THE CROSS AND THE "SELF" OF THE SOUL
In Matthew 16:24-25 the Lord Jesus also spoke about the relationship of the soul-life and the cross: "Then Jesus said to His disciples, If anyone wants to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his soul-life shall lose it; but whoever loses his soul-life for My sake shall find it." In these verses, our Lord again called His disciples to take up the cross, to be willing to put the soul-life to death so that they might lose their soul-life. What is spoken of here and what was spoken of previously in Matthew 10 are not the same. The part of the soul-life emphasized in Matthew 10 is the affection. The part of the soul-life emphasized here in chapter sixteen is man’s "self." If we read the foregoing passage, we will realize that at this time the Lord Jesus told His disciples what kind of suffering He would bear on the cross. Then Peter, because of his desperate love toward the Lord, said, "God be merciful to You, Lord!" Because Peter was setting his mind on the things of man, he was reluctant to see his Master bear any suffering of the cross in the flesh. He did not understand that man ought to completely set his mind on the things of God. Even if it is the suffering of the death of the cross, he still ought to set his mind on the things of God. He did not know that the love of God’s will should surpass the love of self. It is as if he were thinking, "You, Lord, are going to the cross to suffer in such a way, although You are doing the will of God, although You are accomplishing the purpose of God, and although You are acting according to the plan of God. But what is this doing to You Yourself? Do You not consider the suffering You will bear because of doing the will of God? Lord, pity Your own self!"
But the Lord indicated to him that such a way of pitying oneself comes from Satan. Then He continued to speak to His disciples as if to say, "Not only will I go to the cross, but those who want to follow Me and be My disciples must also go to the cross. Whatever My path may be, it should also be your path. You should not misunderstand that I am the only one who ought to do the will of God, but you, My disciples, also ought to do the will of God as I do. Just as I do not care for Myself, as even at the cross I am still doing the will of God unconditionally, you also should not care for your soul-life but be willing to lose it to do what God wants you to do." Peter asked the Lord why He would not be "merciful" to Himself, but the Lord’s reply was that one should "deny himself."
There is a price to pay for doing the will of God. The flesh cannot help trembling concerning this. When the soul-life deeply rules within us, we simply cannot take the will of God as His commandment. This is so because the soul-life wants to follow the intention of its own self but does not want to obey the will of God. When we see that God is calling us to the cross to deny our self, to sacrifice, and to lose all things for His sake, unconsciously our soul-life produces a self-pitying heart. Our soul-life often makes us unwilling to pay the price to obey God. Therefore, every time we are willing to choose the narrow way of the cross to suffer for Christ’s sake, the soul-life suffers loss. It is only through this way that we lose our soul-life. By this alone can we gain the spiritual life of Christ to rule completely and purely within us, enabling us to do works that are well-pleasing to God for the sake of the world’s benefit.
If we pay attention to the situation of the foregoing passage, we will understand the wickedness of the work of the soul-life. Peter spoke this word shortly after he had received the revelation of God, thereby understanding the mystery which man cannot understand. God the Father had personally revealed to him that the lowly Jesus whom the disciples followed was the very Christ of the living God. However, it was also after his receiving of this revelation that he was immediately controlled by the soul-life to advise his Master that He should pity Himself. Therefore, we should know that spiritual revelation or wonderful knowledge cannot insure that we will not be controlled by the soul. On the contrary, the soul-life of those with higher knowledge and more experiences might be more hidden than others and more difficult to eliminate. Without applying the cross to deal with the soul-life, the soul-life will always be preserved in man without being lost.
(Spiritual Man, The (3 volume set), Chapter 13, by Watchman Nee)