From The Healing Cross: Interpretation of Life by Herbert H. Farmer (London: Nisbet and Co. LTD, 1938).
"Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God"
CRUCIFIED UNTO THE WORLD
"The cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world hath been crucified unto me, and I unto the world."—Galatians 6:14 (R.V.)
THESE are exceedingly strong words, and I suppose they could only be uttered with sincerity by one who, like the Apostle, has reached a superlatively high level of Christian character and discipleship. Yet that only makes them the more worthy of our consideration. In our spiritual journeying, as in other forms of journeying, we have to set our direction by the mountain tops or by the stars. It is precisely because they are above our heads that they are qualified to direct our feet.
What does the Apostle mean by the world? It is not unimportant to ask this question, for the word is often misinterpreted and misused by religious people. Deep and central in the Christian outlook is something which we call the renunciation of the world, something which is irreconcilably opposed to a spirit which we call worldliness. But what is this world which must be renounced, this worldliness which must be opposed? Quite certainly it is not a matter of not permitting ourselves to be interested in, to delight in, this world considered as a work of the Creator. Nothing could be farther from the mind of Paul than that. To be crucified to the world did not mean for Paul to cease to delight in all the order and beauty of natural things, the light of setting suns, and the round ocean, and the living air, and the blue sky, and the green earth. Writing to the Romans Paul said, using the word "world" in this other and more genial sense, "the invisible things of God since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even His eternal power and divinity." There is no thought in these words of being crucified to the world, any more than there was in the mind of the Master when He delighted in the beauty of the flowers of the field.
Nor again is the world, or the spirit of worldliness, to be identified with the genial pleasures of human life and society. That there is a danger in the more immediately and superficially pleasurable things of life is, of course, a commonplace. Pleasures so swiftly become ends in themselves. But it is certainly not the Christian view to lump all delights, even the shallower and more frivolous delights, together, and label them as being "of the world." This is only worth saying because such misconceived notions of worldliness still linger on in many of our consciences, or what we think to be such, even though we repudiate them in our minds and by our deeds. When Paul speaks of being crucified to the world, it is all too easy for the mind to be clouded to the searching thing he is saying by a vague picture of an emaciated anchorite fleeing on his spindle legs from all the dear delights of life and calling others to do the same. Such ideas of the Christian spirit are utterly remote from, are indeed gross caricatures of what the Apostle is thinking of—utterly remote from the mind of Christ.
What then is meant by the world? John has given in his first epistle a definition which is assuredly not far from the mind of Paul. He says it is "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the vainglory of life." What exactly John meant by these phrases, and what illustrations he would have given from the life of his own time, it is impossible to say. But in a general way the matter is clear. It is a question of the inner motives and desires which actually dominate and set the direction of the life whatever may be its merely external poses and professions.
The desire of the flesh: what is that but the continuous, subtle pull of the body on a man's conduct, swerving again and again, without his knowing it, the whole direction of the life—all the body's instinct after comfort and self-maintenance, and away from pain and hardness and self-denial ? A man has not conquered the body merely because he is not troubled by its grosser appetites, or because now that his income is less he cannot pamper it so much. Even to loll in an arm-chair when one ought to be somewhere else is, when all is said and done by way of excuse, the lust of the flesh. The body, like the devil, is a past-master in the art of disguise. He is not the ass St. Francis declared him to be. He is subtle. And in these days, perhaps even more than in the days of the Apostle, he rules the lives of men. One of the keywords of our modern civilization is comfort. Another is "keeping fit." We speak of a rise in the standard of living. But what is the standard? Do we mean a rise in men's capacity for high thinking, noble giving and austere self-control? Not at all. We mean almost wholly and exclusively a rise in the standard of comfort. The word is symptomatic of our whole attitude. It is the pull of the body. It is active all the time.
And then the lust of the eyes: what is that but the deep-seated impulse of acquisitiveness, covetousness—the desire to grasp as much as possible of the good things which this life immediately offers, and which we can see other people striving after all around us? It is the lure of the immediate, the subtle thought, which we hardly ever put into explicit terms, but which is not the less operative for that, that after all we pass this way but once and unless we grasp all we can of what is now visible and within our reach we shall miss so much. The attitude can be observed in a crude form in children. A bright and glittering object is presented to the eyes and the hand instantly goes out to grasp. Countless adult folk have never really got beyond such an infantile attitude, though they may exercise it in a more refined way. There comes an opportunity to acquire some glittering object, and without more ado it is seized, with little or no thought of any moral and spiritual implications. One of the troubles of our time is the way in which people, directly they get money, will spend it on whatever they may desire, without any consideration of the economic and social consequences of what they do in the lives of others. They just see a glittering thing and go after it. It is the lust of the eye.
