The Duty of Self-Denial
by Thomas Watson, 1675
The weightiness of the argument here discoursed on justly merits a larger
volume. But I have contracted it, so that it may possibly come into more
hands. I must profess I do not know a more necessary point in divinity.
Self-denial is the first principle of Christianity! It is the life-blood
which must run through the whole body of piety. Self-denial is not learned
at an academy, but from the oracles of Scripture.
It is my request to the reader to pursue this manual with
seriousness, knowing that the practice of self-denial is that wherein his
salvation is nearly concerned. "May the Lord work with His Word and cause
the dew of His blessing to fall with this manna," is the prayer of,
Your Friend and Servant in the Gospel,
Thomas Watson, 1675
1. Exposition of the verse.
"And He said to them all—If any man will come after Me,
let him deny himself." Luke 9:23
"All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for
teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so
that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work." 2
Timothy 3:16. The Word is compared to a lamp for its illuminating
quality, Psalm 119:105, and to refined silver for its enriching
quality, Psalm 12:6. Among other parts of sacred writ, this is not the
least, "If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself."
These words are dropped from the lips of Christ, the
oracle of truth. In the preceding verse, our blessed Savior foretold His
suffering, "The Son of Man must suffer many things." And His suffering is
set down in two expressions:
1. He must be rejected. Thus He was the "stone which the
builders rejected," Psalm 118:22.
2. He must be slain. This diamond must be cut! He
who gave life to others, must Himself die. And as Christ thus abased Himself
for us—so we must deny ourselves for Him. "And He said to them all, If any
man will come after Me, let him deny himself."
Self-denial is the foundation of godliness, and if this
is not well laid, all the building will fall. Let me explain the words:
1. "And He said to them all." Self-denial is of
universal extent. It concerns all; it respects both ministers and people.
Christ spoke it as well to His apostles as to the rest of His hearers.
2. "If any man will come after Me." That is--if he will
arrive at that place of glory where I am going--"let him deny himself."
3. "Let him deny himself." Beza and Erasmus render it,
"Let him lay aside or reject himself." Self-denial is a kind of
self-annihilation. The words have two parts:
First, a supposal: "If any man will come after
Second, an imposal: "Let him deny himself." These
words are not only a permission—but an injunction. It carries in it the
force of the command. It is as if a king should say, "Let it be enacted."
The PROPOSITION I shall insist on, is that a true
Christian must be a self-denier. "Let him deny himself."
2. Explanation of the Proposition
In what sense must a Christian NOT deny himself?
1. He must not deny his promise. A man's promise should
be sacred. He is to keep it though it is to his loss, Psalm 15:1,4. He who
makes no reckoning of his promise—God makes no reckoning of his
2. A Christian must not deny his grace. He must not
disown any good work wrought in him. He ought not to say that he is a dry tree—when the dew of heaven lies upon his branches. As it is a sin for a man
to make himself better than he is—so it is to make himself worse. To say he
has grace when he has none—is presumption. To say he has no grace
when he has—is ingratitude. It is bearing false witness against the
Spirit of God.
In what sense MUST a Christian deny himself?
In general, he must deny that carnal part which is as
near to him as himself, that which is as the apple of his eye. But more
1. A Christian must deny his REASON. I do not
say renounce it—but deny it. Some cry up the Diana of reason, making
it the rule and standard of faith. Indeed, that there is a God and that this
God is to be worshiped, is a law written in the heart of man and is
consonant to reason. But who God is, and the right mode of worship,
is such a sublime matter, that reason can no more find out—than the
Philistines could Sampson's riddle. Job 11:7, "Can you by searching find out
Reason must be denied in DOCTRINES proposed to be
The doctrine of the Trinity. The well is deep, and
who can fathom it with the plumbline of reason! The three
persons in the Trinity are distinguished but not divided. They are
three subsistences but one essence. The Trinity is purely an
object of faith. There are some truths in true religion which are
demonstrable by reason, such as that we should flee vice and do to others as
we would have them do to us. But the Trinity of persons, in the unity of
essence—is of divine revelation, and must be assented to by faith. Those
illuminated philosophers who could wisely discourse of the magnitude and
influence of the stars, the nature of plants and minerals—could not by their
deepest investigation, find out the mystery of the Trinity. This is wholly
supernatural and must be adored with humble believing!
