Preaching Christ Crucified
August 23, 1863
C. H. Spurgeon
“We preach Christ crucified.” — 1 Corinthians 1:23.
Copyright 2001 by Tony Capoccia. This updated file may be freely copied,
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Verses quoted, unless otherwise noted, are
taken from the HOLY BIBLE: NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION
©1978 by the New York Bible Society, used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
This sermon, preached by Tony Capoccia, is now available on Audio Cassette or CD: www.gospelgems.com
In the verse preceding our text, Paul writes, “Jews demand miraculous signs.” They said, “Moses performed miracles; let us see miracles performed, and then we will believe,” forgetting that all the miracles that Moses did were completely eclipsed by those which Jesus did while he was on the earth as the God-man. Then there were certain Judaizing teachers who, in order to win the Jews, preached circumcision, exalted the Passover, and endeavored to prove that Judaism might still exist side by side with Christianity, and that the old rites might still be practiced by the followers of Christ. So Paul, who was “all things to all men so that by all possible means he might save some,” put his foot down, and said, in effect, “Whatever others may do, we preach Christ crucified; we dare not, we cannot, and we will not alter the great subject matter of our preaching, Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
Then he added, “and Greeks look for wisdom.” Corinth was the very eye of Greece, and the Corinthian Greeks sought after what they regarded as wisdom; that is to say, the wisdom of this world, not the wisdom of God, which Paul preached. The Greeks also treasured the memory of the eloquence of Demosthenes and other famous public speakers, and they seemed to: think that true wisdom must be proclaimed with the graces of skillful elocution; but Paul writes to these Corinthian Greeks, “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but with the demonstration of the Spirit and of power; that your faith would not be based in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”
Now, today, there are some who would be glad, if we would preach anything except Christ crucified. Perhaps the most dangerous among them are those who are continually crying out for intellectual preaching, by which they mean preaching which neither the heavens nor the preachers themselves can comprehend, the kind of preaching which has little or nothing to do with the scriptures, and which requires a dictionary rather than a Bible to explain it. These are the people who are continually running around, and asking, “Have you heard our minister? He gave us a wonderful sermon last Sunday morning; he quoted Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin, and he gave us some charming pieces of poetry, in fact, it was overall an intellectual treat.” Yes, and I have usually found that such intellectual treats lead to the ruination of souls; that is not the kind of preaching that God generally blesses to the salvation of souls, and therefore, even though others may preach the philosophy of Plato or adopt the arguments of Aristotle, we preach Christ crucified,” the Christ who died for sinners, the people’s Christ, and “we preach Christ crucified” in simple language, in plain speech such which the common people can understand.
I am going to try to put our text into practice by telling you, first, what we preach; secondly, to whom we preach it; and, thirdly, how we are to preach it.
I. First of all, WHAT WE PREACH. Paul is the model for all preachers, and he says, “We preach Christ crucified.”
In order to preach the gospel fully, there must be a very clear description of the person of Christ, and we preach Christ as God
Yes, we preach Christ as God — not a man made into God, nor God degraded to the level of a man, nor something in between a man and God; but “the Absolute God of Heaven and Earth—The Triune God Himself,” one with his Father in every attribute, eternal, without beginning of days or end of life; omnipresent, everywhere at once; omnipotent, having all power in heaven and on earth; omniscient, knowing all things from eternity; the great Creator, Preserver, and Judge of all, in all things the equal and the exact image of the invisible God. If we error concerning the Deity of Christ, then we error everywhere. The gospel that does not preach a Divine Savior is no gospel at all; it is like a ship without a rudder, the first opposing wind that blows will drive it to destruction, and woe are the souls that are trusting to it! Only the shoulders of the almighty God can ever carry the enormous weight of human guilt and human need. We preach to you Christ the Son of Mary, once sleeping in his mother’s arms, yet the Infinite even while he was an infant; Christ the reputed Son of Joseph, working in the carpenter’s shop, yet all the while being the God who made the heavens and the earth; Christ, who had no place to lay his head, the despised and rejected of men, who is, nevertheless the Eternal God of the Universe; Christ nailed to the cross, bleeding from every pore, and dying on the cross, yet, living forever; Christ, suffering indescribable agonies, yet at the same time being the God at whose right hand there are eternal pleasures. If Christ had not been man, he could not have sympathized with you and me, nor could he have suffered in our place. How could he have been the covenant Head of the sons and daughters of Adam if he had not been made like them in every way, except that he was without sin? With that one exception, he was just, as we are, bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh, yet he was as truly God as he was man, the One of whom, Isaiah was inspired to prophesy, “He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” So, in preaching Christ crucified, we preach the glory of heaven combined with the beauty of earth, the perfection of humanity united with the glory and dignity of Deity.
