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Of the excision and crucifixion of the natural life.

["And if thy right eye offend thee, PLUCK IT OUT, and cast it from thee; for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, CUT IT OFF, and cast it from thee; for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell." Matt. 5: 29, 30.]

The natural life, as we have already had occasion to notice, has a close connection with the natural desires. Just so far as such desires are inordinate in their action, they are the result of unsanctified nature, and not of the Spirit of God. The root, however, the original and fruitful source of that state of things in the natural heart, which is conveniently denominated the Natural Life, is the inordinate action of the principle of SELF-LOVE; denominated, in a single term, selfishness. The pernicious influence from this source, with the exception of what has become sanctified by the Spirit of God, reaches and corrupts every thing. Hence the importance of the process of excision. It is not only important, but indispensably necessary, that this evil influence should be met and destroyed wherever it exists. A process often exceedingly painful; but inevitable to him, who would be relieved from his false position, and put in harmony with God. There must be a CUTTING OFF, and a renewed and repeated CUTTING OFF, till the tree of Self, despoiled of its branches and foliage, and thus deprived of the nourishment of the rain, the sun, and the atmosphere, dies down to its very root; giving place, in its destruction, to the sweet bloom of the tree of life.

We, have formerly had occasion to say, that a life of practical holiness depends essentially upon two things: FIRST, upon an entire consecration of ourselves, body and spirit, to the Lord; and SECOND, upon a belief that this consecration is accepted. We must, in the first place, offer up our whole being as a sacrifice to the Lord, laying all upon his altar. But we should remember, it is laid there, in order that the natural life may be consumed, and that there may be a resurrection of the true spiritual life from its ashes. He, therefore, who has consecrated himself to God, must expect that the truth of the consecration will be tested by the severity of an interior crucifixion, which is the death of nature, but in the end present and everlasting life. It is not till the flame has come upon us, and we have passed through the fire of the inward crucifixion, which consumes the rottenness and the hay and stubble of the old life of nature, that we can speak, in a higher sense, of the new life; and say, CHRIST LIVETH IN ME. But this subject, which is vitally important in connection with the highest results of religious experience, will be better understood by going into some particulars.

(I.) — In the first place, God will require of us, in the fulfillment of our act of consecration, that we shall separate ourselves from all inordinate indulgence of the appetites. Undoubtedly there is a degree of natural pleasure, connected with the exercise of the appetites, which is lawful. But it is very obvious, that self in the natural man, which is always seeking for pleasure without regarding either its nature or its lawfulness, has polluted every thing here. It is in connection with the appetites in their unsanctified state, that we find one of the strong ties, which bind man to his idols, and which subject his proud spirit. This strong bond must be sundered. No one can be acceptable to God, who does not crucify and reject every form of attraction and pleasure from this source, which is not in accordance with the intentions of nature, and does not receive the divine approbation and sanction. But we have already had occasion to make some remarks on this subject, and it is not necessary to extend them here.

(II.) — We are required in the second place, to reduce to a subordinated action and in this sense to crucify the propensive principles; and also the natural affections, interesting and important as such affections are, so far as they are not purified in divine love and made one with the divine will. The natural affections, even in their more amiable and lovely forms, often gain an ascendency in the mind, and exercise a tyranny over it, which is inconsistent with the restoration of unity with God. How many persons make idols of their children, of their parents, or of other near relatives! It is very obvious that such strong attachments, though they may be dear as the right hand or the right eye, must be crucified and cut off. "He, that loveth father or mother," says the Savior, "more than me, is not worthy of me. And he, that loveth son, or daughter more than me, is not worthy of me. He, that findeth his life, shall lose it;
and he, that loseth his life for my sake, shall find it." To this topic also, we have already had occasion to refer.