The doctrine of the Incarnation. This doctrine
teaches: that eternity—should be born, that He who rules the stars—should
suck the breasts, that a virgin—should conceive, that the branch—should bear
the root, that in Christ—there should be two natures, yet but one person,
that the divine nature—should not be translated into the human, yet the human
nature should be assumed into the person of the Son of God, the human nature
is not God—yet one with God. Here frail human reason must be denied.
The doctrine of the Resurrection. That the body
interred, nay, crumbled into a thousand pieces—and the ashes scattered over
the earth—should rise again, is above frail human reason to imagine.
The Epicureans and Stoics derided Paul, when he preached to them of the
resurrection, Acts 17:22. Here reason must be taken captive, John 5:28, "Do
not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves
will hear his voice and come out!" 1 Corinthians 15:42-43. The chemist can,
out of several metals mingled together, extract the one from the other, the
silver from the gold, the tin from the silver, and can reduce every metal to
its own species. Just so, when the bodies of men are mixed with other
substances, the wise God can make a sudden extraction and clothe every soul
with its own body. Did not the same particular body rise, it would be rather
a creation, than a resurrection. Acts 26:8, "Why should it be
thought incredible, that God should raise the dead?" God can do it,
because of His power, Matthew 22:29. And he must do it, because of
The doctrines of faith do not oppose reason—but
Reason must be denied in in DUTIES enjoined to be
practiced. There are many duties in piety, which carnal reason
God says, "It is the glory of a man to pass by an
offense," Proverbs 19:11.
"No!" says carnal reason, "it is cowardice!" The heathens
thought it gallantry of spirit, to avenge injuries.
God says that the paths of holiness are strewn with
roses. Proverbs 3:17, "Her ways are ways of pleasantness."
"No!" says carnal reason, "they are severe and cynical. I
must crucify my delights and drown my mirth in tears!"
God says that piety is gainful. 1 Timothy 6:8, "Godliness
is great gain." It brings contentment arising from the favor of God. It
brings temporal riches. Proverbs 3:16, "In her left hand riches and honor."
The way to be prosperous is to be pious.
"No!" says carnal reason, If I follow the trade of piety
I shall go bankrupt!" In this case, carnal reason must be denied and fought
He who will go no farther than erring human reason
will come many leagues short of heaven.
2. A Christian must deny his WILL. Brugensis
said, "The will is the great wheel in the soul—which moves all the
affections." The will in the state of innocence was regular. It
echoed God's will. But since the fall, though it retains its freedom in
moral actions—yet spiritually it is depraved. "If the will could cease from
sinning," says Bernard, "there would be no hell." The greatest wound is
fallen upon the will. The mariners compass, being stricken with
thunder, causes the point of the needle to be wrong. Man's nature being
corrupted, causes the will to point wrong; it points to evil. There is in
the will, not only impotence but obstinacy. Acts 7:51, "You
have always resisted the Holy Spirit."
Here we must deny our will, and subject it to God's will.
If a crooked stick is laid upon a level ground—we do not try to bring the
ground even with the stick—but to make the stick even to the ground. So
God's will is not to be brought to ours—but our crooked will must be
brought to God's will. We pray, "Your will be done." The way to have our
will, is to deny it.
3. A Christian must deny his own RIGHTEOUSNESS,
his moralities, duties, and good works. Philippians 3:9, "That I may be
found in Him not having my own righteousness." The spider weaves a
web out of her own body. A hypocrite would spin a web of salvation out of
his own righteousness. But Paul, like the bee, sucked salvation from
the flower of Christ's righteousness. Isaiah 64:6, "All our righteousness are as
filthy rags." Our best duties are filled with sin. Put gold in the fire— and
out comes the dross. Our most golden services are mixed with unbelief. The
angel pouring sweet fragrances into the prayers of the saints, Revelation
8:3, shows that they are in themselves unsavory—and need Christ's sweet
fragrances to perfume them.
We must never trust in our duties—but only in Christ's
righteousness for salvation. Noah's dove made use of her wings to fly—but
trusted the ark for safety.
And, if we must deny our holy things in point of
justification, then much more our civilities and moralities. A stake may be
finely painted—but it has no root. A man may be painted with morality—and
yet have no root of grace. A moral person is only externally washed—not
internally changed. The life may be civil to men—when the heart is wicked
against God; just as the sea may be calm—when the water is salty. The
Pharisee could say he was no adulterer, Luke 18:11—but he could not say he
was not proud.
