« PreviousContinue »
evil affection and appetite of their nature; or, as immediately follows, shall be "covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, un"thankful, unholy,"* and the like. To love ourselves rightly is necessary to the attainment of that happiness and perfection, for which our nature was intended it is to "seek for glory, and honour, and "immortality." But Paul knew, that in men, as fallen," dwelleth no good thing;" and therefore, that to love themselves, must be to love and to indulge their corruptions.
From all this, then, it appears that by self in the text, we are to understand ourselves, as we are by depravity and disobedience; ourselves, as we are now, not as we came originally from the hand of God; or the governing principles and inclinations of our nature, which stand in competition with his will, and resist his authority.
Man was created innocent, and pure, and per.. fect. He had an understanding to perceive, and a desire to follow his duty and his happiness. He was endowed with a capacity for both. He had faculties to discern, and he contemplated with delight the majesty, the supremacy, and the holiness of God, the rectitude of the divine government, and the adaption of its laws to the perfection and happiness of the creature. Then, in loving himself, he loved at once his Maker and his duty; and to deny himself would have been to renounce both. Then our affections were pure and evenly balanced; and in obeying the ruling propensities of our nature, we at once walked in the way of duty, and found our own felicity. Alas, now how changed! how fallen 2 Tim. iii. 1, 2. † Rem. vii, r8.
from that high condition! To indulge our natural inclinations, is now to forsake both happiness and duty. It is to set up ourselves as rivals to God, to dispute his authority, to question his wisdom, and to usurp dominion over his creatures, his absolute property. To deny ourselves now, therefore, is to yield to God, to submit to his government and direction, to prefer his will to our own, his declarations to our partial judgments, and in all cases to sacrifice our inclinations to our duty. Well then, did Christ, who is the only guide to God and happiness, require that, in order to follow him, we must deny ourselves.
Although this injunction was suggested by a particular occasion; yet, in its full import, it evidently extends farther than to the mere denial of present ease, or readiness to endure affliction, rather than sacrifice duty. To do justice to the subject, therefore, it appears necessary that in addition to the general illustration of it now given, we should consider it as implying, more particularly
1. The denial or sacrifice of our own desires, and ease, and gratification, when inconsistent with duty, or the will of God;
2. The denial, or renunciation of dependence on our own strength and judgment, for obedience; and,
3. The denial or renunciation of dependence on our own righteousness, for acceptance and justification before God.
These are the three great branches of self-denial, or mortification, to which every one must submit, who would be a follower of Christ. And when we consider the greatness of the sacrifice, our own dè
sires and pleasures, our own strength or moral powers, our own righteousness, or the merit of our own actions, we need not wonder that there are more called than chosen; and that many should judge these to be "hard sayings," and should "walk no more with," or after Jesus.
But if the duty be so difficult, there is the greater need that its nature and extent be clearly ascertained to us, in order that we may be prepared for the practice of it. If it be so indispensibly requisite, "the serious consideration of it is the more important, that we incur not the shame and the disappointment of those, who neglect to "count the cost," when they profess to follow Christ.
1. Then, to deny ourselves is to sacrifice our own desires, and ease, and gratification, when inconsistent with duty; that is, with the will of God.
This sacrifice the natural man does not, and cannot make. His desires and aims are all on the side of his own pleasure: He wills, and "lives after the "the flesh."* So little beauty does he see in God's law, and so little delight does he find in obedience to it, that while he cannot altogether deny the force of moral obligation, all his ingenuity is employed to relax its bonds; and he contemplates with satisfaction only those pliant systems of duty, whose precepts demand not a rigid adherence, whose penal sanctions are weak, and in which the guilt of transgression is counterbalanced and expunged by the consideration of the infirmity of the sinner, or of the strength of his temptations. He leans always to the side of carnal indulgence, and revolts from ́ that of complete obedience, and unreserved submisSee Rom, viii. 6, 7, 13.
sion to the divine will. Outward compliance, indeed, with the laws and ordinances of the gospel, he will sometimes appear most cheerfully to yield. It is only, however, with the crowd, and in the day of sunshine. Solitary obedience, obedience in the season of tempest and opposition, agrees not with his nature.
How different is the character of the man, who sacrifices his own pleasures and desires, to his Creator's will! His determinations are resolute, being founded on a sense of duty to God, on the approbation of the divine law in all its extent, and on the security and superiority of the rewards of faithfulness in Jehovah's service. He makes no conditional purposes: he harbours no known reservations: he cherishes nothing within him, that tends ro resist, or to evade the will of heaven. This he chooses with a hearty consent; and he finds himself constrained to mortify every inclination, and to encounter every difficulty, that may be opposed to the obedience of it. The solicitations of ease and of pleasure, the example, the entreaties, nay, the tears of friends, and the persecution of enemies, are together unable to shake the firm purpose of his soul. We hear him speaking in the noble resolution of Joshua, to be faithful, though all besides were fallen :
Choose ye this day whom ye will serve; but as "for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."* We hear him in the heroic answer of Paul to his entreating brethren, "What mean ye, to weep, and "to break mine heart? for I am ready not to be "bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem, for the
* Joshua xxiv. 15.
name of the Lord Jesus."* And we hear him in Christ himself, in his indignant reply to Peter; the only indignant reply which a disciple ever received from his lips of meekness; but which was prompted and justified by his zeal for truth and righteousness, without dread or thought of personal consequences: "Get thee behind me, Satan; for thou "savourest not the things which be of God, but "those which be of men."
Now, brethren, search and try your spirits. Are you more afraid of sinning than of incurring poverty, reproach, or suffering? Is this your main inquiry, respecting every thing in which you engage? Is the action in itself lawful? and is my motive to it a sense of duty? When urged by the passions and the things of sense, is this your language? Away, ye toys and pleasures of time!, Ye shall neither be the objects of my pursuit, nor the secret springs of my actions! Ye are fading joys; bubbles, which one breath of air fills, and another bursts; phantoms, which allure to disappoint and to betray. God is my portion: his law is my rule: to glorify him, and to be glorified by him, my object. Unless you can give the answer of a good conscience to these, and to similar inquiries, you may have the form of christianity, but you want the power. Every thought is not yet brought" into captivity, to the "obedience of Christ."+
On this subject, however, self-deception is unfortunately so frequent, that it is necessary not only that we point out what the duty is, but also that we endeavour to detect its counterfeits. The worst passions of our nature sometimes assume its forms; • Acto xxi. 13. + 2 Cor. x. 5.