The Hardness of the Way

Children, how hard is it!

— St. Mark 10:24

I can well imagine an honest youth thus reasoning with himself: “If I make up my mind to be a Christian, shall I be required to part with all I possess? It must have been comparatively easy in those times to give up the kind of things they had! If I had been he, I am sure I should have done it—at the demand of the Savior in person. But I do not love money as he was in danger of doing. I try to do good with my money! If everyone with a conscience had to give up all, the world would go to the devil!  Besides, he said, ‘If thou wouldst be perfect, go, sell that thou hast.’ I cannot be perfect; it is hopeless; and he does not expect it.”

It would be more honest if the youth said, “I do not want to be perfect; I am content to be saved.” Such as he little think that perfection is salvation. I will suppose myself in conversation with such a youth. I should little care to set forth anything called truth, except in siege for surrender to the law of liberty. If I cannot persuade, I would be silent. I would not labor to instruct the keenest intellect; I would rather learn for myself. To persuade the heart, the will, the action, is alone worth the full energy of a man. His strength is first for his own, then for his neighbor’s manhood. He must first pluck out the beam from his own eye, then the mote out of his brother’s—if indeed it be more than the projection of the beam in his own. To make a man happy as a lark might be to do him grievous wrong; to make a man wake, rise, look up, and turn, is worth the life and death of the Son of the Eternal. 


In Siege For Surrender to The Truth
Dave Roney

There is no liberty in any law, save the Law of Liberty; for, any other law is a constraint placed on a man, and by an increasing body of law is liberty exchanged for constraints until a man will find himself in bondage.  It is to freedom that the Lord speaks, the only Law He would give is that of Love, love for God and love for neighbors be they friend or foe.  The chief purpose of the old Law was to show us its insufficiency, to be a hard master over us which would bring us to see we could never “keep the Law,” which is to in another way say “Set us free;” the Law, then, was our schoolmaster to lead us from its bondage and to that freedom which is in Christ Jesus alone.

Now we turn to the account of the rich young man and his encounter with Christ (viz. Mark 10:17-31).  He comes with the particular question “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  It is the wrong question for him to ask, wrong because of how he understands liberty and life; he is seeing it as a continuation of the Old kingdom message of Scripture, specific to the Jews; he envisions a warlike God, therefore a warlike Messiah.  Our Lord tells him he must keep the Commandments, the basic Old Covenant Law, the young man answers he has kept it from his youth forward.  Jesus replies with yet another demand, another constraint, telling him to go, sell all he has, disperse it among the poor.  But the Lord is not answering him in a direct sense; His last bidding is not to show the man the way to eternal life but to show him his absurdity.  It is as though He said “You have picked up heavy stones all your life, well and good; now, see that yon mountain?  Go at once and lift it up!”  And the rich young man, knowing himself unable, leaves our Lord sorrowful.

This young man is wrong on at least two counts.  The first of these has to do with himself, the second with how he understood our Lord.  As to the first of these faults, it must be interpreted for context that to him “eternal life” did not mean what it meant to our Lord.  When he had gone his way Jesus expressed to His disciples the answer to the question in a manner the man could not then grasp, describing it as “the Kingdom of God.”  If the man was to have eternal life it would be his only if he were to enter that Kingdom which, as our Lord said, was at hand.  But he was thinking of the old kingdom, that of the Jews' supremacy in the world; he understood from the Old Covenant that God is a Warrior God, and that the promised Messiah would be one come with sword in hand, to drive out the hated Romans, to reestablish the throne of David by conquest, to crush Israel's enemies, and rule the world by force.

But, secondly, He entirely misunderstood his Messiah; for from the very beginning He had preached of a new Kingdom, His Kingdom, that of Heaven and Christ and God which was totally unlike the kingdoms of the world, including Israel's.  “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” was a question of kingdom, the Jewish one of earth or the Divine one of God and Heaven in Christ.  It was not, that is to say, either the medieval or the modern question of “What must I do to go to heaven when I die.”  By his wrong understanding of what the Kingdom would look like, vis a vis the King of it, he was also wrong in asking how he would fit into the kingdom rather than in The Kingdom—he desired to know how he could have a share in and benefit from the revived old kingdom, but had no idea he ought to have sought how to have a share in Christ's Kingdom. 

Very typically today the understanding of the “gospel” is that Jesus saves; that by asking Him into your heart you will be saved, meaning that when you die you will go to heaven rather than hell.  That is not the Gospel of Christ, nor of the early Christians; their Gospel was the message of the Kingdom of God, under which is included, as subsumed, not only nor even primarily personal salvation but universal salvation for all things which God has created.  It is for which even the very cosmos, and all within it, has been groaning until now.  Consider these selected, though not comprehensive, passages showing what our Lord and His men understood as the “Gospel;” for, from the very beginning Christ came preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom:

•   “And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom.” (Matt. 4:23)

•   “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel.” (Mark 1:15)

•   “But He said to them, 'I must preach the Kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose'.”  (Luke 4:43)

•   "He went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the Kingdom of God." (Luke 8:1)

•   "So also said the one sent to prepare the way before his King, John Baptizer: “Repent,” he says; “for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” (Matt. 3:2)