The moral person may have a secret antipathy against
godliness. He may hate grace—as much as vice. Morality is but a cracked
title to heaven. A piece of brass may shine—but, lacking the King's image,
it will not pass as currency. A man may shine with moral virtues—but lacking
the image of God consisting in holiness—he will not pass as currency at the
day of judgment. Morality is good—but God will say, "You still lack one
thing!" Luke 18:22. Morality is a good Jacob's staff to walk with
among men—but it is a bad Jacob's ladder to climb up to heaven!
4. A Christian must deny all SELF-CONFIDENCE.
How confident was Pendleton of himself, "This fat of mine shall melt in the
fire, for Christ!" But instead of that his courage melted.
The same Hebrew word signifies both confidence and
folly. Self-confidence betrays folly. Peter presumed too much on his
own strength, "Peter replied—Even if all fall away on account of you, I
never will." Matthew 26:33. But how soon was his confidence shaken and blown
down with a breath of a young girl! Matthew 26:71-72, "He denied it with an
oath, saying, I don't know the man!" Peter's denying of Christ, was the
result of not denying his self-confidence. Self jealousy is good.
Romans 11:20, "Be not high-minded—but fear." The trembling reed often
stands when the confident cedar falls. Who that knows the fierceness
of a trial, or the falseness of his heart—will not fear? How
have some professors shined like stars in the church's hemisphere, yet have
been falling stars? Porphyry, Julian, Cardinal Pool, Gardener, Judas.
The Apostles have been called by some of the ancients, by such terms as "the
eyes of the world," "Christ's feet," "the church's breasts." Judas was one
of these—yet a traitor.
Nay, some of the saints, through God's withdrawing the
influence of His Spirit, have relapsed for a time, such as Cranmer
and Origen, whose heart fainted under persecution, and he offered incense to
Deny self-confidence. 1 Corinthians 10:12, "Let him who
thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall." It is just with God, that he who
trusts himself—should be left to himself! The vine being weak,
twists around the oak to support it. A good Christian, being conscious of
his own imbecility, twists by faith around Christ. Philippians 4:13, "I can
do all things through Christ's strengthening me." Sampson's strength lay in
his hair. Ours lies in our head, Christ.
5. A Christian must deny pride and SELF-CONCEIT.
Job 11:12, "Vain man would be wise." In the Hebrew it is "Empty
man!" Man is a proud piece of flesh! He is apt to have a high opinion of
himself. Acts 8:9, "Simon had been a sorcerer there for many years, claiming
to be someone great." Sapor calls himself "Brother of the Sun and
Moon." Commodus the Emperor called himself "The Golden Hercules."
The Persian kings made others worship their images. Such as view themselves
in the flattering looking-glass of self-love, appear bigger in their
own eyes than they are. They think their spark is a sun! They
think their drop is a sea! They are highly conceited of their
acumen, their wit and abilities, and are ready to despise others. The
Chinese think so highly of themselves, that they say that Europe has one eye
and they have two, and the rest of the world is blind.
Deny self-conceit. Romans 12:3, "I say to every man who
is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think."
Proverbs 23:4, "Cease from your own wisdom." It does not say cease from
being wise—but from thinking yourself wise, Proverbs 3:7 and Philippians
That you may deny all high, supercilious thoughts of
Self-conceit is a great sin. Chrysostom calls it "the
mother of hell." It is a kind of idolatry, a self-worshiping.
Whatever noble endowments you have, are borrowed.
As the man said of the axe which fell in the water, 2 Kings 6:5, "Oh, my
master—it was borrowed!" And what wise man would be proud of a jewel
that was lent to him? "What makes you better than anyone else? What
do you have that God hasn't given you? And if all you have is from God, why
boast as though you have accomplished something on your own?" 1
Corinthians 4:7. The moon has no cause to be proud of her light—for which
she is indebted to the sun.
Whatever acuteness of wit, or sageness of judgment you
have—think how far short you come. How far short do you come of that
knowledge which Adam had in innocence? He was the oracle of wisdom. He could
unlock nature's dark cabinet and find out those secrets which bewilder us.
Adam had a full inspection into the cause of things. He was a kind of
But how far short do you come of him! Your knowledge is
checkered with ignorance. There are many hard knots in nature which cannot
be easily untied—like why the loadstone should draw iron and leave
gold and pearl; or why the Nile should overflow in the summer
when waters are usually lowest. Job 38:24-25, "Where is the path to the
origin of light? Where is the home of the east wind? Who created a channel
for the torrents of rain? Who laid out the path for the lightning?" Why is
the sea higher than the earth, and yet does not drown it? How do the
bones grow in the womb? Ecclesiastes 11:5. Who can explain exactly how
the body functions? He who sees clearest, has a mist before his eyes.
