The Savior's Requirements
James Smith, 1865
"If any man will come after Me--he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me." Luke 9:23
Every Christian professes to come after Christ. He forsakes all other guides, and renounces all other masters. He looks to Christ to save him, to rule him, to be his Master and Lord. He comes to Christ . . .
as lost--to be saved;
as naked--to be clothed;
as miserable--to be made happy;
as ignorant--to be instructed; and
as having nothing--that from Jesus he may receive all things.
He is a sinner; Jesus is the Savior. He saves, not only by what He did for him--but by working in him, and requiring of him. He requires a full surrender, the subjection of the entire person, the consecration of the whole life.
If He justifies us--He will rule us.
If He atones for our sins--He will have our services.
If He gives us grace--He will require obedience.
Lord, I will follow You! "Will you? Then, hear my requirements: If any man will come after Me--let him deny himself!"
"If any man will come after Me--let him deny his own WILL"--for it runs contrary to the will of God. The church is to be one body, ruled by one will, and that will the will of Christ. Every believer is to seek to know what the will of Christ is, on every subject; and having ascertained it, to prefer it, bow to it, and endeavor to carry it out. Whatever is opposed to the will of Christ--is sin. My own will, and my own way, are to be given up, and exchanged for the will and way of Jesus.
"If any man will come after Me--let him deny his own DESIRES." He desires fame, honor, ease, wealth. Let all these be denied, and let him desire to be, and to do--just what Jesus requires. If duty leads him into obscurity--let him he willing to go there; if it leads him into disgrace--let him be willing to suffer it; if it brings pain, privation, and suffering--let him willingly endure them; if it makes him poor, and keeps him poor--let him be willing to be of "the poor of this world," whom God has chosen.
It is not what I desire that is to rule me--but what Christ requires of me; His will as revealed in His Word--is to be my rule; and His Spirit and providence are to be my guide.
"If any man will come after Me--let him deny his love of PLEASURE." Carnal gratification is sure to be sinful either in its nature or effects, therefore it is not to be followed. Jesus pleased not Himself. Paul pleased not himself. They did not seek their own pleasure, or mere carnal or intellectual gratification--but constantly aimed at something higher and holier. Jesus ever kept the end of His mission in view: "I came not to do my own will--but the will of Him who sent me."
Paul was guided by the admonition he delivered to the churches: "You are not your own, you are bought with a price, therefore glorify God in your bodies and spirits, which are God's." To obey Christ, and not to please or gratify ourselves--is our one business. "Those who are Christ's, have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts." The flesh should be on the cross--not on the throne. But, alas, how many professors pamper the flesh, obey the flesh--and crucify the spirit! Here, the flesh lusts to follow the fashions of the world, in "gold, pearls, and costly array;" there, the flesh pursues a fine dwelling, expensive furniture, and high living! In lower circles, it is the intoxicating cup, the theater, etc.; and instead of its being crucified--the flesh is consulted, caressed, and indulged! God's money is squandered, God's time is wasted, and God's precepts are disregarded!
"Let a man deny himself," said the Savior. "Nay," say many professors, "there is no need for it. I can indulge my love of finery, I can gratify my natural appetite, I can walk according to the customs of the world--and yet go to heaven at last!"
"Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims--abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul," said Peter. "Nay," say many, "I see no reason to act as if we were strangers, or to conduct ourselves as if we were pilgrims; we can do as the generality of people do--and all will be right at last." Self-denial is out of fashion; it is seldom preached by most, and quite as seldom practiced by others.
"Let him take up his cross and follow Me." The true Christian is condemned by the world, he is looked upon as a poor, contemptible, wretched slave, who deserves crucifixion--because he testifies against it, and bears witness that the works thereof are evil. He is to realize this, and instead of being ashamed of it, he is to take up the cross--the instrument of torture, disgrace, and death--and bear it after Jesus. Loving Jesus more than father, mother, brother, sister, ease, pleasure, wealth, fame, fashion, finery, delicious food, liberty, man's sanction, yes, than his own life also--he is to act for Christ, in obedience to Christ, through so acting is considered as degrading and disgraceful, as carrying a cross to the place of execution. This was the spirit that actuated the Apostles, the primitive Christians, the martyrs and the host of sufferers for Christ in the days of old.
