Luke 9:23: "He said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me."
Self-denial is the denying of self, denying the potential purpose God has willed for your life. This self denial is not for the benefit of a greater good to self, but for the benefit of doing good to others. This is really denying self. Self-denial is a real sacrifice of self-interest, from disinterested motives; that is, from a singleness of eye, to glorify God, and do good to others. It consists in crossing self, from disinterested kindness. It consists in suffering reproach and persecution meekly and joyfully, for the same reason; that is--from true kindness to men and supreme love to God.
It consists in crossing natural and artificial desires and inclinations, for fear that their indulgence should dishonor God and injure the souls of mankind; and consequently crossing ourselves we may possess the means and opportunities of doing a greater amount of good to others. Thus bearing the cross is only a modification of self-denial. There is but a shade of difference between self-denial and cross-bearing. And this is true of all the Christian graces. They are only modifications of one great principle, benevolence.
It implies true holiness of heart, or disinterested benevolence to God and man; just as self-denial does. It implies deadness to the influence of appetite, to the influence of the world, and to a regard to reputation. A man will never take up the cross, in the denial or crossing of his appetites and in meekly suffering persecution and reproach, unless he has become dead to such things. Cross-bearing implies the death of selfishness in general.
It implies true faith or confidence in Christ. Certainly no man will bear the cross of Christ, and patiently and joyfully suffer persecution for his sake, unless he has great confidence in Christ. It implies such an attachment to Christ as to be willing to suffer shame, and the total loss of reputation in the world, for his sake. It implies the doing of this with joy, and not reluctantly. It is said of the Apostles when they were scourged by the Sanhedrim, and almost hissed through the streets of Jerusalem, that they departed "rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name."
It implies a state of mind that is ready to forsake all things, and endure all things, for his sake, as an affectionate wife would forsake all things, and joyfully go into banishment with her husband, and count herself happy in so doing; feeling, that if her husband was spared to her, it mattered little of what else she was deprived. In short, the true spirit of cross-bearing for the sake of Christ, is a state of mind that feels Christ to be such an all-sufficient portion as to perfectly satisfy the soul, in the absence of all things else.
What self-denial is not; it is not the giving up of one form of selfishness for the sake of another form. In other words, it is not the triumph of one form of selfishness over another form of the same principle. Breaking off from any form of sin, for fear of the consequences of indulgence to self, is not self-denial; for this, after all, is only consulting self-interest. Breaking off from any form of sin, from the expectation of reward, is not self-denial, but only consulting self-interest.
Forsaking any form of indulgence for prudential reasons, such as regard to the health, wealth, or reputation. This is not self-denial, but only a regard to self-interest. It is only one form of selfishness triumphing over another. Self-denial does not consist in either doing or omitting any thing whatever from selfish motives. For it is impossible to deny self for selfish reasons. It is absurd to talk of denying self to promote self-interest; for this is not self-denial, but is only denying self in one respect, for the sake of gratifying self in another respect. Self is after all at the bottom. And self-interest is the grand reason of every change of this kind. Self-denial, therefore, does not consist in abandoning the use of whatever is injurious to us, because it is so.
Nor does self-denial consist in giving to others that for which we have no use, or the use of which could be of no service to us. There is no denying self in this. Nor does self-denial consist in giving or doing that which subjects us to no privation, inconvenience, or trouble, neither does it consist in that which subjects us to any degree of expense, inconvenience, trouble, reproach, or even death itself, if it be for any selfish reason; for in this case it is only consulting, upon the whole, self-interest. It is self-indulgence, instead of self-denial.
It does not consist in the performance of the social and public duties of religion. Nor in crossing the worldly lusts for the good of the soul, or in crossing our pride for the good of our soul, or in crossing any of our inclinations for the same reason, or in crossing ourselves in any respect, nor in any degree, for any selfish reason whatever. Nor does it consist in submitting to any kind or degree of evil, persecution, or privation, for any legal or selfish reason, with respect either to our temporal or eternal interests; for all such things are only some modifications of selfishness.