By eating of the tree of knowledge, we lost the key of
How far short do you come of that knowledge Satan has? He
is called "demon" from his knowledge. We read of the "depths of Satan,"
Revelation 2:24, and his stratagems, 2 Corinthians 2:11. Satan is an
intelligent spirit. Though he has lost his sanctity—yet not his
knowledge. Though he has lost his breastplate—yet not his
headpiece. He has wit enough to deceive the nations, Revelation
20:3. His understanding is nimble, and, being compared with ours, is like
the swift flight of an eagle, compared with the slow motion of a snail. Why,
then, should any be puffed up with deceit of their knowledge, wherein the
devil far outstrips them!
How far short do you come of the knowledge they have who
are perfected in glory? He who is higher than a dwarf—may be lower than a
giant. Such as excel others in natural abilities—are of a lower stature than
the glorified saints. 1 Corinthians 13:12, "We see through a glass darkly."
But the saints in bliss have a full-eyed vision of God. Their light which
burned here like a smothered fire—is now blown up into a pure
flame. An glorified young Christian, knows more than the most profound
theologians on earth. In heaven, all shadows fly away—the sun of
righteousness having risen there with his illustrious beams! This may pull
down the plumes of pride and self-conceit.
Your dark side is broader than your light side. Your
ignorance is more than your knowledge. Your knowledge is but
candle-light; your ignorance as the Cimmerian darkness. Job 26:14
"How little a portion is known of God?" The Septuagint renders it, "How
little a drop!" To imagine that we can comprehend the Deity, is as if
we should think that we can measure the skies. Christians, the
greatest part of your knowledge is not as much, as the least part of your
ignorance. This may demolish all proud imaginations. You have no cause to be
conceited of the knowledge you have—but rather to be humbled for what
Think of what a hell of sin you carry about you. Sin is
the accursed thing, Joshua 5:13. It is the quintessence of evil. It is like
a stain to beauty. It was typified by the menstrual cloth, which was the
most unclean thing under the Law. Though you have knowledge, sin eclipses
it. It is as if a woman should have a fair face—but a cancer in her breast!
Your knowledge does not so much adorn you, as sin debases you.
Grace can never thrive where pride and self-conceit grow.
As a body with cancer cannot thrive—so neither can the soul thrive which is
cancered with pride and self-conceit. A proud head—makes a barren
A supercilious conceitedness is odious, and much lessens
any worth in a person. It is like a great flaw in a diamond. The more one
values himself, the less God and angels value him. Let a person be
eminent—yet, if he is self-conceited, he is loved by none. He is like a
physician who has the plague. Though he may be admired for his skill—yet
none care to come near him.
Such as have a high opinion of their own excellencies are
on the fast track to eternal ruin! Either God infatuates them, Isaiah 29:14,
or denies a blessing to their labors, or allows them to fall into some great
sin. Peter, who was so well-conceited of himself, as if he had more grace
than all the Apostles, the Lord let him fall very low! He denied Christ with
an oath, nay, an imprecation, Matthew 26:74. Peter wished a curse on himself
if he knew Christ; nay, some think he cursed Christ.
The Lord sometimes lets vain, conceited people fall—not
only foully, but finally. "The doves," says Pliny, "take pride in their
feathers, and in their flying high at last, they soar so high that they are
prey to the hawk!" So, when men fly high in self-conceitedness, they become
prey to the prince of the air!
Let all this, make us deny our pride; let it kill the
worm of self-conceit. If we are proud of our knowledge—the devil does not
care how much we know. Let Paul be our pattern. Though he was the chief of
the Apostles, he says, "I am less than the least of all God's people."
Ephesians 3:8. "I am nothing." 2 Corinthians 12:11. This illustrious
Apostle, a star of the first magnitude, shrank into nothing in his own eyes.
It is excellent to be like Moses, whose face had a luster on it—but "he was
not aware that his face was radiant." Exodus 34:29.
6. A Christian must deny his APPETITE. The
gluttonous appetite cries, "Give, give!" Proverbs 30:15. Paul beat down his
body, 1 Corinthians 9:27. Such a proportion only is to be taken for the
recruiting of nature, as may help forward God's service. More are hurt by
excess in lawful things--than by meddling with sinful things.
