We Must Die If We Would Live
”Let me die—lest I die—only let me see Thy face.”
That was the prayer of St. Augustine.
”Hide not Thy face from me”
he cried in an agony of desire. ”Oh! that I might repose on Thee. Oh! that Thou wouldst enter into my heart, and inebriate it, that I may forget my ills, and embrace Thee, my sole good.”
This longing to die, to get our opaque form out of the way so that it might not hide from us the lovely face of God, is one that is instantly understood by the hungry-hearted believer. To die that we might not die! There is no contradiction here, for there are before us two kinds of dying, a dying to be sought and a dying to be avoided at any cost.
To Augustine the sight of God inwardly enjoyed was life itself and anything less than that was death. To exist in total eclipse under the shadow of nature without the realized Presence was a condition not to be tolerated. Whatever hid God’s face from him must be taken out of the way, even his own self-love, his dearest ego, his most cherished treasures. So he prayed, ”Let me die."
The great saint’s daring prayer was heard and, as might be expected, was answered with a fullness of generosity characteristic of God. He died the kind of death to which Paul testified: ”I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.”
His life and ministry continued and his presence is always there, in his books, in the church, in history; but wondrous as it may be, he is strangely transparent; his own personality is scarcely seen, while the light of Christ shines through with a kind of healing splendor.
There have been those who have thought that to get themselves out of the way it was necessary to withdraw from society; so they denied all natural human relationships and went into the desert or the mountain or the hermit’s cell to fast and labor and struggle to mortify their flesh. While their motive was good it is impossible to commend their method. For it is not scriptural to believe that the old Adam nature can be conquered in that manner. It is altogether too tough to be killed by abusing the body or starving the affections. It yields to nothing less than the cross.
In every Christian’s heart there is a cross and a throne, and the Christian is on the throne till he puts himself on the cross; if he refuses the cross he remains on the throne. Perhaps this is at the bottom of the backsliding and worldliness among gospel believers today. We want to be saved but we insist that Christ do all the dying. No cross for us, no dethronement, no dying. We remain king within the little kingdom of Mansoul and wear our tinsel crown with all the pride of a Caesar; but we doom ourselves to shadows and weakness and spiritual sterility.
If we will not die then we must die, and that death will mean the forfeiture of many of those everlasting treasures which the saints have cherished. Our uncrucified flesh will rob us of purity of heart, Christ-likeness of character, spiritual insight, fruitfulness; and more than all, it will hide from us the vision of God’s face, that vision which has been the light of earth and will be the completeness of heaven.
(From "The Root of the Righteous" by A.W.Tozer)