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MORTIFICATION

If by tying its main artery, we stop most of the blood going to a limb, then, for as long as the limb performs its function, those parts which are called into play must be wasted faster than they are repaired: whence eventual disablement. The relation between due receipt of nutritive matters through its arteries, and due discharge of its duties by the limb, is a part of the physical order. If instead of cutting off the supply to a particular limb, we bleed the patient largely, so drafting away the materials needed for repairing not one limb but all limbs, and not limbs only but viscera, there results both a muscular debility and an enfeeblement of the vital functions. Here, again, cause and effect are necessarily related. . . . Pass now to those actions more commonly thought of as the occasions for rules of conduct.

HERBERT SPENCER.

“Mortify therefore your members which are upon earth”—Paul.

“O Star-eyed Science! hast thou wandered there
To waft us home the message of despair?”—Campbell.

THE definition of Death which science has given us is this: A falling out of correspondence with environment. When, for example, a man loses the sight of his eyes, his correspondence with the environing world is curtailed. His life is limited in an important direction; he is less living than he was before. If, in addition, he lose the senses of touch and hearing, his correspondences are still further limited; he is therefore still further dead. And when all possible correspondences have ceased, when the nerves decline to respond to any stimulus, when the lungs close their gates against the air, when the heart refuses to correspond with the blood by so much as another beat, the insensate corpse is wholly and for ever dead. The soul, in like manner, which has no correspondence with the spiritual environment is spiritually dead. It may be that it never possessed the spiritual eye or the spiritual ear, or a heart which throbbed in response to the love of God. If so, having never lived, it cannot be said to have died. But not to have these correspondences is to be in the state of Death. To the spiritual world, to the Divine Environment, it is dead—as a stone which has never lived is dead to the environment of the organic world.

Having already abundantly illustrated this use of the symbol Death, we may proceed to deal with another class of expressions where the same term is employed in an exactly opposite connection. It is a proof of the radical nature of religion that a word so extreme should have to be used again and again in Christian teaching, to define in different directions the true spiritual relations of mankind. Hitherto we have concerned ourselves with the condition of the natural man with regard to the spiritual world. We have now to speak of the relations of the spiritual man with regard to the natural world. Carrying with us the same essential principle—want of correspondence—underlying the meaning of Death, we shall find that the relation of the spiritual man to the natural world, or at least to part of it, is to be that of Death.

When the natural man becomes the spiritual man the great change is described by Christ as a passing from Death unto Life. Before the transition occurred, the practical difficulty was this, how to get into correspondence with the new Environment? But no sooner is this correspondence established than the problem is reversed. The question now is, how to get out of correspondence with the old environment? The moment the new life is begun there comes a genuine anxiety to break with the old. For the former environment has now become embarrassing. It refuses its dismissal from consciousness. It competes doggedly with the new Environment for a share of the correspondences. And in a hundred ways the former traditions, the memories and passions of the past, the fixed associations and habits of the earlier life, now complicate the new relation. The complex and bewildered soul, in fact, finds itself in correspondence with two environments, each with urgent but yet incompatible claims. It is a dual soul living in a double world, a world whose inhabitants are deadly enemies, and engaged in perpetual civil-war.

The position of things is perplexing. It is clear that no man can attempt to live both lives. To walk both in the flesh and in the spirit is morally impossible. “No man,” as Christ so often emphasized, “can serve two masters.” And yet, as matter of fact, here is the new-born being in communication with both environments? With sin and purity, light and darkness, time and Eternity, God and Devil, the confused and undecided soul is now in correspondence. What is to be done in such an emergency? How can the New Life deliver itself from the still-persistent past?

A ready solution of the difficulty would be to die. Were one to die organically, to die and “go to heaven,” all correspondence with the lower environment would be arrested at a stroke. For Physical Death of course simply means the final stoppage of all natural correspondences with this sinful world. But this alternative, fortunately or unfortunately, is not open. The detention here of body and spirit for a given period is determined for us, and we are morally bound to accept the situation. We must look then for a further alternative.

Actual Death being denied us, we must ask ourselves if there is nothing else resembling it—no artificial relation, no imitation or semblance of Death which would serve our purpose. If we cannot yet die absolutely, surely the next best thing will be to find a temporary substitute. If we cannot die altogether, in short, the most we can do is to die as much as we can. And we now know this is open to us, and how. To die to any environment is to withdraw correspondence with it, to cut ourselves off, so far as possible, from all communication with it. So that the solution of the problem will simply be this, for the spiritual life to reverse continuously the processes of the natural life. The spiritual man having passed from Death unto Life, the natural man must next proceed to pass from Life unto Death. Having opened the new set of correspondences, he must deliberately close up the old. Regeneration in short must be accompanied by Degeneration.