More are killed by wine--than by poison. Many make their belly
their god, Philippians 3:19. And to this god, they pour their drink
offerings! And to
this god, they pour their drink offerings. Clemens Alexandrinus
writes of a fish whose heart is in his belly. This is an emblem of epicures,
whose heart is in their belly; they are devoted to their appetite! Excess in
food or drink clouds the mind, chokes holy affections, and provokes lust.
The foulest weeds grow out of the fattest soil. Intemperance
shortens life—as too much oil extinguishes the lamp. Many dig their
graves, with their teeth! Christ cautioned His Apostles, Luke 21:34, "Be
careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation."
Seneca could say he was born to higher things, than to be a slave to his
body. What a shame is it—that the soul, that princely part, which
sways the scepter of reason, and is akin to the angels, should be enslaved
to the brutish part! Deny the sinful cravings of the flesh. What has
God given conscience for, but to be a golden bridle to check the inordinacy
of the appetite!
7. A Christian must deny his EASE. Proverbs
1:32, "Ease slays the simple." The flesh is prone to sloth and softness. It
is loath to take pains for heaven. Proverbs 19:24, "A slothful man hides his
hand in his bosom." He is loath to pluck it out—though it is to lay hold on
a crown! Weeds and vermin grow in untilled ground, and all vices grow in an
idle, untilled heart. How can they expect to reap a harvest of glory—who
never sowed any seed? Is Satan so busy in his diocese, 1 Peter 5:8, and are
Christians idle? Are they like the lilies—which neither toil, nor spin? O
deny your ease! Seneca, a heather, devoted himself to labor and spent part
of the night in study. Hannibal forced his way over the Alps and craggy
rocks. We must force our way to paradise. Let us shake off sloth—as Paul did
Never think to be brought to heaven as the passengers in
a ship are brought to their ports—while sleeping! 1 Chronicles 22:16, "Arise
and be doing." God puts no difference between the slothful servant and the
wicked servant, "You wicked and lazy servant!" Matthew 25:26. Those slothful
people in Eturia, who like drones enter into the hive and consumed the
honey, were expelled from others and condemned to exile. Such as idle away
the day of grace and fold their hands to sleep when they should be working
out salvation, God will condemn to a perpetual exile in hell.
8. A Christian must deny CARNAL POLICY. This
is the wisdom of the flesh, 2 Corinthians 1:12. Carnal policy is
craft. The politician does not consult what is best for the country—but what
is the safest policy for himself. The politician is made of willow; he can
side with all parties; his religion is cut according to the fashion of the
times; he can bow either to the east or to the west. Zeal for truth,
is blotted out of the politician's creed. Sir Thomas More said that he would
not follow truth too near the heels—lest it should dash out his brains. It
is judged by some a piece of wise policy, not to declare against error for
fear of losing a party.
The Politician is a latitudinarian. He can
go all ways. The ostrich's wings help her to outrun other creatures. Sinful
policy makes men run further than they can, who are of purer consciences. In
short, the politician is like a chameleon, who can change into all
colors—and be of the same mind as his company is. He can be either
serious or feathery. I grant that Christian prudence is
commendable—but the serpent (shrewdness) must not devour the dove
(inoffensiveness). That policy is unjustifiable, which teaches people to
avoid duty. Deny carnal policy; dare to be honest. The best policy is to
hold fast to honesty and integrity.
9. A Christian must deny his inordinate ANGER.
James 1:26, "If any man among you seems to be religious, and bridles not his
tongue, this man's religion is vain." Every member of the body is infected
with sin, as every branch of wormwood is bitter; but the tongue is full
of deadly poison, James 3:8. Augustine compares the tongue to a furnace,
and too often sparks of anger fly out of it! The Holy Spirit once descended
in cloven tongues of fire, Acts 2:3. But the Apostle James speaks of a
tongue that is set on fire of hell, James 3:6. Some cannot rule their own
spirit—but are carried away with their passions as a chariot with wild
horses. "Many," said Jerome, "who will not be drunk with wine—will be drunk
with rash anger." Ecclesiastes 7:9, "Anger rests in the bosom of fools!"
Anger may be in a wise man—but it rests in a fool. There is, I
know, a holy anger against sin—but the fury of anger is the scum
which boils off from an unsavory heart! Anger disturbs reason, and makes a
person unfit for holy duties.
