The Power of the Cross


Various aspects of “The Power of the Cross” As the power of God unto salvation are discussed in the following chapters. May, through this exposition of God’s own revelation in the Holy Scriptures concerning the cross of our Lord, the wisdom and power of mere man be put to nought, the glory of God’s power unto salvation be extolled, and the cross of Christ become more precious to the hearts of many that know its power.

Herman Hoeksema
Grand Rapids printed January 1947 Michigan


CHAPTER One of 8

1 Corinthians 1:18 For the word of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.

The word of the cross is the power of God.

Is not this the most amazing paradox, greater, deeper, more astounding even than that of God’s revelation in the flesh of the Babe in swaddling clothes, in the manger of Bethlehem? Is not the cross the ultimate in human impotency, and does it not symbolize all that is despised and rejected of men? How, then, can that cross be the revelation of the Most High, a Word of the Lord of heaven and earth; and how is it possible that this Word of God in and through the cross is a word of power?

 Yet, does not all revelation of the infinite God to the finite creature necessarily imply a paradox?

God is God, and there is none beside Him. He is the Holy One of Israel, the incomparable One, infinitely and eternally distinct from all that is called creature. For “to whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him? … Have ye not known? Have ye not heard? hath it not been told you from the beginning? have ye not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in: That bringeth the princes to nothing; he maketh the judges of the earth as vanity. Yea, they shall not be planted; yea they shall not be sown: yea, their stock shall not take root in the earth: and he shall also blow upon them, and they shall wither, and the whirlwind shall take them away as stubble. To whom then shall ye liken me, or shall I be equal? Saith the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 40:18, 20-25).

An infinite chasm, never to be abridged, there is between the Creator and the creature. He is the I AM, the self-existent One; the creature is utterly dependent. He is the Eternal, the creature is born upon the stream of time. He is the Infinite, the creature is limited on every side. In all His glorious, adorable virtues, of wisdom and knowledge, of justice and righteousness, of grace and truth, He is infinite perfection; the creature is never more than an infinitesimally small reflection of His glory. And He is Lord, the only Sovereign of heaven and earth. Of Him, and through Him, and unto Him are all things. To Him must be the glory forever!

When, therefore, it pleases God to reveal Himself to us, that is, when He so comes down to our level that we may know Him, and have fellowship with Him; yet so, that He becomes known as God; known, but as the incomprehensible One; near, yet infinitely far away; immanent, yet transcendent,-He does so by performing wondrous things, those things that are impossible with man.

He does so in creation, for He calls the things that are not as if they were. “Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created all these things, that bringeth out their host by number: he calleth them all by names by the greatness of his might, for that he is strong in power: not one faileth” (Isaiah 40:26).

Far more gloriously, however He reveals Himself as God, as the incomparable Lord, in the work of redemption. In creation, He calls the things that are not as if they were. In redemption, He calls out of darkness, righteousness out of unrighteousness, the glory of the eternal, heavenly day out of the darkness of the night of sin; and He quickens the dead. What is impossible with man, is possible with God! And less man should boast in his own power and wisdom, God brings these utterly to nought, will have none of them; and deliberately chooses the weak, and foolish, and base things of the world, yea and things that are not, to bring to nought the things that are, and to become revealed as the incomparable God, who is the Lord. No flesh may ever glory in His presence!

 That is the word of the cross.

