The Gain Of The Cross: "Not I, But Christ"

By J. Gregory Mantle

    The goal to which the Holy Spirit leads every new-born soul is that which is so strikingly expressed by Paul in the familiar words, "Not I, but Christ." The human "I" is not perfected by any such progress as some have so strangely concluded. The human "I" is delivered over to death, and by the power of the Holy Ghost is ever kept in the place of death, while Christ takes the place of the I, and reigns supremely on the throne of the being, the entire government of which is on His shoulders.

    There is no more important question among the many which gather around this subject than this: How is it possible so to live that those around us will always see "Not I, but Christ." We believe the answer is largely found in what Paul calls the "putting on" of Christ.

    Just as among weeds, some that are painted with alluring colors are only weeds still, so among the fruits of the natural life are some that carry a more pleasing appearance than others, but they are nevertheless the growth of the carnal mind. Augustine spoke strongly, but none too strongly, when he said: "Our very virtues are but splendid sins."

    "The affections, beautiful as they are in the place they occupy in the mental structure, and important and interesting as they are in their outward office, have felt, like every other part of our mental being, the effects of our depraved and fallen condition. They sometimes fall below their appropriate strength; but more frequently err, either in being wrongly directed, or in being inordinately strong. It is evident, from a slight inspection of what human nature everywhere presents to our notice, that they require a constant regulation; in other words, they need to be sanctified." (Professor Upham in "Life of Faith")

    When Ignatius exclaimed: "My love is crucified!" he meant that his natural, earthly affection -- with all the passions pertaining to it -- hung on the cross, and that he had claimed and received in its stead a heavenly and immortal love. Why is there such a lack of love among Christians? Why is the badge of true discipleship so seldom seen? Is it not because God’s children have not learned to put off the old love that is so limited in its power of expression and so easily provoked, and to put on the love of Jesus "which is not provoked, which thinketh no evil, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things, which never faileth"?

    Whoever dies to the natural, says Tauler, the outflow as well as the inflow of his life is Divine love. Men who are not dead to themselves, he continues, often love by nature, thinking it is by grace, and when they are blamed for this, they are troubled and may become angry. This should tell them that their love is natural. "Divine love is at all times patient and suffers all things. It lets itself be hated, but it hates no one and puts the best construction on all things. Men not dead to themselves are agitated when contradicted and distracted from their peace."

    The putting off of our sin-tainted and defective human love, and the appropriation of the love of God in Jesus Christ, will save us from what has been called inordinate partialities. In other words, we will be saved from those particular attachments to certain persons which generally exist without adequate reason, and which are apt to be attended with corresponding dislikes to other persons. When we do make a difference in our confidence and affection, it will be for reasons and on grounds which God can approve.

    The secret of possessing an unfailing love is to claim the fulfillment, moment by moment, of Christ’s own desire, "That the love wherewith Thou has loved Me may be in them, and I in them" (John 17:26). The indwelling of Jesus and the indwelling of Divine Love are conceived of here as one and the same thing, and they truly are inseparable.

    The conditions on which this love may become ours are clearly revealed. They are separation from the world: "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world" (v. 16); obedience to the Word: "The words which Thou gavest Me I have given unto them, and they received them" (v. 8); and unity with the children of God: "That they may be one" (v. 22).

    What has been said about natural and Divine love applies also to human and Divine patience. How often is a man upset and agitated and how this affects the lives of all those who immediately surround him, if he knows nothing of the art of appropriating the patience of Jesus. If a meal is a few minutes late, or someone is unavoidably hindered either in keeping or carrying out an appointment, if a sermon is a little longer than usual, or one whose salvation is sought is unusually perverse, the human patience is very quickly strained to the breaking point. This is ever to the loss and hurt of not one but many individuals, for, as we have suggested, the impatient spirit never suffers alone.

    Is not this manifestation of impatience the revelation of a spirit that still largely revolves around the human "I"? Unquestionably it is, and there is but one remedy, the persistent claiming of death to self, and the daily putting on of the lamb-like patience of Jesus Christ. Living perpetually in the centre of God’s will, nothing can put our patience to the test but by His ordering or permission. When someone is late or a letter goes astray, we have opportunity to prove whether our patience is creaturely or Divine, whether it belongs to the old man or the new.

    "Not without design does God write the music of our lives. Be it ours to learn the time, and not be discouraged at the rests. If we say sadly to ourselves, ‘There is no music in a rest,’ let us not forget there is the making of music in it. The making of music is often a slow and painful process in this life. How patiently God works to teach us! How long He waits for us to learn the lesson." (John Ruskin)

    Human kindness and generosity is frequently at fault. Good is often attempted from the mere impulse of nature. Sometimes far too much money, for example, is given to one person or cause, and sometimes far too little, or nothing whatever is given to one whose necessities are crying for urgent relief for no other reason, it may be, than that our kindness has been imposed upon. Unsanctified generosity will often fail in its intent, doing harm rather than good.

