Transforming the World Within
In this day of evangelical fervor over changing the outward world, which is called "transformation," the truth of the Gospel -- the transformation of the inner man -- is neglected. This outward focus on dominionism always supplants the inner workings of the Holy Spirit upon the heart and conscience. What folly! What arrogance!
True transformation of the inner man (Romans 12:1-2) is inextricably connected with the Cross. J.C. Philpot, in the excerpt from his sermon "Crucifixion with Christ" below, begins by noting that this is a mystery:
"The cross of our Lord Jesus Christ is the greatest mystery of divine wisdom and Almighty power, of eternal love and super-abounding grace, which could ever have been displayed before the eyes of men or angels. I call it a mystery, not only as incomprehensible by natural intellect, but because the very essence of a mystery, in the Scripture sense of the term, is to be hidden from some and revealed to others. . . . Salvation by the cross was of all doctrines the most offensive, and most unintelligible. . . .
"We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory." (1 Cor. 2:6-8.)
This, then, is the mystery of the cross; this is the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the world unto our glory, that the Son of God, who as God the Son, is co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Holy Spirit, should take our nature into union with his own divine Person, and in that nature should suffer, agonize, bleed, and die; that by his sufferings, blood-shedding, and death an innumerable multitude of sinners should be redeemed from the curse of the law and the damnation of hell, and be saved in himself with an everlasting salvation.
An excerpt of this excellent sermon is posted below. The reader is encouraged to read and study it in its entirety, for it is good meat in these times of pablum and strange gruel.
. . .1. If we are crucified with Christ, the WORLD is to be crucified to us and we to the world. But which world is crucified, for there are two; a world without, and a world within? Can we take the outward world in our grasp and drive through it the nails of crucifixion? This we can no more do than we can embrace the globe, or drink up the Atlantic. That huge world which lies spread before our eyes is beyond our reach; out of all proportion with our grasp. But we have a worldly "I" in our bosom which is but the reflection of the great world without. For what is the world all around us but an aggregate of human hearts; a motley, mingled multitude of carnal "I's;" so that each individual is but a specimen of the whole, and the whole but a huge collection of individual specimens? It would indeed then be but lost labor to attempt to nail the outward world to the cross of Christ. This is not the task that lies before the child of grace.
His crucifixion is within. His own carnal heart, worldly spirit, proud, covetous, aspiring mind, it is, which is to be crucified with the Lord of life and glory. For it comes to this, that our worldly "I" must either reign and rule; be pampered and petted; fed and nurtured in pride and pleasure; or it must be crucified, mortified, and subdued by the power of God's grace. The apostle therefore speaks of the world being crucified to him and he unto the world. What attraction would the world, with all its pleasures and profits, have to the eyes of one dying on a cross? Or what charms could he, writhing with pain, groaning in agony, dropping blood from his hands and feet, present to the eyes of the gay and glittering world? The cross killed the world to him; the cross killed him to the world. What was a living world to a dying man? What was a dying man to a living world?
Now we cannot be literally crucified. Even if we were, that would give us no spiritual change of heart, nor cause us to be crucified with Christ. It is, therefore, not the actual body or the literal flesh – the mere outward material man which is crucified; but it is the worldly spirit in a believer's heart, the proud, selfish, carnal "I," which, by virtue first of his representative, and then by the power of his experimental [experiential, ed.] crucifixion with Christ is crucified with Jesus, nailed to the cross to suffer, bleed, and die with him.
This inward crucifixion of the worldly spirit, of the natural "I," kills the believer to the world. Do you not find this in your own experience? The world without would little attract, influence, or ensnare your mind, unless you had the world within alive to it. As long then as the worldly spirit lives in you unsubdued, unmortified, uncrucified, your religion is but skin deep. A thin coat of profession may film the surface of the heart, hiding the inside from view; but the whole spirit of ungodliness is alive beneath, and as much in union with the world as the magnet with the pole, or the drunkard with his cups. But, on the contrary, if the world within be crucified by the power of Christ's cross, the world without will have little charm. And this will be in exact proportion to the life and strength of your faith and the reality of your crucifixion.
The world is ever the same; one huge mass of sin and ungodliness. That cannot be changed; that can never die. It must be you who are changed; it must be you who die to it. Now, is it not true that it is the meeting of the two worlds in one embrace, which gives the world without all its power to ensnare and entangle your feet? Let the worldly spirit be but crucified in our breast, then we shall be like the dying man who has no sympathy with the living world. The poor criminal that was nailed to the cross, dying there in agony and shame, could look down with expiring eyes upon the crowd below him, or cast his last glance on the mountains and valleys, woods and rivers of the prospect before him. Might not such a one say, "O, busy crowd! O, once fair and beauteous world! I am dying to you, and you are dying to me. O, world, where now are your fashions; where your maxims; where your lusts; where your vain and gaudy shows; where are you all, now that I am dying here upon the cross? My eyes are sinking into the shades of night. I am leaving you, and you are leaving me. Here we part, and that forever. I once loved you, and you once loved me; but there is between us now separation, enmity, and death." Is not this crucifixion? This at least is the figure of the apostle; and a most striking one, in which he represents the world as crucified to him, and himself to the world.
