38).

This is the first reference to the cross in the New Testament, notable because it refers to our cross, not that of Christ. “Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me’” (Matt. 16:24).

That wasn’t presented as a way to earn eternal salvation, which is by faith in Christ alone (Jn. 3:16, 36; 14:6; Acts 16:30-31). Rather, it’s a subsequent calling of believers to a life and service for the Lord. It’s an image of discipleship, of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

It’s not simply a matter of denying ourselves something (such as a second piece of pie, or a new pair of shoes). That can be a form of asceticism. What is involved is much more radical–the dethronement of the Self. To deny Self is to consistently reject selfishness, self-centredness, self will, and self-interests, instead being fully committed to faithfulness and obedience to God, putting a consistent priority on what He wants for us.

The companion expression to denying the Self, taking up one’s cross, does not mean, as some have interpreted it, stoically bearing weary toil, aches and pains, and social slights. It’s symbolic of a complete identification with Christ, even if it were to mean death. A Christian is a “Christ one.” As Romans later puts it:

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Rom. 12:1).

Prior to Calvary, sacrificial animals were slain on the altar as they were offered to the Lord. But now we are to be living sacrifices, submitting to the will of God, and living to please Him day by day. This is far from a Sunday-only religion, and it’s not for wimps or sissies. But it is what Christ calls us to.

In 1833, American pastor Charles William Everest wrote a hymn about that, first paraphrasing Matthew:

CH-1) “Take up thy cross,” the Saviour said,
“If thou wouldst My disciple be;
Deny thyself, the world forsake,
And humbly follow after Me.”

CH-2) Take up thy cross, let not its weight
Fill thy weak spirit with alarm;
His strength shall bear thy spirit up,
And brace thy heart and nerve thine arm.

CH-3) Take up thy cross, nor heed the shame,
Nor let thy foolish pride rebel;
Thy Lord for thee the cross endured,
And saved thy soul from death and hell.

CH-5) Take up thy cross and follow Christ,
Nor think til death to lay it down;
For only those who bear the cross
May hope to wear the glorious crown.

That is to constitute the Christian’s unconditional surrender to our loving Master.

Questions:
1) What does daily taking up the cross of Jesus mean to you, practically?

2) Is this a joyous way of life, or a resentful one? (Why?)

Links:
Wordwise Hymns (none)
The Cyber Hymnal
Hymnary.org


Responses

  1. Well said, my friend! Thank you for the reminder of these truths. I’m not familiar with the hymn, but will look it up.


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