Christ Set at Nought

James Daane

Everyman toils to amount to something, and then toils more to add something to the amount. In the interest of the increase, Everyman strains his body and stretches his mind, and even bends his ethics and compromises his convictions. Everyman has a reputation to build. And the building must be constantly enlarged as a protection against the rival successes of his like-minded fellows.

To become Somebody, Everyman must toil relentlessly. And thus it is that Everyman becomes a Nobody with a success that does not distinguish and a name that does not identify. For in the divine economy, work-righteousness does not avail. It is the meaning of grace that the works of the worker of the law must be set to nought. If Everyman is to glory, he will have to glory in the Lord; if he is to have a name that identifies, he must receive it as a gift of grace.

The Son of Man must also be set to nought. He, too, must construct an equation. He must suffer, empty himself, earn the contempt of his fellows. He must forsake his glory. For him, the ladder of success leads downward. One rung lower, and still another. The Lord must come in servant-form. He must command no respect and lose such respect as he has. He must toil to become nameless that God may give him a name, a name higher than his fellows. He must not prize highly his crown with its halo of glory. He must climb downward to the thorns and the darkness. By his own efforts he must construct an equation with zero: he must make himself equal to nothing.

How comforting to remember that Christ did this for us. And how comfortable to forget that the pattern of Christ’s life and death is the pattern God has set for our lives. How comfortable to forget that what we could not do for ourselves is now the pattern of what we must do for him! Being now justified by his blood, how easy to continue to build up our own names that others may confess our names, how easy to enlarge the blueprints of our prestige for the greater enhancement of our own reputations.

But to be set at nought, to set one’s self at nought, how exceedingly difficult. How hard to sell all that one has and to follow Jesus. How much easier to follow the policy of practical prudence and careful calculation, which guarantee that all will speak well of us while we ignore the Word of the Lord that we must become as nothing. How easy to follow the instinct of self-preservation–to cry against the evil that the masses hate but remain silent about that which our heart condemns because the masses are silent.

Yet Everyman must believe that not all his tears and sighs and prayers will give him peace with God. For only in the way of being as nothing before God will God raise him into his heavenly glory and give him a new name. If we are not merely willing but actually do lose our lives, we will find them again in a better resurrection. If any will glory, he will have to glory in the Lord, for when history ends and life is done, there will be nothing else in which to glory!

Editors’ Note: Because this issue of Perspectives harks back to The Reformed Journal, we present here an abridged version of a meditation by James Daane (1914-1983) from the March 1953 edition of that journal. Daane was one of the founding editors of The Reformed Journal and also served as an editor for Christianity Today and was a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary from 1966 until his retirement in 1979. This essay is presented as it was originally written and so the language does not reflect the gender-inclusive style we strive for in this publication today.