Nearness To The Cross
A Sermon By William Jay
Preached in 1832
Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the [wife] of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own [home].—John 19:25-27.
This is one of the most remarkable passages in the history of our Saviour’s passion. The language is peculiarly simple and affecting. The scene is exquisitely tender. The characters are in the highest degree interesting; and the circumstances in which they are placed, altogether new and wonderful. O for a class of feelings becoming the subject! Let us fix our minds on three things. I. THE SITUATION OF THE MOTHER. II. THE ADDRESS OF THE SAVIOUR III. THE OBEDIENCE OF THE DISCIPLE.
Women are more than once brought forward in the Gospel, and the notice taken of them is always to their honour. Thus, while others have forsaken him and fled, we here find three females rising above the fears of their sex, braving the horrors of the execution, piercing through the crowd, and approaching the foot of the cross—there to testify their sympathy with their suffering Lord —to show how willing they are to die with him—to admire his patience and his meekness—and to secure his dying words. “Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.” What were the feelings of these three Marys! But—
I. THE MOTHER OF OUR LORD IN THIS SITUATION demands a larger share of our notice. I admire in her the efficacy of Divine grace. She is able to stand near the cross; she does not faint away and drop down. She keeps her feelings within due bounds. Here are no outrageous exclamations, no bitter complaints flung at Heaven for not avenging him of his adversaries, no imprecations on his murderers, no rending of garments, no wringing of hands, no plucking of the hair! She feels as a mother, she endures as a Christian; and, submitting to the mysterious designs of Providence, suffers with all the dignity of an angel.
The people of God know not what they can bear, till they are tried. When the “time of need” comes, then comes ” the grace to help,” and it is always found to be sufficient for them. I shall never despair of the support of a Christian, in any situation, however distressing, after beholding Mary standing near the cross of her dying son. Ye tender mothers, who may be called to part with beloved children! remember, religion allows you to feel, but forbids you to faint. You are not to be swallowed up of over-much sorrow, but to preserve a calm of mind favourable to the exercises of reason and of grace. You are to endeavour to say, “It is the Lord, let him do what seemeth him good: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away, and blessed be the name of the Lord.” Think of Mary, and say —”What can my affliction be, compared with hers!”
For who can adequately imagine her anguish! When old Simeon saw the infant Messiah, he said to his mother, “Yea, and a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also!” And now the prediction is accomplished.—Oh! to see her son enduring such a death! Suspended in torture! Oh! how would she agonize when she saw the nails driven through his hands and feet! And then for such a son to endure all this extreme of anguish!—a child foretold by prophets, announced by angels—all goodness, excellency, perfection!—who had never displeased her, but endeared himself by every word, by every action!—A child, the glory of her house, the consolation of her age—for to crown all, she was now a widow! Joseph her husband was dead—but Jesus her son was yet alive, and in his power and kindness she was sure to find a resource. But now her remaining prop is struck away, and her “only coal in Israel is quenched!” And she is to be thrown out, a bereaved, exposed, helpless, pennyless widow, upon a selfish, unfeeling, cruel world!
II. In such a condition, and with such prospects, she attracts the eye of our Lord; and He speaks. He addresses her in a manner suited to her trying circumstances. “When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved—he saith unto his mother—Woman, Behold thy son!” Though I die, there is one who will discharge the filial office; who will guard, and nourish, and provide for thee—Behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple—”Behold thy mother! Receive her—not as a pauper, or a mere pensioner on thy bounty, but regard her, as you would the tenderest of all connexions—Behold thy mother!“
This is very instructive. It reminds us, first, of the indigence of our Lord and Saviour. Many talk of poverty, but he was poor. In ordinary cases he was sustained by alms; in extraordinary ones, by miracles. When he came to die, he had no personal property, no landed estate to leave. All he had to bequeath was his wearing apparel; and even this never came to his mother. “They parted his raiment among them, and for his vesture did they cast lots: these things therefore the soldiers did.“
What becomes then of riches? Are we such fools as to fall down and worship this idol of general adoration? Does money produce—does it imply—worth? A man may be an apostle, and be moneyless. “Silver and gold have I none,” says Peter. “Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head“—yet he was “the brightness of the Father’s glory, and the express image of his person!“—But, alas! all this will not keep numbers from thinking money the essence of all excellency. Money can add charms to ugliness: money can transform wrinkles into youth: money can fill brainless heads with wisdom, and render nonsense oracular: money can turn meanness into virtue; and, falling like snow, can cover a dunghill, and give it the appearance of whiteness and innocency!