"Let him follow Me," says Jesus. That is, "Let him imitate me. Do as I have done. Copy my example. Tread in my steps." Oh, brethren, how different it is with us! How unlike the self-denying Jesus, we are! How little do we feel or act as Paul did, who said, "I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize!" And, again, speaking of himself and fellow-believers, "We labor, that whether present or absent, we may be accepted of Him." A little self-denial practiced by the church in general, would soon pay all our chapel-debts, fill our missionary-treasury, bring every poor saint out of the poor-houses, and supply the needs of the ministers of Christ and poor godly widows. There are ornaments enough worn by church members--to do all this and more! And what is spent in tobacco, perfumes, wines, and luxuries for the table--unnecessary for, if not injurious to, health--would supply all the needs of God's cause!
But are there no cautions necessary in the practice of self-denial? Yes--but few, very few, need them now-a-days. Take the following.
We are not to injure our health. Health is a talent that is to be taken care of, and employed for Christ--and whatever would injure or destroy our health, is to be avoided.
Whatever would unfit us for devotion, is not required. Close, constant, and intimate fellowship with God is necessary to maintain spiritual life in its vigor, and should, therefore, be sought in the closet, in the sanctuary, in the family, and by lifting up the heart while engaged in our daily avocations; while everything that hinders us, or unfits us for it, should be as carefully avoided.
Whatever renders us unnecessarily singular before men is to be avoided. We are not to imitate the multitude who do evil; but we are not needlessly to disgust them. But neatness, plainness, and inexpensive habits, especially if what is thus saved is spent to make others comfortable, and to promote the cause of Christ--will never do so. No reasonable person will be disgusted with another for wearing an inexpensive garment, or living in a plainly-furnished dwelling--in order to relieve the fatherless, supply the widow, and spread the truth of God.
Whatever would nourish pride and self-righteousness, is also to be avoided. Some may be proud of plainness, others may make a righteousness of self-denial, and trust in it for acceptance before God; nothing can be more wrong. But just because some abuse it--we are not to neglect it, seeing the Lord Jesus imperatively commands it. We should trust in nothing but the perfect work of Jesus for our acceptance before God; we should glory in nothing but the cross of Christ: yet while we do so, we should never forget that He "gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works."
Self-denial should be practiced--out of love to Christ. The Christian should say, "I love Jesus, because He first loved me; and because I love Jesus, I will not indulge the flesh--but endeavor to put off the old man with his deeds, and put on the new man, that so I may appear to be a new creation, created in Christ Jesus unto good works."
Self-denial should be practiced--to please God. "Because I believe it will please God--I will abstain from this, I will avoid that, I will walk circumspectly, I will avoid the very appearance of evil, I will endeavor to perfect holiness, to purify myself, even as He is pure. I will not seek my own happiness, much less the gratification of my flesh, first or principally--but my object shall be to please God. A duty may be trying, or burdensome, or be by some considered disgraceful--but I will take up this cross, I will carry it, encouraged by the persuasion, that it will please God."
Self-denial should be practiced--to help God's cause. God does not need our help, He can do without it. But He honors us by asking for it, by using it, by crowning it with His blessing. His gospel was committed to the saints, that they may spread it over the face of the wide world, preserve it pure and unmixed, and defend it against every foe. It was to be copied and circulated. It was to be preached, regularly and universally. To do this, men, money, and influence would be necessary; and God requires us to furnish them. With a little self-denial--we may do it; but for lack of self-denial, churches are in debt, missionaries are needed, and mission-funds are low.
In writing about self-denial in this article--my flesh shrunk from it. I imagine the devil tried to dissuade me from it. Something within whispered, "Writing thus, you will condemn yourself." Well, so let it be; let me be condemned, if the Lord's people can be benefitted. I feel condemned, justly condemned. I deserve to be condemned. But will a sense of condemnation lead to humiliation, confession, and reformation? That is the point!
Reader, what do you say? Shall we carry the matter to a throne of grace, shall we humbly confess our sins, shall we seek grace to help us to practice self-denial in future? Oh, for that grace that will enable us, when tempted to indulge the flesh, neglect our duty, lose sight of Christ's honor--or seek to please ourselves instead of pleasing God--to stand like a rock, press on like the apostle, and exclaim with Nehemiah, "But because I feared God--I did not act that way." And let us never forget the solemn words, "If you live after the flesh--you shall die; but if you through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body--you shall live!" Romans 8:13