Clearly, and with great emphasis, this profound truth is set forth in the first chapter of First Corinthians, from the seventeenth verse to the end. The theme of that passage is: “the power and wisdom of God in the word of the cross.” The apostle emphasizes that this word of the cross cannot possibly be preached by means of the wisdom of a human word, for “the preaching (‘or word’) is foolishness to them that perish, but to us that are saved it is the power of God.” The power and wisdom of the world Good was pleased to put to shame and to bring to nought. Unto the salvation of the world, He will not employ them, nor use them as the medium of revelation for His power and wisdom, lest men should boast in His presence. On the contrary, it pleased Him through the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. Man as mere man, as the proud sinner that boast against God, even seeks to save himself by his own power, and to solve the problem of the salvation of the world by his own wisdom. Hence, “the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom.” God, however, will not share His glory with the creature. He that glorieth must glory in the Lord. And, therefore, He chooses the foolish things of the world as a means to reveal His wisdom, the weak things of the world to reveal His power, the base things of the world as a medium to reveal His glory, and the things that are not, that He may utterly bring to nought the things that are. And so He chooses the cross to make a crown; and the utterly despised and rejected Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified One, utterly crushed and forsaken, He presents as the Saviour of the world, and makes Him Lord of all! And thus the apostle, and the Church after them, preach “Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness, but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, the power of God, and the wisdom of God.”
That is the word of the cross.

But what is this word of the cross that is a power of God unto salvation?

In the eighteenth verse of First Corinthians, the apostle writes: “For the word of the cross is to them that perish foolishness, but to us that are saved it is the power of God.” It needed no further definition of the “cross” to indicate that the cross of Christ is meant. Even though His is not the only cross, and though, in the days of Christ’s flesh, death by crucifixion was inflicted frequently; yea, though two others, malefactors, were crucified with Him on Calvary, yet there is only one cross that is of any significance for the Christ faith: The cross of Christ. Moreover, we also understand that there is a figure of speech here, and that not the cross, but Christ crucified is meant. When the Scriptures speak of the cross they refer to the historic even that Jesus Christ “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried, descended into hell.”

But what may be the meaning of “the word” of the cross?

No doubt, the translation: “the word of the cross,” should be maintained, in the preference to that of the Authorized Version: “the preaching of the cross.” For that is the meaning of the original: Ho logs tou staurou. The phrase does not refer to the gospel message concerning the cross, in the first place, even though it is true that the preaching of the gospel is the vehicle upon which the word of the cross is carried out to men. It must emphatically does not denote a word that we, that mere men speak about that cross. But the reference is to the Word which God speaks in and through the cross of Christ.

The cross is a Word of God.

All things may be said to be words of God. The Word of God is the very essence and meaning of all things that are made. For “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” There is a Word of God in the golden glory of the sun, and in the silvery shimmer of the moon, striking a path across the ripping surface of the lake. There is a Word of God in the humble lily of the valley and in the proud cedar of Lebanon, in the flashing lightning and in the roaring thunder, in the lowly lamb and in the mighty lion, in the murmuring brook and in the tempestuous ocean. That is the reason why the heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament sheweth His handiwork, day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night uttereth knowledge. For in all the works of His hands God speaks concerning Himself. We understand this speech no more because of the darkness of sin within, and the curse and vanity of the creature without. But even so, all creation is a Word of God, and the Word of God in every creature is its idea, its essence, its real meaning.

In the same sense, Scripture speaks of the word of the cross. That cross of Christ is a revelation of the living God, a Word of God to us. That Word of God in the cross is its idea, its real meaning; and only as the Word of God it is power. For, mark you well, the word of the cross is the power of God.

Nor could we, of ourselves, discern the meaning of that word of the cross, and hear it. The divine logic of the cross is hid from our eyes. Standing on Calvary, the natural man, contemplating the cross in his own light, might discern a relative difference between it and the two crosses of the malefactors that were crucified with our Lord. He may come to the conclusion that the crucified One is a good man, who dies for his principles; and he might become religious, condemning the enemies that nailed him to the tree, and exalting himself above them. But there is any special significance, that there is a marvelous power in that cross, he can never discover. From that viewpoint, it is foolishness to him. However, God has revealed the logos, the word of the cross unto us. He spoke it to the apostles and prophets. And as they received the word of the cross, they proclaimed it in the world. Their word concerning the cross has been preserved for us in the Holy Scriptures. And it is by the light of Holy Writ, and through the illumination of the Spirit, that the Church still discerns and hear the word of the cross, and preaches the gospel to all the world. Hence, the word of the cross is the Word which God speaks through the crucified One, which He received to and spoke through the apostles and prophets, and which He still speaks through the preaching of the gospel, by the Church, according to the Scriptures.