Behold, secondly, an instance of the Divine goodness, which ought to encourage the poor and needy. When one comfort is withdrawn, another is furnished. When Jesus is removed, John is raised up. A Christian should never despair. Our heavenly Father has more than one way of providing for his children. His resources are innumerable and inexhaustible.”
O fear the Lord, all ye his saints; for there is no want to them that fear him: the young lions do lack and suffer hunger; but they that seek the Lord shall not want any good thing.” Let those who are dying without wealth, and have nothing to leave behind them, hear him saying, “Leave thy fatherless children; I will preserve them alive: and let thy widows trust in me.” Let those who fear that by bereavement they shall be reduced and impoverished, say, with David, “When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up. In him the fatherless findeth mercy.
Thirdly, we learn that we should endeavour to be useful, not only living, but dying. We see the Saviour attentive to the duty of every season, and every circumstance. Never so occupied, even by his sufferings, as to forget others: he dies as he had lived; and not only when “going about,” but even when nailed to the cross, we behold him—”doing good!“
A Christian, if he has not done it before, should now “set his house in order.” He should arrange his affairs, and dispose of his effects, and secure guardians for his children —so as not to occasion perplexity and discord after his decease. He should be also attentive to the spiritual improvement of those around him. If able to speak, he should recommend the Saviour, and speak well of his ways. Dying words are impressive. This is the last time you can do any thing for your generation. “By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph, and worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff.” “Now the days of David drew nigh that he should die; and he charged Solomon his son, saying, I go the way of all the earth: be thou strong therefore, and show thyself a man; and keep the charge of the Lord thy God, to walk in his ways, to keep his statutes, and his commandments, and his judgments, and his testimonies, as it is written in the law of Moses, that thou mayest prosper in all that thou doest, and whithersoever thou turnest thyself.” Mr. Bolton said to his children, who stood around his dying bed, “See that none of you meet me in an unconverted state at the day of judgment” Dr. Rivet said, in his last illness, “Let all who come to inquire after my welfare be allowed to see me: I ought to be an example in death as well as in life.”
Fourthly. A lesson of filial piety is clearly deducible from this subject. Children are under an obligation to succour and relieve their parents according to their ability. And this is not to be considered as charity, so much as common justice. The Apostle therefore calls it a requiting:—” Let them requite their parents.” I admire the disposition of David, who, when wandering from place to place, seemed regardless of himself, if he could provide a safe and comfortable situation for his father and mother: “He went to Mizpeh of Moab: and he said unto the king of Moab, Let my father and my mother, I pray thee, come forth and be with you, till I know what God will do for me.” I admire still more David’s Son and David’s Lord, who, even in the agony of crucifixion, commends his poor mother to the care of the beloved disciple.
And here you ask—but why did he this? Could he not have provided for her himself?—He who turned water into wine, and made a few loaves sufficient to feed a whole multitude—could not he have furnished means for the subsistence of a destitute mother? Behold, in answer to this, another reflection. He does not needlessly work miracles. The manna which followed the Israelites in the wilderness ceased as soon as they could provide themselves with the corn of the land. He generally fulfils his kind designs by common means, and in the established course of things. His care extends to the poor as well as to the rich. He has made the rich stewards, but not proprietors: he has given them an abundance, not to hoard up, but to expend and to administer. And the poor and distressed are as much consigned by Providence to the care of the affluent, as Mary was charged upon John. None of God’s benefits terminate wholly on the possessor—they are means as well as mercies, talents as well as endowments. If we are enlightened, we are to “arise and shine;” if converted, we are to “strengthen our brethren;” if comforted, we are to “comfort others with those comforts wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God;” if we have “all things richly to enjoy,” we are to be “ready to communicate, willing to distribute.“
Suppose a master should call into his presence a servant, and say to him, “Take this money, and go, carry it to such a poor family;” and suppose the servant, as soon as he had gotten possession of it, should resolve to keep it, or lay it out on some finery or amusement; what would you think? Would you blame the master, as wanting in generosity? No—but you would say, “O thou wicked servant!” And what would the master himself say?—Surely he would punish him; and he would well deserve it: for he would be at once guilty of unfaithfulness and cruelty. Such a master indeed may never find out this villany. But the rich are going to appear before a God who “cannot be mocked,” to give an account of the application of the property which he committed to their trust, for certain purposes which his word clearly specifies. It was given them to teach the ignorant, to clothe the naked, to “make the widow’s heart to sing for joy“—Woe! woe be to them, if they shall be found to have frustrated the kindness of his designs, either by not using, or by wasting his goods!
