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Beyond Humiliation: The Way of the Cross
The Idol Self
“Oh, what pains, and what a death it is to nature, to turn me, myself, my lust, my ease, my credit, over into “my Lord, my Saviour, my King, and my God, my Lord’s will, my Lord’s grace!” But alas! that idol, that whorish creature myself is the master-idol we all bow to. What hurried Eve headlong upon the forbidden fruit, but that wretched thing herself? What drew that brother-murderer to kill Abel? That untamed himself. What drove the old world on to corrupt their ways? Who, but themselves, and their own pleasure? What was the cause of Solomon’s falling into idolatry and multiplying of strange wives? What but himself, whom he would rather please than God? What was the hook that took David and snared him ﬁrst in adultery, but his self-lust? and then in murder, but his self-credit and self-honor. What led Peter on to deny his Lord? Was it not a piece of himself, and self-love to a whole skin? What made Judas sell his master for thirty pieces of silver, but the idolizing of avaricious self? What made Demas to go off the way of the Gospel to embrace the present world? Even self-love and a love of gain for himself.
“Every man blameth the devil for his sins; but the great devil, the house-devil of every man, the house-devil that eateth and lieth in every man’s bosom, is that idol that killeth all, himself. Oh! blessed are they who can deny themselves, and put Christ in the room of themselves! O sweet word: ‘I live no more, but Christ liveth in me!’ “ — Samuel Rutherford
There is a nervous disease known to the physician as chorea, “the patient sometimes turns round and continues to spin slowly on one spot.” Egotism is just an incessant spinning on one spot. Sometimes we spin slowly round about our own particular talent. An ailment is apt to make us think ourselves interesting to other people, and we move as the craving absorbents of the world’s sympathy. Incessant self-regard imprisons a life in the wintriest impoverishment. If I would attain unto a life that is bright, genial, fruitful and interesting. I must cease to spin upon a point and move in wider fields. I must be born into my brother’s world, and stand at his point of view, and contemplate the landscape of life from his window. — Dr. J. H. Jowett
We are told in the history of India, that Mahmoud — who conquered a great portion of India hundreds of years ago destroyed all the idols in every town to which he came. In time he laid siege to the great city of Guzurat. Forcing for himself an entrance into the costliest shrine of the Brahmins, there rose before him the ﬁgure of a gigantic idol, ﬁfteen feet high. He instantly ordered it to be destroyed. The Brahmins of the temple prostrated themselves at his feet, and said: “Great Mahmoud, spare our god, for the fortunes of this city depend upon him.”
“Ransom vast of gold they offer,
pearls of price and jewels rare,
Purchase of their idol’s safety,
this their dearest will he spare.
“And there wanted not who counseled,
that he should his hand withhold,
Should that single image suffer,
and accept the proffered gold.”
But Mahmoud, after a moment’s pause, said he would rather be known as the breaker than the seller of idols, and struck the image with his battle-axe. His soldiers followed, and in an instant the idol was broken to pieces. It proved to be hollow, and had been used as a receptacle for thousands of precious gems, which, as the image was shattered, fell at the conqueror’s feet.
From its shattered side, revealing pearls and diamonds, showers of gold;
More than all that proffered ransom, more than all a hundred fold.”
Such an idol is self, who pleads and promises that “if we will but let it stand, it has pleasures, gifts and treasures to enrich us at command.” This hateful idol will spend years in intriguing to escape from the hand of God. Not in listening to its pleadings, however, but in delivering the idol over to utter destruction, shall we ﬁnd our true wealth and pleasure, for jewels of priceless worth await those who have learned the secret of losing their life for Christ’s sake that they may ﬁnd it.
Utter abandonment to God is, then, the only way of blessing. The alabaster vase must be broken that the ointment may ﬂow out to ﬁll the house. The grapes must be crushed that there may be wine to drink. Whole, self-centered, unbruised, unbroken men are but of little use, they “abide alone,” living lives of isolated selﬁsh indifference to everyone but themselves. They murmur at God’s providences, because self is disturbed in its enjoyment; they are easily offended and difﬁcult to reconcile, because their self-esteem has been wounded: they thirst for and eagerly drink in the ﬂattery and praise of men because it indulges self-love; they are proud and egotistical, because they love to worship at the shrine of self; they are reluctant to give wealth or time to God’s work in the world, because they want the latter for their own ease and the former for their own enjoyment. The nemesis of such a life is that, shrinking from the denial of self they die in self, for there must be a total loss of self, either in God and for Him, or eternal bondage to self.
In using the word “self” in these chapters, let it be clearly understood that it is degenerated self-love or selﬁshness to which we always refer. It is this selﬁshness alone that leads men to disregard both the claims of God and of their fellows, and to regard exclusively their own interests and happiness, instead of God’s interests and the happiness of others.