Hence, we must stand at Calvary and, contemplating the cross of Jesus, we must hear what God will say to us.

We must be silent, by all means we must refrain from our own speech, about Calvary. For if we are not completely silent, if we attempt to form our own judgment of that cross, and to philosophize about it, we will never hear the Word of God which alone is the power unto salvation.

And standing in that attitude of silence of faith, we will hear the word of the cross speaking, first of all and emphatically, of righteousness and justice, and God’s terrible displeasure and wrath against our sin. Watching the cross of Jesus, by faith, and in the light of Holy Scriptures, we know that God is thee on Calvary, and that in the suffering and death of the crucified One, He speaks of His holiness and righteousness, of His changeable justice of His unchangeable justice, of His holy anger against all the workers of iniquity, and of the impossibility of salvation except in the way of satisfaction. We see that cross, not as man’s word, but as the Word of God; we forget the judgment of Pontius Pilate, of the Sanhedrin, the wickedness of the Jews; and we know that we behold the righteous judgment of God. We no longer hear the jeers and mockery of wicked men: we are struck by the awful thunder of God’s wrath, filling our hearts with the fear of death and hell. We understand, as we watch the lifeblood of the Lamb of God slowly dripping from His hands and feet, that every drop is laden with wrath of God against sin. We behold the dreadful darkness spreading its horrible wings over the scene of Calvary, enveloping Him and us all, and we understand that God is hiding His face from us, and that He has come to execute judgment upon the world. And we are filled with fear. We would like to call on the mountains to fall upon us, and to the hills to cover us, and to hide us from the face of Him that sitteth upon the throne. For we realize that, as far as we are concerned, the situation is absolutely impossible. We hear, through the cross of Jesus, the Word of God as a word of righteousness and judgment and wrath, and we tremble. That is the word of the cross

For, as we continue to listen to the word of the cross, we realize that it is not His, but our sin that is brought into judgment on Calvary. We have sinned, and we are worthy of death. We are corrupt, darkened in our understanding, perverse of will, alienated from God, His enemies, hating Him, and hating one another. We are guilty. And we have nothing to pay. And the word of the cross to us is that God demands the last farthing. He demands that we love Him, and we hate Him, He brings upon us death and desolation, and still He demands that we love Him, even in the revelation of His justice and wrath; and we can only hate Him the more, and increase our guilt daily. And so the word of the cross, as revelation of God’s righteous wrath against our sin, loudly proclaims that, if our wisdom and power must provide a way out, the case is hopeless. We can only perish everlastingly. All things have become utterly impossible. All power and wisdom have been brought to nought.

That is the word of the cross

But wait! Do not flee in terror from Calvary as you hear the word of God’s unchangeable righteousness and holy wrath. Do not depart from the scene, and do not cease to listen to the word of the cross, as soon as you have become convinced that, as for you, all the power and all the wisdom of the world cannot save you. For what is impossible with man is possible with God. And it pleases Him to reveal His great power of salvation exactly then and there when and where it has become completely impossible for us to find a way out.

 For the Word of the cross proclaims that the death of Jesus of Nazareth is the death of the Son of God in the flesh, freely giving His life for us, in our stead, and in our behalf. It is the revelation of God’s eternal, unfathomable, boundless, and unchangeable love to His people. As you survey the cross of Calvary, in the light of the Holy Scriptures, and by faith, you there behold the God of your salvation. Therein, indeed, lies the mystery, the most amazing paradox of the cross: the offended God is come down into our flesh, is descended into the nethermost parts of the earth, to bear our offenses! God, O mystery of mysteries! In His only begotten Son come in the flesh, bears our sins, dies our death, bears God’s wrath, blots out all our iniquities. Paradox of paradoxes, God in the flesh is forsaken of God: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” That is the paradox, yet that is exactly the power of the cross. Deny it, and you have nothing left but a word of man. Deny that there, on the cross is suspended, not mere man, but “the only begotten Son, our Lord,” God of God, Light of Light, coequal with the Father and the Holy Ghost, and you have made the cross of Christ vain. But that He is the Son, who is eternally in the bosom of the Father, voluntarily taking our place in judgment, that we might nevermore be condemned, – that is the very heart of the word of the cross.

