Glorying in the Cross with T.T. Shields and Anne Steele

Glorying in the cross of Christ lies at the very heart of what it means to be a biblical Christian.(1) In the 1920s, during the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy, it was this glorying that was central to the difference between Fundamentalists and Modernists. The latter liked to think and talk of Christ’s death as chiefly an example of the Father’s love and Christ’s dying as that of a glorious martyr.(2) But it was men like Dr. T. T. Shields (1873-1955), the Toronto Baptist, who insisted that the death of the Lord Jesus had far richer meaning. The real significance of the suffering and death of the Lord Christ, he insisted, lay in the fact it was for sinners. He suffered and died in their stead. For sinners’ eternal good his sinless soul bore the wrath they justly deserved. And the salvation he consequently secured by his death is full and complete and lacks nothing. Glory—glory indeed!

It is well known, though, that Roman Catholicism has also focused on the sufferings and death of Christ.  Where does it differ then from the Evangelical witness to and glorying in the cross? Mel Gibson’s lavishly produced The Passion of the Christ with its intense concentration on the physical sufferings of the Lord Jesus well reveals the stance of traditional Catholicism. Yet it fails to enunciate clearly why Christ died and the importance of his spiritual sufferings. And here is seen the crucial difference between the Evangelical and Roman Catholic approaches to the cross.

Historically, Evangelical glorying in the cross has also meant an emphasis on a certain type of living. To truly glory in the cross is to no longer live for self and one’s ambitions and plans. It means to give all for Jesus and his glory. The eighteenth-century Baptist hymnwriter Anne Steele (1717-1778) put this truth in this way:

Dear Lord, what heavenly wonders dwell

In thy atoning blood!

By this are sinners snatch’d from hell,

And rebels brought to God.


Jesus, my soul, adoring bends

To love so full, so free;

And may I hope that love extends

Its sacred power to me?


What glad return can I impart,

For favours so divine?

O take my all, this worthless heart...

(1) Thus Philip E. Hughes and Frank Colquhoun, “Introduction” to Leon Morris, Glory in the Cross. A Study in the Atonement (1966 ed; repr. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979), 6.

(2) See, for example, L.H. Marshall’s view of Christ’s death as cited by W. J. H. Brown, [“Modernism”] (Unpublished ms., W. Gordon Brown Papers, McMaster Divinity College Archives, McMaster University, Ontario), [p.4].