Great Texts of the Bible
The Spiritual Life
I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live; and yet no longer I, but Christ liveth in me: and that life which I now live in the flesh I live in faith, the faith which is in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself up for me.—Galatians 2:20.
Martin Luther, commenting on the paragraph from which this text is taken, writes thus:—“It seemeth a very strange and monstrous manner of speaking to say—‘I live, I live not: I am dead, I am not dead: I am a sinner, I am not a sinner: I have the law, I have not the law.’ But,” the Reformer goes on, “these phrases (seemingly strange and monstrous) are sweet and comfortable to all those that believe in Christ.” The form of statement employed does not involve a real, but only an apparent, contradiction. No law of logic is broken by the Apostle when he first affirms, and then proceeds to deny. It is his striking and characteristic method of expressing deep facts of experience—as any one may perceive who has patience to consider what he means.
Three great ideas are suggested to us by this text—
I. The Historical Fact of Christ’s Death.
II. The Reproduction of Christ’s Death in the Christian.
III. The New Life in Faith.
The Historical Fact of Christ’s Death
1. We have first the great central fact, named last, but round which all the Christian life is gathered. “The Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself up for me.” To none of the Apostles did the appeal of the cross come with greater force than to St. Paul. He not only made Jesus Christ the centre of all his preaching, but he placed the cross at the very heart of the gospel. The burden of his message was Christ crucified, as he knew well that the world’s hope centred in Him. The necessary preliminary to the spiritual life is to grasp in some measure the great facts of the Incarnation and the Atonement, which form the foundation of our salvation and sonship. We must see God in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself. “He gave himself up for me”! He endued Himself with the robe of flesh, He entered the house of bondage, He took upon Him the form of a bondslave that He might set the bondslave free. He walked the pilgrim path of limitation, the path of sorrow and temptation; face to face He met the devil, face to face He met “the terror feared of man,” becoming “obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” “He gave himself up for me”! And in that holy sacrifice of love, the holy law of God received perfect obedience, the violated law of God received a holy satisfaction, the sovereignty of the devil was smitten and overthrown, boastful death lost its sting, and the omnivorous grave its victory!
No doctrine, no conception of the Atonement can explain to us the cross of Christ. We stand before that cross that we may gather its meaning for ourselves, that we may feel its import, that we may see its entire and absolute unlikeness to anything else, and so feel that its significance could be explained only by some conception of what we call the Atonement. This cannot exist to us as a logical statement. It exists as a vital truth. As we gaze upon the cross of Christ, and see the sacrifice that He there made, we see and feel that the perfectness of His suffering, the entire self-control that He possessed, and all the great drama of the Crucifixion, showed a beauty, a completeness of His manhood, which indeed bore our sins. Great was the power of sin, terrible was the exhibition of its power at the foot of the cross; but above all human vileness and corruption, above all human selfishness and self-seeking, above all temporary scheming and plotting there rose the perfect form of Him who was the Eternal Truth; who by His death and suffering testified against all the false seeming of the world and its power, who by His perfect patience and love overcame the pangs of death, who showed that there was something which was above and beyond the world, something which raises our hearts to Him, something which lifts us above those powers and forces under the influence of which our ordinary life is lived, something which gives us a sense of redemption.1 [Note: Mandell Creighton, Counsels for Churchpeople, 119.]
O Life divine—
Poured out instead of mine—
Who by Thy death hast paid my ransom price—
In whom I see
The righteousness which God accepts for me—
Pour out Thyself within me now:
Life of my life be Thou:
As deeper in Thy death I die,
Rise Thou within, and sanctify
Thy temple—working in me, to fulfil,
O living Christ, Thy Father’s will.1 [Note: Edith H. Divall, A Believer’s Songs, 105.]
2. It is absolutely necessary for us to bring out afresh this aspect of the Christian religion by emphasizing the solitary prerogatives of the Christ as He stands in His exaltation and glorification far removed from all others who have claimed to found and explain their religions. Christianity is the religion of the cross and the throne—the vacant cross, the empty tomb, the occupied throne. It is the only religion that has its Founder living and working continuously for its triumph. Men have constructed theories of atonement and reconciliation, some of them repellent enough to the modern mind, yet the age-long effort to understand the wonder and mystery is only a witness to the fact that there are spiritual qualities in this death which lift it into a category by itself. The love that filled the Sufferer’s soul, His loyalty to His calling and His God, His voluntary surrender of His life in defence of the Kingdom—because of these Divine achievements, His death becomes a redeeming and uplifting force.