Then, next, we must very clearly preach Christ as the Messiah, the One sent from God.
It had long been foretold that a great Deliverer would come who would be “a light for revelation to the Gentiles,” and to be the glory of his people Israel, and Jesus of Nazareth was that promised Deliverer, of whom Moses in the law and the prophets wrote about. He was sent from God to be the Savior of sinners. He did not take this responsibility on himself without authority, but he could truly say, “Here I am, I have come - it is written about me in the scroll. I desire to do your will, O my God.” He became the Substitute for sinners, but this did not happen accidentally, but by divine decree, for we read, “the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” An unordained priest, a prophet not sent from God, a king without divine authority would have only been a mockery; but our great High Priest was divinely anointed, our matchless Prophet was sent from God, and our king is King of kings and Lord of lords, rightly ruling as the eternal Son of the eternal Father.
Sinner, this truth should bring you hope and comfort, the Christ whom we preach is God’s Anointed; and what he does, he does by God’s appointment. When he says to you, “"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,” he speaks for his Father as well as for himself, for he has the authorization of the Eternal to support his declaration. Therefore, come confidently to him, and put your trust in him.
After the preacher has laid a firm foundation by preaching the person of Christ and the Messiahship of Christ, he must then preach the work of Christ.
I can only give a brief summary of what would take all eternity to expound. We must preach to show how, in the everlasting covenant, Christ stood as the Security and Representative of his people; and how, in the fullness of time, he came down from his heavenly throne dressed in flesh; and how he first produced an active righteousness by the perfect obedience of his daily life, and in the end provided a passive righteousness by his sufferings and death on the cross. Beginning at the incarnation, going on to the great work of redemption telling of Christ’s burial, resurrection, ascension, intercession before his Father’s throne, and glorious second coming, we have a theme that angels might well covet, a theme that may arouse hope in the sinner’s heart. But it is especially Christ crucified whom we are to preach. His wounds and bruises remind us that we must tell you that “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” It is at Calvary that salvation is to be found; where Jesus bowed his head, and gave up his spirit, he overcame the powers of darkness, and opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers.
There is one word that every true servant of Christ must be able to speak very distinctly; and that word is substitution. I believe that substitution is the keyword to all true theology; — Christ standing in the place of sinners, and numbered with the transgressors because of their transgressions, not his own — Christ paying our debts, and discharging all our liabilities. This truth involves, of course, our taking Christ’s place as he took ours, so that all believers are beloved, accepted, made heirs of God, and in due time will be glorified with Christ forever.
My fellow ministers, whatever you fail to preach, be sure to make your listeners always clearly understand that there is a divine and all-sufficient Substitute for sinners, and that everyone who puts their trust in him will be eternally saved.
When we preach Christ, we must also preach his offices. We must preach him as the one great High Priest who always lives to make intercession for us. We must preach him as the Prophet whose words are divine, and therefore comes to us with an authority that, cannot be set aside.
And we must remember that we must always preach him as King, putting the crown of praise on his royal head, and claiming from his people the unfaltering allegiance and loyalty of their hearts, and the undivided service of their lives.
We must also preach the qualifications of Christ for his offices.
Is he a Husband? We must tell how loving and how tender he is. Is he a Shepherd? We must proclaim his patience, his power, his perseverance, and we must especially tell of his self-sacrificing love in laying down his life for his sheep. Is he a Savior? We must show how he is able to save completely those who come to God through him. We must talk a great deal about the gentleness that will not break the bruised reed, nor snuff out the smoldering wick. We must delight to speak of Christ as bending over the broken in heart, and wrapping up their wounds, and having his ear always ready to hear the cry of a contrite spirit. It is the character of Christ that is the magnet that attracts sinners to himself, and on this blessed theme one might go on speaking forever. When Rutherford was talking off the beauties of the Christ whom he loved so dearly, one of his listeners was forced to cry out, “Now, sir, you are on the right string, keep to that,” and, indeed, this is a theme that might stir the person with a speech defect to speak with power, and make those who are mute to be eloquent for Christ. Oh, how glorious is our blessed Lord! We must say, “Yes, he is altogether lovely.” We cannot exaggerate his excellence and charms, and it must be our constant aim to paint such a portrait of him that sinners may fall in love with him, and trust him to save them with his great salvation.