It is not a change of place. When Christ was upon earth, following Him might imply going after Him, from town to town, to attend upon his personal instructions. But even then, the mere following Him from place to place, was not what was intended; for it was the state of mind upon which the Savior had his eye. Then a man might have followed Him from place to place with selfish motives. And following Christ, in the text, implies a certain state of mind.
It does not consist in following Him for reward, as he accused some in his own day, of following Him for the loaves and fishes. It does not consist in any service of any kind rendered from any legal or selfish motives. Christ was not selfish; and no selfish mind can in any proper sense be said to follow Him. It does not consist in imitating his life, from any fear of evil, or hope of reward. He was influenced by no such motives.
What is implied in self-denial is true holiness of heart, or supreme disinterested love to God. If God's glory is so preferred to our own happiness or convenience, that we deny ourselves for the sake of glorifying Him, it proves that our love to Him is supreme. Self-denial implies disinterested love to men. If we deny ourselves for the sake of promoting their happiness, whenever their happiness is a greater good than our own, it shows that we love them according to the requirement of the law of God.
It implies the giving up of that which might be a real good to us. It is no proper denial of self, unless we might be benefited by the thing which is given up. If, as I have before said, the use of it would be an injury to us, and it be abandoned for that reason, this is rather self-indulgence than self-denial. Self-denial implies the joyful giving up of what we need, or what might contribute to our comfort, for the purpose of doing a greater good to others. It was self-denial in God to send his Son to die for sinners, and self-denial in Christ to undertake and accomplish the great work of man's salvation.
Here it should be remembered, that if what we possess will be less beneficial to others than to ourselves, or if depriving ourselves of any thing will promote the good of others less than it will detract from our own, enlightened benevolence would forbid the sacrifice. For example--it would not be enlightened benevolence for a man to give up his life for a mere brute. For a man's life and happiness are worth more than the life and happiness of a beast. Nor would it be virtuous in a man to starve himself for the sake of feeding his dog. Every sacrifice of lawful enjoyment, of ease, convenience, health, time, talents, property, reputation, and whatever might be lawfully enjoyed, from a disinterested desire to promote the glory of God and the greater good of the universe, is self-denial. In short, self-denial implies, the death of selfishness. That is--self-denial and selfishness cannot exist in the mind at the same time. They are exact opposite states of mind.
It consists in having the same mind, spirit, motive, and end that Christ has. It consists in being as truly and as disinterestedly devoted to the glory of God and the good of the universe as He is. Following Christ is to possess the zeal and activity of the Son of God, in promoting this great end. It consists in denying self as Christ did, for the glory of God and the good of men. It consists in using the same means, from the same motives, with the same diligence, and in the same temper of mind, for the promotion of the same end.
In short, it consists in imitating his example, both as it respects the spirit and life, together with the motives for exertion. Following Christ implies great confidence in Him. It implies self-renunciation. A man must renounce himself, before he will follow Christ. Christ pleased not Himself. He sought not his own glory, but the glory of Him that sent Him. Hence, let no man think that he follows Christ, until he has renounced himself.
It implies a trust in Him for the supply of all our wants. It is the giving up of our own interest as the object of pursuit, and devoting ourselves to the glory of God and the good of the universe; cheerfully and confidently leaving our own good and all our interests to be provided for and disposed of by Him.
Following Christ, then, implies the death of selfishness. It implies not merely and negatively the death of selfishness, but also true holiness of heart and life; or a supreme, disinterested benevolence to God, and equal benevolence to men. It implies the final forsaking of all else for his sake--the everlasting renunciation of all ways, ends, employments, and things, inconsistent with the glory of God and the highest good of men, from truly disinterested love to Him and to the souls of men.
Daily following Christ implies, that it is not a mere experiment, for a day, or a month, but an embarkation for eternity; an eternal committing of the whole being to the same great end that Christ is pursuing.
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