Parables of the Cross
The Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ shuts off the life of sin; like the silted-up channel, it stands a blessed invisible barrier between us and sinning, as we "reckon" it there: that is, hold it there by faith and will. And His open grave is the open way into a life wherein our rising powers can develop into all their spring vigour.
The sap - the will - the "ego" - is withdrawn from the former existence, its aims and desires, and is sent into the new. It is given over to the other side: we hold to it that this is now our life, the only one that has the right to be. We reckon ourselves dead to the old; we reckon ourselves alive to the new; "putting off" the former, "putting on" the latter.
Take a practical instance. An old habit of doubting and fearing asserts itself in your soul, alive and strong. You have two things to do. Close the door upon the doubt: shut your eyes to it: reckon yourself dead to it.
And then reckon into life the new-born growth of faith in your soul, and put all your force into believing: lift up your eyes to the God in Whom you believe: believe, in the teeth of everything, as if the cause for doubt were not there. Then the sap, ceasing from feeding the old shoot, will flow into the new.
But is it an act, or a gradual process, this "putting off the old man?" It is both. It is a resolve taken once for all, but carried out in detail day by day. The first hour that the sap begins to withdraw, and the leaf-stalk begins to silt up, the leaf's fate is sealed: there is never a moment's reversal of the decision. Each day that follows is a steady carrying out of the plant's purpose: "this old leaf shall die, and the new leaf shall live." So with your soul. Come to the decision once for all: "every known sin shall go - if there is a deliverance to be had, I will have it." Put the Cross of Christ, in its mysterious delivering power, irrevocably between you and sinning, and hold on there. That is your part, and you must do it. There is no further progress possible to you, till you make up your mind to part company with every sin in which you know you are indulging - every sin of thought, word, or deed, every link with the world, the flesh, or the devil, everything on which the shadow of a question falls, as God's light shines in: to part company, not by a series of gradual struggles, but by an honest act of renouncing, maintained by faith and obedience. And as you make the decision up to your present knowledge, you must determine that this is henceforth your attitude towards all that is "not of the Father," as His growing light shall reveal it.
From His side God will come in with a breath of His resurrection power; for the Cross and the empty tomb cannot be long divided. The law of the Spirit of Life can work now, as you deliberately loose hold of all clinging to sin; the expulsive power of His working within, and the play of His winds around, will make you "free indeed," like these young shoots when last year's leaves have fallen.
This brings us to the positive side; for when the sentence of death on the old nature is realised, the new nature can be manifested. Separation from all known sin is the starting-point for santification, not the goal: it is only the negative side of holiness; it is only reaching the place where God can develop His ideal in us unhindered. It is when the death of winter has done its work that the sun can draw out in each plant its own individuality, and make its existence full and fragrant. Holiness means something more than the sweeping away of the old leaves of sin: it means the life of Jesus developed in us.
No matter if we feel utterly helpless before that lovely life of His. Given the conditions--the hidden power within, and the old outlets of growth shut off--the sun will do the rest; out of the midst of apparent lifelessness, of barrenness, of difficulty, the blossoms will be drawn forth. Do not let us "limit the Holy One of Israel" by putting off His power to work this miracle into a distant future. How hopeless the naked wood of a fruit tree would look to us in February if we had never seen the marvel of springtime! Yet the heavenly bloom bursts straight out, with hardly an intermediate step of new growth.
Look again at a flowering rush. The crest breaks forth from nothingness - out of the lifeless-seeming pith come crowding the golden brown blossoms, till there is hardly "room to receive" them. What more do we need for our souls than to have this God for our God?
Once allow the manifestation of His grace in these poor hearts of ours to be a miracle, and there is no need to defer it vaguely. How many of the wonders wrought by Christ on earth lay in concentrating the long processes of nature into a sudden act of power. The sick would, many of them, have been healed by degrees in the ordinary course of things; the lapse of years would have brought about the withering of the fig-tree; the storm would have spent itself in few hours. The miracle in each case consisted in the slow process being quickened by the Divine breath, and condensed into a moment.