But you will observe that it is only by virtue of "the cross of Christ," that is, by a spiritual union and experimental communion with Christ crucified that this inward crucifixion can be really effected. There are two things whereby the inward, spiritual, and experimental crucifixion of a child of God is distinguished from that of a Papist, a Puseyite, or a Pharisee. The first is that it is by "the cross of Christ," that is, it flows from a spiritual knowledge of union with a crucified Jesus. "I am crucified with Christ." I do not crucify myself; nor does my flesh crucify my flesh. The second feature is that the whole of the old is crucified; it is not one limb, but the whole body which suffers crucifixion; as the Apostle says, "Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not sin." (Rom. 6:6.) In the literal crucifixion, though the nails were driven through the feet and hands, the whole body was crucified; so spiritually, though the nails may chiefly be struck through the working and moving members of the old man, yet the whole of him is crucified with them. So not only our worldly spirit, but our whole flesh, with all its plans and projects, with all its schemes, motives, and designs, is nailed to the cross; and especially our 'religious' flesh, for this is included in the "affections" of it, which are crucified. (Gal. 5:24.)
But now arises another question. Is this crucifixion with our consent, or against our consent? To this I answer that it is partly voluntary, and partly involuntary. We may illustrate this by the example of Peter. The Lord said to him, "The truth is, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked and go wherever you wanted to. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will direct you and take you where you don't want to go." (John 21:18.) The Lord was here referring to Peter's crucifixion. Do we not see from this that Peter would shrink from being crucified, but that he would be carried to the cross against his will? Yet we read in ecclesiastical history, that when that time arrived, Peter begged of his executioners to crucify him with his head downwards, because he could not bear to die in the same posture with his crucified Lord. Thus we see in the actual, literal crucifixion of one of the Lord's most highly favored followers, there was a shrinking from the cross, and yet a submission to it. "The spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak." The natural "I" was unwilling, the spiritual "I" was willing.
So it is with us in a spiritual sense. The coward flesh rebels against, and cries out under the nails of crucifixion; but the spirit submits, and, when favored by divine help, counts itself unworthy of such an honor and such a blessing. But no man ever spiritually crucified his own flesh. This is God's work, who in so doing spares not for our crying. Perhaps we are hugging close some bosom idol, some secret lust, some rising ambition, some covetous plan, or pleasing prospect. This may be as dear to us almost as our natural life. Can we then drive through it the crucifying nails? Or if we could, would that crucify it? No. God himself must take it with his own hand, and drive through it the nails of crucifixion; yes, and so drive them through this worldly spirit, this covetous heart, this proud, unbending mind, this self-righteous, self-pleasing, self-exalting affection, this deceptive, delusive, soul-destroying, fleshly religion, that it may ever after live a dying life. It is he, not you, who thus crucifies it, that its hands can no more move to execute its designs than the hands of a man nailed upon a cross, and its feet no more walk in the plan projected than the feet of a crucified man can come down from the cross and walk abroad in the world. Here is God taking your darling schemes, your favorite projects, your anticipated delights, so that they become to you dying, bleeding, gasping objects.
Have you not again and again experienced this in providence? Have not all your airy castles been hurled down, your prospects in life blighted, your hopes laid low, your projects disappointed, in a word, all your schemes and plans to get on in life so nailed to the cross that they could move neither hands nor feet, but kept dying away by a slow, painful, and lingering death? But did you approve of all this? Very far from it; but you were in God's hands, and could not fight against his cutting strokes. Thus, then, you have a proof in yourself that your worldly schemes and projects were taken by the hand of God, contrary to your wish, for you loved them too dearly to part with them, but were as if torn from your bosom by God's relentless hand, and nailed to the cross, not by you but by him.
And yet mercy was so mingled with these dealings, and your heart was so softened by a sense of God's goodness in and under them, that there was a sweet spirit of submission given you, which mingled itself with this unwillingness, and subdued and overpowered it. Thus you were made willing in the day of his power that God should take the idols out of your bosom with his own hand; you consented generally, that they should be crucified, because by this lingering death only could the life-blood of your worldly spirit be at all drained out of your breast. For crucifixion is a gradual death which drains life and blood slowly away.
["Crucifixion with Christ," Preached at the North Street Chapel, Stamford, on August 19, 1860, by J. C. Philpot]
"God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world." (Gal. 6:14)