And so, the word of the cross speaks of a wondrous love. It proclaims that God, before the world was, loved us and ordained us unto everlasting life and glory; that, unto that end, He appointed His only begotten Son to be the Head of His brethren, the Church, that He might bear their sins, atone for their iniquities, obtain for them everlasting righteousness, deliver them from all their woe, and lead them into the glory of God’s heavenly tabernacle with men.

That is the word of the cross.

“And so, the word of the cross speaks of a wondrous love. It proclaims that God, before the world was, loved us and ordained us unto everlasting life and glory; that, unto that end. He appointed His only begotten Son to be the Head of His brethren, the Church, that He might bear their sins, atone for their iniquities, obtain for them everlasting righteousness, deliver them from all their woe, and lead them into the glory of God’s heavenly tabernacle with them. It proclaims that this good pleasure of the God of our salvation was realized in the fullness of time, that He sent His only begotten Son into the world, loaded all the burden of our sin upon Him, delivered Him over unto death, yea, the death of the cross, and thus redeemed us by His own blood. At the cross our power and wisdom are brought to nought, but God’s wisdom and the power of His eternal love gloriously shine forth. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

And that word is power, a power of God! It does not merely speak of righteousness and judgment, of love and salvation, of redemption and eternal life: it accomplishes it. By the power of the word of the cross the burden of our sins is rolled from our weary shoulders, the shackles of corruption are cut, death loses its sting; and righteousness and peace, life and glory are bestowed upon us.

 It is such a power, exactly because it is the Word of God.

He speaks it.

And when He speaks it to our soul, we are saved. And when we are saved the word of the cross is a power God to us.

No, indeed, not to all the word of the cross is a power unto salvation. For not to all the mighty word of the cross is spoken in its saving efficacy. And the natural man cannot discern the things of the Spirit. They are foolishness to him. Through such a weak and foolish and base things as a cross, he will not be saved. He seeks power and wisdom. The philosophy of man, rather than the wisdom of God, he will follow. In the power of man, the power of science and invention, of armies and equipment for war, of conferences and peace treaties, he puts his hope for salvation of the world. He will not humble himself before God as sinner, but rather boasts in his own goodness. And so, the cross is foolishness to him, a thing that is vain, and that cannot accomplish what it promises. But it is foolishness to him, because he belongs to them that are perishing in their darkness and corruption. And, on the other hand, he perishes, because he loves his own folly and despises the wisdom and power of God, revealed in the cross of His only begotten Son of God.

But they that are saved know and acknowledge the word of the cross as a power of God.

To them that word was spoken, and still is spoken efficaciously. They are called. It is the Word of God to them. He Himself, through Christ, in the Spirit, by the preaching of the gospel, addressed it to their hearts. They heard the voice of Jesus say: “Come unto me, and rest,” and they still hear it. And through that mighty Word they were saved, and they are being saved. They were burdened with sin, and through the word of the cross the load of their sin was lifted from their shoulders. Weary, and vainly labouring in their unrest they were, and at the cross they found rest. Filled with misery in the consciousness of the wrath of God against their sin they were, but hearing the word of the cross they found peace. In the midst of death they lay, but the word of the cross quickened them, and filled their hearts with the hope of eternal life. Light and joy, rest and peace, wisdom and knowledge, redemption and forgiveness, the adoption unto children of God, eternal righteousness and life they found as they heard the word of the cross. They are saved. To them the word of the cross is a power of God, and in it alone they put all their confidence.

 And they are being saved through that same word, day by day.

Hearing that word, they go from strength to strength, until the word of the cross shall be fully realized in them through the resurrection from the dead, when they shall dwell in God’s tabernacle, and see Him face to face!

O, indeed, the word of the cross is a power of God!


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“For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,” Titus 2:11