We must be careful that we always preach Christ as the sinner’s only hope.
In the olden days, there were certain fools who sought after a universal remedy for all diseases, but their search was in vain. All the advertisements of quack medicines that ever deceived silly people will never convince sensible persons that a universal remedy for all the diseases to which flesh is subject to has never been nor ever will be discovered. Yet there is a remedy for the diseases of the soul, and that remedy is Christ. Whatever your disease may be — the raging fever of lust, the shivering fever of doubts and fears, or the cruel infection of despair — Jesus Christ can heal you. Whatever form sin may take — whether it is the blind eye, or the deaf ear, or the hard, stony heart, or the dull, seared conscience — there is a medicine in the veins of Jesus that we may well call the divine cure-all. No case that was ever submitted to Christ has baffled his skill, and he is still “mighty to save.” We must be very clear in telling the sinner that there is no hope for him anywhere else but in Christ. Nine out of ten of the arrows in a minister’s quiver ought to be shot at the sinner’s good works, for these are his worst enemies. That “deadly doing” that needs to be cast “down at Jesus’ feet,” — that trying to be or to feel something in order that they may save themselves — this is the curse of many. O sinner, if, from the crown, of your head to the soles of your feet, there is no sound part in you, but you are full of wounds; and bruises, and putrefying sores, yet, if you will only believe in Jesus, he will make you completely whole, and you will go on your way as a sinner saved by grace.
We must also preach Christ as the Christian’s only joy.
We wanted Christ as a life preserver when we were sinking in the waves of sin, but we want him to be our food and our drink now that he has brought us safely to land. When we were sick because of sin, we wanted Christ as medicine; but now that he has restored our soul, we want him as our continual nourishment. There is no need that a Christian ever has which Christ cannot fully supply, and there is nothing in Christ, which is not completely useful to a Christian. You know that some things that we have are good, but they are not completely of service to us. For instance, fruit is good, but there is the skin to be peeled off, and the seed to be thrown away; but when Christ gives himself to us, we may take all of him, and enjoy him to our heart’s content. Everything Christ is, and everything Christ has, is ours. Therefore, Christian, make a covenant with your hand that you will hold on to Christ’s cross as your only confidence, make a covenant with your eyes that you will look nowhere for light but to the Sun of righteousness; make a covenant with your whole being that it will be crucified with Christ, and then be taken up to heaven to live and reign with him forever.
II. Now, secondly, TO WHOM ARE WE TO PREACH THIS?
Possibly, one brother says, “You ought to preach Christ to the elect.” But how are we to know which ones are the elect? I read a sermon, some time ago, in which the minister said, “I have been preaching to the living in Zion; the rest of you are dead, and I have nothing to say to you. The elect has been given eternal life, and the rest of you are blinded.” Preachers of that sort have life to preach to the living, and medicine to prescribe for those who are healthy, but what is the good of that? Imagine Peter standing up with the eleven on the day of Pentecost, and saying to the crowd gathered around them, “I don’t know how many of you who are here are elect but I have to say to you that the election have received eternal life, and the rest are blinded.” How many would have been converted and added to the church through such a message as that? Now Peter was at that time filled with the Spirit, and it was by divine inspiration that he preached Christ crucified; to everyone of that mixed multitude, and then, when they were cut to the heart, and cried out, “Brothers, what shall we do?” he was equally inspired when he answered, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
I intend to do as Peter did, for I regard Christ’s commission to his disciples as binding upon us today: “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.” I cannot tell whether every creature in all creation to whom I preach is elect or not, but it is my business to preach the gospel to everyone I can reach, resting assured that all of them whom God has chosen to eternal life will certainly accept it. When a certain minister asked the Duke of Wellington, “Do you think it is of any use preaching the gospel to the Hindus?” he simply replied, “What are your marching orders?” As a soldier, the duke believed in obeying orders; and when the minister answered that, the orders were to, “Preach the good news to all creation,” the duke said, “Then your duty is quite clear; obey your Master’s orders, and don’t trouble yourself about anybody else’s opinions.”
