George E. Fifield, on John 12:24-25, Die to Live
George Fifield, Sermon 3, Feb. 11, 1897
Verily, verily I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone, but if it die it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. John 12:24,25.
Last night we saw that Christ’s life was shed for us not only on Calvary eighteen hundred years ago, but ever since the Rock was smitten at the foundation of the world the river of life has been flowing from the throne, and that now that life is shed not only back there but down here. And except that life be shed for us and through us to others, we do not have repentance, pardon, peace, or power.
Of his resurrection, Jesus said, “The hour is come when the Son of man should be glorified;” of his crucifixion, “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone, but if it die it bringeth forth much fruit.” Then immediately applying the same principle to us, he said, “He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.”
Which is more beautiful, more glorious, a bin of wheat or a field of waving grain? a flower seed or a full grown flower touched with dainty tints, and shedding fragrance all around? a kernel of corn or a full grown stalk of corn trembling in the breeze? I know that in each instance you will say the latter. One is a promise, the other its fulfillment; one the prophecy merely, the other its realization. And yet in each instance that seed was cast upon the ground in apparent forgetfulness, – cast there apparently to be covered with dust and forgotten; and yet that seed was cast in faith, resigned to the workings of the life principle within and the life forces without. And the moment of its death became the moment of glorification.
That is the great central truth of Christianity. It is like this: A man has a bin of wheat, which is all he has; and suppose he says, Now, this is all I have, and I am not going to throw it away on the ground; this is my living, I am going to keep it. Well, if he keeps it there in the bin, by and by it will be worthless. If a man says, My life is too precious to me, I am not going to throw it away upon this unappreciative world, I will keep it to myself, he loses it. But if he casts it away to be covered with dust, and forgotten apparently, he gets it back multiplied, and glorified.
Paul says that we glory in tribulation. The Latin word for tribulation is tribulato; that is, a flail which we use to thresh out grain or wheat with. He says, Not only so, but I glory in the threshing, the flailing. Just as the wheat is separated from the chaff, just so the wheat of our character is separated from the chaff.
Happiness is a pouring in of a new life, that transforms all things into joy. Suppose this room was all dark, and I wanted to get it lighted up; what should I do? carry out all the darkness and turn in the light? – No, turn in the light, and the darkness will take care of itself. The Lord does not take away the little love that a man has, but shows him the love that would stir his own life until it is so full of love that it flows out to everybody all around; and that is salvation. It is a positive thing; and when the Lord wanted to show us what his life was, how did he do it? – He did it in Jesus Christ. What kind of life was it? – God’s life. O brethren and sisters, his was a life lived in absolute self-forgetfulness, – given, given freely, given to be hated, misunderstood, despised, and spit upon and crucified; and yet given for our sin. That is the life of Christ, and that is the life of God.
I believe that God would have us see that the resurrection means infinitely more than the bringing forth of Christ from the grave – not that I would count that a little thing, but that is a pledge, a promise of a larger resurrection.
There is a spiritual death, the bands of which are broken only by the coming in of the divine life, and that is the resurrection too.
Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of his power to usward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead. Eph.1:15-20.
The power of God which he wrought in Christ when he raised him from the dead is God’s power. To whom? – To usward.
Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come; and hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all. Eph.1:20-23.
When Christ was on this earth, he said, I can do nothing of myself. That is true. But we have not always seen that that was so. But here is a place where we can see that Christ could do nothing for himself. But the resurrection power took Christ from that position of weakness and helplessness, and lifted him above all principalities and powers, and every name that is named in earth and heaven.
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Phil.2:5.
Wherefore God hath also highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Phil.2:9-11.
Why was he resurrected? – Because he was crucified. Because Christ yielded up his life, did not save it, but was crucified, God took care of the resurrection part. When Paul was crucified with Christ, he gave up all worldly prospects; and so far as the things of this world were concerned, he gave all up. What did he get? 2Cor.4:10,11:-
Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.
Why was he willing always to bear about in the body the dying of the Lord Christ? – That the life also of the Lord Jesus might be made manifest in his body.
Now let us look at Paul’s history again just a moment: I want you to see what a wonderful character transformation came into his life – how he left his selfish life. God poured his divine unselfish life into him. Watch that transformation. Until that salvation came to him, he was so narrow, so bigoted that he verily thought that he ought to kill everybody that disagreed with him. After that salvation he was broadened, and sweetened, and deepened into the character of Christ, until his heart was so large and tender that he took the world in, and said, I am debtor to all men. Why, said he, I am debtor to you Romans also; I want to come down and preach the gospel to you. God has been so good to me I want to do something. O, he has let his life go. Did not God pour in his life unto me as he was crucified with Christ? Was he not resurrected with him unto a larger life? When we get this broader idea, the crucifixion and resurrection are parallel processes.
But you say, Are you sure that when Paul thus gave his life and got a new life by the giving, he called that the resurrection? Well, let us see. He says:-
But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung that I may win Christ, and be found in him not having mine own righteousness, which is of law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings.
He wanted to know the fellowship of his sufferings that he might have the power of his resurrection, and attain to the resurrection of the dead. He said he had not yet attained it fully, but that he was pressing onward. “Being made conformable unto his death,” he counted not himself to have attained. He was but attaining unto the resurrection of the dead.