(III.) — We proceed to remark in the third place, that in the process of entire separation from any and every reliance out of God, we must cease to place undue confidence in men generally. It is a matter of common remark, that the natural man, afraid to put his trust in God alone, generally seeks advice and assistance from his fellow-men; especially from those, who are in some degree conspicuous for information and influence. Those also, who have known something of the truth and power of religion, but are as yet beginners in the Christian life, have not unfrequently erred in the same way. Many times, instead of looking to God for help, they have sought assistance from near Christian friends; they have unduly relied perhaps upon their public religious teachers, or have sought, in the spirit of distrust towards God, some other exterior source of consolation and support. It is important to observe, however, that the error does not so much consist in seeking the advice and support of men, which under certain circumstances we acknowledge to be very proper, as in seeking it in
an undue degree and to the exclusion of God. Such is the nature of God, and such are our relations to him, that he cannot possibly admit of a rival in our affections. It is reasonable, therefore, that he should expect us in our troubles to make the first applications to himself; and to lay our trials and wants before him with that readiness and confidence, which we notice in little children, who naturally seek the advice and assistance of their parents, before looking to other sources of support. And we shall always find this course safest for ourselves, as well as most pleasing and honorable to God.

From all forms, therefore, and from all degrees of trust in men, except so far as they are kept in perfect subordination to a higher and ultimate trust in God, there must be a separation. We must learn the great lesson of making God our helper; and not on particular occasions merely, but always. In the beautiful language of the Psalmist, "
My soul, wait thou only upon God, for my expectation is from him!"

(IV.) — We proceed to observe further, that, in the fulfillment of our personal consecration and in the further process of renunciation and excision, there must be a separation, a cutting loose from all reliance, as a ground of merit or of self-gratulation in any shape,
on our own works. It is undoubtedly trying to unsubdued and selfish nature, to attach no value, considered as its own works, to what it fondly calls its good deeds; such as its outward morality, its attendance upon the institutions of worship, its study of the Scriptures, its visits to the sick, its charities to the poor, and other things of a similar nature. These things, it is true, are all good and desirable. We would not, by any means, speak lightly of them. It is perhaps difficult to value them too highly, if we ascribe them, as we ought to do, to the mere favor and grace of God. But by excluding the influence of the grace of God, and ascribing them to his own merit, it is easy to see that a man may make an idol of his good works, whatever may be their nature; and that he may, in the perversity of his spirit, fall down and worship them. We must be willing, therefore, to account our good deeds as nothing; and to regard ourselves, when me have done all in our power, as unprofitable servants; in order that Christ may be to us all in all.

(V.) — A fifth remark, which we have to make in connection with this subject, is, that it is necessary to cut off and crucify the inward desire, which so generally prevails, for the experience of special signs and testimonies of acceptance with God. There is hardly any Christian, who has not, at some period of his religious history, experienced some perplexity in this respect. One of the most difficult lessons which we are called to learn, one however which is indispensable, if we would know the heights and depths of the religious life, is that of living by
simple faith. God expects us, and has a right to expect us to leave ourselves and all our interests in his hands, in the full confidence, that he will do every thing which is right. And it is obviously the duty of every Christian, to correspond to this claim on the part of God, and to yield himself up, body and spirit, in the bonds of an everlasting covenant; fully believing that God will not desert him, neither in duty nor in temptation; and whether he is led in light or in darkness, with sensible manifestations and testimonies or without them, that all things will be well in the end, and will work together for his own good and for the divine glory. But too often this duty is not regarded. To live by faith, to lean upon the mere word of God without the supports of sight, is a very humbling way of living; and it is hard for the natural man and even for the partially sanctified man to receive it. Nature, so far as it exists in the heart, chooses another method, one more suited to itself, but less glorious to God. Some good Christians have exceedingly perplexed and injured themselves, for a considerable length of time, by attempting to maintain the inward life on the erroneous system of special signs, tokens, and testimonies, such as an audible voice, the application of some unknown passage of Scripture, the occurrence of some remarkable temporal event, the possession of a preconceived and specified state of joyous feeling, or something of the kind, which, in their ignorance or under the influence of remaining self-will, are earnestly sought from God, as the pledges and evidences of their acceptance. Such a system of living has scarcely any affinity, and perhaps none at all, with the true life of God in the soul. The Christian life, we repeat, is emphatically a LIFE OF FAITH; but to endeavor to live in the way, which has just been referred to, is evidently a deviation from the way of faith, and tends directly to strengthen the unspeakable evil of distrust in God.