O Christians, deny yourselves! Pray that God will set a
watch before your lips, Psalm 141:4. Labor to quench the fire of wrath—with
a flood of tears! It is recorded of Mr. John Bruen, in the county of
Chester, that though he was naturally of a hasty, angry spirit—yet at length
he got the victory over his passions, and grew so meek and calm that his
very nature seemed to be quite altered. Grace does to the passions what
Christ did to the sea when it was stormy. He said, "Peace, be still." And
there was a great calm. Grace turns the fierceness of the lion—into the
meekness of the dove!
10. A Christian must deny SINFUL FASHIONS.
Romans 12:2, "Be not conformed to this world." That is—do not be conformed
to the fashions and mode of it. If the old Christians were to rise out of
their graves—our new fashions might frighten them into their graves again!
Was there ever such excess in hair? 1 Corinthians 11:14, "Does not even
nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair it is a disgrace to
him." More money is sometimes laid out for a wig to cover one head—than
would clothe twenty poor people. One asked Pastor Dod why he did not preach
against those ruffians who wore long hair. He replied, "If grace
comes into their heart—it will make them cut off their hair."
Nor can the female gender be excused for their excess in
apparel. "The Lord will strip away their artful beauty—their ornaments,
headbands, and crescent necklaces; their earrings, bracelets, and veils of
shimmering gauze. Gone will be their scarves, ankle chains, sashes,
perfumes, and charms; their rings, jewels, party clothes, gowns, capes, and
purses; their mirrors, linen garments, head ornaments, and shawls." Isaiah
3:18-23. Seneca complained of those in his time who hung two or three
houses on their ears! Some wear half their incomes upon their
backs! Lysander would not allow his daughters to be too gorgeously attired,
saying "it would make them more common—than lovely." What
painted faces and bare shoulders appear in the congregations! That
professors should conform and comply with others in their antic dresses, is
a reproach of piety! A tear in the eye—would more adorn than a tower on the
head. O deny yourselves! Pull down these flags of vanity. Have not
God's judgments humbled you? 1 Timothy 2:9, "I want women to be modest in
their appearance. They should wear decent and appropriate clothing and not
draw attention to themselves by the way they fix their hair or by wearing
gold or pearls or expensive clothes." Let the hidden man of the heart, be
beautified and bespangled with grace. Psalm 45:13, "The king's daughter is
all glorious within."
11. A Christian must deny his own AIMS. He
must not look with one eye at piety—and aim at himself with the other eye.
He must not aim at self-enriching and self-applause.
He must not aim at self-enriching. Some espouse
the gospel only for gain. They court this queen, not for her beauty
but for her jewels! It is not the fire of the altar they
regard—but the gold of the altar! 1 Timothy 6:5, "They think that
godliness is a means to financial gain." Camero, a French divine of
Bordeaux, relates a story of one Santangel, a lawyer, who turned Protestant
only out of worldly respects—that he might grow rich.
Judas preached and wrought miracles—but his eye was
chiefly on the money bag. How do many ministers heap benefice upon benefice,
minding the fleece more than the flock! Dumb dogs
(that is, those who are afraid to speak the truth for fear that it will
offend the rich) are greedy dogs. "For the leaders of my
people—the Lord's watchmen, his shepherds—are blind to every danger. They
are like silent watchdogs that give no warning when danger comes.
They love to lie around, sleeping and dreaming. And they are as greedy as
dogs, never satisfied. They are stupid shepherds, all following their own
path, all of them intent on personal gain." Isaiah 56:10-11. These make use
of the ministerial function, only as a net to catch filthy lucre. This is to
be profane in sacred things. It is sordid and unworthy of a Christian, to
make piety bow to secular interest.
A Christian must not aim at self-applause. "Be
careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by
them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven."
Matthew 6:1. They prayed and gave alms—that they might be seen by men. The
oil of vain-glory fed their lamp! Verse 5, "Truly they have their
reward." They might write "Received in full payment." It is a saying of
Spanhemius, that there is in every man by nature—a measure of Pharisaism—a
seeking after the glory and applause of the world. "Everything they do is
done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on
their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most
important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted in the
marketplaces and to have men call them Rabbi." Matthew 23:5-7
Luther confessed that, although he was never tempted with
covetousness—yet he was sometimes with vain-glory! The moth breeds in the
finest cloth; and self-seeking is apt to breed in the best duties. Sinister
aims corrupt piety. A good aim will not make a bad action good—but a bad
aim will make a good action bad.