Now it is no surprise to find that this is the process everywhere described and recommended by the founders of the Christian system. Their proposal to the natural man, or rather to the natural part of the spiritual man, with regard to a whole series of inimical relations, is precisely this. If he cannot really die, he must make an adequate approach to it by “reckoning himself dead.” Seeing that, until the cycle of his organic life is complete he cannot die physically, he must meantime die morally, reckoning himself morally dead to that environment which, by competing for his correspondences, has now become an obstacle to his spiritual life.

The variety of ways in which the New Testament writers insist upon this somewhat extraordinary method is sufficiently remarkable And although the idea involved is essentially the same throughout, it will clearly illustrate the nature of the act if we examine separately three different modes of expression employed in the later Scriptures in this connection. The methods by which the spiritual man is to withdraw himself from the old environment—or from that part of it which will directly hinder the spiritual life—are three in number:—

First, Suicide.

Second, Mortification.

Third, Limitation.

It will be found in practice that these different methods are adapted, respectively, to meet three different forms of temptation; so that we possess a sufficient warrant for giving a brief separate treatment to each.

First, Suicide. Stated in undisguised phraseology, the advice of Paul to the Christian, with regard to a part of his nature, is to commit suicide. If the Christian is to “live unto God,” he must “die unto sin.” If he does not kill sin, sin will inevitably kill him. Recognising this, he must set himself to reduce the number of his correspondences—retaining and developing those which lead to a fuller life, unconditionally withdrawing those which in any way tend in an opposite direction. This stoppage of correspondences is a voluntary act, a crucifixion of the flesh, a suicide.

Now the least experience of life will make it evident that a large class of sins can only be met, as it were, by Suicide. The peculiar feature of Death by Suicide is, that it is not only self-inflicted but sudden. And there are many sins which must either be dealt with suddenly or not at all. Under this category, for instance, are to be included generally all sins of the appetites and passions. Other sins, from their peculiar nature, can only be treated by methods less abrupt, but the sudden operation of the knife is the only successful means of dealing with fleshly sins. For example, the correspondence of the drunkard with his wine is a thing which can be broken off by degrees only in the rarest cases. To attempt it gradually may in an isolated case succeed, but even then the slightly prolonged gratification is no compensation for the slow torture of a gradually diminishing indulgence. “If thine appetite offend thee cut it off,” may seem at first but a harsh remedy; but when we contemplate on the one hand the lingering pain of the gradual process, on the other its constant peril, we are compelled to admit that the principle is as kind as it is wise. The expression “total abstinence” in such a case is a strictly biological formula. It implies the sudden destruction of a definite portion of environment by the total withdrawal of all the connecting links. Obviously of course total abstinence ought thus to be allowed a much wider application than to cases of “intemperance.” It is the only decisive method of dealing with any sin of the flesh. The very nature of the relations makes it absolutely imperative that every victim of unlawful appetite, in whatever direction, shall totally abstain. Hence Christ’s apparently extreme and peremptory language defines the only possible, as well as the only charitable, expedient: “If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee.”

The humanity of what is called “sudden conversion” has never been insisted on as it deserves. In discussing “Biogenesis”6565Page 93. it has been already pointed out that while growth is a slow and gradual process, the change from Death to Life alike in the natural and spiritual spheres is the work of a moment. Whatever the conscious hour of the second birth may be—in the case of an adult it is probably defined by the first real victory over sin—it is certain that on biological principles the real turning-point is literally a moment. But on moral and humane grounds this misunderstood, perverted, and therefore despised doctrine is equally capable of defence. Were any reformer, with an adequate knowledge of human life, to sit down and plan a scheme for the salvation of sinful men, he would probably come to the conclusion that the best way after all, perhaps indeed the only way, to turn a sinner from the error of his ways would be to do it suddenly.

Suppose a drunkard were advised to take off one portion from his usual allowance the first week, another the second, and so on! Or suppose at first he only allowed himself to become intoxicated in the evenings, then every second evening, then only on Saturday nights, and finally only every Christmas? How would a thief be reformed if he slowly reduced the number of his burglaries, or a wife-beater by gradually diminishing the number of his blows? The argument ends with an ad absurdum. “Let him that stole steal no more,” is the only feasible, the only moral, and the only humane way. This may not apply to every case, but when any part of man’s sinful life can be dealt with by immediate Suicide, to make him reach the end, even were it possible, by a lingering death, would be a monstrous cruelty. And yet it is this very thing in “sudden conversion,” that men object to—the sudden change, the decisive stand, the uncompromising rupture with the past, the precipitate night from sin as of one escaping for his life. Men surely forget that this is an escaping for one’s life. Let the poor prisoner run—madly and blindly if he likes, for the terror of Death is upon him. God knows, when the pause comes, how the chains will gall him still.

