It is not to thwart or tease the poor self that Jesus tells the would-be disciple to deny himself; he tells us we must leave it altogether—yield it, refuse it, lose it: thus only shall we save it, thus only have a share in our own being. The self is given to us that we may sacrifice it; it is ours that we like Christ may have something to offer—not that we should torment it, but that we should abandon it utterly. The self is to be no longer the ruler of our action. We are no more to think, “What would I like to do?” but “What would the Living one have me do?” The Self is God’s making—only it must be the “slave of Christ,” that the Son may make it also the free son of the same Father; it must receive all from him; it must follow him, not its own desires. Christ must be its law. The time will come when it shall be so possessed by the indwelling God that there will be no longer any enforced denial of it needful; it has been finally denied and refused, learned to receive with thankfulness, to demand nothing. God’s eternal denial of himself, revealed in him who for our sakes in the flesh took up his cross daily, will have been developed in the man; his eternal rejoicing will be in God—and in his fellows, before whom he will cast his glad self to be a carpet for their walk, a footstool for their rest, a stair for their climbing.
Sacrifice of the Self
“God's eternal denial of Himself, revealed in Him Who took up His cross daily.”
The root for every form of spiritual error, every misinterpretation of Scripture, every false doctrine and all which is actual heresy, such things themselves bearing fruit in the meanness or religious turpitude of the believer, which takes shape in different forms, all incorrectness, all these pernicious weeds and more of their ilk spring up from the parched ground of a misunderstanding of God. It is true of men today; it has been just as true for men throughout time, of all religions the common error is this misunderstanding of God; it includes the theologians and the laymen, and spares not the authors of Scripture. “No man has seen God at any time”—and by this is meant not only the eye, but more importantly the eyes of understanding—and, “the only begotten Son, He has declared Him”—by the which is meant that all there is to be now known of God is revealed in Christ.
Every person views things through some or another lens; it can be our own suppositions, by our analytic, or the lens can be Scripture, or what the theologians have told us, many lenses then, all clouded to some degree; the only true Lens being Christ Jesus Himself, by Whom is our understanding. He is the Light, to the degree that we focus on anyone or anything other than The Light, we are turning from the Light of understanding to the darkness of idolotry.
1st Corinthians 13:12 has no punctuation in the Greek and the verse can be understood in at least two ways. First, we can read it “Now we see through a glass darkly,” or, second, as “Now we see through a glass, darkly.” The comma, or lack of it, turns the meaning; in the first case it is God Who obscures Himself by means of the “glass,” in the second the “darkness” is none of Him but us; our eyes are dim so that we cannot make Him out in clarity (and if not, then surely we cannot understand ourselves clearly). The common interpretation may hold that it is no glass but the ancient mirror of polished metal, sending back an imperfect image of the one beholding—that is not how I understand it; for the Greek has it “δι’ ἐσόπτρου,” the “di” meaning “through,” as one seeing his distorted image but peering through it in search of the Maker of images unseen, and seeing Him but as, or more, distorted than the facial image which is the self. To say, then, that often we perceive our own selves more clearly than God; and included in this self-understanding are the influences of others like ourselves.
The mirror, how ever you understand it, is not the obscuring nor the glass dark, for God is not One Who hides but reveals; the problem with seeing is, then, in us; it is our dim eyes the problem. No man can look full into our sun without being blinded, but with God, Who is the very Light of the world, the more we look into His brilliant shine the better we see. And some have turned their faces to that greatest of all, in fact only true Light, more so than others. They see best of all.
A man writes a book. Only the novice will fail to know that those things he presents in his book are but the tip of the iceberg, and that by only reading and studying the book one may very well misunderstand what the author is saying; that one can only learn best what is said in the book by personal interview with author; and if the author be a philosopher, then more than interview him, to sit at his feet as did Aristotle with Plato. How sad it is that so many attempt to understand the Author and Finisher of our faith through the Scripture, looking first and perhaps only to what is written about Him, without reference to Him Who authored it—or, worse, to flood the imagination with a theology drawn from the Old Testament which He upended! To miss the fact that the Book isn't the truth but the Man; to not see that the Book points to Him; to formulate an opinion of God based on chapter and verse rather than what is displayed in the life, teaching, ministry, of our Atoner! The results of it are seen historically in the schisms within the Church and all the abuses of men toward their neighbors in the name of God.
