Originally preached by Spurgeon as the first part of a sermon in 1857. Edited slightly for modern spellings.
"And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me" (John 12: 32).
It was an extraordinary occasion upon which the Savior uttered these words. It was the crisis of the world. We very often speak of the "present crisis of affairs," and it is very common for persons of every period to believe their own age to be the crisis and turning point of the whole world's history. They rightly imagine that very much of the future depends upon their present exertions, but they wrongly stretch the thought, and imagine that the period of their existence is the very hinge of the history of the world-that it is the crisis.
Now, however it may be correct, in a modified sense, that every period of time is in some sense a crisis, yet there never was a time which could be truly called a crisis, in comparison with the season when our Savior spoke. In the 31st verse, immediately preceding my text, we find in the English translation, "Now is the judgment of this world"; but we find in the Greek, "Now is the crisisof this world." The world had come to a solemn crisis: now was the great turning point of all the world's history. Should Christ die, or should He not? If He should refuse the bitter cup of agony, the world is doomed; if He should pass onward, do battle with the powers of death and hell, and come off a victor, then the world is blessed, and her future shall be glorious. Shall He succumb? Then is the world crushed and ruined beneath the tail of the old serpent. Shall He conquer? Shall He lead captivity captive, and receive gifts for men? Then this world shall yet see times when there shall be "a new heaven and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness."
"Now is the crisis of this world!" "The crisis," He says, "is two-fold. Dealing with Satan and men. I will tell you the result of it. ‘Now shall the prince of this world be cast out.' Fear not that hell shall conquer. I shall cast him out; and, on the other hand, doubt not but that I shall be victorious over the hearts of men. ‘I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me.'"
I. Christ's Crucifixion Is
He uses the word "lifted up" to express the manner of His death. "I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me. This, He said, signifying what death He should die." But notice the choice of the word to express His death. He does not say, I, if I be crucified, I, if I be hanged on the tree; no, but "I, if I be lifted up": and in the Greek there is the meaning of exaltation. "I, if I be exalted-I, if I be lifted on high." He took the outward and visible fashion of the cross, it being a lifting of Him up, to be the type and symbol of the glory with which the cross should invest even Him. "I, if I be lifted up."
The cross of Christ is Christ's glory. We will show you how. Man seeks to win his glory by the slaughter of others-Christ by the slaughter of Himself. Men seek to get crowns of gold-He sought a crown of thorns. Men think that glory lies in being exalted over others-Christ thought that His glory did lie in becoming "a worm and no man" (Ps. 22:6), a scoff and reproach among all that beheld Him. He stooped when He conquered, and He counted that the glory lay as much in the stooping as in the conquest.
1) Christ was glorified on the crossbecause love is always glorious. If I might prefer any glory, I should ask to be beloved by men. Surely, the greatest glory that a man canhave among his fellows is not that of mere admiration, when they stare at him as he passes through the street, and throng the avenues to behold him as he rides in his triumph, thegreatest fame, the greatest glory of a patriot is the love of his country-to feel that young men and maidens, old men and sires, are prepared to fall at his feet in love, to give up all they have to serve him who has served them. Now, Christ won more love by the cross than He did ever win elsewhere. O Lord Jesus, You would never have been so much loved, if You had sat in heaven for ever, as You are now loved since You have stooped to death. Not cherubim and seraphim, and angels clad in light, ever could have loved with hearts so warm as Your redeemed above, or even Your redeemed below. You won love more abundantly by the nail than by your scepter.
Your open side brought You no emptiness of love, for Your people love You with all their hearts. Christ won glory by His cross. He was never so lifted up as when He was cast down; and the Christian will bear witness, that though he loves his Master anywhere, yet nothing moves his heart to rapture and vehemence of love, like the story of the crucifixion and the agonies of Calvary.
2) Christ won much glory by fortitude. The cross was a trial of Christ's fortitude and strength, and therein it was a garden in which His glory might be planted. The laurels of His crown were sown in a soil that was saturated with His own blood. Sometimes the ambitious soldier pants for battle, because in days of peace he cannot distinguish Himself. "Here I sit," says he, "and rust my sword in my scabbard, and win no glory; let me rush to the cannon's mouth; though some call honor a painted bauble, it may be so, yet I am a soldier, and I want it;" and he pants for the encounter that he may win glory.
Now, in an infinitely higher sense than that poor glory which the soldier gets, Christ looked upon the cross as being His way to honor. "Oh!" said He, "now shall be the time of my endurance: I have suffered much, but I shall suffer more, and then shall the world see what a strong heart of love I have; how patient is the Lamb, how mighty to endure." Never would Christ have had such paeans of praise and such songs of honor as He now wins, if He had avoided the conflict, and the battle, and the agony. We might have blessed Him for what He is and for what He wished to do; we might have loved Him for the very longings of His heart; but we never could have praised Him for His strong endurance, for His intrepid spirit, for His unconquerable love, if we had not seen Him put to the severe test of crucifixion and the agonies of that awful day. Christ did win glory by His being crucified.
3) Christ looked upon His crucifixion as the completion of all His work. Therefore He looked upon it as exaltation. The completion of an enterprise is the harvest of its honor. And, my hearers, Christ longed for the cross, because He looked for it as the goal of all His exertions. It was to be the place upon which He could say, "It is finished." He could never say "It is finished" on His throne: but on His cross He did cry it. He preferred the sufferings of Calvary to the honors of the multitude who crowded round about Him, for, preach as He might, and bless them as He might, and heal them as He might, still was His work undone. He was constrained, He had a baptism to be baptized with, and how was He constrained till it was accomplished. "But," He said, "now I pant for my cross, for it is the capstone of my labor. I long for my sufferings, because they shall be the completion of my great work of grace."