It is a peculiarity of the sinful state, that as a general rule men are linked to evil mainly by a single correspondence. Few men break the whole law. Our natures, fortunately, are not large enough to make us guilty of all, and the restraints of circumstances are usually such as to leave a loophole in the life of each individual for only a single habitual sin. But it is very easy to see how this reduction of our intercourse with evil to a single correspondence blinds us to our true position. Our correspondences, as a whole, are not with evil, and in our calculations as to our spiritual condition we emphasize the many negatives rather than the single positive. One little weakness, we are apt to fancy, all men must be allowed, and we even claim a certain indulgence for that apparent necessity of nature which we call our besetting sin. Yet to break with the lower environment at all, to many, is to break at this single point. It is the only important point at which they touch it, circumstances or natural disposition making habitual contact at other places impossible. The sinful environment, in short, to them means a small but well-defined area. Now if contact at this point be not broken off, they are virtually in contact still with the whole environment. There may be only one avenue between the new life and the old, it may be but a small and subterranean passage, but this is sufficient to keep the old life in. So long as that remains the victim is not “dead unto sin,” and therefore he cannot “live unto God.” Hence the reasonableness of the words, “Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend at one point, he is guilty of all.” In the natural world it only requires a single vital correspondence of the body to be out of order to ensure Death. It is not necessary to have consumption, diabetes, and an aneurism to bring the body to the grave if it have heart-disease. He who is fatally diseased in one organ necessarily pays the penalty with his life, though all the others be in perfect health. And such, likewise, are the mysterious unity and correlation of functions in the spiritual organism that the disease of one member may involve the ruin of the whole. The reason, therefore, with which Christ follows up the announcement of His Doctrine of Mutilation, or local Suicide, finds here at once its justification and interpretation: “If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.”

Secondly, Mortification. The warrant for the use of this expression is found in the well-known phrases of Paul, “If ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body ye shall live,” and “Mortify therefore your members which are upon earth.” The word mortify here is, literally, to make to die. It is used, of course, in no specially technical sense; and to attempt to draw a detailed moral from the pathology of mortification would be equally fantastic and irrelevant. But without in any way straining the meaning it is obvious that we have here a slight addition to our conception of dying to sin. In contrast with Suicide, Mortification implies a gradual rather than a sudden process. The contexts in which the passages occur will make this meaning so clear, and are otherwise so instructive in the general connection, that we may quote them, from the New Version, at length: “They that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For the mind of the flesh is death; but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace: because the mind of the flesh is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be: and they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. But if any man hath not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwelleth in you, He that raised up Christ Jesus from the dead shall quicken also your mortal bodies through His Spirit that dwelleth in you. So then, brethren, we are debtors not to the flesh, to live after the flesh: for if ye live after the flesh ye must die; but if by the Spirit ye mortify the doings (marg.) of the body, ye shall live.”6666Rom. viii. 5–13.

And again, “If then ye were raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated on the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are upon the earth. For ye died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall be manifested, then shall ye also with Him be manifested in glory. Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, the which is idolatry; for which things’s sake cometh the wrath of God upon the sons of disobedience; in the which ye also walked aforetime, when ye lived in these things. But now put ye also away all these; anger, wrath, malice, railing, shameful speaking out of your mouth: lie not one to another; seeing that ye have put off the old man with his doings, and have put on the new man, which is being renewed unto knowledge after the image of Him that created him.”6767Col. iii. 1–10.

From the nature of the case as here stated it is evident that no sudden process could entirely transfer a man from the old into the new relation. To break altogether, and at every point, with the old environment, is a simple impossibility. So long as the regenerate man is kept in this world, he must find the old environment at many points a severe temptation. Power over very many of the commonest temptations is only to be won by degrees, and however anxious one might be to apply the summary method to every case, he soon finds it impossible in practice. The difficulty in these cases arises from a peculiar feature of the temptation. The difference between a sin of drunkenness, and, let us say, a sin of temper, is that in the former case the victim who would reform has mainly to deal with the environment, but in the latter with the correspondence. The drunkard’s temptation is a known and definite quantity. His safety lies in avoiding some external and material substance. Of course, at bottom, he is really dealing with the correspondence every time he resists; he is distinctly controlling appetite. Nevertheless it is less the appetite that absorbs his mind than the environment. And so long as he can keep himself clear of the “external relation,” to use Mr Herbert Spencer’s phraseology, he has much less difficulty with the “internal relation.” The ill-tempered person, on the other hand, can make very little of his environment. However he may attempt to circumscribe it in certain directions, there will always remain a wide and ever-changing area to stimulate his irascibility. His environment, in short, is an inconstant quantity, and his most elaborate calculations and precautions must often and suddenly fail him.

