By J.R. Miller
"If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it." Luke 9:23-24
The Christian's first duty--is to honor his Master. He must be willing to sink himself out of sight--in order that the name of Christ may be magnified. It is not possible to both honor Christ--and yet to honor ourselves before men. The wreath on our own brow must fade--if we would keep the wreath for Christ beautiful and green. We must decrease--that Christ may increase. We must be willing to fall into the shadow--that the full light may be cast upon Christ's lovely face. We must be ready to suffer loss--that the cause of Christ may be advanced.
But all this seeming decrease if we are true at heart to our Master, is only seeming. The honor on our brow is never so bright as when we have willingly stripped off the stars from ourselves to bind them on the brow of Jesus. It is easy to mar the beauty. We have all seen people chafing and envying, when position and influence once theirs--passed to others. There is no severer test of character than comes in such experiences as this. It is not easy when others achieve promotions that we had hoped to win, for us to keep our spirits gentle, generous, and sweet. It is not easy, even in school, to have another win the prize which we sought and hoped to take, and then not to feel envious of him--but to treat him with true affection, joining his fellows in sincere honoring of him. It is not easy in the home, for a plain, unattractive child to see a bright, popular, brilliant sister idolized and petted, receiving universal praise--while she, the plain, homely one, is neglected and left without attention--it is not easy for the plain girl to see this and yet keep loyal affection in her heart and join cheerfully and sincerely in the honoring of the favorite. It is always hard to decrease--while another increases, especially if it is at our own cost.
Yet only as we learn to die to self, do we become like Christ. Unrenewed nature seeks all for self--and none for Christ. Becoming a Christian is the taking of Christ into the life--in the place of self. Then all is changed. Life has a new center, a new aim. Christ comes first. His plan for our lives is accepted, instead of our own. It is no more what we would like to do--but "What does the Master want us to do?" It is no longer the pressing of our own will--but "May Your will, not mine, be done." This is the foundation of all Christian living--the dying of self--and the growing of Christ in the heart. So long as there remains any self-will, any unsubmission, any spirit of disobedience, any unconquered self, asserting its authority against the will of Christ--just so long, is our consecration incomplete.
This lesson has its very practical bearing on all our common, every-day life. Naturally we want to have our own way. We like to carry out our own plans and ambitions. We are apt to feel, too, that we have failed in life, when we cannot realize these hopes. This is the world's standard. The successful worldling is the one who is able to master all life's circumstances and make them serve him in his career. He is the man who "increases" until he fills a large place among men. The world has little praise or admiration for the man who "decreases" in his property, brilliance, power, or prosperity.
But we who read the Word of God know that there is an increase in men's eyes--which is a dwarfing, shrinking, and shriveling of the life in God's sight. We know also that there is a decrease in human eyes, which as God sees it, is a glorious enlargement and growth.
The greatest thing possible in any life--is to have the divine plan for it fulfilled, the divine will go on in it--even though it thwarts every human hope and dashes away every earthly dream. It is not easy for us to learn the lesson--that God's ways are always better for us than our own. We make our little plans and begin to carry them out. We think we have all things arranged for our greatest happiness and our best good. Then God's plan breaks in upon ours--and we look down through our tears upon the shattered fragments of our fine plans. It seems wreck, loss, and disaster. But no--it is only God's larger, wiser, better plan--displacing our little, imperfect, shortsighted one.
It is true, that God really thinks about our lives and has a purpose of His own for them, a place He would have us fill, a work He would have us do. It seems when we think of it, that this is scarcely possible--that each one of the lives of His countless children--should be personally and individually thought about by the Father. Yet we know that this is true of the least and lowliest of believers. Surely if God cares enough for us to make a plan for our life, a heavenly plan--it must be better than any plan of ours could be! It is a high honor, therefore, for His plan take the place of ours, whatever the cost and the pain may be to us.
This law of the dying of SELF, and the magnifying of Christ is the only way to true usefulness. Not until self has been renounced, is anyone ready for true Christian service. While we are thinking how this or that will affect us, whether it will pay us to make this sacrifice or that self-denial; while we are consulting our own ease, our own comfort, our own interest or advantage in any form--we have not yet learned fully what the love of Christ means.
This projecting of SELF into our serving of our fellow-men, mars the service and hinders its effectiveness. We wonder if the person is 'worthy'--and if he is not, we do not want to waste our love upon him. We resent with impatience, the lack of gratitude in those we aid. We decline to serve others, because they are beneath us. That is, we put all our life on a commercial basis, and unless it seems to promise well for us in the way of outcome, we are not ready for it. We need to learn the true meaning of Christ's love, for he never asks whether we are worthy or not, nor does he keep account of the number of times he has forgiven us. The law of love, which is the one law of all Christian life, does not follow the world's maxims. It is not 'so much'--for 'so much'. It asks not if there will be a return. It does not keep account of treatment received--and strike a balance for the governance of its future actions. It gives and serves and helps regardless of what it has received or may receive.
This law of the dying of self and the magnifying of Christ is the secret of Christian peace. When Christ is small--and SELF is large--life cannot be deeply restful. Everything annoys us. We grow impatient of whatever breaks our comfort. We grieve over little trials. We find causes for discontent in merest trifles. We resent whatever would hinder or oppose us.
There is no blue sky in the picture, of which SELF is the center. There are no stars shining overhead. It begins and ends in a little patch of dusty floor, with gray walls surrounding it and shutting it in. But when SELF decreases--and Christ increases, then the picture is enlarged and takes in all of heaven's over-arching beauty. Then the stars shine down into its night and sunshine bathes its day.
Then the life of friction and worry is changed into quietness and peace. When the glory of Christ streams over this little, cramped, fretted, broken life of ours--peace comes, and the love of Christ brightens every spot and sweetens all bitterness. Trials are easy to bear when self is small--and Christ is large.
We are apt to grow weary of the bitter, sorrowful struggle that goes on in our hearts, evermore, between the old nature and the new nature, between the old self and the new Christ. It seems sometimes as if it never would be ended. It seems, too, at times, as if we were making no progress in the struggle, as if there were no decreasing of self--and no increasing of Christ. We find the old evil things unconquered still, after years of battling--the old envies and jealousies, the old tempers, the old greed, the old irritabilities, the old doubt and fear and unbelief. Will there never be release from this conflict?
Yes, if only we live patiently and bravely, in faith and love and loyalty, SELF will decrease--and Christ will increase until he fills our whole life. If we reach up ever toward the light--our past of failure and unworthiness will be left behind and we shall grow into the fullness of the stature of Christ! The new will conquer and expel the old--until it becomes "None of self--and all of Christ!"
"O the bitter shame and sorrow
That a time could ever be,
When I let the Savior's pity
Plead in vain, and proudly answered,
'All of self--and none of Thee.'
"Yet He found me; I beheld Him
Bleeding on the accursed tree;
Heard Him pray, 'Forgive them, Father!'
And my wistful heart said faintly,
'Some of self--and some of Thee.'
"Day by day His tender mercy,
Healing, helping, full and free,
Sweet and strong, and, ah! So patient,
Brought me lower, while I whispered,
'Less of self--and more of Thee.'
"Higher than the highest heavens,
Deeper than the deepest sea,
Lord, Thy love at last hath conquered;
Grant me now my soul's desire,
'None of self--and all of Thee.'"