4) Christ looked upon His crucifixion as the hour of triumph. His disciples thought that the cross would be a degradation. Christ looked through the outward and visible, and beheld the spiritual.
"The cross," said He, "the gibbet of my doom may seem to be cursed with ignominy, and the world shall stand round and hiss at the crucified, my name be forever dishonored as one who diedupon the tree; and cavilers and scoffers may for ever throw this in the teeth of my friends that I died with the malefactor; but I look not at the cross as you do. I know its ignominy, but I despise the shame-I am prepared to endure it all. I look upon the cross as the gate of triumph, as the portal of victory. Oh, shall I tell you what I shall behold upon the cross? Just when mine eye is swimming with the last tear, and when my heart is palpitating with its last pang, just when my body is rent with its last thrill of anguish, then mine eye shall see the head of the dragon broken, it shall see hell's towers dismantled and its castle fallen. Mine eye shall see my seed eternally saved, I shall behold the ransomed coming from their prison-houses. In that last moment of my doom, when my mouth is just preparing for its last cry of ‘It is finished' I shall behold the year of my redeemed come, I shall shout my triumph in the delivery of all my beloved! Aye, and I shall see then, the world, mine own earth conquered, and usurpers all dethroned, and I shall behold in vision the glories of the latter days, when I shall sit upon the throne of my father David and judge the earth, attended with the pomp of angels and the shouts of my beloved!"
II. Christ Has another Lifting up
There is a lifting of Him upon the pole of the Gospel, in the preaching of the Word. Christ Jesus is to be lifted up every day, for that purpose He came into the world: "That like as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness," even so He might by the preaching of the truth be lifted up, "that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Christ is the minister's great theme, in opposition to a thousand other things which most men choose. I would prefer that the most prominent feature in my ministry should be the preaching of Christ Jesus.
Christ should be most prominent, not hell and damnation. God's ministers must preach God's terrors as well as God's mercies, we are to preach the thunder of God's law. If men will sin, we are to tell them that they must be punished for it. We should be unfaithful to the solemn charge which God has given us if we were wickedly to stifle all the threatenings of God's word. Did the loving Savior talk of the pit that burns, of the worm that never dies, and of the fire that can never be extinguished? It is ours to speak as He spoke, and not to mince the matter. It is no mercy to men to hide their doom.
But, my brethren, terrors never ought to be the prominent feature of a minister's preaching. Many old divines thought they would do a great deal of good by preaching this. I do not believe it. Some souls are awakened and terrified by such preaching; they, however, are but few. Sometimes, right solemnly, the sacred mysteries of eternal wrath must be preached, but far oftener let us preach the wondrous love of God. There are more souls won by wooing than by threatening. It is not hell, but Christ, we desire to preach.
1) The theme of a minister should be Christ Jesus in opposition to mere doctrine. Some of my good brethren are always preaching doctrine. Well, they are right in so doing, but I would not care myself to have as the characteristic of my preaching, doctrine only. I would rather have it said, "He dwelt much upon the person of Christ, and seemed best pleased when he began to tell about the atonement and the sacrifice. He was not ashamed of the doctrines, he was not afraid of threatening, but he seemed as if he preached the threatening with tears in his eyes, and the doctrine solemnly as God's own Word, but when he preached of Jesus his tongue was loosed, and his heart was at liberty."
Brethren, there are some men who preach the doctrine only, who are an injury, I believe, to God's church rather than a benefit. I know of men who have set themselves up as umpires over all spirits. Wisdom will die with them. If they were once taken away the great standard of truth would be removed. We do not wonder that they hate the Pope, two of a trade never agree, for they are far more popish than he, they being themselves infallible. I am afraid that very much of the soundness of this age is but a mere sound, and is not real, does not enter into the core of the heart, nor affect the being. Brethren, we would rather preach Christ than election. We love the great doctrines of God's Word, but we had rather preach Christ than preach these.
2) The minister ought to preach Christ in opposition to mere morality. How many ministers in London could preach as well out of Shakespeare as the Bible, for all they want is a moral maxim. The good man never thinks of mentioning regeneration. He sometimes talks of moral renovation. He does not think of talking about perseverance by grace. No; continuance in well-doing is his perpetual cry He does not think of preaching "believe and be saved." No, his continual exhortation is, "Good Christian people, say your prayers, and behave well, and by these means you shall enter the kingdom of heaven." The sum and substance of his Gospel is that we can do very well without Christ, that although certainly there is a little amiss in us, yet if we just mend our ways in some little degree, that old text, "except a man be born again," need not trouble us. Hear the testimony of holy Bishop Lavington, "We have long been attempting to reform the nation by moral preaching. With what effect? None. On the contrary, we have dexterously preached the people into downright infidelity. We must change our voice, we must preach Christ and Him crucified, nothing but the gospel is the power of God unto salvation."
3) The minister ought to preach Christ in opposition to some who think they ought to preach learning. God forbid we should ever preach against learning. The more of it a man can get, the better for him; and the better for his hearers if he has grace enough to use it well, but there are some who have so much of learning, that if in the course of their readings they find a very hard word, out comes the pencil-case: they jot it down, to be glorified in the next Sunday morning's sermon. Christ wants us not to preach learning, but to preach the good word of life in the simplest manner possible. Why, if I could only get lords and ladies to listen to me, by preaching to them so that they alone could understand me, there they might go, and I would not so much as snap my finger for them all. I would desire so to preach that the servant maid can understand, that the coachman can understand, that the poor and illiterate may hear readily and gladly receive the Word.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892), "the Prince of Preachers," was a renowned pastor and author who served as pastor of London's Metropolitan Tabernacle for 38 years. His works are still widely read today.