And then there is the vainglory of life—the self-conceit, the desire for praise and deference, the delight of being thought an important and significant person, of wielding power over others, of being in the lime-light; all the empty vanities of fashion and custom and title and office and uniform and status, the little snobbish impostures into which men tumble before ever they are aware of it. It matters not that our circumstances are narrow, the stage on which we play our part small and hidden. It matters not that we know in our heart of hearts that when we come before God it will all avail us nothing. The mean little ego will still have us out on our stage, prancing and strutting and posturing, even though he be the only spectator.
Why then does the Apostle call all this sort of thing —the lure of the body, the covetousness of the eye, the pride of life—the "world"? The word "world" conveys the idea of organized power, something larger than the individual in which the individual is, and by which he is continually influenced and shaped. This is important. We have not seen the real problem of the moral and spiritual emancipation of men, until we realize that the desire of the body, the desire of the eye, and the vainglory of life are a world in this sense. These distorted visions, false ambitions, wrong ideals, impostures and unrealities, have constructed a social organism in harmony with themselves which begins at once to bind and shape every new life which is born into it. That is what makes the problem of our regeneration so difficult. All the time we are being subjected to the influences, so subtle and unnoticed many of them, of a society, a world, built up on these perverted values of comfort and acquisition and vain-glorious reputation. You thrust it out of your being at one point, and it has crept in at another. Quite plainly, to get a man out of this world or system, to emancipate him from all these false values, is going to be a tremendous operation. It will need to be drastic, violent, decisive. We have only to look into our own hearts to know that.
The greatness of the problem, the drastic vigour of the emancipating act, if it is to break through such systematized and ingrained illusions, is reflected in the word Paul uses—crucified! I am crucified to the world and the world unto me. We have not in our modern English a word with something of the grim and crashing absoluteness of this word "crucified." "Crucified" signifies the last and most irrevocable degree of mutual separation and repugnancy. It signifies, too, something of the violence required to bring about that separation. To pass from the fundamental spirit of the world to the spirit of Christ is not a matter of easy growth, gentle transition, natural evolution. It is not a matter of polite and mutual tolerance, an agreement to differ, as gentlemen should, on one or two more or less important points. It is an uprooting, rending, tearing, splitting and breaking, surgical operation kind of thing, a mutual crucifixion, with nails and spears and agony and death. We do not easily think in these days in such violent metaphors, but there is truth in them. There is nobody who knows his own heart, and the kind of values which rule the whole structure of our civilized life, who does not also know that we shall never be saved into anything like the mind of Christ by gentle and beautiful exhortations, eloquent appeals to our better nature, church services however glorious, courses of moral exercise however cunningly devised. Something more violent is necessary—more shaking, more surgical, more calculated to make a man start away in a sort of recoil from himself; something which he can come back to again and again.
That something—the Apostle's tremendous words suggest—is given in the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
I set the Cross with its physical agony alongside the desire of the body—my love of comfort, my continuous excuses for avoiding anything which may spoil that comfort. I set the Cross with all the naked and outcast poverty of it, the running out of a glorious life in premature death for the sake of a distant vision, beside my desire of the eye, my instant, childish itch to grasp any visible good thing, to enlarge and expand my present state, my fear to let the immediate delight go for a remoter and uncertain ideal, my subtle and permeating acquisitiveness. I set the Cross with its loneliness and shame alongside the empty vanities with which my beloved ego decks me out, even if it be only on the little stage my situation allows me. I remind myself that this is He whom I call Lord and for a moment, at least, I see myself as I am. I despise myself.
And this also I see with overwhelming clearness, that it was the desire of the body, all the subtle lure and pull of it towards comfort and self-preservation, the desire of the eye, the grasping, greedy, thoughtless acquisitiveness of men for the goods of this life, the vainglory of life, which crucified Him. Many years ago there was a picture in the Academy entitled, "Were you there when they crucified the Lord?" In the centre was the Cross, and all around it was a crowd of modern folk symbolizing in various ways the perverted values which rule our modern life. I was there when they crucified the Lord. I helped to do it.
Every man should carry, if only in the pocket of his mind, a crucifix, and should train himself when need arises to take it out and look at it. When the lure of the body, the desire of the eye, the vain ambitions of the heart are stirring within him, let him take it out and read written under it, "So you were there when they crucified the Lord."
Yet that is not all. Our emancipation from the world, our cleansing from its false values, is not complete, touching the deeps of our being, if we are forced merely to a detestation of ourselves. When we have faced the question, when we have been constrained to answer in a bleak moment of sincerity, "I was there when they crucified the Lord, I am there when they crucify the Lord," what then? Well, if we are hearing God's word to us in the Cross of Christ, it would be well to hear the whole of it. We are not meant to ignore the prayer that rose out of His mighty spirit for those that crucified Him—"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Was that prayer unanswered? Is it not rather the divine spirit of forgiveness itself, which in its very condemnation, by its very condemnation, is seeking to heal? And dare we not think that there was another prayer, prayed later even for Judas when he cried, "I have betrayed innocent blood,"—" Father, forgive him, for he now knows what he has done."