I have heard certain Christians proudly announce “We are people of the Book!” Away with that! We are people of a living, resurrected, eternally righteous, all good, and all loving Man, Who represents His Father and ours perfectly—and not because “the Bible tells me so” but because of hundreds of eye-witnesses to the account, honorable and honest people who had nothing in the world to gain but everything to lose by their proclamation; that is why we believe. If we hold the Scripture in the place of preeminence we will never understand the Man or our Father as did those original disciples but, correspondingly, if we hold God—and specifically Christ Jesus as the visceral representation of all there is in God—as preeminent, than we shall have the key to understanding what the Bible is saying to us. And bear in mind that there was no Bible as we know it for several centuries after Christ. Therefore, with such a lengthy introduction, let us begin. Our study is that pertaining to sacrifice.
In Hosea 6:6 God declares “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings;” The spokesmen of God say it again and again (Psm. 40:6; 50:8-9; 51:16-17, 1st Sam. 15:22, Amos 5:21-24, Prov. 21:3, Micah 6:6-8, Jer. 7:22-23;11:7, Eccl. 5:1, etc.). Hear it from our Lord's lips; “And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.” (Matt. 12:7); hear Him speak it again in Matt. 5:24, 9:13, 23:23, and Mark 12:33.
It would be wrong to infer from so many passages that God does not desire sacrifice; it is not the fact of sacrifice but the type of sacrifice in view. The Old Testament sacrifices were ordained by God, not because it was His desire but because the primitive Jews were already making blood sacrifices to pagan idols (viz. Judges 2:11; 3:7; 6:25, 8:33; 10:10 and 1st Samuel 12:10, etc.); He, therefore, instituted the Levitical system as an offset; it seems to me God in effect said “If you are bound and determined to make blood sacrifices, even though I abhor them, and worse—to make them to idols! Nonetheless I will keep you from the gross atrocities of the pagans and provide an outline which shall point from the evil of bloodletting to a coming good which you cannot imagine.”
This giving of the sacrificial system, as with the giving of the Law, as with the institution of the Israelite kings, are all primeval examples of God's sacrifice, His condescension, His effort to reach His children and provide a means, even broken, whereby they, being where they were in mind and culture, could somewhat identify with Who and What He is. It is an Old Testament evidence of that found in the New, at Cana, where the Lord (Who otherwise would not have done it) took up the desire of His unknowing mother and turned water to wine at her request—the Father in the Old, Christ in the New, both condescending for the benefit of others, both sacrificing their highest desire to the lower desire of small children, doing so carefully, so as not to frustrate impeccable holiness. If we have eyes to see, we find God is ever making sacrifices of Himself for His children.
And then St. Paul says “For I beseech you brothers by the mercy of God that you present your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, your reasonable service.” (Rom. 12:1); he is restating what God had through example and by His prophets been saying from the beginning—the only sacrifice pleasing to God is Self-denying, love sending, sacrifice of will, mind, emotion, and body to The Will, to the pleasing of our Father and the betterment of our fellows and the world.
And these remarks hark back to what I said in the beginning: The misunderstanding of God. Christ Jesus declared (Hebrews 10:5-7) what sacrifice God desires from every person:
“Therefore, when Christ came into the world, He said:
'Sacrifice and offering You did not desire,
but a body You prepared for Me;
with burnt offerings and sin offerings
You were not pleased:
Then said I, Here I am—it is written about Me in the scroll—
I have come to do Your will, O God!'”
Note what our Lord is actually saying here; He is not first alluding to Himself as being brought into this world as the Atoner—that is inherent in it, of course—but the first thing for Him is this; “I have come to do Your will, O God!” If God would have Him the Lamb slain, He will do that will without question or reservation; had God for any Divine reason said “Enough! Come home! Leave them!” He would have done that as well, even through tears and unspeakable grief—the first thing about Christ, is that He ever and always was and is sacrificing Himself, first to God and then for mankind, determined to willingly will His will to submit to The Will; and that is the one single reason why He qualified to be our Atonement. Do we, in thinking of Him as our Sacrifice for sin, think it restricted to those brutal hours on Golgotha? In such case we have misunderstood Him greatly; for fact is that He only is able to be that ultimate Cruciform Sacrifice because He first, for all His life, in every way, had been sacrificing Himself to do The Will of His Father.
