A penetrating analysis and limitation of the concept of ‘self-crucifixion’ or ‘death of the self’; as a benefit, a very refreshing and uplifting view of human nature , based on Scripture, from a preacher, circa 1800.
Compared with the picture of human being and human nature that we have been raised with the past couple of generations, this is absolutely marvelous. IMHO. I hope you enjoy it.
Here ya go:
(The mind) …It is God’s highest work, his mirror and representative. Its superiority to the outward universe is mournfully overlooked, and is yet most true. This preeminence we ascribe to the mind, not merely because it can comprehend the universe which cannot comprehend itself, but for still higher reasons. We believe, that the human mind is akin to that intellectual energy which gave birth to nature, and consequently that it contains within itself the seminal and prolific principles from which nature sprung. We believe, too, that the highest purpose of the universe is to furnish materials, scope, and excitements to the mind, in the work of assimilating itself to the Infinite Spirit; that is, to minister to a progress within us, which nothing without us can rival. So transcendent is the mind. No praise can equal God’s goodness in creating us after his own spiritual likeness. No imagination can conceive of the greatness of the gift of a rational and moral existence. Far from crucifying this, to unfold it must ever be the chief duty and end of our being, and the noblest tribute we can render to its Author.
We have spoken of the mind, that highest part of ourselves, and of the guilt we should incur by crucifying or renouncing it. But the duty of self-crucifixion requires still greater limitations. Taking human nature as consisting of a body as well as mind, as including animal desire, as framed to receive pleasure through the eye and ear and all the organs of sense, in this larger view, we cannot give it up to the immolation which is sometimes urged. We see In the mixed constitution of man a beautiful whole. We see in the lowest as well as highest capacity an important use ; and in every sense an inlet of pleasure not to be disdained. Still more, we believe, that he, in whom the physical nature is unfolded most entirely and harmoniously, who unites to greatest strength of limbs the greatest acuteness of the senses, may, if he will, derive important aids to the intellect and moral powers from these felicities of his outward frame. We believe, too, that, by a beautiful reaction, the mind, in proportion to its culture and moral elevation, gives vigor and grace to the body, and enlarges its sphere of action and enjoyment. Thus, human nature, viewed as a whole, as a union of the worlds of matter and mind, is a work worthy of a divine author, and its universal development, not its general crucifixion, is the lesson of wisdom and virtue.
We go still farther. The desire of our own individual interest, pleasure, good, the principle which is ordinarily denominated self-love or self-regard, is not to be warred against and destroyed. The tendency of this to excess is indeed our chief moral danger. Self-partiality, in some form or other, enters into and constitutes chiefly, if not wholly, every sin. But excess is not essential to self-regard, and this principle of our nature is the last which could be spared. Nothing is plainer than that to every being his own welfare is more specially committed than that of any other, and that a special sensibility to it is imperiously demanded by his present state. He alone knows his own wants and perils, and the hourly, perpetual claims of his particular lot ; and were he to discard the care of himself for a day, he would inevitably perish. It is a remark of great importance, that the moral danger, to which we are exposed by self-love, arises from the very indispensableness of this principle, from the necessity of its perpetual exercise ; for, according to a known law of the mind, every passion, unless carefully restrained, gains strength by frequency of excitement and action. The tendency of self-love to excess results from its very importance, or from the need in which we stand of its unceasing agency, and is therefore no reason for its extermination, and no reproach on human nature. This tendency, however, does exist. It is strong. It is fearful. It is our chief peril. It is the precipice, on the edge of which we always tread. It is the great appointed trial of our moral nature. ’ To this tendency, unresisted, tamely obeyed, we owe the chief guilt and misery of the present state, the extinction of charity, a moral death more terrible than all the calamities of life. This truth Fenelon felt and taught as we have shown, and in his powerful warnings against this peril the chief value of his writings lies. He treats with admirable acuteness the windings of self-partiality, shows how it mixes with the best motives, and how it feeds upon, and so consumes, our very virtues. All this is true. Still, self-love is an essential part of our nature, and must not and cannot be renounced.
The strong tendency of this principle to excess, of which we have now spoken, explains the strong language, in which Fenelon and others have pointed out our danger from this part of our constitution. But it has also given rise to exaggerated views and modes of expression, which have contributed, perhaps, as much as any cause, to the universal want of a just self-respect. Self-love, from its proneness to excess and its constant movements, has naturally been the object of greater attention than any other principle of action ; and men, regarding it not so much in its ordinary operations as in its encroachments and its triumphs over other constituents, have come to consider it as the chief constituent of human nature. Philosophers, " falsely so called," have labored to resolve into it all our affections, to make it the sole spring of life, so that the whole mind, according to their doctrine, may be considered as one energy of self-love. If to these remarks we add, that this principle, as its name imports, has self or the individual for its object, we have the explanation of a very important fact in the present discussion. We learn how it is, that self-love has come to be understood as if it constituted the whole individual, and to be considered as entering into and forming human nature as no other principle does. A man’s self-love, especially when unrestrained, is thus thought to be and is spoken of as himself; and hence the duty of crucifying or renouncing himself has naturally been urged by Fenelon, and a host of writers, in the broadest and most unqualified terms.
