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Beyond Humiliation: The Way of the Cross
Self and Sin
Made for Thyself, O God!
Made for Thy love, Thy service, Thy delight;
Made to show forth Thy wisdom, grace, and might;
Made for Thy praise, whom veiled archangels laud;
Oh strange and glorious thought, that we may be
A joy to Thee!
Yet the heart turns away
From this grand destiny of bliss, and deems
‘Twas made for its’ poor self, for passing dreams,
Chasing illusions melting day by day;
Till for ourselves we read on the world’s best,
“This is not rest!”
Nor can the vain toil cease,
Till in the shadowy maze of life we meet
One who can guide our aching, wayward feet
To ﬁnd Himself, our Way, our Life, our Peace.
In Him the long unrest is soothed and stilled;
Our hearts are ﬁlled.
— F. R. Havergal
One of the most striking features of the recent teaching of holiness, is the prominence which has been given to the absolute necessity of claiming deliverance from the self-life ere the true life of God can appear in men. We should be thankful for this, for if the Adversary can succeed in persuading us that a paste jewel is a diamond of the ﬁrst water, he will be greatly rejoiced while we shall be woefully disappointed. The fruit of the Spirit will not be seen until in the unity of our Lord’s sacriﬁce we have gone down with Him into the dark grave, and heard him say: “I am the Resurrection and the Life; he that believeth on Me though he were dead, yet shall he live.”
Nothing has done so much to discredit the teaching of holiness as the unlovely, censorious, self-assertive spirit that has, alas been so often displayed by those who have professed to know the experience. God’s cloth-of-gold has sometimes become cloth-of-tinsel. The explanation lies very largely in the failure, on the one hand, to appropriate complete deliverance from every taint of the plague of self, and on the other to “put on the Lord Jesus” as the unfading robing of the new life.
More than two hundred and ﬁfty years ago, Francis de Sales found it necessary to utter a warning word on this subject. “It is a decision,” he says, “to seek a sort of ready-made perfection which can be assumed like a garment; it is a delusion; too, to aim at a holiness which costs no trouble, although such holiness would no doubt be exceedingly agreeable to nature. We think that if we could discover the secret of sanctity we should become saints quickly and easily.”
Perhaps it is because we have attempted to make saints too quickly and easily that we have had in so many cases an experience that has been a disappointment to the possessor, to the onlookers, and above all to God.
The eye of the world is quick to perceive any indication of selﬁshness in those who profess to be wholly given up to God, and while it is sometimes complained that the standard the world sets up for God’s saints is too high, it is quite possible that ours may be far too low. If we are truly delivered from the plague of selﬁshness, we shall not kick against injustice; we shall not stand upon our rights; we shall not manifest any self-important being, or cherish any resentful spirit. We shall not be elated when praised, or disheartened when blamed. We shall not thrust ourselves in the best seat in the train or tram-car. We shall always be ready to wash the feet of the saints; we shall not seek to do great things, but gladly do the least and lowliest service. We shall not be offended if others are preferred before us; we shall not get feverish about the present or worried about the future; we shall not seek to get the best of a bargain. We shall never, as the Welsh preacher said, “put our hand into our Master’s till,” or so speak of ourselves or our achievements as to attract attention to ourselves rather than to Jesus Christ. In all these things He has left us an example that we should follow His steps, and to be truly holy is to be truly Christ-like.
To be saved from the leprosy of sin is, therefore, to be saved from the leprosy of self and if we are not saved from the latter, we are certainly not from the former. “Self,” says Law, “is the root, the branches, the tree of all the evil of our fallen state.”
Every act of sin,” says Westcott, “being in its essence self-regarding and self-centered, must be a violation of love. Thus lawlessness is, under another aspect, selﬁshness; or as it is characterized by St. John, ‘hatred in opposition to love.’ “ . . . “Sin and lawlessness are convertible terms. Sin is not an arbitrary conception. It is the assertion of the selﬁsh will against a paramount authority.” “We shall never be set free from sin,” says Professor Beet, “until all our powers are devoted to God. For sin arises from the erection of self into the supreme power within us. And self will reign until a Mightier One occupy the throne it has usurped.”
In order that we may see that this self, which we are called upon to hate and renounce, is no phantom, we will dwell on one of its principal manifestations, self-love.
The love of ourselves and desire for our own happiness, when kept within due bounds, is natural and innocent, for it is not natural for a man to hate his own ﬂesh. It is when this principle passes its appropriate limits that it becomes selﬁshness. Selﬁshness was the sin of the ﬁrst angel “who rested in himself,” as Augustine says, instead of referring himself to God.
The soul, in the exercise of its affections, must have a center of love somewhere. That central object has the heart’s affections, whatever its character may be. The center of man’s love must be either in himself, in other creatures, or in God. He may love all, but he cannot love more than one supremely. If this love centers in self, if the I is the center of the man’s thinking, feeling, willing and doing, the man is of course a selﬁsh being, and cannot be a holy being, for holiness is the antithesis of selﬁshness. Pure love is not inordinate, that is, it is precisely such a measure of love as the object is entitled to. When God has circumcised our heart to love Him with all our heart and with all our soul, that we may live (Deut. xxx. 6), everything will fall into the right position; self will be dethroned, we shall love God supremely, and we shall love ourselves and other beings just as God would have us.
If love, when centered on self, is allowed to increase, it becomes open rebellion and disobedience. This is what Augustine calls “the love of self carried so far as to despise God.” Self-love is then the sworn foe of the love of God. No one can dispute His claim to be loved absolutely by us in Himself and for Himself. As it is contrary to His law to allow a creature to prefer self to God as a center, and as it is contrary to His nature not to hate sin, He must hate self-love, which is the very soul of sin, and the plague spot from which all other sins proceed.
Self-love is not only the enemy of God, it is also our own. By turning us away from our only good we are deprived of that intimate communion with God, without which we can never be at rest, for God cannot admit us into the Holy of Holies, the place of intimate communion with Himself, until self-love has been completely conquered, and He has become all in all.
We must learn to make God what He is in Himself — the end of all things; and so to do this that at any time we can turn round upon ourselves and say of our life, at any moment and in any of its outgoings, “God is my end!” Everything that does not revolve round Him as its center is doomed to destruction, and will be found to be wood, hay, and stubble in the day when every man’s work shall be made manifest — when the ﬁre shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.
Note in Luke xii. 15-21 an illustration of a life lived in independence of God. In the self-congratulatory speech which Jesus puts into the mouth of this supreme egotist the word “my” occurs ﬁve times. It was “my fruits,” “my barns,” “my corn,” “my goods,” “my soul.” God was in none of his thoughts. Note, also, God’s estimate of this self-centered life, “Thou fool,” and the Saviour’s application, “So is everyone that layeth up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
There is a similar illustration in the Old Testament of one whose name means fool, Nabal (see I Sam. xxv. II). It was “my bread,” “my water,” “my ﬂesh,” “my shearers.” Nothing may be meant when we talk about “my work,” “my mission,” “my address,” “my sermon,” “my gift,” but the habit is a dangerous and insidious one, and unconsciously we may be nourishing the hateful self-life, instead of refusing to make any provision for it.
“O my God, selﬁshness is Thy enemy. It is also mine, a mortal enemy bent on my destruction. Thou hatest selﬁshness, and I desire also to hate it. Thou hast commanded its destruction as Thou didst command the destruction of Agag. Grant me grace not to spare this foe, but to permit Thee to wage war upon it. If it hungers may I never feed it; if it thirsts may I never give it to drink. Undertake for me, O my God, and circumcise my heart with Thy two-edged sword, that I may henceforth be Thine and Thine alone.”