From every thing of this kind, therefore, we must separate ourselves without hesitation, however painful the process may be. In the spirit of self-crucifixion, we must learn the great lesson of relying by simple belief on the mere declaration of God. And in doing this we need not fear. What need has the principle of inward faith of any sign or testimony additional to itself? Faith, whenever it is strong enough to be a true light within, will always bear its evidence in its own nature. It no more asks or requires exterior illumination, than the sun in the heavens asks for a taper to learn its own illuminated position. "He, that believeth on the Son of God, hath the witness in himself."

(VI.) — We remark, in the sixth place, that we must separate ourselves altogether from any reliance upon religious feelings of any kind, considered as a ground of hope and salvation. We know well, that there can be no religion without religious feelings. No man is, or, can be, a Christian without them. They are indispensable. But what we think it necessary to object to and to condemn, is a disposition, which sometimes exists, to trust in our feelings, and to make a sort of idol of them, instead of trusting in Christ. A man, for instance, has experienced at a particular time great sorrow for sin, or high emotions of gratitude, or is sunk in depths of humility. If, at some time after, his mind reverts to those feelings and dwells much upon them; and in such a manner that he begins to place a degree of trust and confidence in them, instead of placing his trust in the Savior, it must necessarily be to his great injury. It is not our feelings, but CHRIST, that saves us. If we look to our feelings for salvation, instead of looking to Christ, we necessarily miss our object. And in accordance with this view, we sometimes find persons, who are continually examining and reexamining and poring over their past experience; but who are generally in much darkness of mind. Probably, without being fully aware of it, they are secretly looking for something in the history of their past feelings which they can place their trust in, instead of turning away from themselves, which would be much better, and looking directly upward to a sufficient and present Redeemer.

This distinction is a real one, viz. between trusting in our feelings and trusting in the Savior, though not very obvious at first, and is highly important in its connection with the religious life. It seems to me, that religious feelings are valuable, and can be valuable, only as they tend, in their ultimate result, to unite us more and more closely to the Divine Mind. If, therefore, we are so unwise as to stop and to rest in our feelings as the ground of our hope, and especially if we take a degree of complacency in them, in themselves considered, or because they may properly be regarded as
our own feelings, we not only stop short of God, to whom they should lead us; but pervert them, valuable as they are in their proper exercise and relations, to our own exceeding detriment.

We come to the conclusion, therefore, and repeat again, that we should not place any reliance upon our feelings, in themselves considered, as
a ground of acceptance with God; and also that we should not, in any point of view, take any unduly interested and selfish complacency in them. We must banish and crucify this form of idolatry also, which is none the less dangerous for being so interior and secret. If, in the exercise of naked faith, we will turn our eyes to God and to his glory rather than to ourselves, we shall soon experience a divine reaction in the soul itself. And shall find, that God, who is faithful to his promise, will abundantly take care of us both without and within. We shall then have both the right degree and the right kind of feelings. We shall have no idols, but we shall have God; and we shall have no feelings that are appropriate to idols, but shall have the feelings which are appropriate to God. And in accordance with this view, and in point of fact, it will be found that of two Christians, the one, who is the most penitent, the most humble, the most grateful, the most devoted in his love, will think the least of those particular exercises. His mind will be, as it were out of himself. You will see him living religion, and not merely talking or thinking about religion. Such a person will hardly be conscious of his feelings, considered as objects of distinct contemplation and thought: and will know them chiefly in the blessed result of increased oneness with his heavenly Father. He is not destitute of feeling; but his feeling is, if we may so express it, not so much to dwell upon feeling and to trouble himself about feeling, as to lose himself in the will of God. Another mind, viz. "the mind of Christ," may be said to have taken inward possession; and so close is the union, which has now been formed between himself and God, that he finds himself perplexed and at a loss to discover the nature and operations of what he was formerly wont to call his own mind. His state corresponds in a great degree, and perhaps precisely, to what is implied, in the expressions of the Apostle, when he says, Gal. 2:20, "I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; YET NOT I, BUT CHRIST LIVETH IN ME.

