Parables of the Cross
Death to Self is the Way Out into a Life of Sacrifice
This dandelion has long ago surrendered its golden petals, and has reached its crowning stage of dying - the delicate seed-globe must break up now - it gives and gives till it has nothing left.
What a revolution would come over the world - the world of starving bodies at home - the world of starving souls abroad, if something like this were the standard of giving; if God's people ventured on "making themselves poor" as Jesus did, for the sake of the need around; if the "I" - "me" - "mine" were practically delivered up, no longer to be recognised when they clash with those needs.
The hour of this new dying is clearly defined to the dandelion globe: it is marked by detachment. There is no sense of wrenching: it stands ready, holding up its little life, not knowing when or where or how the wind that bloweth where it listeth may carry it away. It holds itself no longer for its own keeping, only as something to be given: a breath does the rest, turning the "readiness to will" into the "performance." (2 Cor. 8:11.) And to a soul that through "deaths oft" has been brought to this point, even acts that look as if they must involve an effort, become something natural, spontaneous, full of a "heavenly involuntariness," so simply are they the outcome of the indwelling love of Christ.
Shall we not ask God to convict us, as to where lies the hindrance to this self-emptying? It is not alone mere selfishness, in its ordinary sense, that prevents it; long after this has been cleansed away by the Precious Blood there may remain, unrecognised, the self-life in more subtle forms. It may co-exist with much that looks like sacrifice; there may be much of usefulness and of outward self-denial, and yet below the surface may remain a clinging to our own judgment, a confidence in our own resources, an unconscious taking of our own way, even in God's service. And these things hold down, hold in our souls, and frustrate the Spirit in His working. The latent self-life needs to be brought down into the place of death before His breath can carry us hither and thither as the wind wafts the seeds. Are we ready for this last surrender?
Do you ask "Does God really mean the emptying to reach so far as this?" Study the inner life of Jesus. "I speak not of Myself" He says. "I can of Mine own self do nothing." "I seek not Mine own will, but the will of Him that sent Me." His human self-life, sinless though it was, was laid down that He might live by the Father, and our self-life, defiled and worthless, shall we not lay it down that we may live by Him?
But how? Again not by struggling and wrestling, but by dying to it in Jesus. "I am crucified with Christ" - I myself in the very essence of my being, I let myself go to that death, and by the mysterious power with which God meets faith, I find that He has made it true: the bonds are loosed and He can have His way with me.
See in these wild iris-pods how the last tiny threads must be broken, and with that loosing, all that they have is free for God's use in His world around. All reluctance, all calculating, all holding in is gone; the husks are opened wide, the seeds can shed themselves unhindered. Again and again has a breaking come:- the seed broke to let go the shoot - the leaf-bud broke to let go the leaf, and the flower-bud to let go the flower - but all to no practical avail, if there is a holding back now. "Love is the fulfilling of the law," and sacrifice is the very life-breath of love. May God shew us every withholding thread of self that needs breaking still, and may His own touch shrivel it into death.
See how this bit of oat-grass is emptying itself out. Look at the wide-openness with which the seed-sheaths loose all that they have to yield, and then the patient content with which they fold their hands - the content of finished work. "She hath done what she could." Oh, the depth of rest that falls on the soul when the voice of the Beloved speaks those words! Will they be said to us?
The seed-vessel hopes for nothing again: it seeks only the chance of shedding itself: its purpose is fulfilled when the wind shakes forth the last seed, and the flower-stalk is beaten low by the autumn storms. It not only spends, but is "spent out" (R. V.) at last. It is through Christ's poverty that we are rich - "as poor" in their turn "yet making many rich" is the mark of those who follow His steps.
Are we following His steps; are we? How the dark places of the earth are crying out for all the powers of giving and living and loving that are locked up in hearts at home! How the waste places are pleading dumbly for the treasure that lies there in abundance, stored as it were in the seed-vessels of God's garden that have not been broken, not emptied for His world, not freed for His use.
Shall we not free it all gladly? - it is not grudgingly or of necessity that the little caskets break up and scatter the seed, but with the cheerful giving that God loves. Have you ever noticed how often the emptied calyx grows into a diadem, and they stand crowned for their ministry as if they gloried in their power to give as the time draws near?
Even here in measure the faithfulness unto death and the crown of life go together: even here, if we suffer, we shall also reign with Him.
It is when the sun goes out from our horizon to light up the dayspring in far-away lands, that the glory of the day comes on: it is in the autumn, when the harvest is gathered and the fruit is stored for the use of man, that the glow of red and gold touches and transfigures bush and tree with a beauty that the summer days never knew.
So with us - the clear pure dawn of cleansing through the Blood - the sunrise gladness of resurrection life; the mid-day light and warmth of growth and service, all are good in their own order: but he who stops short there misses the crown of glory, before which the brightness of former days grows poor and cold. It is when the glow and radiance of a life delivered up to death begins to gather: a life poured forth to Jesus and for His sake to others - it is then that even the commonest things put on a new beauty, as in the sunset, for His life becomes "manifest in our mortal flesh;" a bloom comes on the soul like the bloom on the fruit as its hour of sacrifice arrives.