In Philippians 2:7 the Apostle tells us “but He emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” By emptied is meant the taking off of the royal robe and donning that of the peasant—but there is much more here; for, from the beginning of His “form of a servant,” He also emptied Himself of what was potential, His own will, every strand of Self-will: Even as we are called to take upon ourselves the image of Christ Jesus, so also was He called upon to be the image and perfectly reflect all that is in our Father. God never asks, or commands, a man to do anything which He has not already, and is eternally, doing.
There is, then, in the heart of God an innate and eternal sense of sacrifice; this sense is no Attribute of Him for it is an Essential part of Him, of His Essence, upon which other Attributes are dependent and built; and all these, including Sacrifice, are founded on the one truest of all there is in God's Essence, which is, according to Sacrifice, the out-moving, giving-away, selfless and self-forgetting, Love. No thing made by Him, no need those things have, could compel Him therefore to Sacrifice, were it not that He Is very Love; and it is by Love, for it is the nature of Love, that He is compelled where nothing lesser could move Him, from within His bosom-heart, and then only and naturally as entirely willing. The Lord asks us to take His yoke upon us; He is eternally in that same yoke.
To us any sacrifice comes about only because we've overcome some lower urge to receive rather than give sacrifice; that lower urge, Self-ish in nature, being for a man to set himself and his personal best interests first before those of others: With God there is never any lower urge which He must overcome in order to do it; God sacrifices Himself as the first desire. “For this very reason” says the Lord, “I came;” “No one takes My life from Me,” He declares, “but I lay it down of my own accord.” He does on the earth what He is eternally doing in the heavenly realm, as He is there so also is He here; and know that what He is and does is precisely what the Father is and is doing.
Though we cannot now hear His vocalization as He spoke such words as these, be assured there was no smallest rebuke or complaint in His voice—for were that the case it would indicate He felt Himself wronged and resented it, that those His audience should have adored Him and sacrificed themselves to and for Him when they would not because they could not. But that would have been Self-ish and ruined the Sacrifice; the totally, purest, self-forgetting heart cannot carry in it such thoughts; only from such heart can issue forth the unadulterated desire for the good of others at any and every expense, through any trial or horror, even unto death and that, as it may be, excruciating. If we understand the Lord gave Himself away freely in our behalf, we must also needs know that He did it without any reservations at all, no thought of incrimination or recrimination, not a tiniest particle of Self-pity or Self-service—this is the nature of sacrifice, the Essence of God's nature.
When we think of sacrifice, the sacrifices we make in life for others, it is impure; inwardly we say to ourselves “This is a thing I'd rather not do, but out of a sense of my duty I shall do it anyway.” A man need not God in his life to shoulder such duty; many the man and woman who have done it apart from any thought of righteousness. “Greater love hath no man,” says God, “than that he lay down his life for his fellow;” it is so adjudged by God because it is a man true to duty standing in the shadow of the Atonement; God does not praise the sacrifice higher because the man who dies for his fellow has had to overcome the lower instinct of self-preservation to reach the higher plane of neighbor-preservation. That Perfect Sacrifice had self-demons clinging to its robe but, in pulling at the garment of the Lord's humanity ripped it from our Christ and left Him hanging exposed and naked before the world, truly Man and just as truly revealing Him as the self-sacrificing God. It was, and is, the purest of pure sacrifices, wholly acceptable to God our Father, because in Christ Jesus it was absolutely none of Self except to give it away. So says MacDonald:
“The self is given to us that we may sacrifice it; it is ours that we like Christ may have something to offer—not that we should torment it but that we should abandon it utterly. The self is to be no longer the ruler of our action. We are no more to think, 'What would I like to do?' The Self is God's making—only it must be the 'slave of Christ,' that the Son may make it also the free son of the same Father; it must receive all from Him; it must follow Him, not its own desires.”