3. Yet there must be points of contact between the cross of Christ and the cross which every follower of His has to carry. Unique in its redeeming efficacy, it is yet common in its ethical demand. Without this community of interest we should certainly feel more solitary and alone than ever He did in His agony.
Don’t you yourself feel that the sacrifice of Christ was truly the sacrifice of self at the very root of the humanity? It is written in the Epistle to the Hebrews that He “put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” Sin consists in self-seeking; and sin can therefore be put away by no other means than the sacrifice of self—a sacrifice, however, which must be reproduced in every soul of man before he is individually delivered from sin. Christ’s sacrifice cannot be unlike anything else in the world—it is the very type of what must be done by the spirit of Christ in every human being.1 [Note: Letters of Thomas Erskine of Linlathen, ii. 219.]
Lord, when the sense of Thy sweet grace
Sends up my soul to seek Thy face,
Thy blessed eyes breed such desire,
I die in Love’s delicious fire.
O Love, I am thy sacrifice;
Be still triumphant, blessed eyes;
Still shine on me, fair suns! that I
Still may behold, though still I die.
Though still I die, I live again,
Still longing so to be still slain;
So gainful is such loss of breath,
I die e’en in desire of death.
Still live in me this longing strife
Of living death and dying life;
For while Thou sweetly slayest me,
Dead to myself, I live in Thee.2 [Note: Richard Crashaw.]
The Reproduction of Christ’s Death in the Christian
1. The relation of man to the cross in the act of faith is twofold; the cross of Christ is that from which we escape by His presence there, and yet the cross of Christ is that to which we come in identification with Him. There is an aspect of the cross of Christ concerning which we never can say, “I have been crucified with Christ”; there is, on the other hand, an aspect of the cross of Christ concerning which every Christian man or woman ought to be able to say experimentally, as well as theoretically, “I have been crucified with Christ.” The substitutionary work of the cross is outside me, but the principles upon which Jesus passed to the cross and accomplished the marvellous work are principles to which, in virtue of His substitutionary work thereon, I am called into identification of life with Him.
In the devotional literature of the Middle Ages one reads much of “the process of Christ.” All that has been accomplished in the Redeemer is reproduced in the life of the redeemed. This “process,” however, begins not in the manger of Bethlehem, but on the cross of Calvary. It was in the article of death that our Lord finally and completely entered into our life of demerit and liability. And therefore the first step in our process of identification with Him is our entrance into His death. If Christ died instead of us, then He rose instead of us—which is blackest despair. He died for us, not instead of us. He did not die to save us from dying; He died that we might die with Him. He did not rise instead of us; He rose that we might rise with Him. St. Paul’s words are decisive: “I have been crucified with Christ.” Paul would never place an impassable gulf between Christ and His followers. To him religion was union with Christ, in death and in life.
2. We know what St. Paul meant by being “crucified with Christ.” He meant the utter renunciation of every purpose that had once kindled his fiery soul into energy—the final forsaking of all the social charms or individual ambitions for which most men care to live; the acceptance without a murmur of a life-course that was restless and homeless, beset with ceaseless peril, and crowned with sorrow; the patient endurance of the keen shafts of ingratitude flung at him by the churches he had formed, and by men who owed their all to him—it meant, in short, a self-crucifixion so profoundly real that the roll of ages has not its equal.
In the Epistle to the Galatians the Apostle talks thrice of nailing up the old self on the cross where the Saviour of sinners surrendered His soul to death; and although in each case the thought of the writer reaches far beyond the immediate scope of the particular reference, his deliberate purpose is to direct our attention successively to the believer’s death to law, to sin, and to the world of temptation. The law, by which St. Paul means all the irritation, the tiresomeness, of the legal religion, and all the hardness and the Pharisaism which it produces, is nailed to the cross. The flesh, with its affections and lusts, the personality as developed under the influence of desire and emotion running in certain habits, illicit or unclean, is nailed to the cross. And the world—by which he means the visible order of things as organized against God—is nailed to the cross.