The main business of a true minister is to preach the gospel to sinners and he is never so happy as when he is preaching to those who know themselves to be sinners.
When he is preaching to those who are self-righteous; he is in great trouble about the effect of his message, for he fears that it may prove to be the smell of death to them; but when he meets with those who sorrowfully confess that they are guilty, lost, and wretched, then he rejoices in hope of blessed results from his preaching. He feels that he is now among fish that will soon take the bait, so he drops his line into the river, and soon has the joy of bringing many to land. He knows that bread is always sweetest to hungry men, and that even bitter medicine will be eagerly swallowed by the main who its very ill and who longs to be cured. He understands that it is the naked that want to be clothed, and the penniless that clamor for charity. O sinners, if you realize that you are wicked and vile, full of all kinds of evil, with nothing of your own that is worthy to be called good, and if you are longing to be delivered from every kind of evil, and to be made holy as God is holy, I am glad that my Master has given me in his Word such a message as this for you, “If you confess your sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive you your sins and purify you from all unrighteousness.”
Still, a true minister of Christ will not confine his preaching to sinners who are aware of their guilt, but he will preach the gospel to sinners of all ages.
To the young, whose lives have not yet been defiled by the vices of age, he preaches Christ crucified as the children’s Savior, and he is indeed glad when the boys and the girls trust in Jesus, and are saved. To you who have reached middle age, he preaches Christ crucified as the ointment for every wound, the comfort for every care, and he is thankful when you also are saved by grace through faith in Jesus. To the aged and the elderly, to the feeble, to those on the very verge of the grave, he still preaches Christ crucified, if he could find a sinner who had reached the age of Methuselah, he would have the same gospel to preach to him for he knows that there is no Savior but the crucified Christ of Calvary, and he also knows that, old or young, or in-between, all who trust Christ are immediately saved, and saved forever.
And just as he preaches Christ to sinners of every age, he also preaches Christ to sinners of every rank.
He has nothing better than Christ to preach to kings, queens, princes, presidents, and other nobles and he has nothing less than Christ to preach to peasants, laborers, or paupers; Christ crucified for the highly educated, and Christ crucified equally for the ignorant and illiterate.
He also preaches Christ to every kind of sinner, even to the atheist, the man who says there is no God, and he calls him to believe and live.
He preaches Christ to the openly profane; when they pause for a while in their swearing, he tells them of that great promise which God has declared, “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.” We preach Christ to the prostitutes on the street, and oh, how joyfully have many of them received Christ and how gladly have they found cleansing from their foul stains in Jesus’ precious blood! We preach, Christ to the drunkard, for we believe that nothing but the grace of God can rescue him from his degradation and sin, and we have seen many such sinners saved and made new creations by the gospel. The preaching of Christ crucified, the lifting up of the dying Son of God “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness,” has enough power to turn the whole world upside down, and to change innumerable sinners into saints, so we plan to keep on preaching Christ to every kind of sinner.
We do not intend to leave out one sinner, not even you, my friend, who think you are left out, or ought to be left out. We know that there is a book of life in heaven, and that no more names can be written in it; they were all recorded before the creation of the world when the Father gave to Christ those who are to be eternally his. We cannot fly up to heaven to read the names that are written there, but we believe the list contains millions upon millions of names of those who have not yet trusted in Christ, so we plan to keep on preaching Christ to sinners of every age, of every rank, of every kind, of every degree of wickedness and depravity, and we believe that there is “still is room in heaven,” for there is mercy for the wretched, there is forgiveness for the guilty who will come and trust in Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
III. Now, lastly, HOW ARE WE TO PREACH CHRIST CRUCIFIED?
I think, first, we ought to preach Christ very boldly.