(VII.) — We observe again, it is necessary, in order to the full attainment of what is designed for the Christian, that, in the continuance of this process of excision and crucifixion, he should cut off and crucify the desire of internal consolations and comforts. We do not mean to imply in this remark, that the advanced and fully established Christian is in a situation, which either directly or indirectly is inconsistent with a full share of pleasurable and happy experience. On the contrary, his consolations, especially when he has found his true centre and has fully united his once wandering heart to the heart of God, are tranquil, enduring, and substantial. But to think of such consolations much, to desire them much, and especially to aim at them as an ultimate object, is the precise way to miss them. I think it is very obvious, that he, who is seeking comfort as an ultimate object, is not seeking God but seeking himself. He is not seeking religion, in the proper sense of the term; but he is seeking just what he professes to seek, viz.
comfort. Such seeking is in vain. There is but one ultimate object, at which, as those who wish to know the heights and depths of religion, we can safely aim, viz. God himself; or what may be considered as essentially the same thing, a sympathy of our whole being with the holy will of God.

It will be understood here, that we have not reference in these remarks to temporal or worldly consolations, so much as to those which are internal and spiritual. Nor do we mean to say, that to desire spiritual consolations and comforts is, in all cases, wrong. But what we mean to assert is, that we cannot desire them and seek them, out of the will of God and as ultimate objects, without some degree of spiritual injury, and without falling short of
the highest attainments in the divine life. To seek them in the way they are commonly sought is evidently to nourish the natural life or the life of self, which it is the object of true religion to destroy. The question was once put to a pious person, 'whether she enjoyed herself.' Her answer was to this effect, that she could not speak positively and promptly in regard to herself because she endeavored to forget self, but she ENJOYED GOD. The reply evidently involved a great principle in religion. No one can enter into the true rest of the soul, in whom the principle of self-love exists in any degree, inconsistent with loving God with the whole heart. "Oh, my God," says the pious Lady Maxwell, "hear the cries of one on whom Thou hast had mercy, and prepare my heart to receive whatever Christ has purchased for me. Allow me not to rest short of it. Put a thorn is every enjoyment, a worm in every gourd, that would either prevent my being wholly thine, or in any measure retard my progress in the divine life." [Life of Lady Maxwell, Chap. IV.]

(VIII.) — Again, if we would be what the Lord would have us to be, we must be willing, in the spirit of inward crucifixion, to renounce and reject all other natural desires, and all our own purposes and aims. We do not mean to imply in this remark, that we must be so far lost to feeling and action as to be absolutely without all desires, purposes, and aims whatever; but that there must be a crucifixion and excision of all desires and purposes, which spring from
the life of nature, and not from the Spirit of God. In other words, it is our duty, as those who would glorify God in all things, to check every natural desire and to delay every contemplated plan of action, until we can learn the will of God, and put ourselves under a divine guidance. Every desire must so far lose its natural character as to become spiritually baptized and sanctified, before it can be acceptable to God; and every plan of action also must, in like manner, have a divine origin.

This principle in the doctrines of holy living, (a principle which we had occasion to remark upon, in some of its aspects, more fully in a former chapter,) goes very far, and strikes deep. The desire of knowledge, for instance, is generally considered a very innocent one. But whenever it becomes so strong as to disquiet the inward nature, and thus to perplex our intercourse with God, it is obviously wrong. It ought always, therefore, to be subject to a divine teaching; and to be merged and lost, as it were, like all the other natural desires, in the supreme desire for God's glory; a desire, which evidently is not the product of nature, but which can come from the inspiration of the Holy Ghost alone.

It is a very proper remark to be made also in this connection, that our most intimate friendships, which involve more or less of desire and generally strong desire, must be crucified. We are not at liberty to make an idol of our friends, however excellent their characters or however closely united by natural ties. Such inordinate friendships stand between the soul and God, and hinder it from reaching its true centre; and we do not see, how they can be regarded in the divine sight as better than any other forms of idolatry. Even if those friends are eminent Christians, so much so as to bear the very image and likeness of the Savior himself, we cannot let our affections centre upon them so as to make them the place of the soul's rest, without causing injury and offense to God.