•   [Paul was in Rome] “...proclaiming the Kingdom of God.” (Acts 28:31)

•   "And after His resurrection, our Lord continued with the same message He had always preached; “He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the Kingdom of God.”  (Acts 1:3)

Few, if any, who heard Him speak, who witnessed His acts, His miracles, understood this Gospel of the Kingdom.  He had been all the while demonstrating to them in every way that His Kingdom was not of this earth, was unlike any other kingdom; His call to men and women was to enter that Kingdom and become citizens of it, to begin to do the things of this new Kingdom in the same manner as does the King of it—thereby invading and pushing back the kingdoms of this world as believers did their part to make “ on earth as it is in Heaven.”  He came preaching it with no sword dripping enemy blood, no fire in His eyes, would not ride out with a horde of angry men behind Him, as though He were some Mohammad gone a conquering.  No, this Man came as the Potentate of Peace, to sacrifice Himself for the world, riding on the ass's colt and no dashing charger, stooped to wash the feet of men in heretofore unheard of humility—what king ever bowed himself in the front of his subjects?— forgave even those who were murdering Him horribly.  All these and much more were the evidences of what the new Kingdom would look like, and how its subjects would behave because that is how their King behaved.

When the rich young man had gone away sorrowful, out of earshot, Jesus says to His disciples how hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God; why did He not speak of that Kingdom to the man in direct, unambiguous, terms?  Simply this; the man was not ready to hear such talk.  With his thinking still mired in concepts of a revived old kingdom, how should he understand this radically different Kingdom message?  Our Lord speaks to the man in one way, to His disciples in another; neither did they understand truly, but they were closer to it than the rich young man.  MacDonald says something much akin to the mind of Christ concerning this:

“I will imagine myself in conversation with such a youth.  I should little care to set forth anything called truth, except in siege for surrender to the law of liberty.”

Is not a siege to the cutting off of avenues, of necessities, of comforts, of coming face to face with reality? and is not a siege that slow process by which a fortress is taken?  The Lord did not, in a manner of speaking, bring a frontal assault on the young man's error but, rather, set a siege on him for the Truth, for Liberty, for the Kingdom of God.  It was the same message Christ always sent out from Himself, stated in a manner congruent with the young man's peculiarities.  In another place He told one “Let the dead bury their dead;” it is the same Kingdom message.  In yet another He said “If anyone does not hate his father and mother, and brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be My disciple;” it is the same Kingdom message—it is always, no matter how it is phrased, the message of the King to those who would be His subjects and members of His Kingdom.

And I even see the same Kingdom message in the 19th of Matthew where He declared “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”—for beyond the obvious it also means that a man must leave his relationship with the Old Covenant understanding of kingdom and cleave to the New Covenant of the King and His Kingdom, becoming one with Him and it.  If a man has eyes which can see, then he knows that in every place our Lord was presenting His Kingdom, the Kingdom of God, and Himself as the King over it; this was the early Gospel of Christ which was preached; it is to this same Gospel and not another that we must arise, wake from our sleep and lethargy, and as citizens, saints, and ambassadors of that Kingdom deliver to our fellows, by word and deed, its proclamation, for:

“To make a man happy as a lark might be to do him a grievous wrong; to make a man wake, rise, look up and turn, is worth the life and death of the Son of the Eternal.”

And thus, I think, spoke our Lord to the rich young man; He roused him, it was a beginning, the immediate effect on the man was to produce sorrow—it was his first true step in the direction of repentance, and of entering into the great Kingdom of Christ and God.  He came to the Lord desirous of finding a revival of that which was passing away and found no encouragement; his sorrow, real, was that of the boy who's toy is withheld from him by a father who would give him better; he was shattered (as was meet for him to be), for, as the poet says, his world was caving in on him:

The soul can split the sky in two,
And let the face of God shine through.
But East and West will pinch the heart
That can not keep them pushed apart;
And he whose soul is flat— the sky
Will cave in on him by and by.

(from "Renascence" by Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1892-1950)

With Unmasked Faces
 by Dave Roney

How good it would be if every man went directly to his Father as do the stillborn, the infants, and the very small children who, having not yet maligned themselves or others in the world, find no veil hiding His face from theirs, no gulf of separation, no obstacle to be overcome as they run to the extended Paternal arms.  But for us who are in the world, the Way has become choked with things and hidden by the ever present shadow-man, the implied or else overtly proclaimed monarch (an impostor) who, bearing the ignominious title of Self-lord, sits on the internalized throne of our lives, judging all things, either accepting or rejecting courtly matters according to how well they please and gratify lord Self.  He is never satisfied, but places ever growing burdens on the people and world surrounding him, which he supposes to be his kingdom, ever seeking but never finding rest for his dissatisfied soul.  