    We may do the right thing at the right time, if in this matter also we put on the wisdom and generosity of Jesus Christ. God holds the remedy of the evils which exist in the world in His own hands. He employs His people as instruments in applying this remedy. But the application is never made beneficially either to the subject or the agent, except when it is made under God’s own superintendence, and in His own time and manner.

    This "putting on" process is frequently referred to in both the Old and New Testaments (see Isa. 49:16,17; 61:10; Psa. 132:16; Zech. 3:1-5; Luke 15:22; Rom. 13:14; Eph. 4:22-24; Col. 3:8-14; Rev. 19:8).

    It is evident from a reference to these passages, that death-fellowship with Christ is equivalent to putting off the old man, and life-fellowship with Him equivalent to putting on the new man. The word "habit" which originally meant clothing, now relates to the soul. "The conscience, the affections, the will, the thoughts, are the looms in the soul, and by their incessant activity are weaving out a subtle fabric of moral qualities which clothes the soul with conduct appropriate to itself."

    We cannot put on the new over the old, as some have strangely taught. The old man waxes corrupt according to the lusts of deceit, and if we do not put him off he will wrap his poisonous vesture about us -- which according to its inmost nature, will wax more and more corrupt -- until we have reached that fixity of character which is described as filthiness (Revelation 22:11). The new man, on the contrary is, by a continuous process, "being renewed unto knowledge after the image of Him that created him" (Colossians 3:9). And this transformation into His wondrous likeness is the end of all our putting off and putting on.

    We cannot be too frequently reminded that it is only by "putting on" Christ that we "put off" self. Our moral nature abhors the vacuum that would be created by an old affection taking its departure from the innermost chambers of our being, without any new affection to succeed it. The old monarch, the domineering "I", will retain his position until the new monarch, Incarnate Love, is invited to supplant the tyrant, restore tranquility and enthrone Himself in our nature.

    The ruling monarch will not abdicate at a mandate from the chair of reason. Nothing can displace the tyrant "I" in us but the all-victorious competitor, Jesus, whose love is the divinely appointed prescription for the exorcism of self.

    "He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him who died for them and rose again" (2 Corinthians 5:15).

    "We must ‘put away’ our old self," writes Dr. R. W. Dale. "It is not in a single limb or a singe organ that we are affected; the very springs of life are foul. Corruption has already set in. The whole structure of our former moral character and habits must be demolished and the ruins cleared away, that the building may be recommenced from its very foundation.

    "We are to ‘put on’ Christ. We are to make our own every separate element of His righteousness and holiness. We are to make His humility ours, and His courage, His gentleness, and His invincible integrity; His abhorrence of sin, and His mercy for the penitent; His delight in the righteousness of others, and His patience for their infirmities; the quiet submission with which He endured His own sufferings, and His compassion for the sufferings of others; His indifference to ease and wealth and honor, and His passion for the salvation of men from all their sins and all their sorrows.

    "We are to make His perfect faith in the Father ours, and His perfect loyalty to the Father’s authority; His delight in doing the Father’s will; His zeal for the Father’s glory. The perfection at which we have to aim is not a mere dream of the imagination, but the perfection which human nature has actually reached in Christ. Christ’s human perfection was really human, but it was the translation into a human character and history of the life of God. He is living still. The fountains of my life are in Him. It is the eternal purpose of the Father, that as the branch receives and reveals the life which is in the vine, I should receive and reveal the life which is in Christ. When, therefore, I attempt to ‘put on’ Christ, or to make my own the perfect humanity which God created in Him, I am not attempting to imitate a perfection which in spirit and form may be alien from my own moral temperament and character, and which may be altogether beyond my strength. I am but developing a life and energy which God has already given to me. If I am in Christ, the spiritual forces which were illustrated in the righteousness and holiness of Christ’s life are already active in my own life.

    "But these forces are not mere instincts which act blindly and unintelligently. They require the control and direction of the reason, illuminated by the Spirit of God. They do not render moral effort unnecessary; they make moral effort in its most energetic form possible, and they achieve their triumph by sustaining a vigorous and unceasing endeavor after moral and spiritual perfection. Christ is the prophecy of our righteousness as well as the Sacrifice for our sins."

    – From The Way Of The Cross" by J. Gregory Mantle (published 1896).