Paschal Light Spiritual Foundation
Discourse 7: The Sign Of The Cross
What is implied by the ‘sign of the Cross’? And what obligations are imposed on those who receive that sign in baptism?
The sign of the Cross in baptism, is a token of great significance. And from the language used, in connection with the ceremony of impressing this sign on the recipient's forehead, it will be seen that it implies an entire change and newness of character. ‘We receive this person into the congregation of Christ’s flock, and do sign him with the sign of the Cross, in token that hereafter he shall not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, and manfully to fight under his banner, against sin, the world, and the devil; and to continue Christ’s faithful soldier and servant unto his life's end.’ This language is figurative, but its meaning cannot be mistaken. The figure is militant, and is intended to show that baptism, like an enlistment or enrolment, places the recipient in a new condition, in which he voluntarily assumes a new character.
It is a condition and character in which he or she incurs responsibilities and obligations similar to those imposed on the soldier, who enrols themself in the army of a military chief. The recipient turns away from, and abandons the servitude of their old masters, and engages themself to a new leader. And the change is as great and obvious as when the civilian becomes a military person, or the citizen a soldier. And the sign of the Cross is an appropriate token of their new profession. They enlist under it, as their standard and banner, and doing this they commit their cause to the Great Captain of their salvation, who has borne the Cross for them. They glory in this sign and badge of discipleship. And pledge themselves to fight under it, boldly and faithfully, until the warfare is ended, and the final victory gained. So much is fairly implied in the sign of the Cross in baptism and it will be found, as we proceed to examine the other branch of our question, that it is not only strictly Scriptural, but that it constitutes one of the most beautiful and striking illustrations of the Christian character recorded in the sacred volume.
Obligations of Receiving the Cross
What obligations are imposed on those who receive the sign of the Cross in baptism? For an answer to this question, we turn to the Apostle, who addressing himself to his young son in the gospel, draws out and defines the character and obligations of a Christian soldier. You, therefore, endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No soldier that fights entangles themself with the affairs of this life; so that they may please him who has chosen them to be a soldier. (2 Tim. 2:3-4) Let us look more closely at this definition. We observe that the soldier, though interested like other people in the ordinary affairs of the world, and the general welfare of society, is nevertheless bound to avoid those pursuits which may entangle them, or divert their mind from the great business of their profession.
Let us examine this in greater detail. First, the soldier is detached from other people, and is united to a regular, organized, systematic and orderly body, subject to peculiar laws, regulations, and discipline, and governed by principles and views distinct from those which ordinarily sway humanity. Secondly, they are placed under a commander whose orders they are required to obey, to whose authority they are bound to submit, whose cause they are to maintain, whom they are to follow in every circumstance, and to whom alone they are finally to look for their reward. And, thirdly, they cannot abandon the service in which they are employed except without expecting consequences, they cannot communicate with the enemy, they must not shrink from danger, nor sleep at their post, but must, on the contrary, spend the whole time of their allotted service in watchfulness and vigilance, and meet every event with bravery and fortitude. And if these are among the distinguishing characteristics of a soldier, we can see at once that they are no less applicable to those who profess and call themselves Christians, who are enlisted under the banner of the Cross, and who have put on the badge of discipleship in the service of the Redeemer.
Should it not, then, be advisable for everyone who has received this sign of the Cross in baptism, to test his Christian character by this standard? We are not to insist on the extreme basis, that the Christian can be wholly exempt from the cares of life, or that they should shirk their responsibilities. This would be a kind of fanaticism, for which neither the Scriptures nor the Church offer any authorisation. But the plain and obvious rule is that they must not allow their hearts to be estranged and ensnared by those concerns which interfere with their Christian duties. If they would please Him in whose cause they are enlisted, they must not give a divided or partial service, nor must they imagine, for a moment, that it is possible to serve two masters. They who assume the name and badge of a Christian, are no longer the slave and servant of the world, but are detached and separated from everything except its necessary and indispensable concerns.
Are You a Christian Soldier?
To what extent, fellow Christian, does this agree with your present state and outlook? Is there anything to indicate this change of character? Do you duly consider that you are detached from the world, and that you belong to a distinct and organized body, the Church, whose spiritual laws, regulations and discipline are peculiar to itself, and are entirely different from those which ordinarily influence humanity? Do you view it as so sacred that its doctrines should be held as sacrosanct?
These, you will see, are important questions. Because the idea of serving Christ, without giving up all excessive attachment to the world, of promoting a cause to which you are not faithfully devoted, of engaging in a warfare to which the heart is unwilling, would be absurd. If you would serve Christ acceptably, if you should acquit yourself as a faithful soldier of the Cross, if you would look forward with a reasonable hope of reward, you must know no other cause, no other object, no other rule of conduct, except that which he prescribes. If you are to fight the good fight of faith, if you are to lay hold of the hope of eternal life, you must not entangle or encumber yourself unnecessarily with the affairs of this life.
Do you reflect, that, by taking the name of Christ, and receiving the sign of the Cross, you place yourself under the sole and exclusive command of the Great Captain of your salvation? Do you feel, as you should, the weight of his authority, and the importance of the cause which he requires you to maintain? Are you aware of your obligation to follow him through every change and circumstance of life? These are also very important questions, because if you call Christ your Master, and have received his sign on your forehead, surely you should be willing to follow him to the best of your ability.
Apply this, then, to your own case. Look back to the period when you were admitted, by the solemn rites of the Church, into the army of the living God, when the sign of the Cross was impressed upon your brow, and when your faithfulness, as a soldier and servant, was pledged to your divine Master, and ask yourself how the intermediate space has been filled up.
There are bound to instances when you have not lived up to the ideal Christian life. Do not allow yourself to feel guilt at this; instead you should resolve to start afresh and to live more faithfully as a Christian soldier. At the first opportunity seek to renew and confirm the vows made at your baptism, and to resolve, by the help of God, to run such a steady and honourable course, that all the world may see that you are not ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, that you will fight boldly under his banner, against sin, the world and the devil, and that you will continue Christ's faithful soldier’ and servant unto your life’s end.
May the Profound Peace and Perfect Love of God be with you always.
End of Discourse 7