What he has to deal with, then, mainly is the correspondence, the temper itself. And that, he well knows, involves a long and humiliating discipline. The case now is not at all a surgical but a medical one, and the knife is here of no more use than in a fever. A specific irritant has poisoned his veins. And the acrid humours that are breaking out all over the surface of his life are only to be subdued by a gradual sweetening of the inward spirit. It is now known that the human body acts towards certain fever-germs as a sort of soil. The man whose blood is pure has nothing to fear. So he whose spirit is purified and sweetened becomes proof against these germs of sin. “Anger, wrath, malice and railing” in such a soil can find no root.

The difference between this and the former method of dealing with sin may be illustrated by another analogy. The two processes depend upon two different natural principles. The Mutilation of a member, for instance, finds its analogue in the horticultural operation of pruning, where the object is to divert life from a useless into a useful channel. A part of a plant which previously monopolised a large share of the vigour of the total organism, but without yielding any adequate return, is suddenly cut off, so that the vital processes may proceed more actively in some fruitful parts. Christ’s use of this figure is well-known: “Every branch in Me that beareth fruit He purgeth it that it may bring forth more fruit.” The strength of the plant being given in part to the formation of mere wood, a number of useless correspondences have to be abruptly closed while the useful connections are allowed to remain. The Mortification of a member, again, is based on the Law of Degeneration. The useless member here is not cut off, but simply relieved as much as possible of all exercise. This encourages the gradual decay of the parts, and as it is more and more neglected it ceases to be a channel for life at all. So an organism “mortifies” its members.

Thirdly, Limitation. While a large number of correspondences between man and his environment can be stopped in these ways, there are many more which neither can be reduced by a gradual Mortification nor cut short by sudden Death. One reason for this is that to tamper with these correspondences might involve injury to closely related vital parts. Or, again, there are organs which are really essential to the normal life of the organism, and which therefore the organism cannot afford to lose even though at times they act prejudicially Not a few correspondences, for instance, are not wrong in themselves but only in their extremes. Up to a certain point they are lawful and necessary; beyond that point they may become not only unnecessary but sinful. The appropriate treatment in these and similar cases consists in a process of Limitation. The performance of this operation, it must be confessed, requires a most delicate hand. It is an art, moreover, which no one can teach another. And yet, if it is not learned by all who are trying to lead the Christian life, it cannot be for want of practice. For, as we shall see, the Christian is called upon to exercise few things more frequently.

An easy illustration of a correspondence which is only wrong when carried to an extreme, is the love of money. The love of money up to a certain point is a necessity; beyond that it may become one of the worst of sins. Christ said: “Ye cannot serve God and Mammon” The two services, at a definite point, become incompatible, and hence correspondence with one must cease. At what point, however, it must cease each man has to determine for himself. And in this consists at once the difficulty and the dignity of Limitation.

There is another class of cases where the adjustments are still more difficult to determine. Innumerable points exist in our surroundings with which it is perfectly legitimate to enjoy, and even to cultivate, correspondence, but which privilege, at the same time, it were better on the whole that we did not use. Circumstances are occasionally such—the demands of others upon us, for example, may be so clamant—that we have voluntarily to reduce the area of legitimate pleasure. Or, instead of it coming from others, the claim may come from a still higher direction. Man’s spiritual life consists in the number and fulness of his correspondences with God. In order to develop these, he may be constrained to insulate them, to enclose them from the other correspondences, to shut himself in with them. In many ways the limitation of the natural life is the necessary condition of the full enjoyment of the spiritual life.