Once more. John was “the disciple whom Jesus loved:” he had a peculiar friendship for him—and how does he express it? Not by diminishing his care, but by enlarging the claims of his duty; not by increasing his estate, but by giving him a consumer—consigning to him an aged female for life. You may deem this a strange proof of his affection —a strange way of honouring him! But, if you view the matter aright, you will see that there is nothing unaccountable in it. To be employed by him and for him is a dignity and a privilege. If he pleased, he could well dispense with our poor services; but he engages us—to improve our graces, and to reward our exertions. And, in proportion as we are in a good frame of mind, we shall long to be instruments in the Saviour’s hands, and bringing ourselves daily to his footstool, we shall ask, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” John, therefore,
III. EXECUTES THE ORDERS OF HIS DYING LORD. “From that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.” He does not stand weighing things: “Can I afford to do it? Shall I not entail upon myself expenses for life? and not only so, but trouble also—yea, and reproach and suspicion, by accommodating the mother of one who was executed as a malefactor—an enemy to Caesar?”—He obeys cheerfully, instantly, implicitly.
And let us remember, that true obedience is prompt; and will lead us to “do all things without murmuring and disputing.” This is peculiarly the case with regard to charity. Real benevolence, if I may so express it, is not too long-sighted and thoughtful; it will not suffer the fine impulse to cool by indulging hesitations: when an obligation strikes us, it will not allow of our eluding it by giving us either inclination or time to bring forward the hardness of the times, the slackness of trade, the increase of family, the multiplicity of cases. While we stop to investigate every particular, to make comparisons, to collect evidences, and to take great pains not to be deceived—the opportunity is gone: our neighbour may not be alive a few days hence, or we may not—and thus, by cautious and delayed beneficence, he will lose the relief, and we the honour of the action. Therefore, says Solomon, “Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it. Say not unto thy neighbour, go, and come again, and tomorrow I will give, when thou hast it by thee.“
To return. Let us now follow the mother of our Lord to her new residence. Venerable woman, whom all generations have blessed, we rejoice in thy comfort! Thou hast “a certain dwelling-place,” thou shalt not want!—With what kindness would John treat the charge of his departed Lord! With what tenderness would he nourish her! How many evenings would they pass together in discoursing of the Saviour ascended to his Father and their Father, to his God and their God! How would they dwell upon his sermons, his miracles, his sufferings! We meet once more with this distinguished woman in the sacred history. In the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, we find the twelve returning from the place of his ascension, and in an upper room; and it is said, “They continued with one accord, in prayer and supplication with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus.” After this she disappears, and we hear of her no more. But we shall by-and-by see her, and derive from her all the interesting particulars relative to the birth, the infancy, the youth of the child Jesus, over which, for wise purposes, a veil is now thrown.
Let me conclude by calling upon you to choose for yourselves the situation of these three women—they were “standing by the cross of Jesus.” There, by reading the Scripture, by meditation, by the exercises of faith, by the memorials of his death—there you may fix yourselves. It is a blessed station: take it, and “determine to know nothing save Jesus Christ and him crucified.“
Do you wish to contemplate whatever is grand and sublime? Take this station. Behold him on the cross—See “the Sun of righteousness,” as he sets, gilding the heavens with glory. See him, as he dies, exercising every grace, displaying every perfection!
Does the world prevail over thee? Take this station. Exclaim, with the Apostle, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world!”
Spreads o’er his body on the tree:
Then am I dead to all the [world],
And all the [world] is dead to me.”
Do you feel trials and afflictions! Take this station. Behold a suffering Saviour. “Consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.“
Nor longer mourn their lot:
While on his sorrows they reflect,
Their own are all forgot”
Are you oppressed with a sense of guilt? Take this station. Bruised by sin, remember him who was bruised for it. Be of good cheer. “Surely he hath borne our grief, and carried our sorrows; the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by his stripes we are healed.“
Do you wish for an example? Take this station. Behold here not only your sacrifice, but your pattern. While he atones, he instructs. “He suffered for us, leaving us an example that we should follow his steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously“—who, full of forgiveness, prayed for enemies, and said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” —who, all affection and concern for his relations, said, “Woman, behold thy son!” “Son, behold thy mother!” Ye children, admire him. Admire him, ye friends. Admire him, ye disciples, who wear his honoured name— “nor stop at wonder—imitate and live.” May we “be planted together in the likeness of his death, that we may be also in the likeness of his resurrection.“