Parables of the Cross
Look at this buttercup as it begins to learn its new lesson. The little hands of the calyx clasp tightly in the bud, round the beautiful petals; in the young flower their grasp grows more elastic - loosening somewhat in the daytime, but keeping the power of contracting, able to close in again during a rainstorm, or when night comes on. But see the central flower, which has reached its maturity. The calyx hands have unclasped utterly now - they have folded themselves back, past all power of closing again upon the petals, leaving the golden crown free to float away when God's time comes.
Have we learned the buttercup's lesson yet? Are our hands off the very blossom of our life? Are all things - even the treasures that He has sanctified - held loosely, ready to be parted with, without a struggle, when He asks for them?
It is not in the partial relaxing of grasp, with power to take back again, that this fresh victory of death is won: it is won when that very power of taking back is yielded; when our hands, like the little calyx hands of God's buttercups, are not only taken off, but folded behind our back in utter abandonment. Death means a loosened grasp - loosened beyond all power of grasping again.
And it is no strange thing that happens to us, if God takes us at our word, and strips us for a while of all that made life beautiful. It may be outward things - bodily comfort, leisure, culture, reputation, friendships - that have to drift away as our hands refuse to clasp on anything but God's will for us. Or it may be on our inner life that the stripping falls, and we have to leave the sunny lands of spiritual enjoyment for one after another of temptation's battlefields, where every inch of our foothold has to be tested, where even, it may seem to give way - till no experience, no resting-place remains to us in heaven or earth but God Himself - till we are "wrecked upon God."
Have faith, like the flowers, to let the old things go. Earn His beatitude, His "Blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in Me" - "the beatitude of the trusting," as it has well been called - even if you have to earn it like John the Baptist in an hour of desolation. You have told Him that you want Him only. Are you ready to ratify the words when His emptying begins to come? Is God enough? Is it still "My God" that you cry, even as Jesus cried when nothing else was left Him?
Yes, practical death with Him to lawful things is just letting go, even as He on the Cross let go all but God. It is not to be reached by struggling for it, but simply by yielding as the body yields at last to the physical death that lays hold on it - as the dying calyx yields its flower. Only to no iron law with its merciless grasp do we let ourselves go, but into the hands of the Father: it is there that our spirit falls, as we are made conformable unto the death of Jesus.
Does all this seem hard? Does any soul, young in this life and in that to come, shrink back and say "I would rather keep in the springtime - I do not want to reach unto the things that are before if it must mean all this of pain."
To such comes the Master's voice: "Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer": You are right to be glad in His April days while He gives them. Every stage of the heavenly growth in us is lovely to Him; He is the God of the daisies and the lambs and the merry child hearts! It may be that no such path of loss lies before you; there are people like the lands where spring and summer weave the year between them, and the autumn processes are hardly noticed as they come and go. The one thing is to keep obedient in spirit, then you will be ready to let the flower-time pass if He bids you, when the sun of His love has worked some more ripening. You will feel by then that to try to keep the withering blossoms would be to cramp and ruin your soul. It is loss to keep when God says 'give'.
For here again death is the gate of life: it is an entering in, not a going forth only; it means a liberating of new powers as the former treasures float away like the dying petals.
We cannot feel a consciousness of death: the words are a contradiction in terms. If we had literally passed out of this world into the next we should not feel dead, we should only be conscious of a new wonderful life beating within us. Our consciousness of death would be an entirely negative matter - the old pains would be unable to touch us, the old bonds would be unable to fetter us. Our actual consciousness would have passed into the new existence: we should be independent of the old.
And a like independence is the characteristic of the new flood of resurrection life that comes to our souls as we learn this fresh lesson of dying - a grand independence of any earthly thing to satisfy our soul, the liberty of those who have nothing to lose, because they have nothing to keep. We can do without anything while we have God. Hallelujah!
Nor is this all. Look at the expression of abandonment about this wild-rose calyx as time goes on, and it begins to grow towards the end for which it has had to count all things but loss: the look of dumb emptiness has gone - it is flung back joyously now, for simultaneously with the new dying a richer life has begun to work at its heart - so much death, so much life - for
The lovely wild-rose petals that have drifted away are almost forgotten in the "reaching forth unto the things that are before" the seed-vessel has begun to form: it is "yielded . . . to bring forth fruit."
Yes, there is another stage to be developed in us after the lesson of absolute unquestioning surrender to God has been learnt. A life that has been poured forth to Him must find its crown, its completion, in being poured forth for man: it must grow out of surrender into sacrifice. "They first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God."
Back to the Cross once more: if there is any place where this fresh lesson can be learnt, it is there! "Hereby perceive we the love of God, because He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." It is the very love of Calvary that must come down into our souls, "Yea, if I be poured forth upon the service of your faith I joy and rejoice with you all" so spoke the apostle who drank most deeply into the Master's spirit: and again - "Death worketh in us, but life in you." "Neither count I my life dear unto myself, that I may finish... the ministry."
Deeper and deeper must be the dying, for wider and fuller is the lifetide that it is to liberate - no longer limited by the narrow range of our own being, but with endless powers of multiplying in other souls. Death must reach the very springs of our nature to set it free: it is not this thing or that thing that must go now: it is blindly, helplessly, recklessly, our very selves. A dying must come upon all that would hinder God's working through us - all interests, all impulses, all energies that are "born of the flesh" - all that is merely human and apart from His Spirit. Only thus can the Life of Jesus, in its intensity of love for sinners, have its way in our souls.