He is not describing a merely inward spiritual experience when he says: “I have been crucified with Christ.” He is describing his attitude of evangelical fidelity; he has consecrated himself to have fellowship with Christ’s sufferings—to die as Christ died. He is not indulging in poetical sentiments concerning suffering in general, or concerning the mission of pain, or concerning the general groaning and travailing of the moral world. He is not speaking in a parable of the griefs and burdens of moral and spiritual experience, for he could not thus teach the lesson of the cross. He is simply asserting that he has such communion with the gospel of Jesus and the purpose of the Messiah to abolish ritualism and its deceptions as to face even crucifixion.
We can’t choose happiness either for ourselves or for another; we can’t tell where that will lie. We can only choose whether we will indulge ourselves in the present moment, or whether we will renounce that, for the sake of obeying the Divine voice within us—for the sake of being true to all the motives that sanctify our lives. I know this belief is hard: it has slipped away from me again and again; but I have felt that if I let it go forever, I should have no light through the darkness of this life.1 [Note: Maggie Tulliver, in The Mill on the Floss.]
For the glory and passion of this midnight,
I praise Thy name, I give Thee thanks, O Christ!
Thou that hast neither failed me nor forsaken,
Through these hard hours with victory overpriced;
Now that I too of Thy passion have partaken,
For the world’s sake called, elected, sacrificed.
Thou wast alone through Thy redemption vigil,
Thy friends had fled;
The angel at the garden from Thee parted,
And solitude instead,
More than the scourge, or Cross, O tender-hearted,
Under the crown of thorns bowed down Thy head.
But I, amid the torture and the taunting,
I have had Thee!
Thy hand was holding my hand fast and faster,
Thy voice was close to me,
And glorious eyes said, “Follow me, thy Master,
Smile as I smile thy faithfulness to see.”1 [Note: H. E. Hamilton King.]
3. Death means separation, and life means union. By being brought more and more into sympathy with Christ’s death unto sin, we become more and more thoroughly separated from its service and defilement. It is not merely separation from sinning it is separation from the old self-life. The great hindrance to the manifestation of the Christ-life is the presence and activity of the self-life. This needs to be terminated and set aside. Nothing but “the putting to death of the Lord Jesus Christ” can accomplish this. Conformity to His death means a separation in heart and mind from the old source of activity and the motives and aims of the old life. St. Paul’s own descriptive phrase for this deliverance and transformation is—“I have been crucified with Christ.” In every one there is something perfectly natural which is at the same time utterly ruinous, and the successful life must therefore be a life of crucifixion. Some insurgent sinfulness must be beaten down, slain, and extirpated. The unsparing devotion of Christ to us is to be reciprocated in the power of the Divine Spirit. We are not to stop short of complete crucifixion to everything that stands between us and obedience to His will. The spiritual life, strictly speaking, begins here with the principle of self-renunciation unto death.
Among the last letters which Madame Guyon wrote, was the following to her brother, Gregory de la Mothe; an humble and pious man, connected with the Order of the Carthusians:—
“Separation from outward things, the crucifixion of the world in its external relations and attractions, and retirement within yourself, are things exceedingly important in their time. They constitute a preparatory work; but they are not the whole work. It is necessary to go a step further. The time has come when you are not only to retire within yourself, but to retire from yourself;—when you are not only to crucify the outward world, but to crucify the inward world; to separate yourself absolutely and wholly from everything which is not, God. Believe me, my dear brother, you will never find rest anywhere else.”1 [Note: Thomas C. Upham, Life of Madame Guyon, 492.]
The New Life in Faith
St. Paul does not merely speak of crucifixion and death; he connects it with life. Newness of life is the one great characteristic of his own experience. It is of the very essence of the Apostle’s teaching. The Christian, according to his teaching, not only dies and is buried with Christ, but is quickened together with Him. He rises unto Christ, he lives in Christ; nay, the Christian dwells in Christ, and Christ in the Christian.
