Humility is the most difficult of all virtues to achieve; nothing dies harder than the desire to think well of oneself.
(T. S. Eliot)
He humbled himself and became obedient to death.
Humility is the path to death, because in death it gives the highest proof of its perfection. Humility is the blossom of which death to self is the perfect fruit. Jesus humbled himself unto death and opened the path in which we too must walk. As there was no way for him to prove his surrender to God to the uttermost or to give up and rise out of our human nature to the glory of the Father but through death, so it is with us. Humility must lead us to die to self: so we prove how wholly we have given ourselves up to it and to God; so alone we are freed from our fallen nature and find the path that leads to life in God, to that full birth of the new nature, of which humility is the breath and the joy.
We have spoken of what Jesus did for his disciples when he communicated his resurrection life to them, when in the descent of the Holy Spirit, glorified and enthroned meekness, he actually came from Heaven himself to dwell in them. He won the power to do this through death: in its inmost nature, the life he imparted was a life out of death, a life that had been surrendered to death and been won through death. He who came to dwell in them with himself one who had been dead and lives forevermore. His life, his person, his presence, bears the marks of death, a life begotten out of death. That life in his disciples ever bears the marks of death too; it is only as the Spirit of the dying One dwells and works in the soul that the power of his life can be known. The first mark of the dying of the Lord Jesus – the mark that shows the true follower of Jesus – is humility. For these two reasons: only humility leads to perfect death; only death perfects humility. Humility and death are in their very nature one: humility is the bud; in death the fruit is ripened to perfection.
Humility leads to perfect death. Humility means giving up self, taking the place of perfect nothingness before God. Jesus humbled himself and became obedient unto death. In death he gave the highest and perfect proof of having given up his will to the will of God. In death he gave up self with its natural reluctance to drink the cup; he gave up the life he had in union with human nature; he died to self and the sin that tempted him; so, as man, he entered into the perfect life of God. If it had not been for his boundless humility, counting himself as nothing except as a servant to do and suffer the will of God, he never would have died.
This gives us the answer to the question so often asked and seldom clearly understood: How can I die to self? Death to self is not your work; it is God’s work. In Christ you are dead to sin; your life has gone through the process of death and resurrection. But the full manifestation of the power of this death in your disposition and conduct depends upon the measure in which the Holy Spirit imparts the power of the death of Christ. And here it is that the teaching is needed: If you would enter into full fellowship with Christ in his death, and know the full deliverance from self, humble yourself. This is your duty. Place yourself before God in your helplessness; consent to the fact that you are powerless to slay yourself; give yourself in patient and trustful surrender to God. Accept every humiliation; look upon every person who tries or troubles you as a means of grace to humble you. God will see such acceptance as proof that your whole heart desires it. It is the path of humility that leads to the full and perfect experience of our death with Christ.
Beware of the mistake so many make. They have so many qualifications and limitations, so many thoughts and questions as to what true humility is to be and to do that they never unreservedly yield themselves to it. Humble yourself unto death. It is in the death of self that humility is perfected. At the root of all real experience of grace and true advance in consecration is conformity to the likeness of Jesus, which affects our dispositions and our habits. The reason I mention disposition and habit is that it is possible to speak of walking in the Spirit while there is still evidence of self. True humility will manifest itself in daily life. The one who has it will take the form of a servant. It is possible to speak of fellowship with a despised and rejected Jesus and of bearing his cross, while the meek and lowly Lamb of God is not seen and rarely sought. The Lamb of God means two things: meekness and death. Let us seek to receive him in both forms.
What a hopeless task if we had to do the work ourselves! Nature never can overcome nature, not even with the help of grace. Self can never cast out self, even in the regenerate man. Praise God! The work has been done, finished, and perfected forever. The death of Jesus, once and for all, is our death to self. And the ascension of Jesus, his entering once and forever into the Holy of Holies, has given us the Holy Spirit to communicate to us with power. As the soul in the pursuit and practice of humility follows in the steps of Jesus, its consciousness of the need of something more is awakened, its desire and hope is quickened, its faith strengthened, and it learns to look up and claim that true fullness of the Spirit of Jesus than can daily maintain his death to self and sin in its full power and make humility the all-pervading spirit of our life.
“Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life,” (Romans 6:3, 11, 13). The whole self-awareness of the Christian is to be imbued by the spirit of the sacrifice of Christ. He must present himself to God as one who has died with Christ and in Christ is alive again. His life will bear the twofold mark: its roots in the humility of Jesus, death to sin and self; its head lifted up in resurrection power.
Claim in faith the death and the life of Jesus as your own. Enter into rest from self and its work – the rest of God. With Christ, who committed his spirit into the Father’s hands, humble yourself and acknowledge each day your helpless dependence upon God. God will raise you up and exalt you. Every morning remind yourself afresh of your emptiness so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in you. Let a willing, loving, restful humility be the mark that you have claimed your birthright – the baptism into the death of Christ. “By one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy,” (Hebrews 10:14). The souls that enter into his humiliation will find in him the power to see and count self as dead and, as those who have learned and received of him, to walk with all lowliness and meekness, forbearing one another in love.