The way of the Cross means, then, the overthrow of egoism, for before the divine life can rise in man, self must die. It is the very ground and root of sin. The assertion of the I is the perpetual tendency of the ﬂesh. “I live” is the watchword of carnalism, and there is no sin which is not an assertion of self; as the principle of life. This idol is able to assume so many disguises, some of which are so subtle; delicate, and reﬁned, that its presence in the heart can only be discovered by that searchlight of the Holy Ghost of which we have spoken.
It was at this idolatry of self, under the garb of religion, that Christ hurled the most terrible denunciations that ever fell from His lips. It was known in His day as Pharisaism, and wherever the life ﬁnds its center in the I, we are in danger of becoming as offensively egotistical as they.
This idol may actually assume the character of a defender of holiness teaching, and we may be ready to ﬁght over terminology, and say the .bitterest things of those who dare to think differently to ourselves. That was why the Pharisees bated Christ, and hounded Him to the death of the Cross. Our Christian work, our prayers in public and private, our reading of the Scriptures, our almsgiving, may all become poisoned with Pharisaism, and utterly devoid of the graciousness, meekness, and self-forgetfulness of Jesus Christ; and poisoned they inevitably will be, if the idol self is not given over to that glorious idol-breaker, Jesus Christ, for destruction.
“Who can tell,” says one, “what harm this ‘I’ does to devotion — how it lessens it, and narrows it; how it renders piety ridiculous and contemptible, in the eyes of the world, which is always ready to criticize, spitefully and pitilessly, the servants of God? Who can tell of how many miseries and weaknesses and falls it is the cause? How it makes devout people fretful, uneasy, ofﬁcious, uncertain, eccentric, jealous, critical, spiteful, ill-tempered, insupportable to themselves and to others? Who can tell bow often it frustrates and stops the operations of Divine grace; how it favors the cunning and snares of the devil; how it makes us weak in temptations, cowardly in times of trial, reserved and ungenerous in our sacriﬁces; how many noble designs it brings to nought; how many good actions it infects with its dangerous poison; how many faults it disguises and makes appear as virtues?”
No wonder Luther siad: "I am more afraid of my own heart than of the Pope and all his cardinals. I have within me that great Pope, Self."
Few of us recognize how the uncrucified self stains and spoils our service for God and man. Listen to one of those great spiritual teachers--one of the foremost of the Quiet of the Land--Gerhard Tersteegen:
Apart from Thee
I am not only naught, but worse than naught,
A wretched monster, horrible of mien!
And when I work my works in self's vain strength,
However good and holy they may seem,
These works are hateful--nay, in Thy pure sight
Are criminal and fiendish, since thereby
I seek, and please, and magnify myself
In subtle pride of goodness, and ascribe
To Self the glory that is Thine alone.
So dark, corrupt, so vile a thing is self.
Seen in the presence of Thy purity
It turns my soul to loathing and disgust;
Yea, all the virtues that it boasts to own
Are foul and worthless when I look on thee.
Oh that there might be no more I or mine!
That in myself I might no longer own
As mine, my life, my thinking, or my choice,
Or any other motnion, but in me
that Thou, my God, my Jesus, might be all,
And work the all in all! Let that, O Lord,
Be dumb, forever, die, and cease to be,
Which thou dost not Thyself in me inspire,
And speak and work.
This idolatry of the human I is, then, to be fought against, and pursued through all the intricacies of our being, with hitter, unrelenting hate. Self is the very citadel of Satan in the heart; it is the great stronghold of the enemy; it is the most subtle, the most stubborn, the most tenacious foe with which the Holy Spirit has to contend in our nature. “Self,” says William Law, “is not only the seat and habitation, but the very life of sin the works of the devil are all wrought in self; it is his peculiar workshop; and therefore Christ is not come as a Saviour from sin, as a destroyer of the works of the devil in any of us, but so far as self is beaten down and overcome in us. Christ’s life is not, cannot be, within us, but so far as the spirit of the world, self-love, self-esteem, and self-seeking are renounced and driven out of us.”
This is absolutely necessary to re-establish the order of God. Our disordered self must be seen in God’s light, and His work can only be accomplished by a dispossession of ourselves. It is this death to self which constitutes the life of faith. It is so sweet an experience that we may sing of “the pain and bliss of dying,” because the grace which gives perfect peace, takes the place of nature which brings constant trouble. It is a state, moreover, in which God communicates Himself with familiarity. When we forsake it we grieve the Holy Spirit; and God makes us feel that we are deprived of Him as soon as we turn from Him to the creature, and that by so doing we have rendered ourselves unworthy of His intercourse.