1. The contradictions and contrasts of the text, on which the Apostle dwells so emphatically, are full of meaning. The idea which they express is that of the death of one life and the rising of another, and in no other way could he express it so forcibly. Had he simply said “I live,” he would but have brought out the idea of a life coming from death. But by contrasting one with the other, by denying life, and yet asserting it, by saying, “I have been crucified: yet I live,” he has shadowed forth, in the most powerful form, the thought of a new and beautiful life rising from the crucifixion in which the old and carnal life expires. “I live; and yet no longer I, but Christ liveth in me.” “I have actually lost my own individuality in Christ”—that is what it comes to. These phrases give a precise statement of St. Paul’s ideas concerning the relation between the disciple and his Lord. That the Apostle’s own experience did not always touch these heights is of course true; for one sets over against this passage other passages wherein he declares how the sin that still dwelt in him interrupted and spoilt this utter identification of himself with Christ which constituted his ideal; but that it was his ideal, there is no manner of doubt.
2. St. Paul clearly makes the indwelling of Christ a matter of definite experience after the first knowledge of Christ. Witness his petition on behalf of the Church at Ephesus, “that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith,” based upon the petition that God would grant them, “according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his spirit in the inner man.” Thus the strengthening work of the Holy Spirit, His confirming us in faith and love, is to lead up to the definite experience of an indwelling Christ. An ungrieved Holy Spirit is to work mightily until there shall be nothing in us contrary to the Saviour’s will, so that our obedient hearts may be a pleasant abiding-place for the Holy Christ. Then dormant powers shall be aroused and shall troop forth out of their graves, powers of holy perception and holy desire, and holy sympathy, and holy faculty for service. Old powers shall be renewed, and they shall be like anæmic weaklings who have attained a boisterous vitality. Our powers are far from their best until they become united to Christ. If we want to see what love really is, and will, and conscience, and chivalry, we must see them at home, in their native clime, rooted and grounded in the life and love of the eternal Lord.
Just as the glad sunny waters of the incoming tide fill the empty places of some oozy harbour, where all the ships are lying as if dead and the mud is festering in the sunshine, so into the slimy emptiness of our corrupt hearts there will pour the flashing sunlit wave, the ever-fresh rush of His power; and everything will live whithersoever it cometh, and we shall be able to say in all humility, and yet in glad recognition of Christ’s faithfulness to this His transcendent promise, “I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God.”1 [Note: A Maclaren, The Holy of Holies.]
3. We must not fail to notice that St. Paul’s faith is the connecting link between him and the spiritual life. “The life which I now live.” If any man may be said to have literally lived his life, that man was St. Paul. As far as we can trace back his history, we find him no dreamer, but in intense activity on what-soever path he moved. In his early devotion to Judaism, no less than in his later loyalty to the Christian religion, there was, above all, intensity. But no one can fail to see in the man a great change after he had the revelation of his crucified and risen Master. He still lived his life; he was still intense, energetic, persevering, consistent, but the principle of action was changed. New light had burst upon him; a new power had taken possession of him; the life that he henceforth lived, he lived by the faith of the Son of God. He is the concrete example of the true principle of a noble Christian life—“faith in the Son of God.”
That unpretending but celebrated book, The Marrow of Modern Divinity, was intended to throw light upon questions concerning consolation to the individual sinner through his personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Faith (it should be remembered) not only believes a doctrine but welcomes a person, a personal deliverer or saviour. It takes Christ, who is actually offering Himself in the gospel to every sinner who has ears to hear. A believer cleaves to Christ as his living Saviour, brother, and friend; and all this, through his private personal dealing with the Saviour, not through a notion of the safety of the company of believers and of himself as one of them. “The life that I live in the flesh,” said Paul, “I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Therefore the most scriptural theologians tell us that in the nature of true faith there is an actual appropriation. And (says a modern writer) “The Marrow-men wanted to bring back the appropriating persuasion still more strongly put by many Reformation theologians.”1 [Note: D. C. A. Agnew, The Theology of Consolation, 62.]
4. For this, then, Christ our Saviour was content to suffer death on the cross—not that the Father might be made to love us, but that we might have life, and have it in abundance. And those who have that life, and feel it leaping up within them unto life eternal, tell us with one voice that it flows from the cross of Christ. Search through the ages, search through every land, and wherever you can find one who verily knows the powers of another world, he will tell you with St. Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live; and yet no longer I, but Christ liveth in me: and that life which I now live in the flesh I live in faith, the faith which is in the Son God, who loved me, and gave himself up for me.”