This is the foremost sacrifice we can make, of Self to God, which falls out to sacrifice for friend, family, neighbor, and even enemy—it is caught up, unsaid but implicit, in the Lord's command to love God first, then to love neighbor as self. Here is a truth: Love always demands sacrifice.
Nor is sacrifice, as God sacrifices Himself, necessarily painful; from all eternity the three Persons in Heaven are ever sacrificing themselves One to and for Another in a perfect state of bliss—which bliss would be destroyed if any among Them sought at all to put Self first, which They are by virtue of Their essential nature not only undesirous but also incapable of doing. And this is the pattern for all those on earth if we, in fact, desire to make it “on earth as it is in Heaven.” Those Three Making Persons within the Godhead are eternally at peace One with Another, abiding in perfect harmony and union—when we read that “the peace of God which is beyond all understanding” shall be ours, it must be by the same cause for which the Divine enjoys peace—and that great peace is the product of love-driven, self-forgetting, outward-going, other-seeking, sacrifice.
I am often pricked in conscience when I consider it, and my failing. If my wife needs or desires a thing, and I do it for her, and then probe my reasons, so often do I find that it was not done for the right reasons; that I've had my reward in the eyes of my wife but nothing has been added to my account by God; I am in such instances as among those hypocrites of which the Lord spoke, saying, “Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.” Why so? Because Self is still in the first seat, and the sacrifice of doing for another seen by me as a thing which must be done, not a thing which is the highest desire of a self-forgetting heart, and without reservations, I want to do.
Perhaps I should describe what I mean when I say that God is “self-forgetting.” Certainly, as common sense would dictate, it does not mean God can't remember who He is!
It is God's entire being, desire, barring nothing and taking no thought of cost to Himself into account—to give Himself utterly away without thought to personal expenditure, His infinite Self turned outward without any reservation, His uninterrupted effort toward the best for those made things, even including those farthest from Him, the one's who crucified Him, those that scorn Him or else ignore Him, those who revile Him, ever wayward child without exception. It is only by self-forgetting that He truly Is, and truly knows Himself to Be; it is only as we begin to understand Him thus that we understand Him at all. Perhaps a good way to understand it is through our Lord's words when He says “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” He is speaking to living men when He tells them they must lose their Self, and not saying to them that they must lose their physical lives—He is saying that by “losing” is “self-forgetting,” to put God first and then others, which in every case carries a price which is sacrifice; and that to the ones who are self-forgetting they shall in that moment and to the degree they do it, begin to find their true lives, their liberty, their joy, and begin to live life as He Who is Life lives:
“The self is given to us that we may sacrifice it; it is ours that we like Christ may have something to offer—not that we should torment it, but that we should abandon it utterly.”
Note particularly in the quote the phrase that we “may have something to offer.” Something? That is a beginning and no end; the Lord would grow us to be like Him, so that the something becomes our everything—that the beginning in small sacrifices will blossom into all-consuming sacrifice. That we should be like our Lord, the grand but cloaked Merchant in His parable, the One Who, “seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” And God has eternally been selling everything He is and has in an infinite outgoing, otherly seeking, redemptive and reconciliatory, sacrificial Love. First found in the daily reading under our present consideration are these words:
“It is not to thwart or tease the poor self that Jesus tells the would-be-disciple to deny himself; He tells us we must leave it altogether—yield it, refuse it, lose it; thus shall we save it, thus only have a share in our own being.”
Coming down to us by some, even from before Augustine, but somewhat clarified by him, later enhanced by Anselm, and then much refined by Calvin, is the concept of what we identify as the “Penal Substitutionary Theory of the Atonement.” In view of our entry for today, let me first say that is a most pagan and therefore unjust theory; as though Justice could ever be honored by the slaying of an innocent in the stead of the guilty—that is no justice but the cruelty of primitive, pagan, religious barbarism. That is the theology of a Molech and not God.
