By J.R. Miller
"If all the skies were sunshine,
Our faces would be fain
To feel once more upon them
The cooling plash of rain.
"If all the world were music,
Our hearts would often long
For one sweet strain of silence
To break the endless song.
"If life were always merry,
Our souls would seek relief
And rest from weary laughter
In the quiet arms of grief."
Jesus said, "If any man would come after me, let him take up his cross daily, and follow me." Many people misread these words. They suppose Jesus refers to his own cross, telling us that if we would be his followers, that we must bear his cross. That is true in a sense. The Christian Church is an army of cross bearers. But the meaning here is that every Christian has a cross of his own which he must take up and carry loyally after his Master.
There are crosses which we make for ourselves. A child could not understand what a cross in life is, and the father explained it in this way. A cross is composed of two pieces of wood, one longer, one shorter. The shorter piece represents our will, and the longer piece represents God's will. Lay the pieces side by side and no cross is formed. But lay the shorter piece across the longer piece, and there is a cross. Whenever our will falls athwart God's will we have a cross. We make a cross for ourselves--when we refuse to take God's way, to accept his will, or when we chafe or fret at anything which God sends us. When, however, we quickly accept what God gives, and yield in sweet acquiescence to the divine will--we have no crosses to carry.
Yet there are many people who fill their lives with self-made crosses, by refusing to let God have his way with them. Much physical illness and pain are produced by violation of healthy habits--and the suffering endured in consequence, is self-inflicted. Much of the trouble in people's lives--they bring upon themselves by their indiscretions, follies, and evil habits. Then there are those who make crosses for themselves by magnifying their common ills, by dwelling on their troubles, by brooding over imaginary evils until their moderate share of human troubles, grows into a seeming mountain of calamities. If all the crosses we make for ourselves were taken out of our lives--we would not have many left. Far more than we realize--are we the authors of our own troubles.
We make many crosses for each other. We do not know what it costs other people to live with us. There is a great deal of selfishness in the world, even in the best Christians, and selfishness makes life hard for others. There is much thoughtlessness in even the best human love, and thoughtlessness continually makes suffering in gentle hearts. Marriage is the most sacred and holy of all human relationships--but there are few even among those most congenially and most happily wedded, who do not make many crosses for each other. They do not mean to do it--they love each other, and it is in their hearts always to give cheer, happiness, and comfort. But unconsciously, they say and do things continually which give pain and make crosses.
Or it may be in what they do not do, in neglect of love's duties. With most good people, it is in the lack of kindnesses--rather than in words or deeds of unkindness, that unlovingness is chiefly wrought.
"So many tender words and true
I meant to say, dear love, to you
So many things I meant to do-
But I forgot."
There are parents who lay crosses on their children. There is no love more unselfish, than a father's and a mother's--yet there are children in some homes that starve for love's daily bread. Someone says that children are not aware of the fire under the snow, in the reticent nature of their parents. Yes--but the fire of parental love never should be buried under any snow of conventionality, of pride, of coldness, of reserve. The parent lays a heavy cross on the life of a child, when he withholds love's warmth and affectionateness.
In all life's relations, there is a great deal of cross making for others. A man who pledges his troth to a woman at the marriage altar, promising "in all love and honor, in all faith and tenderness," to cherish her in the wedded bond--should be most watchful never to lay a rough cross on her gentle heart. A woman who makes a like covenant with a man, as his wife--should be most careful never to lay a cross on his faithful love, to make his burden harder. There are children, too, who make heavy crosses which their parents have to carry.
In all relations of friendship, this cross making is going on all the time. We think we are ideal friends--but in thoughtless moments we cause bitter pain to those we love most truly. Some of us are exacting and unreasonable in our demands upon our friends. We make the standard not ministering to--but to be ministered unto. We are envious or jealous. We have our petty whims and caprices. We give way to temper and rash speech. A great many Christian people are quite ready to confess that their temper is their besetting sin--but frequently there is little sincerity in such confession. Somehow, giving way to bad temper is such a common sin--that few are ashamed of it. No one can well reprove another for what he does himself continually. Yet it is only just that we should think of the crosses we make for others by our miserable outbreaks of temper.
In business relations, too, and in social life, we are cross makers. We are not easy to get along with. We are domineering and inconsiderate. We drive hard bargains. We disappoint people who trust us. We borrow--and do not repay. We promise--and do not keep our promises. We pledge friendship--and do not prove loyal. We accept confidential communications, and then violate honor by repeating them. We receive favors--and then return unkindness. We are helped over hard places and through difficulties, perhaps at great cost to our friends--and then forget our benefactors.
We need to remind ourselves--how much harder some of us make life for others--by crosses we lay on them, whether in what we say or do, or in what we fail to say or do. One of Mr. Lincoln's sayings was, "Die when I may, I want it said of me by those who know me best--that I always plucked a thistle and planted a flower--where I thought a flower would grow." One of the most sad words of Charles Lamb, is a wish he uttered, as he thought of the way he had so often laid a cross on his mother's heart, "What would I not give," he said, "to call my mother back to earth for one day, to ask her pardon, on my knees, for all those acts by which I gave her gentle spirit pain!" Everyone has a cross of his own to carry--but ours should never be the hand that shapes the load that shall weigh down another life!
