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MATT. XVI. 24." If any man will come after me, let him deny himself."
IF mankind be divided according to the most lasting and important distinctions that obtain amòng them, we shall find them all comprehended under two classes or descriptions, the righteous and the wicked; the regenerated or renewed, and the old or natural man and yet so much of selfishness, infirmity, and imperfection remains in the one; so many sentiments and actions of tenderness and generosity are to be found in the other; that on the one hand, it requires, in a public teacher, judgment, impartiality, boldness, and that very principle of self-denial, which is recommended in the text, in order to describe these opposite characters, and to state distinctly the essential difference between the two; and on the other hand, owing to the same circumstances, together with the disposition, so universal among men, to judge favourably of themselves, nothing is so difficult as to render the distinction useful, and to obtain their serious attention to it, when it is made. When, to an audience of professing christians, we discourse of the privileges of believers, every ear is open, and every heart re
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joices; because, in such a case, almost every one supposes himself to be a believer. And when we describe the character and the danger of the "world "that lieth in wickedness," some sentiments of pity, mingled with self-gratulation, fill every breast; for each excepts himself from the evil-working crowd, and probably fortifies himself in this persuasion, by the consciousness of the compassion which he cherishes for the unhappy number.
But that you are not all of the society whose name you bear, and whose external badges you assume, is evident from the secret works of some, which now and then are brought to light; and from the open characters of still more, whose lives and conversations are barely exempted from public scandal. They are not all Israel who are of Is
rael," said Paul. And said he, by whose spirit Paul spake, of ten virgins professing to honour the bridegroom, there were found five foolish; of three servants, to whom talents were committed, one who hid his lord's money; and in general, " Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it."+-Most important, then, it is that we justly state the distinction between reality and profession; and most important that we all attend to that distinction when made, not merely with impartiality, but with anxiety and fear, lest our favourable opinions of ourselves be false, rather than with the desire, or the prepossession, of their being true.
The text not only enjoins a duty of great extent and obligation, but presents us also with an excellent criterion, by which our judgments may be + See Matt. XV. 1, 2, 18. and vii, 14.
Rom. ix. 6.
guided in this momentous particular. The intention, with which the words were spoken, will appear from the occasion of them. Our Saviour had begun to inform his disciples of the necessity of his sufferings and death. On this, Peter presumptuously rebuked him, saying, " Be it far from thee;" or as the original literally bears, " Have pity on thyself, "Lord: This shall not be unto thee." The reply of Jesus was this sharp reproof, "Get thee behind me, Satan; thou art an offence unto me, for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those "that be of men ;"* as if he had said, Thou art ignorant of the predictions, and of the ways of God: thy inclinations are determined by the objects, and thy judgment is formed on the rules, of worldly prudence; and according to these, thou wouldest have me to sacrifice the great end of my mission, rather than expose myself to suffering. But I tell thee, and the rest of my disciples, that it is necessary, not for me only, to deny myself to personal ease and gratification, and willingly to endure whatever calamities may be appointed me of my Father, in order to my exaltation; but for you also, and for every one of my followers: "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me."
In discoursing from these words, let us
I. Consider the nature of self-denial:
II. Shew its reasonableness; and
III. State some motives to persuade you to it, as your interest.
The first inquiry, then, is, what is meant by self. denial?" Let a man deny himself.”
See Matt. xxv. 22, 23.
- In looking into ourselves, we discover a strange mixture of contending desires, judgments and pursuits; some of which must yield, before the others can prevail. But amidst all these, we may discern one immutable principle of our nature, a desire of happiness, which sets in motion every faculty and affection within us. This is a fundamental law, which the hand of God himself stamped upon our squls. It bare rule over man in the days of primeval innocence. It operates with no less power, both in his fallen and in his renewed state. Nay, it will direct and animate all his motions and actions in heaven above; whether in addressing himself to the song of praise, or in following the Lamb to the tree of life, and to the fountains of living waters. This principle is often recognised, addressed, and approved of by the Lord Jesus, in his discourses: "Come unto me, all ye that labour, "and are heavy, laden, and I will give you rest."*
What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" It belongs more properly to the brute to snatch, for enjoyment, at every object to which passion or instinct points: it is the great prerogative of man, to have reason to guide him in his desires and endeavours after happiness. This fundamental law of our nature, the desire of happiness, and reason, the great distinction of our nature, we surely are not required, by this injunction of the Saviour, to deny, or to renounce: nay, what is the instinct, what the affection, which we are commanded wholly to give, up? Certainly none; else not the comfort only, but the existence both of individuals and of the species, † Ibid. xvi. 26.
Matt. xi. 28.
would be endangered. It is not, therefore, our nature, or any of its principles, considered as the offspring and the workmanship of God, which our Saviour requires us to deny. His object is, to renew, to refine, to exalt, not to destroy it; yet saith he, "If any man will come after me, let him deny "himself."
Though we have a desire of happiness interwoven by God in our nature, though we have reason to guide us in the pursuit of this great object, and instincts and passions to prompt us to that pursuit ; vet all these are wholly perverted or corrupted; and while we desire happiness, we miss it, either by not knowing wherein it consists, or by being so vitiated in our inclinations, as to be unable to relish it when pointed out. Our passions hurry us to those objects in which it is not; and our reason is so dubious, so feeble, or so misled, as either not to prevail over them, or to go along with them. Hence, as corruption does not merely preponderate, but reigns universally in our nature, by self, in scripture, is frequently meant our corrupt nature, our debased faculties, wicked principles and inclinations. Thus, Christ is said to have died, "that
they which live should not henceforth live unto "themselves;" that is, not in obedience to, or under the influence of the evil principles and passions of their depraved nature; "but unto him which died "for them."*. And in the second epistle to Timothy, it is stated as the character of those, through whose wickedness" in the last days, perilous times "shall come," that" men shall be lovers of their "ownselves;" that is, shall be indulgent to every
2 Cor. v. 15.