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"
JUDGING IN THE LIGHT OF THE CROSS
"Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh."—2 Corinthians 5:16
IT is often supposed that the power of Christ to fashion men and women into likeness to Himself is mediated primarily through the feelings and the emotions. This is a mistake. Far more than we commonly realize, the first step to the transforming of our inner motives and outward relationships in any situation is something which Christ does, if we will let Him, in the sphere of thought and judgement.
The necessity of setting a first emphasis on judgement is shown by some considerations concerning feeling and emotion.
Thus, in the first place, emotion, if it be healthy and not merely the outcome of some obscure neurotic state, always springs from, and remains dependent on, our apprehensions of the world about us. Feeling needs a concrete stimulus to bring it into being. It is impossible to sit down, close the eyes, think of a person, and "will" ourselves into kind feelings towards him least of all if he happens to be a person whom we have reason to dislike. Feeling of any sort, being rooted in our instinctive nature, is not thus within our immediate control. To change a man's feelings it is necessary to change his world, to present him with a new fact or a new understanding of facts. A mere exhortation is certainly not enough. If this be so, it follows that if Christ is going to evoke in us a love for men which we would not otherwise feel, He must introduce into our perception of men a new factor which would not otherwise be there. He must bring it about that we first of all judge our fellows differently.
Again, emotion is far too intermittent, unpredictable, unreliable, to be by itself the basis of Christian character and conduct. Being so dependent upon impressions, it is always apt to be determined by the coarser and stronger impression of the moment. Before we are aware of it almost, our finer feelings are swept away by primitive instinct, stimulated by some pungent fact in our immediate environment. Even St. Francis found himself instinctively moving away from the leper whom he suddenly encountered. What can save us from such weakness and instability? The only thing to do is to pause and think ourselves and the people we are dealing with into a totally new light, so that the old feeling begins to die away and a new one to take its place in response to what is now, in effect, a totally new situation. This is, we may conceive, what St. Francis did. He thought Christ into relation with that leper, and so altered the total situation to which he was reacting. Then he went back and kissed the leper. His first feeling sprang from an incomplete apprehension of the facts, from, in short, a wrong judgement; and the work of Christ was to correct that judgement and so correct the feeling attached to it. And this, we believe, Christ can do in relation to any situation, thus giving our higher impulses a permanence and a reliability which they would otherwise lack. By dealing thus with our judgement, He deals with something which is at our disposal and in our control in a way that emotion never is.
Finally, emotion is, in its very nature, peculiarly liable to self-deception. When we are possessed by any strong impulse, its very strength predisposes the mind to make judgements in favour of it. A powerful emotion, even of a manifestly undesirable kind, can very swiftly corrupt the conscience, and drag the judgement at its own smoking chariot-wheels. Or—to change the metaphor—like a hot sun it quickly draws from the corrupt soil of our nature a mighty crop of plausible excuses, and before long we are doing or saying unworthy things almost with an air of virtue. Wherefore it is a great and necessary work which Christ does for us, that He contrives to introduce into our minds a new principle of judgement of such force that if we but turn our minds to it—our ultimate freedom lies in the power we have to turn attention this way or that— it begins to dispel even the most plausible and subtle sophistications of our lower nature. The older I get, the more fundamental and indispensable I see this to be. Christ must do many things, doubtless, to lift this poverty-stricken affair I call my soul to something higher, but one thing He must do, and that is get inside my mind, and protect me from this miserable business of excuse-making and self-deception. He must put salt in my judgement and so keep it pure.
The Apostle Paul himself gives the answer in these verses. Speaking of the change which Christ can make in the character and conduct of men, whereby they become a new creature in Christ, no longer living unto themselves, he relates it to Christ's death on the Cross, and proceeds: "wherefore henceforth we know no man after the flesh," or, as Moffatt translates: "I estimate no man by what is external." Does not this mean that if we set men alongside the Cross, instantly they are seen in a different light, they are judged differently, and the whole of our emotional response to them begins to change as a result? Nor, in the nature of the case, can any individual, whatever his character or whatever our relationship to him, prove an exception to this. In the presence of the Cross all men are reduced to a level. A piercing X-ray strikes down from the Cross through all the external wrappings, all those surface qualities to which our feelings so quickly respond, and lays bare the one essential thing—namely, that this man, any man, every man, is just a poor sinner needing desperately, and being offered, the forgiving love of God.
The only way rightly to change feeling is to change judgement, to put things in a new light; and the only way rightly to change judgement in the sphere of personal relations is to see every man sub specie crucis —in the light of the Cross.
There has indeed been enough talk about brotherhood since the time of the Stoics to have transformed the world a thousand times over—if talk could ever do it. It is the easiest of all idealisms to preach, the hardest of all to practise. So long as it remains mere talk, mere idea, it is powerless. The imagination must be fired. The mind must be given a concrete, living, irresistible illuminating fact to set alongside every situation and every person in it, so that their real quality in relation to the mind and purpose of God can be seen. We have all of us long since learnt that it is no use setting an individual, to whom we are finding it desperately hard to have even the rudiments of Christian feeling, alongside the bare idea of brotherly love. But pause for a moment; visualize the Cross of Christ—those outstretched arms and pierced hands, grasping, as it were, the crowd of men and women at its foot—set the man, hateful as he is to you, in the midst of that crowd and he begins to look different. Is he great and powerful? Why, sub specie crucis, even a Czar looks miserable and poor and blind and naked like the rest—a sinner for whom Christ died. Is he mean and degraded—a poisoner, perhaps, whom society has cast out like some foul impurity and intends in a few days to strangle in a pit? He is still, none the less, a living spirit, rich enough in promise and destiny for One at least to die for him.
It may be objected that such a picture of the Cross of Christ is hardly less "bare idea" than the thought of brotherly love. It is only a thought, at best an imagination, in the mind. The answer is that that is not so. It is part of the uniqueness of Christ that that is not so, as was insisted on in an earlier chapter. But the only proof that it is not so is experimental. Only those who humbly keep company with Christ in their minds know that thought of Him is never bare thought, but always carries some of the piercing light of God Himself.
But there is something even more to be said. It is impossible to take the other man with any sincerity into the presence of the Cross without taking oneself there also. It is impossible to see him in a new light without seeing oneself in a new light. You must stand there with him. Then not only does he begin to look different, but your own shabby and paltry egotism and vanity, your own hot, instinctive, and usually childish, emotions, look different also. They begin to look what they are—shabby and paltry and childish. And by way of contrast the way of love, so clearly and piercingly exemplified on Calvary, is seen as the only thing in human life that has any final worth or dignity in it at all. Something deep within the soul stirs, begins to break through the crust of all its evil and egocentric feelings and desires, and says, there beyond question is the fulfilment of every finer movement and stirring of my spirit towards God; there is the ultimate, divine meaning of being a man; there is the only thing that really matters—everything else, however immediately attractive and stimulating, being, apart from it, but tinsel and tawdry nothingness. Paul was surely standing right at the foot of the Cross when he wrote 1 Corinthians 13, when he cried, "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am nothing."
Beyond question this is so, though the proof of it, we repeat, is only to be found in making experiment of it, patient experiment, for our whole personal world is in far greater and more obstinate darkness than we realize. Let a man keep alongside Jesus Christ in the innermost places of the heart and the miracle of recreation must go on. He, and above all His Cross, is assuredly Light, for Light is at one and the same time the principle of Exposure and the principle of Life.