To blame are they who, when they have done any glorious
service in the church, take the praise themselves, like those heathens who
sacrificed the wax to their gods, but kept the honey to
themselves. Matthew Paris speaks of one who, having in several lectures
proved strenuously that Christ was God, and being highly applauded for it,
cried out saying, "O Jesus, You are indebted to me for Your divinity this
day." Whereupon this doctor was stricken suddenly with a stupidness and
Let this cause trembling and humility in Christians. Some
ships which have escaped the rocks, have been wrecked upon the
sands. Many who have escaped the rocks of gross scandals have
been wrecked upon the sands of self-seeking. Tacitus said he would
not have Erasmus's fame and applause, for all the world. No—but to have
esteem in God's church is a blessing. Hebrews 11:2 "By faith the elders
obtained a good report." Much of the honor of piety depends upon the credit
of those who profess it. But the sin is when self-applause is the only thing
hunted after. Popular applause is the golden arrow which glitters in the
eye—but wounds the heart. How many have been blown to hell with the breath
of popular applause.
O let us deny, yes, abhor this vain-glorious temper. We
have a holy example in John the Baptist, who sought to lift up Christ and
beat down himself. John 1:15, "Someone is coming who is far greater than I
am." It is as if he had said "I am but the herald, the voice of one crying.
Christ, who comes after me, is the Prince. I am but the morning star; He is
the sun. I baptize only with water, He with the Holy Spirit." Thus he sets
the crown of honor upon Christ's head.
When Joab had taken Rabbah, he did not usurp the praise
to himself—but sent for King David that he might carry away the glory of the
victory, 2 Samuel 12:27. So, when any eminent service in church has been
done—the glory of all should be given to Christ and free grace! It is better
that God should approve—than that the world should applaud! If we are
faithful, we shall have honor enough in heaven.
Let this be our chief aim in duty that we may grow more
in love with God and be made more like Him, have more communion with Him,
and bring more revenues of honor to Him. 1 Peter 4:11, "That in all things,
God may be glorified." We should not only advance God's glory, but
design God's glory. It was a worthy speech of Philip de Mornay upon his
deathbed, that he had, through the course of his life, made God's glory his
end and aim. As all the rivers run into the sea, so all our actions must
run into God, the infinite Ocean!
12. A Christian must deny all UNGODLINESS.
Titus 2:11-12, "The grace of God has appeared to all men, teaching us that
denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly." The
Turks say in their Koran—that God did not give men lustful desires to be
frustrated. The scripture gives no license for sin. It bids us to deny
ungodly lusts. It is not likely he will sacrifice his Isaac—his
worldly profits—who will not sacrifice the ram—his vile lusts! A
Christian must deny his malice, revenge, covetousness, uncleanness,
superstition, and heterodoxy. A man may as well go to hell for a drunken
opinion—as a drunken life. And let me especially instance two sins a
Christian must deny:
A Christian must deny the sin of rash censuring.
James 4:11, "Don't speak evil against each other." Some make it a
part of their religion—to criticize others, and clip their credit to make it
weigh lighter. You shall hear them say, "Such a one is proud, factious, and
hypocritical." James 4:12, "Who are you to judge another?" Augustine could
not endure that any should detract from the good name of others.
The root of censoriousness is pride. A
person thinks that by taking away from another's reputation—he shall add
something to his own. But let him who shall raise himself upon the ruin of
another's fame, be warned. Do you think it is no sin to murder a man in his
name? You who are such a critic, it is to be feared you can spy all faults
but your own! O Christian, look inward. If you viewed your own spots more in
the looking-glass of the Word, you would not be as ready to throw the
stone of censure at others. Deny this sin of rash censuring and
smiting with the tongue, Jeremiah 18:18. You who speak reproachfully of
your brother without a cause, the time may come that he may be accepted—and
you rejected! He may be found gold—and you reprobate silver!
A Christian must deny his besetting complexion sin.
Psalm 12:23, "I have kept myself from my iniquity." As there
is one master bee in the hive, so there is naturally one master sin in the
heart. This must be denied. The devil can hold a man fast by one sin. A
jailer can hold the prisoner fast by one fetter. One sin is enough to stop
the current of mercy. One sin may damn as well as more, just as one
millstone is enough to sink a man into the sea. If there is any lust which
we cannot deny, it will be a bitter root either of scandal or apostasy.