Cannot we trust Him for like marvels in our souls? There, too, "a day is with the Lord as a thousand years." There is no needs be on His part that He should prolong this first act of making us holy over the rest of our lives. A miracle - a wonder - is all that we need, and "He is the God, that doeth wonders." Satan is quite content that we should have faith for future sanctification, just as he was content that we should have faith for future salvation. It is when the soul rises to "here and now" that he trembles.
Whatever is the next grace for your soul, can you believe for its supply at once, straight out from the dry, bare need? Christ's process is very simple and very swift: "Whatsoever things ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them."
And not only with the barrenness of our souls can God deal with His quickening breath, but with our difficulties as well: with those things in our surroundings that seem the most unfavourable.
See this bit of gorse-bush. The whole year round the thorn has been hardening and sharpening. Spring comes: the thorn does not drop off, and it does not soften; there it is, as uncompromising as ever; but half-way up appear two brown furry balls, mere specks at first, that break at last - straight out of last year's thorn - into a blaze of fragrant golden glory.
"Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous; nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them that are exercised thereby." Never mind if the trouble shews no sign of giving way: it is just when it seems most hopelessly unyielding, holding on through the spring days, alive and strong, it is then that the tiny buds appear that soon will clothe it with glory. Take the very hardest thing in your life - the place of difficulty, outward or inward, and expect God to triumph gloriously in that very spot. Just there He can bring your soul into blossom!
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And so the spring-time expands, till it passes once more into the shadow of Calvary. For the blessedness of receiving is not all that God has for us: a new world lies beyond - a world of giving: a giving first to God in surrender, then to man in sacrifice.
A flower that stops short at its flowering misses its purpose. We were created for more than our own spiritual development; reproduction, not mere development, is the goal of matured being - reproduction in other lives. There is a tendency in some characters, running parallel to the high cultivation that spends its whole energy on the production of bloom at the expense of seed. The flowers that are bent on perfecting themselves, by becoming double, end in barrenness, and a like barrenness comes to the soul whose interests are all concentrated upon its own spiritual well-being, heedless of the needs around. The true, ideal flower is the one that uses its gifts as means to an end; the brightness and sweetness are not for its own glory; they are but to attract the bees and butterflies that will fertilise and make it fruitful. All may go when the work is done - "it is more blessed to give than to receive."
And we ourselves are "saved to save" - we are made to give - to let everything go if only we may have more to give. The pebble takes in all the rays of light that fall on it, but the diamond flashes them out again: every little facet is a means, not simply of drinking more in, but of giving more out. The unearthly loveliness of the opal arises from the same process, carried on within the stone: the microscope shows it to be shattered through and through with numberless fissures that catch and refract and radiate every ray that they can seize.
Yes, there lies before us a beautiful possible life - one that shall have a passion for giving: that shall be poured forth to God - spent out for man: that shall be consecrated "for the hardest work and the darkest sinners." But how are we to enter in? How are we to escape from the self-life that holds us, even after the sin-life has loosed its grasp?
Back to the Cross: not only from the world of condemnation and from the world of sinning does it free us as we accept it, but from the power of outward things and from the thraldom of self: not only does it open the door into the world of acquittal, and again into that of holiness, but yet again into the new realm of surrender, and thence into that of sacrifice. For the essential idea of the Cross is a life lost to be found again in those around.
Let us look at God's picturing. As the plant develops there comes a fresh stage of yielding. At first it was only the dead, disfiguring leaves that had to go - now it is the fair new petals: they must fall, and for no visible reason - no one seems enriched by the stripping.
And the first step into the realm of giving is a like surrender - not manward, but Godward: an utter yielding of our best. So long as our idea of surrender is limited to the renouncing of unlawful things, we have never grasped its true meaning: that is not worthy of the name for "no polluted thing" can be offered.
The life lost on the Cross was not a sinful one - the treasure poured forth there was God-given, God-blessed treasure, lawful and right to be kept: only that there was the life of the world at stake!