"If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross
daily and follow Me." Luke 9:23
You hear ministers tell you of the odiousness and danger
and sad effects of sin; but of all the sins that you ever heard of, there is
scarce any more odious and dangerous than selfishness; and yet most
are never troubled at it, nor sensible of its malignity. My principal
request therefore to you is, that as ever you would prove Christians indeed,
and be saved from sin and the damnation which follows it—take heed of this
deadly sin of selfishness, and be sure you are possessed with true
self-denial; and if you have, see that you use and live upon it.
And for your help herein, I shall tell you how your
self-denial must be tried. I shall only tell you in a few words, how the
least measure of true self-denial may be known: wherever the interest of
carnal self is stronger and more predominant habitually than the interest of
God, of Christ, of everlasting life, there is no true self-denial or saving
grace; but where God's interest is strongest, there self-denial is sincere.
If you further ask me how this may be known, briefly thus:
1. What is it that you live for? What is that
good which your mind is principally set to obtain? And what is that end
which you principally design and endeavor to obtain, and which you set your
heart on, and lay out your hopes upon? Is it the pleasing and glorifying of
God, and the everlasting fruition of Him? Or is it the pleasing of your
fleshly mind in the fruition of any inferior thing? Know this, and you may
know whether self or God has the greatest interest in you. For that is
your God which you love most, and please best, and would do most for.
2. Which do you most prize—the means of your
salvation and of the glory of God, or the means of providing for self and
flesh? Do you more prize Christ and holiness, which are the way to God—or
riches, honor, and pleasures, which gratify the flesh? Know this, and you
may know whether you have true self-denial.
3. If you are truly self-denying, you are ordinarily
ruled by God, and His Word and Spirit, and not by the carnal self.
Which is the rule and master of your lives? Whose word and will is it
ordinarily that prevails? When God draws, and self draws—which do you follow
in the tenor of your life? Know this, and you may know whether you have true
4. If you have true self-denial, the drift of your lives
is carried on in a successful opposition to your carnal self, so that you
not only refuse to be ruled by it, and love it as your god—but you fight
against it, and tread it down as your enemy. So that you go armed
against self in the course of your lives, and are striving against self in
every duty. And as others think—it then goes best with them, when self is
highest and pleased best; so you will know that then it goes best with
you—when self is lowest, and most effectually subdued.
5. If you have true self-denial, there is nothing in this
world so dear to you, but on deliberation you would leave it for God.
He who has anything which he loves so well that he cannot spare it for God,
is a selfish and unsanctified wretch. And therefore God has still put men to
it, in the trial of their sincerity, to part with that which was dearest to
the flesh. Abraham must be tried by parting with his only son. And Christ
makes it His standing rule, "Any of you who does not give up everything he
has, cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:33).
Yet it is true that flesh and blood may make much
resistance in a gracious heart; and many a striving thought there may be,
before with Abraham we part with a son, or before we can part with wealth or
life; but yet on deliberation, self-denial will prevail. There is nothing so
dear to a gracious soul, which he cannot spare at the will of God, and the
hope of everlasting life. If with Peter we would flinch in a temptation—we
should return with Peter in weeping bitterly, and give Christ those lives
that in a temptation we denied Him.
6. In a word, true self-denial is procured by the
knowledge and love of God, advancing Him in the soul—to debasing of self.
The illuminated soul is so much taken with the glory and goodness
of the Lord, that it carries him out of himself to God, and as it were
estranges him from himself, that he may have communion with God. This makes
him vile in his own eyes, and to abhor himself in dust and ashes. It is not
a stoical resolution, but the love of God and the hopes of glory—which make
him throw away the world, and look contemptuously on all below, so far as
they are mere provision for flesh.
Search now, and try your hearts by these evidences,
whether you are possessed of this necessary grace of self-denial. O make not
light of the matter! For I must tell you that self is the most
treacherous enemy, and the most insinuating deceiver in the world! It
will be within you when you are not aware of it and will conquer you when
you perceive not yourselves much troubled with it. Of all other vices,
selfishness is both the hardest to find out and the hardest to cure. Be sure
therefore in the first place, that you have self-denial; and then be sure
you use it and live in the practice of it.