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.
Herein we see the utter uselessness of the soul-life. At this particular time, Peter’s soul-life was aroused not for himself but for the Lord Jesus. He loved the Lord, he pitied the Lord, and he desired that the Lord be happy. He really desired that suffering not come upon the Lord. His heart was not bad, and his intention was very good, but this was merely his "human affection" which issued out of his soul-life. The Lord does not want any caring sympathy from the soul. The soul-life is not allowed even in loving the Lord! Here we see that there is a possibility of being soulish in serving, adoring, and expressing our love toward the Lord. Here we also see that the soul-life is not acceptable even in the matter of loving the Lord and sympathizing with the Lord. The Lord Jesus Himself served God by forsaking His soul. Similarly, therefore, He does not want man to serve Him by his soul. The Lord’s call for His disciples to put the soul-life to death is not only because the soul-life can love men but also because it is capable of adoring the Lord. What the Lord asks is not how well the task is done, but from where the doing comes.
Although such an expression of Peter’s love was for the Lord, such love for the Lord was a manifestation of how Peter himself was. He adored the body of the Lord Jesus more than the will of God and advised the Lord to care for Himself. This was a manifestation of Peter’s own self. Therefore, the Lord taught in such a way. Truly the soul-life tends to be independent, serving God according to what it considers to be good but not walking according to the will of God. Doing the will of God is the loss of the soul. Every time God’s will is accomplished, the intention of the soul is also broken. Every breaking of the intention of the soul is a practical application of the dealing of the cross to the soul-life.
The Lord Jesus called the disciples to forsake the soul-life because Peter spoke according to his soul. But the Lord also considered that the words spoken by Peter were from Satan. Thus, we see how Satan uses man’s soul-life. If at any time this life is not put to death, Satan has a tool for his work. At this time Peter spoke this word because of his love for the Lord, but Satan was making use of him. At this time Peter prayed to the Lord and begged the Lord to pity Himself, but Satan had inspired him. It is a fact that Satan can tell man to love the Lord and can tell man to pray. He is not afraid for man to pray and love the Lord, but he is afraid that man would not use his own soul-life to love the Lord and pray. If the soul-life still remains, Satan can still expand his enterprise. Oh, may God make us understand the danger of this life! Believers should not consider that they are spiritual just because they now love the Lord and long for the heavenly things. The soul-life has to be put to death. Otherwise, God’s will cannot be accomplished; instead, the soul-life will be utilized by Satan.
Self-pity, self-love, fear of suffering, and shrinking from the cross, are manifestations of the soul-life. The greatest goal of the soul-life is to preserve its own existence. It is very unwilling to suffer any loss. Therefore, the Lord’s calling is that we should deny the self and take up our own cross, thereby causing us to lose our soul-life. Whenever a cross is placed before us, it is to call us to lose our self. We should have a heart disregarding our self, and through the power of God we should give up our life for others’ sake. The Lord says that this cross is ours because this is what we have received from God individually. In order to do the will of God, God is calling us to bear the cross which we should bear. This cross is ours and is specifically given to us by God. But it is also linked to the cross of Christ because when we are willing to take up our own cross through the Spirit of the cross of Christ, the strength of the cross of Christ enters our being and enables us to lose our soul-life. Every time we bear the cross, we lose our soul-life. Every time we bypass the cross, we nourish and preserve our soul-life.
We should note carefully that what the Lord Jesus says here is not something which can be accomplished once for all by making a great effort. In Luke 9:23 the word "daily" is added to the phrase "take up his cross." Thus, this kind of cross is continuous and unceasing. With respect to our death to sin, we know that this cross is already a fact, an already accomplished fact that merely requires our recognition and reception. But with respect to the loss of our soul-life, this cross is another matter. This is not an accomplished matter but one that requires daily practice and daily experience. This does not mean that we never lose our soul-life or that we gradually lose it; rather, it means that the relation of the cross to the soul-life is different from the relation of the cross to sin. The death to sin was accomplished by Christ for us; when He died, we all died with Him. But the loss of the soul-life is not an already accomplished fact. Rather, it requires that we daily bear our own cross through the power of the Lord’s cross, determining to deny the self until it is lost.
The loss of the soul-life is not a matter that can be accomplished either once for all by making a great effort or within a short period of time. With respect to our death to sin, once we are standing on the position of the cross (Rom. 6:6), we can have an immediate deliverance from sin, enabling us not to be oppressed by its power and no longer to be its slave. Complete victory can be gained in an instant. The loss of the natural life, however, is a step by step process. When the Word of God (Heb. 4:12) penetrates deeper and deeper, the working of the cross will also be deeper, and the Holy Spirit will cause the spiritual life to grow more, making it more united with the Lord. A believer cannot deny the soul-life which is unknown to him. He can only deny that part of the self-life which is known to him. The revelation of God’s Word must increase; then the work of the cross can be deeper. Therefore, this cross is for us to bear "daily." The more there is the understanding of the will of God and the more there is the knowing of our self, the more there will be the need of the working of the cross.
(Collected Works of Watchman Nee, The (Set 1) Vol. 12: The Spiritual Man (1), Chapter 14, by Watchman Nee)