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. 

Commentary

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