From “The Inward Witness and Other Discourses”
by William Burt Pope, 1822-1903
Let us not shrink from saying how true it was that he who gave himself for us must die if we should live! There was never any necessity so necessary as that. If humankind was to be saved it must be by his uttermost self-sacrifice. Apart from that self-imposed law, we may indeed suppose him abiding alone, whether as the eternal Son or as the Son incarnate. He might have counted his equality with God a thing to be held fast and left the creature which had marred his image to perish, but the mind that was in him forbade that. He must, having taken our nature, die to atone for our sin. He went on his way toward the cross. His hour had now come and he speaks of it as of his glorification. He had been glorified before in the new dignity of his human estate, in the control given to him over all nature, in his victories over human sicknesses and the terror of death. But had that been all he would still have continued alone. He might have left the model of a human perfection unapproachable by us. He might have bequeathed to us the traditions of the loftiest teaching ever heard on earth, but teaching that could lead only to despair. He would have remained alone, even as the Godman, the memory of a form and presence for a few years manifest in the flesh only to leave us again doubly bereaved. If we were to be saved by him he must die and rise again in a new life to pour into our ruined nature. There might be no absolute eternal necessity that he should die, but if humankind was to be saved there was but one way for him to become a saviour and that was the way of the cross.
Now, this was in his thought as his hour drew nigh and out of the abundance of his heart he spoke. It was his profound and most affecting soliloquy as he approached the end and by expressing thus his sense of the need of his death he comforted his human heart in the prospect of the passion.
“If it dies, it bears much fruit.”
This was “the joy set before him, in the strength of which he endured the cross.” He as purely and perfectly accepted his dread sufferings for our salvation as if the great offer had been now for the first time made to him. We know that he came from heaven our predestined saviour and yet we must hear these words as expressing his free acceptance of his own death for our life. We know not, we shall never know, how gratefully he looked out during this awful week on the prospect of the salvation of multitudes. When the centurion and the Syrophoenician put their trust in him at an earlier time he saw in them the earnest of a vast harvest.
“They shall come from the east and the west!”
But now these Greeks open the very flood-gates of his desire and rejoicing.
“I, if I am lifted up out of the earth, will draw all people to me.”
Thus he accepted the necessity of self-sacrifice for himself and showed the most profound meaning of his figure.
I have made no application, scarcely any comment, on this sublimest of all illustrations of the necessity of self-sacrifice. We must adore it in reverent silence as the mystery of, love to which we owe our all. Yet there is an application to ourselves, which the Lord instructs us here to make. He suddenly diverts us, as it were, from his own voluntary passion and fastens our thought on the absolute necessity of following him in the same self-renouncing devotion with which he saved us. You hear the old tone here in Saint John which you have marked in the three earlier evangelists.
“Whoever serves me must follow me.”
Concerning himself, he spoke indirectly and disguised himself under the similitude of the seed-corn.
But he fixes his eye, as he used to do, on every one of us now.
“If people want to save themselves, it must be by the same law under which I am their saviour.”
For this is the deepest ground of the need of our self-sacrifice. We must offer up and renounce our own soul, our own life, as unworthy to exist, in the unity of the Lord’s sacrifice of our sinful nature.
This seems to be the profound meaning of those most solemn words, “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
Christ’s sacrifice for us not only condemned sin in the flesh but also condemned us the sinners in our natural state.
It was as if he said, “O righteous Father, I offer up and renounce this person’s impure soul that it may die and that my life may live and grow in him.”
If after that you “love yourself or your soul, you lose it.” You must, my fellow sinner in Adam and fellow redeemed in Christ, hate and renounce and put away your self, hate your soul as having been a sinning soul and renounce it as if it had never been and you had never known it. There is the beginning, continuance, and end of the Christian religion as it pertains to the individual. But I am now speaking chiefly, as the Lord is, of the beginning.
“If you will be perfect,” he said to a young inquirer, ambitious to be a Christian, “go away and bury yourself and come back to me with nothing and take up my cross as the token that you have done with self, and follow me!”
You have never yet effectually learnt the lesson of the Lord’s passion if you have not come to this total, perfect and absolute abandonment and hatred of yourself. The great renunciation of the Master must in this sense be copied by the great renunciation of the disciple. Your poor, faltering, ineffectual religion, forever vacillating between the world and him who draws you to himself, is a melancholy comment on the absolute necessity of this entire self-sacrifice. O what a life from him you are losing until you lose your life for him!