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            There is no event in all the annals of recorded history better attested than the death of Jesus Christ upon the cross. His death, burial and resurrection, which made him victor over death, Hades and the grave, became the central and fundamental truth of the gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-4).

            The cross became a constant theme of apostolic preaching (1 Cor. 1:18, 23). When the Restoration Movement was born in this country it was only natural that a revival in the preaching of the cross should come about. When we understand the religious condition of America in the early 1800’s, we begin to get a clearer perception of the intensity of interest which followed in the wake of efforts to restore New Testament Christianity.

            The preaching of that day rarely rose above the condition of the people. David Lipscomb, in his biography of Jesse L. Sewell, made this observation relative to the denominational preachers of his day: “As a rule the clergy of this country were well-meaning and honest, at least when they started out…Still, as far as my knowledge and recollection go, many of them, the majority, were good, well-meaning, but ignorant and misguided men.”[1]

 I have often smiled at this additional comment from Lipscomb:

They had not the most distant dream of a proper division and application of Scripture…They did not study the Bible further than to get a text. They claimed the Lord directed their minds to the text. If he did, he frequently failed to tell them where to find it, and often left them to quote it wrong, or even give some familiar adage, not in the Bible, as Scripture.[2]

            It was out of such a maze of religious confusion that men came calling for the Bible as our only rule of faith and practice. These were men who freed themselves from the shackles of denominational slavery, and their messages called people back to the Bible, Christ and the cross.

Alexander Campbell’s “Sermon on the Law”

             In a consideration of the cross in Restoration preaching there is no better place to begin than with Alexander Campbell. It was Campbell who pushed through barriers of human theology and caused many people to do their best to present themselves to God as one approved, rightly handling the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15).

            We begin with the “Sage of Bethany” because he was the right man, at the right place and at the right time. As J. J. Haley put it, “When the man and the moment come together, as they aways do when a great providential task is to be achieved, something happens.”[3] When Campbell delivered his famed “Sermon on the Law” at the regular meeting of the Redstone Baptist Association at Cross Creek, Virginia on August 30, 1816, something happened.

            In the “Sermon on the Law,” Campbell proved conclusively that there is a “proper division” of the word of God, and that such a division must begin at the cross. This was such a novel concept in that day that Campbell was tried for heresy because of it. The purpose of the “Sermon on the Law” “was…to show Christians are under law to Christ, and not to Moses.”[4] Errett Gates wrote, “This sermon was a complete exposition of the view he had adopted as early as 1812 on the relations of the two covenants.[5]

Benjamin Franklin: The Love of God at the Cross

            In The Gospel Preacher, published in 1869, Ben Franklin saw the cross of Christ as the instrument by which God’s love for man was made known to the world. In his sermon, “The Love of God to Man,” Franklin pointed out that it is at the cross that we find a full and perfect atonement for sin. He then asked:

Can we not, and will we not love him, who first loved us? Shall any man be found so hardened and abandoned that he cannot love him who withheld not his own Son, but gave him up freely for us all? Can any man, who has the heart of a man in him, look at this last appeal to the affections of man as he hung, suspended between heavens and the earth on that ignominious tree of the cross, crowned with thorns and robed in purple, till he breathed the last breath, gave the last struggle, and expired, and not love him?[6]

            Franklin rightly stressed that the cross of Christ is “God’s last exhibition of mercy; the last offer of divine compassion,” and that anyone who closes his eyes to it, hardens his heart against it and finally resists it, has taken himself beyond the penetrating power of divine truth. Of such a one, Franklin concluded: “The resources of infinite mercy and grace have been expended and lost on him, and failed to reclaim him. Divine goodness cannot impress his soul. Love cannot move his soul.[7]

NOTE: With this article I will begin a three-part series on “The Cross in Restoration Preaching.” This was an assigned subject given to me for a lectureship in 1984. After 40 years I will attempt to give it some new, but limited, exposure in our ebulletin. Thanks for reading! – Dennis



[1] David Lipscomb, Life and Sermons of Jesse L. Sewell (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Co., 1954), 25.

[2] Lipscomb, 26.

[3] J. J. Haley, Debates That Made History (Joplin, MO: College Press, n.d.), 20.

[4] Robert Richardson, Memoirs of Alexander Campbell, Vol. 1 (Indianapolis: Religious Book Service, n.d.), 472.

[5] Errett Gates, The Early Relation and Separation of Baptists and Disciples (Chicago: The Christian Century Co., 1904), 28.

[6] Benjamin Franklin, The Gospel Preacher, Vol. 1 (Delight, AR: Gospel Light Publishing Co., n.d.), 405-406.

[7] Franklin, 407.