To sum up all, which is to be said here, in a few words, we may probably assert correctly, that we are not to desire anything whatever out of the will of God. In other words, if we find a preference or choice in ourselves, in such a manner as to lead us to desire one thing rather than another irrespective of the will of God, we may justly conclude, that the state of mind, of which we are then the subjects, is a selfish and natural state, and not a truly religious and divine state. It is, therefore, to be rejected, and the mind is to remain without desire, until the will of God can be revealed and take effect in us.

FINALLY.— Without pursuing this important subject further, which it would be easy to do, inasmuch as self in the natural man diffuses itself every where, we remark in the, last place, that, if we would reach the highest results in religion, we must be willing, not only to suffer a separation from all present possessions and pleasures both of body and mind, in subordination to the will of God, but must be willing to leave our eternal interests entirely and quietly in his hands. It is true, God does not require and does not expect us to be willing, in the absolute and unconditional sense, to be cast off. Nevertheless, in point of fact, if God should see fit to do it, we ought willingly to submit to it, and to glorify his name in it. Because he could not do it without doing what is right; and to wish or expect him to do otherwise than right, would be to expect and desire him to tarnish his own character, to stain deeply and irretrievably his own spotless nature. This no one can possibly do, who loves God with a perfect heart. The language of such an one is, 'Let me rather perish a thousand times and God be holy, than saved a thousand times and God be unholy!' Indeed he knows no salvation, and no possibility of salvation, but in the love of God's holiness. It is that which occupies his thought; it is that, which fills and dilates his soul with the elements, and perhaps we may add, with the only elements of substantial bliss.

It will be noticed, that this is said hypothetically or by way of supposition. But we ought to add, that, in point of fact, it is impossible for a soul, that is lost to
itself, to be lost to happiness. Its extinction to self is necessarily a resurrection to holiness. The death of self is the life of God. Now it is of the nature of a self-evident truth, that holiness cannot be indifferent to holiness, where ever and in whomsoever it may be found. And hence it is impossible for a holy God to cast off or to treat with unkindness any being that is holy. To be holy is necessarily to be saved. The holy are by their very nature one with God; they are bound to him by an adamantine chain; and it is no more possible for a holy person to be lost, than it is for God to be lost. And yet when the matter is hypothetically presented to the mind by the Holy Spirit, as it seems not unfrequently to be in the later and higher periods of christian experience, we must be willing to resign all promptly and cheerfully into God's hands, whatever it may be. We would add here, that, when a person has gone through the process of inward crucifixion in its entire length and breadth, the great spiritual result is the complete extinction of all selfishness and of all self-will: a result brought about by means of an entire and unchangeable consecration, attended by the inwardly operating and searching influences of the Holy Spirit; a result, which in the end is so minutely explorative, so thoroughly destructive of those inward influences which obstruct the presence of God in the soul, and withal so painful oftentimes, that it may well be termed the BAPTISM OF FIRE. It is by means of such a process of inward crucifixion, that the natural life dies; and the way is thus prepared for the true resurrection and life of Christ in the soul.

(1.) — In connection with the subject, we would make a few remarks, which seem naturally to flow out of it. And in the first place, some will say perhaps, that this doctrine, if true, is discouraging; that they have not gone through this process of inward crucifixion, and therefore are not Christians. But we answer, such an inference would be a hasty one. But I think we may say this also. If such persons are really Christians, they
are now going through this process. The little leaven is at work, which will ultimately affect the whole lump. God is showing them their idols and slaying them one after another, in order that he himself may enter and occupy their place. We must not think to go to heaven, and at the same time carry the natural life with us. It must be slain, and wholly slain, sooner or later.

