Measure thy life by loss instead of gain;
Not by the wine drunk, but the wine poured forth
For love’s strength standeth in love’s sacrifice;
And whoso suffers most hath most to give.
–Ugo Bassi, Sermon in the Hospital
I first read this quote many years ago in one of Elisabeth Elliot’s newsletters and had to rethink how I looked at my life. How could I measure my life by loss, by wine poured forth? Shouldn’t I count my blessings? Wasn’t it a pessimistic way of looking at light to measure my life by loss? Weren’t we supposed to rejoice always?
As I mulled over the idea and referred back to Scripture, I discerned what Ugo Bassi and Elisabeth Elliot were saying. The seed that falls to the ground and dies is the one that bears much fruit (John 12:24). It is the Christian who hates his life who keeps his life. The person who takes up his cross to follow Christ is the one who finds life (Matthew 16:25). Dying on the cross led to Christ’s resurrection from which He gives us new life.
The natural world requires a seed to be planted in the earth and die as a seed to produce a plant. The spiritual life requires the same dying to self so we may live. Paul writes in his epistles that we must consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God (Romans 6:10). Elsewhere, he says we have died and our life is hidden in Christ (Colossians 3:9).
The more I read Scripture and studied the lives of Christians who came before me, the more I understood this principle of death out of life. It isn’t until we allow the old man to die with the sins and desires and idols we pursue instead of God that we truly begin to live. John Owen talked of mortification. Mortification comes from the Latin word, mors, mortis, which means death. It is in the dying that there is life. It is in the pouring out of our lives as drink offerings we find purpose and meaning.
Wanting to delve further into this idea, I found the original text of the Sermon in the Hospital by Ugo Bassi, where I read:
But if, impatient, thou let slip thy cross,
Thou will not find it in this world again,
Nor in another; here, and here alone
Is given thee to suffer for God’s sake.
In other worlds we shall more perfectly
Serve Him and love Him, praise Him, work for Him
Grow near and nearer Him with all delight;
But then we shall not any more be called
To suffer, which is our appointment here.
Canst thou not suffer then one hour, — or two?
If He should call thee from thy cross to-day,
Saying, It is finished ! — that hard cross of thine
From which thou prayest for deliverance,
Thinkest thou not some passion of regret
Would overcome thee? Thou wouldst say, “So soon?
Let me go back, and suffer yet awhile
More patiently ; — I have not yet praised God.”
And He might answer to thee, — ” Never more.
All pain is done with.” Whensoe’er it comes,
That summons that we look for, it will seem
Soon, yea too soon. Let us take heed in time
That God may now be glorified in us;
And while we suffer, let us set our souls
To suffer perfectly : since this alone,
The suffering, which is this world’s special grace,
May here be perfected and left behind.
This world is the place where we have the opportunity, the privilege to share in the sufferings of Christ. Once we are in heaven with Him, there will be no more suffering, no more tears, and no more sorrow. This time on earth is our only opportunity to show the world we follow our Master, that we can experience difficulty and loss, hardship and pain while holding onto joy. It is only in this life we can die, take up our cross, and follow Jesus into the valley of the shadow of death while continuing to trust Him, have confidence in His unfailing love, and rest in His sovereign goodness.
Will you be a witness to the goodness of God amid hardship and pain? Will you trust that He knows what is best, that the circumstances you are facing aren’t a surprise to Him, that He will bring good out of whatever difficulty and evil in your life? Will you let the Lord refine you like silver until you reflect the image of Christ and are holy as He is holy?
Then one day when you are in the throne room of heaven, you will hear, “Well done, my good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Master.”