On Dying to Self

Fenelon thirsted for a deeper spiritual experience and sought to abandon himself to God…

“Finally Madam Guyon wrote him a letter concerning the steps necessary for the entire crucifixion of the life of self. Fenelon seems to have grasped them intellectually very clearly, as we learn from his summary of them in a subsequent letter to Madam Guyon. In this letter he says: “I think, Madame, that I understand in general, the statements in the paper which you had the kindness to send me; in which you describe the various experiences which characterize the soul’s return to God by means of simple or pure faith. I will endeavor, however, to recapitulate some of your views, as they present themselves to me, that I may learn whether I correctly understand them.

“I. The first step which is taken by the soul that has formally and permanently given itself to God, would be to bring what may be called its external powers—that is, its natural appetites and propensities,—under subjection. The religious state of the soul at such times is characterized by that simplicity which shows its sincerity, and that is sustained by faith. So that the soul does not act of itself alone, but follows and co-operates, with all its power, with the grace that is given it. It gains the victory through faith.

“II. The second step is to cease to rest on the pleasures of inward sensibility. The struggle here is, in general, more severe and prolonged. It is hard to die to those inward tastes and relishes, which make us feel so happy, and which God usually permits us to enjoy and to rest upon in our first experience. When we lose our inward happiness, we are very apt to think that we lose God; not considering that the moral life of the soul does not consist in pleasure, but in union with God’s will, whatever that may be. The victory here also is by faith; acting, however, in a little different way.

“III. Another step is that of entire crucifixion to any reliance upon our virtues, either outward or inward. The habits of the life of Self have become so strong, that there is hardly anything in which we do not take a degree of complacency. Having gained the victory over its senses, and having gained so much strength that it can live by faith, independently of inward pleasurable excitements, the soul begins to take a degree of satisfaction, which is secretly a selfish one, in its virtues, in its truth, temperance, faith, benevolence, and to rest in them as though they were its own, and as if they gave it a claim of acceptance on the ground of its merit. We are to be dead to them, considered as coming from ourselves; and alive to them only as the gifts and the power of God. We are to have no perception or life in them, in the sense of taking secret satisfaction in them; and are to take satisfaction in the Giver of them only.

“IV. A fourth step consists in a cessation or death to that repugnance which men naturally feel to those dealings of God which are involved in the process of inward crucifixion. The blows which God sends upon us are received without the opposition which once existed and existed oftentimes with great power. So clear is the soul’s perception of God’s presence in everything; so strong is its faith, that those apparently adverse dealings, which were once so exceedingly trying, are now received, not merely with acquiescence, but with cheerfulness. It kisses the hand that smites it.

“V. When we have proceeded so far, we may say with a good deal of reason, that the natural man is dead. And then comes, as a fifth step in this process, the New Life, not merely the beginning of a new life, but a new life in the higher sense of the terms, the resurrection of the life of love. All those gifts which the soul before sought in its own strength, and perverted and rendered poisonous and destructive to itself, by the seeking them out of God, are now richly and fully returned to it, by the great Giver of all things. It is not the design or plan of God to deprive His creatures of happiness, but only to pour the cup of bitterness into all that happiness, and to smite all that joy and prosperity which the creature has in any thing out of Himself. There is a moral law of happiness, which is as unchangeable as the unchangeableness of moral principles. He smites the false happiness, or happiness founded on false principles, which is only the precursor of real permanent misery, in order that He may establish the true and everlasting happiness, by bringing the soul into perfect communion and union with Himself, and by enabling it to drink the living water from the Everlasting Fountain. And the soul has this new life, and all the good and happiness involved in it, by ceasing from its own action (that is to say, from all action except that which is in co-operation with God), and letting God live and act in it.

“VI. And this life, in the sixth place, becomes a truly transformed life, a life in union with God, when the will of the soul becomes not only conformed to God practically and in fact, but is conformed to Him in every thing in it, and in the relations it sustains, which may be called a disposition or tendency. It is then, that there is such a harmony between the human and divine will, that they may be properly regarded as having become one. This, I suppose, was the state of St. Paul, when he says, ‘I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me. . . .’ Of such a soul. which is described as the Temple of the Holy Ghost, God Himself is the dweller and the light.

“This transformed soul does not cease to advance in holiness. It is transformed without remaining where it is; new without being stationary. Its life is love, all love; but the capacity of that love continually increases.”

Although Fenelon had so clear an intellectual understanding of the steps necessary to attain to a life of complete consecration and abandonment to the will of God, it was some time before he obtained the experience described by him in the words just quoted. But finally he seems to have laid hold on the truth with his heart as well as with his intellect, and his whole life and character were completely transformed. He became so great an example of Christian love and piety that his name carries with it a sweet savor of Christ wherever he is known.

From Deeper Experiences of Famous Christians: Gleaned from their Biographies by James Gilchrist Lawson