Advance by Self-Denial
- He who finds his life shall lose it.
- —Matthew 10:39—
- He who loses his life for My sake shall find it.
- —Matthew 10:39—
- He who loves his life shall lose it
- —John 12:25—
- He who hates his life in this world shall keep it unto eternal life.
- —John 12:25—
- If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself
and take up his cross and follow Me.
- —Matthew 16:24—
- But she who lives in pleasure is dead while she lives.
- —1 Timothy 5:6—
- Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God
than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.
- —Hebrews 11:25—
When Jesus spoke of “losing life” and “hating life” and “saving life” and “finding life,” He must have used the word life in two senses. The contrast evidently is between life in this world and life after this world. When He speaks of “loving” and “hating” in the above text it is evident He does not mean in the absolute sense of either of these words, for we are commanded not only to live, but to provide for living this life, and there is a sense in which we are not to hate it. The prohibition refers to over-loving it. We are to have life, and preserve our life in this world, but we are not to subject life’s aim, energies and resources toward so much of our existence in this world that we damage that part of life which comes after this world. So when Jesus says “hate” life in this world, the sense is as expressed in the old English use of the word, which means to “love less.” If any man loves less his being in this world than he does living in the life hereafter, he will harvest up this life in the eternal world. The general idea is the subjection of this life to that which is to come. So we are taught a pathway of self-denial, of crucifixion, of mortification, of severe discipline, of chastisement, of purging out impurities, of holding in subjection certain tendencies. There are activities to be dominated and ruled into the highest uses, which if left to themselves will run astray. All this means restraint, or pruning, or death, as applied to our living.
Do we not find it so? Does not a sanctified body need to be “kept under,” made to behave itself well, and serve the purpose for which it was made, even if it was for a time made to serve sin? We are not to do all the possible good things that we might do; we are to do the best things. We are not to allow a lower use of our powers and capacities, but are required to use them for the highest and best purposes. There are possible tendencies of the human spirit, that, like the growing canes of a vigorous vine, need clipping in order to get the greatest yield and finest quality of fruit. Like the vine, we need training to the trellis. We climb to sunlight and greatest productiveness when detached from all else. This means the knife to cut, and the cord to tie. That is, detachment from all surroundings, and attachment to the true support. Life thus is cut off from all wandering growth, and conserved to highest uses. He who trains his vineyard that way will save the strength and resources of all his vines for his coming vintage. He who loves less the coming vintage, will lose it by allowing the wandering sucker growths to absorb the strength of the vine in branch and foliage, and reap for his vintage “nothing but leaves.”2
But the knife and cord process is the way of death, and crosses, and chastisement, and self-denial. How human nature rebels! But it is a real death-to-life route. There is a cutting off of things which we cling to as to our right hand. There are possible ways of human desires, and loves which in their nature are not wrong, but which must be sacrificed in order to save life’s forces and energies and conserve them to the highest potency of efficiency and moral excellence. In like manner, we need also segregation and detachment from much we find around us. Just because our eyes can “wander over the mountains of vanity,”3 we are not therefore to allow them to. Because the vine of our life has tendrils which may attach and cling to all the weeds and brambles within reach, we are not therefore compelled to divide up that way. Because imagination is a “rover” in the game of life does not mean it is therefore not without legitimate place and purpose. But it is this hemming in of life that saves it. The limiting and narrowing is all in order to the best ends, even if at the time it is not according to our mind. We can well do without much of the wideness and wandering and scattering. Along our noisy streets, I see that the telephone wires are all covered with a protecting tube. Even then the separation from the noise and commotion of the passing throng is hardly sufficient to reach satisfactory results. It is evident, however, that perfect separation would secure a more desirable service. Were our separation from the confusion and commotion and absorption of this world life more complete, it is fair to infer that our service would reach a more pleasing degree of acceptableness.
I see also that the electric motor and light wires are denied contact with a great many possible and agreeable connections they might have along the lines where they are to be used. To conserve the purpose for which the power they carry is needed, they are insulated. This is the law of self-denial: denied many things for the sake of a better thing. Were not this done, the contact of the wire with everything it found in the way would by repeated petty thefts, and it would be deprived of all its power. Its limitation along the way is the key to its dynamic force at the far end of the line. If we want to carry the forces of life to the far end of their utmost limit, we shall need this insulation and limitation. So we are told to “Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Me.”
But what, you say, are some of these points where the spirit needs the insulation and limitation? To what things can we die, that is, consent to be insulated or cut off from the intenser concentration of the soul forces, in order that we may reach a better efficiency and greater moral excellence?
We are to deny “self.” The Scripture is consistent with itself and does not say we are to proceed to put self out of existence, but to “deny” it. Selfhood is our personality, as separate and distinct from any other personality. It is not to die, but live, and be made to glorify God. But all passing to the point where self reaches selfishness, following and serving itself instead of God, puts one over on the danger side of the dead line;4 and it is “deny yourself or die.” Denying one’s self is as the confining of the vine to the trellis, making the vine take the way of its support, which shapes its destiny. “God is our refuge [trellis] and strength” (Psalm 46:1). The limitation of our will to His will is alliance with the Infinite. The exercise of our desires within the field of His garden makes our Eden, outside of which is death of eternal values. This devotion of self to the realm of God Himself is at once our highest limit and glory. To be raised to His infinite companionship and fellowship is to reach the illimitable in many respects. So we reach the illimitable by limitation. We give up the world life for the heaven life. We give up the love and service of self, for Him.
In like manner we cut ourselves off from appropriating touch with the world. So we die to its conformity. The vine never conforms itself to anything but that to which it is attached. We do likewise. As God has declared that correspondence with the world is not of the Father,5 so He requires this death to it, which means to cut off appropriating connections from it—that is, die to it. Like the electric wire, we need insulation in order to be of any use. In a finer sense, we need not only deadness to the customs, fashions, and laws of the world life, but we need deliverance from our native and instinctive deference to its opinion. A sister said the other day in her testimony that before her death to the world life, she “not only did many things just like the world did, but she liked to have the world know that she loved the world as they did.” It is a great “gain” to be “dead” to the world in this sense. Thousands are more in bondage to what the world says, than they are under the sweet bondage of love to what God is and what He says.
- The text itself is public domain. The original book, How They Grow, was transcribed by Jim Kerwin, biographer of Isaiah Reid, and co-edited and emended with Denise Kerwin. Annotations and emendations are copyright © 2008, 2011 by Jim Kerwin along with his other contributions to the online, print, and e-book versions of Isaiah Reid's How They Grow. ↩
- The quote comes from Mark 11:13 (although the context there is a fig tree, not a vine). ↩
- This seems to be a phrase from Charles H. Spurgeon’s sermon “The Broken Fence.” ↩
- This sentence makes a bit more sense if the reader understands “dead line” (or deadline) as Reid and his contemporaries did. Nowadays it means a time limit, like a “newspaper deadline.” But the word seems to have come into existence during Reid’s lifetime, and, specifically, during the American Civil War. The “dead line” was a boundary line around a prisoner-of-war camp. Any P.O.W. spotted outside the boundary became fair game for a guard to shoot and kill. Thus, anyone who crossed the “dead line” was likely to become exactly that—dead! ↩
- The allusion is to 1 John 2:15-16. ↩