`Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Me.'(Matt. 16:24) To many this saying of Jesus seems hard. But how much harder will it be to hear that word of doom, `Depart from Me, you cursed, into everlasting fire'. (Matt.25:41) For those who now cheerfully hear and obey the word of the Cross (I Cor. 1:18) will not tremble to hear the sentence of eternal damnation. The sign of the Cross will appear in the heavens, when Our Lord comes as judge. Then will all the servants of the Cross-, who in their lives conformed themselves to the Crucified, (Rom 8:29) stand with confidence before Christ, their judge.
Why, then, do you fear to take up the Cross-, which is the road to the Kingdom? In the Cross is salvation; in the Cross is life; in the Cross is protection against our enemies; in the Cross is infusion of heavenly sweetness; in the Cross is strength of mind; in the Cross is joy of spirit; in the Cross is excellence of virtue; in the Cross is perfection of holiness. There is no salvation of soul, nor hope of eternal life, save in the Cross. Take up the Cross-, therefore, and follow Jesus, (Matt. 16:24) and go forward into eternal life. (Matt.25:46) Christ has gone before you, bearing His Cross; (John 19:17) He died for you on the Cross, that you also may bear your cross, and desire to die on the cross with Him. For if you die with Him, you will also live with Him. (Rom 6:8) And if you share His sufferings, you will also share His glory.
See how in the Cross all things consist, and in dying on it all things depend. There is no other way to life and to true inner peace, than the way of the Cross and of daily self-denial. Go where you will, seek what you will; you will find no higher way above or safer way below than the road of the Holy Cross. Arrange and order all things to your own ideas and wishes, yet you will still find suffering to endure, whether you will or not; so you will always find the Cross. For you will either endure bodily pain, or suffer anguish of mind and spirit.
At times, God will withdraw from you; at times you will be troubled by your neighbor, and, what is more, you will often be a burden to yourself. Neither can any remedy or comfort bring you relief, but you must bear it as long as God wills. For God desires that you learn to bear trials without comfort, that you may yield yourself wholly to Him, and grow more humble through tribulation. No man feels so deeply in his heart the Passion of Christ as he who has to suffer in like manner. The Cross always stands ready, and everywhere awaits you. You cannot escape it, wherever you flee; for wherever you go, you bear yourself, and always find yourself. Look up or down, without you or within, and everywhere you will find the Cross. And everywhere you must have patience, if you wish to attain inner peace, and win an eternal crown.
If you bear the cross willingly, it will bear you and lead you to your desired goal, where pain shall be no more; but it will not be in this life. If you bear the cross unwillingly, you make it a burden, and load yourself more heavily; but you must needs bear it. If you cast away one cross, you will certainly find another, and perhaps a heavier.
Do you think to escape what no mortal man has been able to escape? Which of the Saints lived without cross or trial? Even our Lord Jesus Christ was never without sorrow and pain, as long as He lived. `Christ must needs suffer,' said He, `and rise again from the dead, and so enter into His glory.'(Luke 24:26) Why, then, do you seek any other road than this royal road of the Holy Cross? The whole life of Christ was a cross and martyrdom; and do you look for rest and selfish pleasure?
You are greatly mistaken if you look for anything save to endure trials, for all this mortal life is full of troubles, (Job 14:1) and everywhere marked with crosses. The further a man advances in the spiritual life, the heavier and more numerous he finds the crosses, for his ever-deepening love of God makes more bitter the sorrows of his earthly exile.
Yet a man who is afflicted in many ways is not without solace and comfort, for he perceives the great benefit to be reaped from the bearing of his cross. For while he bears it with a good will, the whole burden is changed into hope of God's comfort. And the more the body is subdued by affliction, the more is the spirit strengthened by grace within. Sometimes he is so greatly comforted by the desire to suffer adversity for love of conforming to the Cross of Christ, that he would not wish to be without grief and pain; (2 Cor. 4:10) for he knows that the more he can suffer for His sake, the more pleasing he will be to God. This desire does not spring from man's own strength, but from the grace of Christ, which can and does effect such great things in the frail frame of man; so that which nature fears and avoids, he boldly meets and loves through ardor of spirit.
Man is not by nature inclined to carry the cross, to love the cross, to chasten the body, and bring it into subjection; (I Cor. 9:27) to refuse honors, to submit to insults with goodwill, to despise himself and welcome disparagement; to bear all adversity and loss, and to desire no kind of prosperity in this world. And if you trust in your own strength, you will be unable to achieve any of these things. But if you trust in the Lord, you will be given strength from Heaven, and the world and the flesh will become subject to your will. Neither will you fear your enemy the Devil, if you are armed with faith and signed with the Cross of Christ.
Resolve, then, as a good and faithful servant of Christ, manfully to bear the cross of your Lord, who was crucified for love of you. Prepare yourself to endure many trials and obstacles in this vale of tears; for such will be your lot wherever you are, and you will encounter them wherever you conceal yourself. It must needs be so; nor is there any remedy or means of escape from ills and grief s; you must endure them. Drink lovingly the cup of your Lord, (Matt. 20:23) if you wish to be His friend, and to share all with Him. Leave consolations to God, to dispose as He wills. But set yourself to endure trials, regarding them as the greatest of all comforts, `for the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come', (Rom. 8:18) even though you alone were to endure them all.
When you have arrived at that state when trouble seems sweet and acceptable to you for Christ's sake, then all is well with you, for you have hound paradise upon earth. But so long as suffering is grievous to you and you seek to escape it, so long will it go ill with you, for the trouble you try to escape will pursue you everywhere.
If you steel yourself -, as you must - to suffer and to die, all will go better with you, and you will find peace. For although, like Saint Paul, you were `caught up into the third heaven',(2 Cor. 12:4) you would not on this account be secured against suffering further adversity. For Jesus says, `I will show him how great things he must suffer for My Name.'(Acts 9:16) Therefore, be prepared to suffer, if you wish to love Jesus and serve Him forever.
Oh, if only you were worthy to suffer for the Name of Jesus! How great and enduring a glory would be yours! How great would be the joy of the Saints of God! How edified your friends would be! For all men commend patience, although few are willing to suffer. It is right that you should suffer a little for the sake of Christ, since many suffer greater things for worldly motives.
Be assured of this, that you must live a dying life. And the more completely a man dies to self, the more he begins to live to God. (Rom. 6:9 ) No man is fit to understand heavenly things, unless he is resigned to bear hardships for Christ's sake. Nothing is more acceptable to God, and nothing more salutary for you, than to suffer gladly for Christ's sake. And if it lies in your choice, you should choose rather to suffer hardships for Christ's sake, than to be refreshed by many consolations; for thus you will more closely resemble Christ and all His Saints. For our merit and spiritual progress does not consist in enjoying such sweetness and consolation, but rather in the bearing of great burdens and troubles.
Had there been a better way, more profitable to the salvation of mankind than suffering, then Christ would have revealed it in His word and life. But He clearly urges both His own disciples and all who wish to follow Him to carry the cross, saying, `If any will come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me.'(Mark 8:34) Therefore, when we have read and studied all things, let thus be our final resolve: 'that through much tribulation we must enter the Kingdom of God.'(Acts 14:22)
|Chapter 36||Table of Contents||Chapter 38|