When we let our lives go, God pours in our resurrection life. That it seems to me is one great truth of the crucifixion and resurrection which includes the all in all of the Christian experience. When Christ was baptized, what did he say? – “Thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness.” Baptism, crucifixion, and resurrection; this is what God has been seeking to reveal all through the centuries. Go back into the sanctuary, and you will see that these truths are set forth just as clearly there as here. They are present tense, present revelation, present gospel. So our Lord’s supper and baptism are present truth, present expression of ever-present, ever-lasting gospel. 1Cor.11:1: “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.”
Let us see what the Israelites did at the sea; the mountains were on either side, the hosts of Egypt behind them, the Red Sea before them, the desert on the other side, nothing to eat or drink. What was the only possible human hope of life; not divine hope, but human hope. True, to pass through the hosts of Pharaoh many of them would be killed, but a few might be saved, if they rushed out. This was the only human hope. Now, accepting that, they would die. But the Lord did not leave them to die. He simply gave the bread of heaven, the smitten rock, to sustain their lives. That is baptism. Every one that had a real experience, was baptized when passing through that sea. I am coming to what is to me the most solemn thing of all:-
Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Rom.6:3.
What was the death of Christ? – It was a continual giving of his life for others. Just so when you were baptized into Christ, you took upon yourself the pledge of letting your life go, just as he let his life go. When you were baptized, you were baptized into the death of Christ.
Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death; that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection. Rom.6:4,5.
If we are indeed baptized into his death, it will be to us an absolute end to trouble, quarrel, fault-finding, church difficulties, and all that sort of thing forevermore. Have we ever thought why Christ did not find fault, although bruised in every way until they took his life upon the cross? It was because he had given his life. And they took it not only at his crucifixion, but before that time, in every look of scorn, by every scowl, by lack of appreciation, by hardness of heart, by their abuse and their names; but he did not complain, did not find any fault; because he had given his life he could not find fault. Some one may say, How can I have any part in that, when I have to stay at home and work in comparative obscurity? Now if you say that, you have missed the lesson so far. Suppose you are so situated that the only thing you can do is to stay at home and work. You have a large family, and it takes your whole time, and you can’t get away to do anything but that. Now, there are two ways you can do that: one way is to grumble about it, and wish you didn’t have so many things to bother you, wish you could be free, and didn’t have to live all the time in this sort of way; and grow meaner and smaller all the time. And the other way, my brother and sister, is if that is the best you can do, just to accept the sacrifice for Christ’s sake; and the pledge of God in this thing is that just in proportion as that is distasteful to you, you can accept the sacrifice for love’s sake. When you accept it, then, for Christ’s sake, he says, Inasmuch as ye did it to one of the least of these, ye did it unto me. Then just in proportion as that is humiliating and distasteful to you, and it is crucifixion to you, just in that proportion God will bring to you in that thing the resurrection power in the larger sense. That is what he will do. He wants to glorify every kitchen and every shop by this truth.
Someone says, O, there are many injustices in life that we have to accept. Yes, Christianity does not deny that. Job’s false comforters denied it. They said, Job, you have been a very wicked man; you may have deserved all this, or you would not have gotten it. Is that true? There are injustices in life, and Job knew it; and the only way in which he stood that ordeal was that he had obtained a glimpse of the Saviour. But these injustices are not the injustices of God; they are the injustices of sin. As long as sin exists, injustice will exist; just as long as one man sins, another man will be sinned against. And that is one of the reasons why sin is so bad that God in love wants to get it out of the universe just as quickly as he can.
But there is another point right here. We have not seen the whole end of the story yet; when we do, there will not be any injustice. Whittier says:-
Ours the seed-time; God alone Beholds the end of what is sown. Our vision, weak and dim – The harvest time is hid within.
Now suppose the man who is sowing his corn or wheat forgets all about the harvest, just as too often the future life and all its joys pass out of our minds. Here is a man’s bin of wheat, and it is all he has, and he is casting that away on the ground without a thought of any harvest to come. Now tell me, under those circumstances would not life to that man seem to be all labor and all loss, without any returns or any compensating joys? When he takes the harvest time into consideration, it is that which is going to make up for all these apparent injustices of the seed-time. And what is this pledge of resurrection that we have been talking about? If you and I will accept the sacrifice wherever we are, and let the life go in that sacrifice, God will bring in the resurrection power; so that when the harvest comes, you and I will see that there has not been any injustice at all. Every sowing will have its reaping. Every giving of the life will have its splendid and eternal reward. And when the whole account is settled, every crooked place will be made straight, every rough place will be made smooth and every hill will be brought low; and all the world will see the glory of the goodness of God. And he does not want us to get away over yonder before we believe it, and see it; he wants us to take the splendid joys of the fact, and believe them now and all the time. And so he wants to come and live in our lives thus, and love in our lives thus, and through us reach out for others.
John says, Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God. Sons and daughters of the Lord now, and still only promises and prophecies of some splendor that we cannot take in that is going to come to us by and by! Do you think that everybody is going to be alike in heaven? I think it would be monotonous to live in that sort of a country. There is an infinite variety of beautiful faces and beautiful forms and beautiful tints, in this world even; and there is going to be an infinite variety of beautiful characters in that world beyond. But every one of them will be just glorified, developed possibilities that God put in men and women down here. And when I think of it, O, I think it worth living for and worth dying for! I wonder how many of us have had this thought in our lives.