The Atonement is, in such case as that evil Theory presents, an “I will have my pound of flesh” transaction rather than the free gift from a self-forgetting, eternally forgiving and absolutely restorative God. It is to think God violent, that He is a God of retribution, that He will have an eye for an eye even if it be His own Son's eye. It is to understand God as He of the Ledger, balancing the account, carefully making entry of assets and debits, blessing the one while cursing and in vengeful wrath to the eternal damning of the other. This is the theology of a god who sacrifices men on the altar of his supposed justice; it is unlike the God Who sacrifices Himself for them.
And if the Atonement is based upon such things it is no longer of Grace but is an earned thing in response for the demand of either glorious or else hideous payment. The Son, so the Theory goes, earns the right to be the Redeemer because He has swallowed His Father's wrath; the believer has earned his redemption by calling upon the Lord, and the doomed have earned their destruction by ungodliness. Though salvation be called “grace” it is in such case none of true grace but the legalistic result of accounting by a divine book-keeper, recompensing to every person the getting of their just deserts in one way or another, as though the eternal sacrificing of God has finite borders beyond which, should a man go beyond, He is impotent, even unwilling, to save. What manner of God would that be? A God Who commands us to forgive one and all, to sacrifice ourselves for all men in the world, to give ourselves up and away completely—yet He Himself does not do what He commands another to do? That would make God a hypocrite; it would also show man better than God. The Sacrificial nature of God invokes His Wrath—not toward the sinner but his sin; he will utterly destroy sin but in the doing will save every sinner; He sacrifices Himself to accomplish it.
Someone will surely say, “But we are saved by grace through faith.” I do not deny it. What I am saying is that what we have been, perhaps, taught to be grace is but a mask over the face of a legalism; then we must ask ourselves what “grace” truly is. He is not called “the God of all grace” for naught; He is in every way completely gracious, and is so only because He is self-forgetting. That grace of God is not held to some area of our lives or reaching to only some people, but encompasses all of life and everything in the cosmos as well. That “where sin abounded Grace super-abounds,” sweeping in and over and through every speck of all things, the physical and mental and the metaphysical under the deluge of God's forgiving, sacrificing, Love.
He does not in wrath slay His Son; He graciously allows Him to die in an act of Divine and unspeakable self-forgetfulness, laying down on His daily cross His will ere He ever allowed His body to be stretched out on a wooden cross. He does not condemn the world but in Love-driven Grace—ultimately expressed in self-sacrifice—reconciles it unto God. He does not create an eternal torture chamber for His children, who must suffer exquisitely and consciously for all eternity, but shall redeem them one and all in time, in this life or the next, because in self-forgetting He will by Mercy and Grace then remember; “to all and upon all,” is extended the driven selfless-Love, saving from the uttermost all things which He has made, and restoring them, reconciling them through Christ Jesus to Himself. This is the grace of God in action.
There is no room here to take a departure into what Grace is, but a brief aside is necessary: By grace we are saved, and thus have a responsibility to God—but in His grace there is a responsibility which attaches to God as well; for He is responsible to us. He has the responsibility of a Father to His children. He created us with needs which we cannot satisfy; He is responsible to provide for those needs. Grace, though we understand it to be “free” is never free; it always costs something, it cost God everything—grace is a sacrifice, God sacrificing Himself to us, and we to Him.
The wine of the theologians may seem a sweet aroma, the bottle gilt and scribed with doctrines and dogma-art which appeal to the eye, the contents aged over long centuries; to your taste it may be sweet; to your belly it will be bitter; it will poison you, not to death, but will keep you in a weakened, motley, spiritual condition, a perpetual spiritual state of dogmatic inebriation which will dim your eyes, so that you cannot understand the Truth in the face of Jesus. Such theologians as are the legalists will not point you to Him alone, but will always refer you to their wine, and chastise you if you show any reluctance to their freely poured spirits, their supposed vital doctrines.
In Romans 5:7 the Apostle makes a striking point, saying; “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die.” As a good man I might say “God is better than we imagine Him to be” and receive from my kinsmen in the faith universal endorsement for the claim—but if I am a righteous man and declare that God was in Christ reconciling the entire world, the entire cosmic creation, back to God; that not one person nor any created thing shall in the end be lost; if I say publicly what I've said in this article, then shall come the controversy; the legalists will immediately pull out their pet Scriptural “proofs” to show me wrong; the ancient tribalistic “us verses them” mentality of the primitive will assert itself; the conversation will become an argument if I allow it, first my views will be condemned and if the intercourse continues I myself will be condemned, called an apostate, a heretic (as some reading these words can attest by their own experience); what a good man says will be received, that which a righteous man speaks will be rejected; and a prophet has no honor in his own country.