Now it is not true that self-love is our only principle, or that it constitutes ourselves any more than other principles, and the wrong done to our nature by such modes of speech needs to be resisted. Our nature has other elements or constituents, and vastly higher ones, to which self-love was meant to minister, and which are at war with its excesses. For example, we have reason, or intellectual energy, given us for the pursuit and acquisition of truth; and this is essentially a disinterested principle; for truth, which is its object, is of a universal, impartial nature. The great province of the intellectual faculty is, to acquaint the individual with the laws and order of the divine system; a system, which spreads infinitely beyond himself, of which he forms a very small part, which embraces innumerable beings equally favored by God, and which proposes as its sublime and beneficent end, the ever-growing good of the whole. Again, human nature has a variety of affections, corresponding to our domestic and most common relations; affections, which in multitudes overpower self-love, which make others the chief objects of our care, which nerve the arm for ever-recurring toil by day, and strengthen the wearied frame to forego the slumbers of night. Then there belongs to every man the general sentiment of humanity, which responds to all human sufferings, to a stranger’s tears and groans, and often prompts to great sacrifices for his relief. Above all there is the moral principle, that which should especially be called a man’s self, for it is clothed with a kingly authority over his whole nature, and was plainly given to bear sway over every desire. This is eminently a disinterested principle. Its very essence is impartiality. It has no respect of persons. It is the principle of justice, taking the rights of all under its protection, and frowning on the least wrong, however largely it may serve ourselves. This moral nature especially delights in, and enjoins, a universal charity, and makes the heart thrill with exulting joy, at the sight or hearing of magnanimous deeds, of perils fronted, and death endured, in the cause of humanity. Now these various principles, and especially the last, are as truly ourselves as self-love. When a man thinks of himself, these ought to occur to him as his chief attributes. He can hardly injure himself more, than by excluding these from his conception of himself, and by making self-love the great constituent of his nature. We have urged these remarks on the narrow sense often given to the word ‘self’, because we are persuaded, that it leads to degrading ideas of human nature, and to the pernicious notion, that we practise a virtuous self-sacrifice in holding it in contempt. We would have it understood, that high faculties form this despised self, as truly as low desires ; and we would add, that, when these are faithfully unfolded, this self takes rank among the noblest beings in the universe.
To illustrate this thought, we ask the reader’s attention to an important, but much neglected view of virtue and religion. These are commonly spoken of in an abstract manner, as if they were distinct from ourselves, as if they were foreign existences, which enter the human mind, and dwell there in a kind of separation from itself. Now religion and virtue, wherever they exist, are the mind itself, and nothing else. They are human nature, and nothing else. A good man’s piety and virtue are not distinct possessions ; they are himself, and all the glory which belongs to them belongs to himself. What is religion ? Not a foreign inhabitant, not something alien to our nature, which comes and takes up its abode in the soul. It is the soul itself, lifting itself up to its Maker. What is virtue ? It is the soul, listening to, and revering, and obeying a law which belongs to its very essence, the law of duty. We sometimes smile, when we hear men decrying human nature, and in the same breathing exalting religion to the skies ; as if religion were any thing more than human nature, acting in obedience to its chief law. Religion and virtue, as far as we possess them, are ourselves ; and the homage which is paid to these attributes, is in truth a tribute to the soul of man. Self-crucifixion then, should it exclude self-reverence, would be any thing but virtue. We would briefly suggest another train of thought leading to the same result.
Self-crucifixion, or self-renunciation, is a work, and a work requires an agent. By whom then is it accomphshed ? We answer, by the man himself, who is the subject of it. It is he who is summoned to the effort. He is called by a voice within, and by the law of God, to put forth power over himself, to rule his own spirit, to subdue every passion. Now this inward power, which self-crucifixion supposes and demands, is the most signal proof of a high nature which can be given. It is the most illustrious power which God confers. It is a sovereignty worth more than that over outward nature. It is the chief constituent of the noblest order of virtues; and its greatness, of course, demonstrates the greatness of the human mind, which is perpetually bound and summoned to put it forth. But this is not all. Self-crucifixion has an object, an end ; and what is it ^ Its great end is, to give liberty and energy to our nature. Its aim is, not to break down the soul, but to curb those lusts and passions, " which war against the soul," that the moral and intellectual faculties may rise into new life, and may manifest their divine original. Self-crucifixion, justly viewed, is the suppression of the passions, that the power and progress of thought, and conscience, and pure love, may be unrestrained. It is the destruction of the brute, that the angel may unfold itself within. It is founded on our godlike capacities, and the expansion and glory of these is its end. Thus the very duty, which by some is identified with self-contempt, implies and imposes self-reverence. It is the belief and the choice of perfection as our inheritance and our end.
Channing, William Ellery, 1780-1842. The works of William E. Channing, D.D (Kindle Locations 2974-2985). Boston : James Munroe.