Oh, that we may learn to die to all that is of self with this royal joyfulness that swallows up death in victory in God's world around! He can make every step of the path full of the triumph of gladness that glows in the golden leaves. Glory be to His Name!
And the outcome, like the outcome of the autumn, is this: there is a new power set free; a power of multiplying life around. The promise to Christ was that because He poured forth His soul unto death, He should see His seed: and He leads His children in their little measure by the same road. Over and over the promise of seed is linked with sacrifice, as with Abraham and Rebekah and Ruth; those who at His bidding have forsaken all receive an hundred-fold more now in this time, for sacrifice is God's factor in His work of multiplying. "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit."
It is the poured-out life that God blesses - the life that heeds not itself, if only other souls may be won. "Ask and it shall be given unto you" is one of God's nursery lessons to His children. "Give, and it shall be given unto you" comes further on.
The reason is this:- that into the being that is ready to let the self-life go, God the Holy Ghost can come and dwell and work unfettered; and by that indwelling He will manifest within us His wonderful Divine power of communicating vitality - of reproducing the image of Jesus in souls around.
It is true that it is a rule that sometimes has exceptions: there are those to whom a blessed life of fruitfulness to God comes in a simple way, with seemingly no hard process of dying involved, just as there are plants that reproduce themselves by bulb and tuber, sucker and shoot, without going through the stripping and scattering that we have been watching. But the law of creation is "the herb yielding seed and the fruit-tree yielding fruit after its kind, whose seed is in itself." And let us count it all joy if this law is carried out in us.
"If it die, it bringeth forth much fruit." Whether it is laid down in toil among the lost, or in travail of soul among His children that Christ be formed in them, either way there will be life brought forth.
It does not follow that every seed will spring up: it is not so in the natural world. The plant's business is to scatter it, not withholding, not knowing which shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good; once scattered, the responsibility is transferred to the ground that receives it. But the aim of the plant - the goal of all the budding and blossoming and ripening - is that every seed should carry potential life.
Thus are we responsible, not for the tangible results of our ministry to others, but for its being a ministry in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, such a ministry as will make those around us definitely responsible to God for accepting or rejecting the fulness of His salvation. If so, the "signs following" will not be wanting. It will be to the one the savour of death unto death, and to the other the savour of life unto life, but "whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear, they shall know that there hath been a prophet among them."
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But even when the plant's goal is reached, it is not a finality. "There is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning. Every ultimate fact is only the beginning of a new series." "While the earth remaineth seed-time and harvest... shall not cease." Life leads on to new death, and new death back to life again. Over and over when we think we know our lesson, we find ourselves beginning another round of God's Divine spiral: "in deaths oft" is the measure of our growth, "always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh."
This bit of sphagnum shows the process in miniature: stage after stage of dying has been gone through, and each has been all the while crowned with life. Each time that the crown has sunk down again into death, that death has again been crowned in the act of dying: and the life all the time is the apparent thing: the daily dying that underlies it is out of sight to the passing glance.
Yes, life is the uppermost, resurrection life, radiant and joyful and strong, for we represent down here Him who liveth and was dead and is alive for evermore. Stress had to be laid in these pages on the death gateway, but a gateway is never a dwelling-place; the death-stage is never meant for our souls to stay and brood over, but to pass through with a will into the light beyond. We may and must, like the plants, bear its marks, but they should be visible to God rather than to man, for above all and through all is the inflowing, overflowing life of Jesus: oh let us not dim it by a shadow of morbidness or of gloom: He is not a God of the dead, but a God of the living, and He would have us let the glory of His gladness shine out.
Think of the wonder of it - the Fountain of Life Himself wells up within us, taking the place of all that we have delivered, bit by bit, into His grave. "I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." Little have we proved, any of us, the resources that lie in that mighty indwelling, little have we learnt what it is to have all our soul-fibres penetrated by its power. May God lead us, no matter what the cost, into all that can be known of it, here on earth.
And the results need not end with our earthly days. Should Jesus tarry our works will follow us. The closing in of the signs around us make it seem as if we should not taste of death, and as if the time left us to work and suffer for Him were growing very short; but if that last gate has to be passed before our spirits are sent free into the land of perfect life, God may use, by reason of the wonderful solidarity of His Church, the things that He has wrought in us, for the blessing of souls unknown to us: as these twigs and leaves of bygone years, whose individuality is forgotten, pass on vitality still to the new-born wood-sorrel. God only knows the endless possibilities that lie folded in each one of us!
Shall we not let Him have His way? Shall we not go all lengths with Him in His plans for us - not, as these "green things upon the earth" in their unconsciousness, but with the glory of free choice? Shall we not translate the story of their little lives into our own?
For all their teaching of surrender and sacrifice is no fanciful mysticism; it is a simple reality that can be tested at every turn - nay, that must be so tested. If we are apprehending Christ's death in its delivering power, our homes will not be slow to find it out.
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O Jesus the Crucified I will follow Thee in thy path. Inspire me for the next step, whether it leads down into the shadow of death or up into the light. Surely in what place my Lord the King shall be, whether in death or life, even there also will thy servant be.