Many are those who have supposed it was the Wrath of God poured out on Christ at Calvary, not realizing it was instead the wrath of men; do not see that it was no violence of God but that of the supposedly autonomous creature poured out without mixture on God Himself. And though the skies went dark on that day, for the God of Nature was slain and even brute Nature cannot look upon the dreadful scene, thus came only a grave silence from the realms of a likewise darkened Heaven, the abode of God, Who issued no wrath-laden command to His angels to destroy and rain vengeance down on His creatures below—silence, that is, because our Father was mourning what He must from His heart of Love allow in the ultimate act of His self-forgetting humiliation, the final, greatest, saddest sacrifice of all. His only begotten Son.
I see in my mind our Father bent to the floor of Heaven, shaking in grief, sobbing without control, broken in spirit, as He in the act of the Savior was giving the last farthing of Himself away, holding nothing back, dying with His Son, both of Them and the Spirit dying as much as a God can die, willingly, sacrificially, in every nerve and fiber of God's being, suffering it, drinking to the very dregs of the Cup, doing it though it cost Him everything—“for the joy that was set before Him.” And because of this great God, inestimable, and His eternal self-forgetting in Divine Love, there is the greatest hope set before us all, coming from Him Who reconciles all things but has no thought of retribution in Him, that in time, growing even now, is this unassailable hope, that:
“God's eternal denial of Himself, revealed in Him Who for our sakes in the flesh took up His cross daily, will have developed in the man; his eternal rejoicing will be in God—and in his fellows, before whom he will cast his glad self to be carpet for their walk, a footstool for their rest, a staircase for their climbing.”
Brothers, sisters; we have been called with a Holy calling to “deny Self, take up our cross daily, and follow Him whithersoever He may lead.” The cross: Emblem meant, in His day, as a shameful thing, the symbol of a man's foolishness and recklessness, of torturous death, of excruciating suffering which no observer could fathom—in the case of Christ it was the Ultimate Sacrifice of self upon whose axis time and eternity turn. It was the Sacrifice of perfect outgoing self-forgetting Love, proving our God would go to any length, suffer any humiliation, condescend for us stooping to depths we cannot plumb, in His work of Redemption (of us) and Reconciliation (to God) . To this we are called, to take upon us willingly the self-immolating, self-denying, self-sacrificial, death in our Selves of Christ's death—and in process to gain that same Life which is His. This is what it is to “deny self.”
God Has a Part, and Man Has a Part...
by Dave Roney
"The victory over self is the victory of God in man, not of the man alone."
Upon this simple line rests much of theology. For, the "Self," which is the "lower nature" in man, is the nearest most pressing enemy of the true self created by God, the Christlike self, the child of the Father self, the obedient self.
Note that this victory of God "in man" does not exclude man, but that it is "not of the man alone." If God were alone triumphant, the victory would be all God's, and if man were alone and achieved victory over his lower nature, as though to the pleasing and satisfaction of God, the victory would be man's alone. If it is God and man, as of two equally yoked, the victory is shared jointly between them. The victory of God is the victory of man. The victory of man is the victory of God.
This joint victory, shared by the Father and His children, is that of two agreed, of two equally yoked, of the One willing and the other obedient to that Will, the two wills then becoming one even as that of Christ Jesus and the Father. It is to this end that God is ever working, to bring us into harmony with Himself, into union with Him, into deepest personal, familial relationship: And for this our participation is essential; it is God's victory in man, and man's victory in God.
Two things come to mind here; the first is the widely taught doctrine of imputation, and the second is a false sense of humility, for the two are related, the latter being an outgrowth of the former. And herewith we must keep in mind the possible approaches; God alone, man alone, or God and man together.
