Keep me near the Cross!

As I traverse the world of blog, I continue to encounter stern warnings against the practice of “gospel contemplation.” Though I must confess my ignorance concerning all the ways in which this term has been employed in the recent past, I have difficulty imagining how the practice of focusing one’s attention on the redeeming activity and dying love of Christ could be in any way damaging to a person’s life and experience or harmful to the church as a body. I have also come away with the impression that those who have opposed this practice are of the opinion that this practice is an innovation of “new Calvinists” and other miscreants who roam the land.

It appears to me that the practice of gospel contemplation, or to phrase it another way, the practice of contemplating Christ and his redeeming work, is as old as the gospel itself. The apostle Paul wrote, “but may it never be that I should boast except in the cross (by that I think he meant the gospel) of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world is crucified unto me and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14). It sounds as if he continued to believe the gospel message exerted a life changing power in his life as a Christian, don’t you think? When I was a young man (that has been a year or two), our youth group used to sing,

Turn your eyes upon Jesus;
Look full in his wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of his glory and grace.

When I read the words of those who speak so malevolently against gospel contemplation, I wonder in what capacity they would imagine the writer of this little chorus was urging us to turn our eyes on Jesus. Perhaps he wanted us to consider Jesus the great moral teacher or Jesus the revolutionary. Somehow, I always thought I was being urged to fix my attention on the one who loved me, and gave up himself for me.

In her hymn “All for Jesus” 1871, Mary D. James wrote,

Since my eyes were fixed on Jesus,
I’ve lost sight of all beside;
So enchained my spirit’s vision,
Looking at the Crucified.

It almost seems to me she was describing what it is like to contemplate the gospel.

Somehow I don’t think the apostle Paul was talking about flowers, trees, butterflies and beautiful sunsets when he wrote, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8).

I can’t imagine anyone who claims to be a Christian suggesting that there is anything wrong with contemplating the gospel, the most God glorifying message ever spoken. Admittedly, if someone should suggest that obedience to Christ isn’t important as long as we think a lot about the gospel, we would have to take issue with them, but I don’t believe that is the issue. It seems to me the issue is rather how obedience to Christ is to be effected. Does true, God-honoring obedience occur simply because we have decided to knuckle under, grin and bear it and try to obey the commands of Scripture? Or does it occur when we are so overwhelmed by Christ’s dying love for us that we can no longer go on living to ourselves but must live to the glory of him who loved us and gave himself up to death for us?
Let’s ask the apostle Paul about the key to his indefatifable service for and obedience to Christ. Paul, how is it that you continue to refuse to live for your own pleasure but persist in walking in obedience to the revealed will of Christ? His answer, “For Christ’s love overwhelms and constrains me, for by this we judge that if one died for all, then all died, and he died for all so that those who live would no longer go on living to themselves, but for him who died for them and rose again” (2 Cor. 5 : 14-15). Now my question is, where is Christ’s love for his people most resplendently displayed if not in the gospel? Are we, unlike the apostle, to be motivated by something other than Christ’s love? If our motive is to be the same as his, where should we focus our attention if not on the redeemer and his work?

Not long ago I read the post of a dear lady who wrote that her husband had urged her to move away from the foot of the cross and get on with living the Christian life and serving the Lord. It almost seems as if these people are suggesting we are sending people to a hill outside Jerusalem to gaze up at a cross. You don’t have to “leave the foot of the cross” to get on with obeying and serving Christ. If you are a believer, the gospel pervades your entire being. If you want to love your wife in a way that will please and glorify God, you must do it “as Christ loved the church and gave up himself for it” (If you want to learn to forgive those who have grievously offended you, then your pattern is God’s redemptive action in forgiving us for Christ sake (Eph 4:32, Col. 3:12-13). If you would worship God in accordance with the perfect pattern of heavenly worship, your song will be, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain and has redeemed us . . .” (Rev. 5:9).

I am old enough to recall a time when the church used to sing hymns like “Near the Cross” by Fanny Crosby. No one thought she meant we were to kneel immobilized at the foot of the cross, but that we were to press forward both in our individual lives and in our corporate mission mobilized and motivated by an overpowering sense of Christ’s unspeakable and self-sacrificing love for us. As we sang the following words, we prayed that we would never abandon preaching its message, and never stray from or outlive the overwhelming and life-transforming power of God’s redeeming love for us in Christ. Here is what she wrote:

Jesus, keep me near the cross,
There a precious fountain
Free to all, a healing stream
Flows from Calvary’s mountain.

Near the cross! O Lamb of God,
Bring its scenes before me;
Help me walk from day to day,
With its shadows o’er me.


In the cross, in the cross,
Be my glory ever;
Till my raptured soul shall find
Rest beyond the river.


2 Responses to “Keep me near the Cross!”

  1. August 26, 2012 at 4:00 am

    I like your comment Randy: Often I have been moved by Fanny Crosby’s hymns as well as others. I remember once getting in trouble for using one her hymns for an invitation, It was, Pass Me Not, O Gentle Saviour.” The minister of music, of a decidely anti-calvinist slant, hated that hymn. And after the service he really took me to task for using it.

    • August 26, 2012 at 1:11 pm

      Brother Willingham,

      Thanks for your comment. I, too, have been in trouble from time to time for hymns I have either chosen or rejected. It is my view that the church learns more theology, good or bad, from the hymns we sing than from the sermons we hear. Of course, nowadays there is almost too little theological content in what we sing (or hear from most pulpits for that matter) to either accept or reject.

      Thanks for stopping by.

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