(2.) — We remark again in connection with this subject, that in some persons, though not in many, the natural man, in the comparative sense of the terms, dies easily. These persons, these chosen ones of the Lord, seem to have an intuitive appreciation of what God justly and necessarily requires. They see with the clearness of light, that it is impossible at the same time to serve God and Mammon. Accordingly they submit themselves to the leadings and the power of God without resistance. They yield readily and willingly, like the lamb that is led to the slaughter; and the result is, that the inward crucifixion though not less deep and thorough, is personally less afflictive. The Holy Spirit proceeds gently but constantly in his operations; unbinding every tie of nature; cutting loose every ligament which fastens the soul to the earth, until, in its freedom from the slavery of the world, it expands and rejoices in the liberty of God.

(3.) — Other persons, and we may add, the great majority of persons, are not brought to this state of freedom from the world and of union with God, without passing through exceeding afflictions, both external and internal. And this happens partly through ignorance, and partly and more generally through SELF-WILL. They are slow to learn what is to be done; and equally reluctant to submit to its being done. God desires and intends, that they shall be his; but the hour of their inward redemption not being fully come, they still love the world. They attach their affections first to one object, and then to another. They would perhaps be pleased to have God for their portion; but they must have something besides God. In other words, they vainly imagine that they would like to have God and their idols at the same time. And there they remain for a time, fixed, obstinate, inflexible. But God loves them. Therefore, as they will not learn by kindness, they must learn by terror. The sword of Providence and the Spirit is applied successively to every tie, that binds them to the world. Their property, their health, their friends all fall before it. The inward fabric of hopes and joys, where self-love was nourished and pride had its nest, is leveled to the dust. They are smitten within and without; burnt with fire; overwhelmed with the waters; peeled and scathed and blasted to the very extremity of endurance; till they learn, in this dreadful Baptism, the inconsistency of the attempted worship and love of God and Mammon at the same time; and are led to see that God is and ought to be, the true and only sovereign.

(4.) — But some will say perhaps, we are thus left alone; we are stripped of every thing which once gave us pleasure; we are reduced to a state of mere desolation and nothingness. And we may add, if such be really the result, that nothing could be more desirable. But it is necessary to make distinctions here. We are not reduced to an absolute nothingness; a nothingness of existence, of identity, and of personal capability; but to a nothingness of SELF and of the corrupt life of nature. The natural life is taken away; and it is true also, that every idol is taken away, to which the life of nature clung for its support. But there is this consolation, that whatever of true value, external to the soul itself, is taken away in accomplishing the death of nature, is abundantly restored again, and is deprived too of all hurtful power, in the subsequent experience of the reviving life of God. We find that all, which is necessary, is given back to us in the day of our inward restoration; and for the most part increased an hundred fold. We now love our friends, and families, and whatever else is proper to be loved; but we do it in a different manner. We have been taught a lesson, which it is impossible to forget. We have ceased to be idolaters. We henceforth love the gifts of God, which we had laid upon the divine altar as no longer our own, in their source more than in their termination, and not so much for ourselves, as for the sake of the GIVER.

(5.) — And this brings us to our concluding remark, that from the death of nature springs a new life, altogether different from that which is crucified and dead; a life born of the Spirit of God, and bearing the image of the Savior. Just so far, then, as the old nature has experienced a crucifixion, and a new nature has taken its place, we are the subjects of a spiritual resurrection in Christ. We are dead, and we are alive again; dead to the world and alive to God. "If ye then be risen with Christ," says the Apostle, Colos. 3; 1-3, "seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affections on things above, and not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God."

And now in the experience of the divinely renovated life, the soul, that is the subject of it, goes forth, not with the marks of external observation, but attended with the Holy Ghost and with power. Such an one has nothing in himself. Self is taken away. But he has all things in God. At this point commences the true Apostolic life. Such an one is a true messenger, set apart to labor for God and to win souls; not by human eloquence and not by the display of worldly pomp; but by the simplicity of holy living and by the word of power uttered in faith.

If thou, Oh God, wilt make my spirit free,
Then will that darkened soul be free indeed;
I cannot break my bonds apart from thee;
Without thy help I bow and serve and bleed.
Arise, oh Lord, and in thy matchless strength,
Asunder rend the links my heart that bind,
And liberate and raise and save, at length,
My long enthralled and subjugated mind.