From the Old Testament, we find the prophet declaring "all our righteousness is as filthy rags" (Isa. 64:6) and it has a counterpart in the New Testament where the Apostle declares "There are none righteous, no not one" (Rom. 3:10). These references have been used to show that in man, both before and after the process of salvation begins, there is no true righteousness in him, and then to deal with the apparent righteousness in a man which is evident, the doctrine of Imputed Righteousness was drawn up. But the lack of true righteousness in a fellow has to do with the man alone, working within his broken mind and will and heart; and here we understand "The mere effort of will, arbitrary and uninformed of duty, may add to the man's power over his lower nature; but in that nature it is God who must rule, and not the man." Of this doctrine of imputation, we refer:
"The apostle says that a certain thing was imputed to Abraham for righteousness; or, as the Revised Version has it, 'reckoned unto him:' what was it that was thus imputed to Abraham? The righteousness of another? God forbid! It was his own faith. The faith of Abraham is reckoned to him for righteousness. To impute the righteousness of one to another, is simply to act a falsehood; to call the faith of a man his righteousness is simply to speak the truth. Was it not righteous in Abraham to obey God? (MacDonald, "Righteousness")
Would a good earthly father ever be content that his son never developed his own true righteousness, but would always in himself be craven, base, even beastly? that this son's only righteousness was that of his righteous father, and that he would never grow to really and actually possess the same righteousness as really exists in his father in himself? If righteousness of a man comes only from the man, it is in the eyes of God "as filthy rags;" if the man's righteousness is all of God, the man can never ever, even in an endless progression of eternities, be actually righteous; but if the righteousness of God is the same righteousness as is in him, then he is become like his Savior, Jesus Christ the Righteous. A man's righteousness, which is the victory over Self, is the victory of God in the man, actually existing; and in this man has a part else no real righteousness is possible for him.
And though my brief remarks as to imputed vs. actual righteousness leave much unsaid, I must now move on to the second point, that of false humility.
One sister in the Lord commends another sister on some good thing which has been done, and with sheepish and nearly apologetic reply the other sister says "It was all of God and none of me!" When a man claims his righteousness is all of self and gives no credit to God, he displays a false sense of pride; but when a believer exclaims that "it was all of God and none of me" it shows a false sense of humility. And false humility is at its root a subtle form of pride. Having healed the invalid at Bethesda's pool, and being accused by the Jews of labor on the Sabbath, our Lord said unto them; "My Father works till now, and I work." The work Christ did was no imputed thing but was Him, as a man, as all other men, actually doing it; the Father willed, the Son did the Will. We cannot imagine that, when accused, He would say to the Jews "It was all of God and none of me!" It was both He and His Father, together, in the doing. It is that way for those who would be like Christ Jesus; God has a part for which we must ever give credit, and we have a part which we must ever, in humility, admit to. It is never all of God or all of us, but both God and us in union.
And I will conclude with this: there was a Saul of Tarsus, and this man became Paul the Apostle. Before his encounter with our Lord on the Damascus roadway, he was a highly disciplined man, a "Hebrew of the Hebrews" as he described himself, "circumcised when I was eight days old, a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin, a member of the Pharisees, in company, then, of those who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law." Later he said in his epistles that he constantly trained to bring himself under subjection to Christ, and that to do this he must "die daily" to his old Self, was constantly being self-crucified with Christ.
What does this say to us? Namely, that to become righteous even as He is righteous we must struggle, and we must also cease to struggle; it is a dichotomy in us with which we must constantly deal until we are finally become the express image and exact representation of Christ, even as He was, and is, of His Father and ours. We must struggle as long as sin dwells in us, we must cease to struggle by loving, submissive, obedience to God in all we think and say and do. By this we seek the victory over Self, but the victory is "not of the man alone," for man alone is incapable of triumphing over his old miserable Self; "...in whatever man does without God, he must fail miserably;" it is, then, neither all of God or all of man, but with the participation of both, "the victory of God in man." Not the victory of God in spite of man, neither by making allowances for man, nor by excusing sin or else by some imagined imputation of righteousness. In every case, without exception, God has a part, and man has a part; the part of God is to do for us that which we ought to do but cannot; our part is to do what we ought to do and can. It is the victory of God and the victory of man. And the two victories are one and the same...