Is this not a dark picture of the natural man? and is it not a depiction which the old Self rises up against in indignation?  For, how dares anyone enter the inner sanctum where Self sits on his throne, making proclamations which are unpleasing to this great sham king?  “Away with him!” says the potentate Self; “Such a man should not be allowed to live!” he screams.  If such a king is among us, a Self-king, he may say this is hyperbole, that “Though you may touch a nerve, you have not rightly described me in your pointedly unkind indictment.”  To that I answer that you are wearing a mask, presenting as best you can the Self that you desire others to see, hiding the Self that you know you are; and I am speaking to the man behind the mask; for you are not nearly so good as you suppose (though you may not be as bad as you think either).”  But I do not speak of myself; there is One who judges the hearts of men, and has found us alike wanting.  It is He Who declares, Who sees truly, Who knows us better than we know ourselves, before Whose eyes there is no Self-mask behind which a man may hide.  He has said it, and not me nor any other mortal.   

There are three things which a man, unmasking his face, must do: He must be right with God, he must be right with his neighbor, and he must be right with himself.  In his natural state, a man can never be right with any of these three.  When Self reigns in the life, the man cannot be right with God the true King, for he, his miserable old Self, sits on a throne which belongs to Another; he is a usurper, a rebel, an anarchist.  When Self rules the life, he cannot be right with his neighbor, for he will approve those that please him and scorn or even hate those who do not his bidding or cater to his whims, desires, and passions.  He cannot be right with himself, for he is never for long content, is ever seeking that which he cannot find, because he is looking for the wrong things in the wrong places and can never, though the entire world were his, fill the great chasm-wound in his heart; he is still poor and needy, though he may think himself rich and in need of nothing.

I will show you a case in point; consider the rich young man portrayed in the 10th chapter of St. Mark's gospel.  He was not right with God, for he came to our Lord and inquired “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”  He was not right with his neighbor for he, as the usurping Self-lord of his life, walked among the poor and held his money bag even closer to his breast than before, their dire condition meaning little, or not enough, to him that he should open his coffers and show love for his neighbors; and if not compassion for his Jewish brethren, what hope would his Gentile brothers have in his generosity?  “He had great possessions” with which he could not part, for they were more precious to him than his neighbors.   And, lastly, he was not right with himself, nor could ever be as long as the impostor, Self, ruled his life.  All his life this rich young man had been wearing his mask, polishing and adorning it, refining what the world might see in him, but behind the mask was a bankrupt man.

When he comes to our Lord, he pulls the mask down a little, to peer over the top of it, to expose partially his true face.  He must in time, whether in this life or in ages of ages to come, surrender his mask; even on that day he did it a little as he looked into the Face over which there was no mask; “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him” as he was; for this is the very thing which the unmasked face does, both by our Lord and by we who are constantly unmasking our own faces to be like Him.

The young man is uncomfortable with this exposure of himself; his Self-lord is uneasy concerning this, and immediately sets about to raise again the mask; the young man then offers that “I have kept the Commandments all my life!”  He, being pious, knew all ten of the Commandments, yet he finds at least some comfort, a bit of self-exoneration, when the Lord recounts only the last five of ten.  Had Jesus instead quoted the first five, beginning with love of God, the young man would have been pierced immediately for he could not have, standing before the unmasked Face ofincarnate Truth, claimed to have no other God than God, himself being all his life the impostor, the Self-god to himself.  Nor could he claim to have no idols, for he had many among the people and things and possessions in his life.  Of the next three commandments, I do not know; perhaps he had kept those as good as the natural man can.  But if he had claimed, it being a lie, he had no other god than the Living One, or that he had no idols, it would have only been by raising the mask again to cover his Self-face.  But our Lord would help him, would not put forth the most important question lest the man hide himself completely.

This young man was very much like many among us; he would have his cake and eat it.  Would he be perfect?  No.  He might be willing to share his Self-throne with God, at least up until the point that such an arrangement might make him uncomfortable, but would not go so far as to abdicate it, allow God to ascend, fall prostate before the true King as a humble and obedient subject, could not pray honestly from behind his mask “Not my will but Your will be done!”  No, he would not yet be perfect; “It would have been more honest if the youth had said, 'I do not want to be perfect; I am content to be saved.'  Such as he little think that perfection is salvation.”  Such as he; such also are we? 

In closing, allow that I say every person must deal with this old Self of which I have spoken.  In all the universe, when a thing has died it remains dead; all things, that is, with the exception of the Self.  Self rises up every day, and at times nearly every moment, and immediately seeks the throne, will unless put to death again be the supplanter, will demand that God relinquish His crown, His throne, His rulership, will of an instant become once again the Self-king of the life, once again proclaiming “My will but not Your will!”  The virtuous face will again become ugly, the Self will snatch up the polished mask and put it on, transparency lost, will hide as best it can the loathsome face of the emergent old Self, will go through motions of piety, as illusions to the world and, far worse, as delusions to Self.  “He went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” says St. Mark; these he must lay down, he must lay his entire Self down as well, to suffer what the Self hates most, which is crucifixion death.  Self must die that life might reign in us.  Then, then only, shall our masks of Self-righteousness, of illusion and delusion, be put off; then, and only then, we shall become as transparent to God, to our neighbor, and to our self as our great Brother and Lord is transparent:

Moreover we all, with unmasked faces, beholding the glory of the Lord as though in a mirror, are being transformed into that same glory even by the Spirit of the Lord.
— Corinthians 3:18