In this principle lies the true philosophy of self-denial. No man is called to a life of self-denial for its own sake. It is in order to a compensation which, though sometimes difficult to see, is always real and always proportionate. No truth, perhaps, in practical religion is more lost sight of. We cherish somehow a lingering rebellion against the doctrine of self-denial—as if our nature, or our circumstances, or our conscience, dealt with us severely in loading us with the daily cross. But is it not plain after all that the life of self-denial is the more abundant life—more abundant just in proportion to the ampler crucifixion of the narrower life? Is it not a clear case of exchange—an exchange however where the advantage is entirely on our side? We give up a correspondence in which there is a little life to enjoy a correspondence in which there is an abundant life. What though we sacrifice a hundred such correspondences? We make but the more room for the great one that is left. The lesson of self-denial, that is to say of Limitation, is concentration. Do not spoil your life, it says, at the outset with unworthy and impoverishing correspondences; and if it is growing truly rich and abundant, be very jealous of ever diluting its high eternal quality with anything of earth. To concentrate upon a few great correspondences, to oppose to the death the perpetual petty larceny of our life by trifles—these are the conditions for the highest and happiest life. It is only Limitation which can secure the Illimitable.

The penalty of evading self-denial also is just that we get the lesser instead of the larger good. The punishment of sin is inseparably bound up with itself. To refuse to deny one’s self is just to be left with the self undenied. When the balance of life is struck, the self will be found still there. The discipline of life was meant to destroy this self, but that discipline having been evaded—and we all to some extent have opportunities, and too often exercise them, of taking the narrow path by the shortest cuts—its purpose is baulked. But the soul is the loser. In seeking to gain its life it has really lost it. This is what Christ meant when He said: “He that loveth his life shall lose it, and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.”

Why does Christ say: “Hate Life “? Does He mean that life is a sin? No. Life is not a sin. Still, He says we must hate it. But we must live. Why should we hate what we must do? For this reason: Life is not a sin, but the love of life may be a sin. And the best way not to love life is to hate it. Is it a sin then to love life? Not a sin exactly, but a mistake. It is a sin to love some life, a mistake to love the rest. Because that love is lost. All that is lavished on it is lost. Christ does not say it is wrong to love life. He simply says it is loss. Each man has only a certain amount of life, of time, of attention—a definite measurable quantity. If he gives any of it to this life solely it is wasted. Therefore Christ says, Hate life, limit life, lest you steal your love for it from something that deserves it more.

Now this does not apply to all life. It is “life in this world” that is to be hated. For life in this world implies conformity to this world. It may not mean pursuing worldly pleasures, or mixing with worldly sets; but a subtler thing than that—a silent deference to worldly opinion; an almost unconscious lowering of religious tone to the level of the worldly religious world around; a subdued resistance to the soul’s delicate promptings to greater consecration, out of deference to “breadth” or fear of ridicule. These, and such things, are what Christ tells us we must hate. For these things are of the very essence of worldliness. “If any man love the world,” even in this sense, “the love of the Father is not in him.”

There are two ways of hating life, a true and a false. Some men hate life because it hates them. They have seen through it, and it has turned round upon them. They have drunk it, and come to the dregs; therefore they hate it. This is one of the ways in which the man who loves his life literally loses it. He loves it till he loses it, then he hates it because it has fooled him. The other way is the religious. For religious reasons a man deliberately braces himself to the systematic hating of his life. “No man can serve two masters, for either he must hate the one and love the other, or else he must hold to the one and despise the other.” Despising the other—this is hating life, limiting life. It is not misanthropy, but Christianity.

This principle, as has been said, contains the true philosophy of self-denial. It also holds the secret by which self-denial may be most easily borne. A common conception of self-denial is that there are a multitude of things about life which are to be put down with a high hand the moment they make their appearance. They are temptations which are not to be tolerated, but must be instantly crushed out of being with pang and effort.

So life comes to be a constant and sore cutting off of things which we love as our right hand. But now suppose one tried boldly to hate these things? Suppose we deliberately made up our minds as to what things we were henceforth to allow to become our life? Suppose we selected a given area of our environment and determined once for all that our correspondences should go to that alone, fencing in this area all round with a morally impassable wall? True, to others, we should seem to live a poorer life; they would see that our environment was circumscribed, and call us narrow because it was narrow. But, well-chosen, this limited life would be really the fullest life; it would be rich in the highest and worthiest, and poor in the smallest and basest correspondences. The well-defined spiritual life is not only the highest life, but it is also the most easily lived. The whole cross is more easily carried than the half. It is the man who tries to make the best of both worlds who makes nothing of either. And he who seeks to serve two masters misses the benediction of both. But he who has taken his stand, who has drawn a boundary line, sharp and deep about his religious life, who has marked off all beyond as for ever forbidden ground to him, finds the yoke easy and the burden light. For this forbidden environment comes to be as if it were not.

His faculties falling out of correspondence, slowly lose their sensibilities. And the balm of Death numbing his lower nature releases him for the scarce disturbed communion of a higher life. So even here to die is gain.


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