A visitor from the higher kingdom must descend into the lower, take into Himself the elements of which that lower kingdom is composed, making them His own, infusing into them His own life and holding them in its grasp, endowing them with His power, enriching them with His attributes, crowning them with His beauty, and penetrating them with His presence, and thus transplanting them into the kingdom from which He comes.
This was done once for all when “the Word who was with God and was God. . . was made flesh and dwelt among us”; when the King of that heavenly kingdom Himself came down and, uniting man’s nature to Himself, lifted it across every barrier that had hitherto held it down, burst open the gates of death, and bore it in His mighty grasp to the very throne of God. And it is done for each one of us individually when, in Baptism, the Sower sows the seed of the incarnate life in our nature. Then there is imparted to each of us in our weakness a power that, working like a seed in the soil, can lift us up above the capacities of our own nature, making us, as St. Peter says, “partakers of the divine nature,” and transplanting us from the kingdom of earth to the kingdom of Heaven, from the kingdom of nature to the kingdom of grace.
As the earth is powerless to rise until the seed, bringing a new and mysterious force into it, seizes upon those elements in it which yield themselves to its influence, and transforms and raises them, so it is with this divine seed cast into the soil of human nature. It enters as a new force into our nature, and there is absolutely no limit to the height to which it can raise it. It can “take the poor out of the dust and lift the beggar from the dunghill and set him amongst princes.”
As the earth becomes transformed under the molding force of the life in the seed so that it is scarcely recognizable, manifesting extraordinary powers and revealing possibilities that were unknown, so does man’s nature under the forming and quickening powers of grace. It is the seed that reveals to the earth its latent powers, wakens them, and uses them. So does grace reveal man to himself. Coming into his nature, it shows him what he can be — new uses to which his powers can be put, new combinations, new developments. Like the seed in the soil, it draws under its influence various elements scattered through our nature that are seemingly useless and disconnected and weaves them all into a wondrous unity, seizing in its strong grasp all that can be laid hold of and taking it into its service. It can enable us to do things that by nature we could not do, showing us at once our own weakness and its power.
And as the earth under the molding hand of the life that is in the seed reveals magical powers that transform it, so does man’s nature as he yields to the forming and quickening powers of grace. It can be as different as the waving cornfield, ripe with its golden harvest, differs from the barren earth. Where that heavenly seed has been planted, all things become possible. The kingdom of Heaven, with all its riches, lies open to be entered and taken possession of: “All things are yours. . . and you are Christ’s and Christ is God’s.”
As the flower, in all its glory of color and beauty of form, is but matter under the new creative influence of life, so is it with man, newborn into the kingdom of God with the energy of the divine life acting within him. The material, if I may use such an expression, of the virtues of the saints is human; the creative force is divine. The elements out of which the noblest Christian virtues are formed are the elements taken from the earth of our poor human nature, but the molding force is in the seed “which is the Word of God.”
Surrender yourself to God’s grace
But there is another law. The seed cannot act upon the earth unless the earth surrenders itself to it. In the parable of the sower, our Lord taught that the growth of the seed is entirely dependent upon the soil; if it is hard or rocky or thorny, it will prevent or mar its growth. If it is “good soil,” yielding itself entirely to the action of the seed, it will bring forth fruit to perfection. The earth must surrender itself to the new force that has come down into it to raise it up; it cannot rise of itself, for it neither has the power nor knows the way into the kingdom of its new inheritance.
With man it is the same. All the efforts of his nature cannot enable him to do one act above his nature; all his intelligence, courage, and determination will not enable him to pass one step beyond into the kingdom of Heaven. “Flesh and blood cannot possess the kingdom of God.” This is the work of that new life, that transforming force which, like a seed, has been planted in him.
It is his work henceforth to remove every obstacle to the operation of this seed, to surrender himself and all his powers to its molding hand, to die out of the lower kingdom up into the higher kingdom, into which this gift would transplant him. Henceforth, his life must be one of mortification, dying that he may live, a yielding of nature to grace, a surrender of the things of earth to the powers of Heaven, a constant mingling of the sadness of earthly surrender with the divine gladness of heavenly attainment.
No doubt there were tears on the faces of many an Israelite on the night of their great deliverance. The ties and associations of four hundred years had to be broken. They had to go into a new world and to leave the old. But as the breath of the desert breathed upon their cheeks, as its wide spaces opened out before them and led them up to the Land of Promise, their tears would soon dry; their sorrow would be turned into joy.
There is always a sense of loss at first in passing from a lower to a higher life, but the loss is soon forgotten in the gain: the games of childhood in the strenuous work of manhood, the joys of home in the claims and interests of the world. And no doubt the breaking with those things that hold us down to earth is painful. The restraints and customs of civilization are difficult for the savage, but when he is tamed and educated and civilized, he knows how great are his gains. And as we pass from the undeveloped and spiritually ignorant state of the citizens of the kingdom of earth and become citizens of the kingdom of Heaven, we enter into “the liberty of the glory of the children of God.” This is the mortification that the Christian life demands: the surrender of our whole selves to the new life that descends from above to sanctify and energize every power and faculty of our nature and fit us to enter into the Vision of God.
In such mortification there is no unreasonableness, for it is the very height of reason to sacrifice the lower to the higher, the ephemeral to that which is permanent. There is no gloom, however great the suffering, for he who so mortifies himself knows that he is on the road to eternal joy. And often, amid the sorrows of earth, he gets a foretaste of that peace which passeth all understanding. There is no bitterness, for it is the act of divine love; it is done for God and in God. It springs from no hatred of self, no morbid contempt for the things of the world. It endows the soul with a divine tenderness so that, however hard it is upon itself, it is ever gentle toward others.
In such a one we see first the conflict and then the reconciliation of life and death — death conquering one form of life and endowing the soul with another and a better; death the conqueror and the conquered: “That which is mortal is swallowed up by life.”
Editor’s note: This article is an excerpt from Fr. Maturin’s Christian Self-Mastery, which is available from Sophia Institute Press.