I want to realize more and more in my own experience the truth of these words, “Nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” What an honour, what a privilege, to have Christ by His Spirit dwelling within us, the motive power and main-spring of our life! To have Christ within, nailing our corruptions and selfishness in all its forms to His cross, working in us and speaking through us, so that our whole lives may be a testimony to Him! The heart sickens when one thinks how far one comes short, but then we are dead to sin and self, i.e. as regards guilt and freedom from condemnation. And we are commanded to “reckon” ourselves so and “alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord,” i.e. through Christ living in us. Thus Christ is made unto us sanctification as well as wisdom and righteousness and redemption; and we are complete in Him.1 [Note: Memorials of Rev. F. Paynter, 65.]
Paul’s real claim to be enrolled in the list of mystics is found in his normal experience. Over against a single experience of being “caught up into Paradise” in ecstasy, in the first stages of his Christian period, we can put the steady experience of living in heavenly places in Christ Jesus which characterized his mature Christian period. Over against the inrushing of a foreign power, which made his lips utter words which did not come from himself, we can put the calm but mighty transfiguration of personality which was slowly wrought in him during the fourteen years following his ecstasy: “With unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, we are being transformed into the same image, from glory to glory (i.e. gradually) by the Spirit of the Lord.” We must be very modest in making assertions about Paul’s “central idea.” But it is well on safe ground to say that his “Gospel” cannot be understood if one loses sight of this truth: The Christian must re-live Christ’s life, by having Him formed within, as the source and power of the new life. The autobiographical passages give the best illustration which we have of this normal mystical life. The earliest passage which we have comes out of the great contest with legalism. His opponents say that this salvation comes through obedience to a divinely mediated and time-honoured “system” of rites and ordinances. He says: “Christ lives in me”; “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus”; “God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into our hearts crying Abba, Father.”2 [Note: Rufus M. Jones, Studies in Mystical Religion, 12.]
The Spiritual Life
Andrews (F. R.), Yet, 129.
Ashby (L.), To Whom Shall we Go? 75.
Ballard (F.), Does it Matter what a Man Believes? 63.
Banks (L. A.), The Sinner and his Friends, 71.
Clark (H. W.), Laws of the Inner Kingdom, 152.
Cox (S.), Expository Essays and Discourses, 106.
Dyke (H. van), The Open Door, 149.
Gordon (A. J.), In Christ, 29, 91.
Gwatkin (H. M.), The Eye for Spiritual Things, 171.
Hackett (W. S.), The Land of your Sojournings, 107.
Hopkins (E. H.), The Law of Liberty in the Spiritual Life, 123.
Hull (E. L.), Sermons, ii. 6, 96.
Jowett (J. H.), The Transfigured Church, 37.
Kelman (J.), Redeeming Judgment, 169.
Koven (J. de), Sermons, 199.
Kuegele (F.), Country Sermons, New Ser., v. 169.
Leckie (J.), Life and Religion, 62.
Lewis (F. W.), The Unseen Life, 84, 96.
Little (J.), The Cross in Human Life, 75.
Little (W. J. K.), Sunlight and Shadow in the Christian Life, 174.
Lucas (H.), At the Parting of the Ways, 244.
Mabie (H. C.), The Meaning and Message of the Cross, 135.
Macaulay (A. B.), The Word of the Cross, 80.
M‘Intyre (D. M.), Life in His Name, 173.
Maclaren (A.), The Unchanging Christ, 192.
Meyer (F. B.), The Soul’s Pure Intention, 19.
Moore (E. W.), The Christ-Controlled Life, 17.
Taylor (W. M.), The Silence of Jesus, 218.
Tipple (S. A.), Days of Old, 85.
Webster (F. S.), The Beauties of the Saviour, 187.
Christian World Pulpit, xxv. 276 (H. W. Beecher); xlvi. 392 (J. Watson); lxii. 184 (G. C. Morgan); lxiii. 166 (R. F. Horton); lxx. 276 (J. Barlow); lxxvii. 122 (F. B. Meyer); lxxviii. 4 (C. Stovell); lxxxi. 411 (S. McComb).
Churchman’s Pulpit: Sermons to the Young, xvi. 183 (J. M. Neale).
Homiletic Review, lii. 212 (R. A. Falconer).