I remember a young man going into a pulpit, to address a small congregation, and he began by saying that he hoped they would pardon his youth, and forgive his impertinence in coming to speak to them. Some foolish old gentleman said, “What a humble person that young man is to talk like that!” but another, who was wiser though he was younger, said, “What a dishonor to his Lord and Master! If God sent him with a message to those people, what does it matter whether he is young or old! Such artificial modesty as that is out of place in the pulpit.” I think that second man was right, and the first one wrong. A true minister of the gospel is an ambassador for Christ, and do our ambassadors go to foreign courts with apologies for carrying messages from their ruler? It would be a gross insult to the governments of these countries if they showed such humility as that in their official capacity. Let ministers of the gospel keep their modesty for other occasions when it should be manifested, but don’t let them dishonor their Master and discredit his message as that silly young man did. When we preach Christ crucified, we have no reason to stammer, or stutter, or hesitate, or apologize; there is nothing in the gospel of which we have any reason to be ashamed. If a minister is not sure about his message, let him keep quiet until he is sure about it; but we believe, and therefore we speak with conviction. If I have not proved the power of the gospel in my own heart and life, then I am a vile impostor to be standing in this pulpit to preach that gospel to others, but since I know most assuredly that I am saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, and since I feel certain that I have been divinely called to preach his gospel — Will I, then, because of the fear of feeble man restrain the Spirit’s course? Or undaunted in my life and word be a true witness for my Lord?
But while we preach Christ boldly, we must also preach him with love.
There must be great love in our proclamation of the truth. We must not hesitate to point out to sinners the state of ruin to which sin has brought them, and we must clearly set before them the divinely-appointed remedy; but we must mingle a mother’s tenderness with a father’s sternness. Paul was like both, mother and father in a spiritual sense, in his ministry. He wrote to the Galatians, “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you;” and to the Corinthians he wrote, “In Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel,” and every true minister of Christ can sympathize with him in both those experiences.
Yes, sinners, we do indeed love you; often, our heart is almost broken with the longing we have to see you saved. We wish we could preach to you with Baxter’s tearful eye; no, rather, with the Savior’s melting heart and all-consuming zeal.
Then, next, we must preach Christ only.
With Paul, every true minister must be able to say to his listeners, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” The preacher must never mix up anything else with the gospel. Every time he preaches, he must still have the same old theme, “Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” Christ is the Alpha of the gospel, and he is the Omega too; the first letter of the gospel alphabet, and the last letter, and all the letters in between. It must be Christ, Christ, CHRIST from beginning to end. There must be no “doing works” or anything else, mixed up with Christ. There must be no shoddy materials used as we build on Christ, the one foundation that, is laid once for all.
The preacher must also be sure that he preaches Christ very simply.
He must break up his big words and long sentences, and pray against the temptation to use them. It is usually the short, dagger-like sentence that does the work best. A true servant of Christ must never try to let the people see how well he can preach; he must never go out of his way to drag a pretty piece of poetry in his sermon, nor to introduce some fine quotations from the classics. He must employ a simple, homely style, or such a style as God has given him and he must preach Christ so plainly that his listeners cannot only understand him, but that they cannot misunderstand him even if they try to do so.
Now as the time has gone, I must close, by saying that we must try to preach Christ savingly.
sinners, I pray that you would trust Christ this very moment! Do you realize
how great your danger is? Unconverted soul, you are standing as it were, over
the mouth of hell, on a single plank, and that plank is rotten! Man, woman, you
may be in thy grave, before another Sunday dawns and then, if unsaved you will
be in hell! Beware lest you are taken out of this earth without salvation in
Christ, for, if that happens to you, then know that will be no ransom that can
prevent your soul from going down to the pit. Oh sinner, see your need of
Christ, and grab hold of him, by faith. No one but Christ can save you. Christ
is the Way; you may go about all your days trying to find another entrance to
heaven, but you will not find it for this is the only one. Why will you not
come to God by Christ? Why are you so ungrateful as to despise the patient
mercy of God? Won’t you let the goodness of God lead you to repent? Will Christ
die for sinners, and yet will you, O sinner, turn away from him who alone can
give you life? If you will only trust him, he will save you; your sins, which
are many, will all be forgiven; you will be adopted into the family of God, and
in due time you will find yourself in heaven and be there for all eternity. If
you want to be happy, if you want to enjoy the peace that is beyond all
understanding if you want to have two heavens — a heaven below and a heaven above
— then trust in Jesus, trust in Jesus this very moment. Do not leave this
building unsaved. One believing look will bring you salvation, for —
“There is life for a look at the Crucified One;
There is life at this moment for thee;
Then look, sinner — look to Jesus, and be saved, —
To him who was nailed to the tree.”.
Look to Jesus, look to him now; may the Holy Spirit enable you to look and live, for Jesus Christ’s sake! Amen.
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