Then, there are crosses which God gives us to bear. Jesus spoke of his cross, as a cup which the Father had put into his hand. Into every life, come experiences clearly sent by God. The human and divine are so mingled in many of the events of our days that we cannot tell where the human ends--and the divine begins. We need not try, however, to separate the threads--for God uses human events, even men's sins--in working out his purposes.
Yet there are crosses which God lays upon us. When death comes into your home, and one you love more than life, lies still and silent among the flowers, you say that God did it. There are many events in our lives, for which we can find no human cause. There is immeasurable comfort, however, in the truth that this is God's world, and that nothing ever gets out of our Father's hand and control. We need never be afraid of the crosses which God lays upon us.
The cross of Jesus was terrible in its torture--but we know what came of it. It was his way to his glory, and the way of redemption for the world. What was true in such an infinite way of the cross of the Son of God--is true in lesser way--but no less truly of every cross which God lays on any of his children. The beautiful legend tells us that the crown of thorns, when found, lay through Passion Week in all its cruel aspect--but Easter morning appeared changed, every thorn a glorious rose. The legend is true in a spiritual sense, of any crown of thorns which our Father permits us to wear. They will blossom into garlands of flowers on our head. That is the way with all the painful things which God sends into our lives--in the end they will be transformed. We need never be afraid of God's crosses!
Jesus bids us take up our cross, whatever it is, and follow him. No matter how the cross comes to be ours, if only it is a real cross, we are to lift it and bear it. We must not drag it--but take it up. That means that we are to accept it cheerfully. Jesus endured his cross and its shame--with joy. He sang a hymn of praise as he left the upper room. The world never saw such a cross as his. It was like a dark mountain, as it rested down upon him--but he did not falter as he took it up. We are to take up our crosses in the same glad, cheerful spirit.
We are bidden to take up our cross daily. There are some of Christ's friends, who have to carry their cross day after day through years. It is never lifted off. "Let him take up his cross daily." There will come no days, when we can lay it down and get a little rest from its weight. A young woman who was lamed by the carelessness of another was told the other day, that she can never hope to be cured, that she must always be a sufferer, and must always be a cripple. It is not easy to accept such a burden--and to be cheerful under it. But that is the cross which in some form or other, many have to take up daily.
One comfort in such an experience is that our cross has to be carried only one day at a time. It is a fine secret to be able to live by the day. When we think of a lifelong cross that we have to carry until we die, the burden seems unendurable. But we can bear any pain or suffering--for a day.
God lays a little on us every day
And never, I believe, on all the way,
Will burdens bear so deep
Or pathways lie so steep,
But we can go, if by God's power
We only bear the burden of the hour."
Someone says, "I could bear my cross with joy if it was one which God gave to me--but my cross is not from God. Human hands put it on me. Human hands make it a daily cross of injustice, unfairness, wrong, cruel suffering." No doubt it is a hundred times harder to bear such a cross made for us by human hatred or brutality--than it is to take up a cross of pain or sorrow or loneliness, which comes from our heavenly Father. There is a sacredness about something which God gives us--which makes it easier for us to accept it. We know there is his love in it. But, however our cross may come to us, whether directly from God, through some providence; or indirectly, through some human unkindness, the Master's bidding is that we take it up daily and continue following him. It is our cross, whether God or man lays it on our shoulder.
The cross which Jesus bore, was made by human hands. Men persecuted him, men wove the crown of thorns for his head, and men nailed his hands to the cruel wood. Did he resist his cross because human cruelty made it for him? No! he accepted it without a murmur, without a word of resentment. He kept love in his heart through all the terrible hours. That is the way he would have us take up our cross, whatever it may be--never bitterly or resentfully, never sullenly or despairingly.
Jesus did not talk about his cross--and he would have us bear our silently. Some people seem to want to carry their cross--so that everyone will see it! But that is not the way the Master would have us do. His voice was not heard in the street. He made no complaint, no outcry. He never called attention to his suffering. He is pleased with the silent cross bearing in his friends. He wants them to rejoice, even in pain. We should never take up our cross vaingloriously.
There is blessing in our cross--first, for ourselves, and then for others. Christ's cross lifted him to glory. Our crosses will also lift us to higher things. If we suffer with Christ--we shall also reign with him. Our crosses are also meant also to be blessings to others. A writer has a strange fancy of a woman who carried a sword in her heart. She kept it concealed under her garments and went bravely on with her work. One day she met a blind woman who was groping along, with no staff to support her, and she gave the woman her sword. "Oh, this is a good staff," said the blind woman; "now I shall get on well." The woman looked, and lo! Her sword had become a staff indeed in the blind woman's hand. The cross of Jesus was to him a cruel and terrible instrument of torture, a sword piercing through his heart. Now to men and women everywhere it is a staff to lean on, a guiding hand to lead them, a shelter from the storm, and a refuge from the heat.
We may so bear our crosses that they shall become blessing to all about us. A godly woman was telling how a great grief which it seemed she could not possibly endure, had enabled her to be a comforter of those in sorrow, through her sympathy with them, and that in giving love and help--her own burden had been lightened, her sorrow turned to joy.
Thus it is that the crosses we take up obediently and cheerfully, and bear in faith and love, become wings to lift us, and then blessings to those to whom we minister. The cross of Christ is saving the world. Just so far as we take up our cross in the spirit of our Master--will we become blessing to the world. Selfishness never made any spot holier, or any life better. Accept your cross, take it up and bear it victoriously, and there will be a new song in your own heart, and you will start songs in the hearts of many others!