13. A Christian must deny his RELATIONS. Luke
14:26, "If any man comes to me and hates not father and mother and wife and
children, he cannot be My disciple." The meaning is, when carnal relations
come in competition with Christ, or stand in opposition to
Christ—we must hate them. When our friends would prove snares, and hinder
us from our duty, we must either leap over them or tread upon them! Here
is faith in God. "If my wife," said Jerome, "should hang about my neck, and
persuade me to deny Christ, I would break from her and fly to the cross!"
When Peter would be a tempter, Christ said, "Get behind Me, Satan."
14. A Christian must deny his ESTATE for Christ.
A carnal heart will commend and profess Christ—but will part with nothing for
Him. The young man in the gospel was Christ's hearer—but not His
follower. "He had heavenly desires—but an earthly appetite," as one has
said. When Christ said to him, "Sell all and give to the poor," he went away
sorrowful, Matthew 19:22. When riches are joined with a bad heart, they do
much hurt. The world lay nearer the young man's heart than Christ.
Have some of the heathens denied the world? Epaminondes,
a Grecian captain who obtained many glorious victories, was a great despiser
of the world. He refused vast sums of money sent him from the King of
Persia, so that when he died he left scarcely enough to defray the charges
of his funeral. Did a heathen go thus far in denying the world, and shall
not Christians do much more? Let the wedge of gold be denied for the
pearl of great price. Matthew 19:27, "We have forsaken all and
followed You." A true saint esteems the gleanings of Christ better
than the world's vintage. Philippians 3:8, "For whom I have suffered
the loss of all things."
Galeacius, marquess of Vico, parted with a fair estate to
enjoy the pure ordinances of Christ at Geneva. When a Jesuit persuaded him
to return to his popish religion in Italy, promising him a huge sum of
money, he said, "Let their money perish with them, who esteem all the gold
in the world worth one hour's communion with Jesus Christ and His Holy
15. A Christian must deny his LIFE for Christ.
This is in the text, "Let him take up his cross." Suffering
for Christ must be voluntary and spontaneous. He who suffers against his
will—bears the cross; he who suffers willingly—takes up the
cross. A fair virgin fell in love with Crates for his learning. He showed
her his staff and his scrip. "This," he said, "is your i." Christ shows
us His cross. If we will not have Him upon these terms, the match is
not likely to go on. Sufferings are waiting for us, Acts 20:23. "Everyone
who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution." 2
Timothy 3:12. The devil has not grown kinder. "Your enemy the devil
prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour!" 1 Peter
Some think of reigning with Christ—but not of
suffering with Christ. Joseph dreamed of his advancement, but not
of his imprisonment.
The flesh cries out, That cross is painful! There are
nails in that cross which tear me!"
But life must be denied, yes, hated for
Christ. Luke 14:26, "If any man comes to Me and hates not father and mother
and his own life, he cannot be My disciple." Love for Christ must outweigh
life. Revelation 12:11, "They loved not their lives to the death." Paul
carried the image of Christ in his heart as a saint, and the message of
Christ in his body as a martyr, Galatians 6:17. The primitive worthies
snatched up torments as so many crowns, and were content to shed their blood
for Christ, knowing they would exchange their bloody robes-for white ones.
The prophet Isaiah was sawn in half. Jeremiah was killed by stoning. Amos was
killed with an iron bar. Luke was hanged on an olive tree.
I read that Irenaeus was carried to a place where a cross
was set on one side and an idol on the other. He was given a choice either
to bow to the idol—or suffer on the cross. He chose the latter.
Basil speaks of a virgin condemned to the fire. She was
offered her life and estate if she would bow down to an image. She answered,
"Let life and money go; welcome Christ!"
Though every Christian is not actually a martyr—yet he
has a preparation of mind, and is ready to suffer—if God calls. Luther said
he would rather be a martyr than a monarch. Let us then, take
up the cross.
Can wicked men be content to suffer for their lusts, and
shall we not suffer for Christ? We are to look upon our sufferings as a
badge of honor. If we receive honor when we are reproached for
Christ, much more shall we receive it when we die for Him. 1 Peter
4:14, "If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed,
for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you." Our sufferings for Christ
propagate piety. Paul's being imprisoned made the gospel to be more
enlarged, Philippians 1:12. Justin Martyr was converted to the faith by
beholding the heroic patience and courage of the Christians in their
The cross leads to the crown. 2 Timothy 2:12, "If we
suffer, we shall also reign with Him." Who would not be willing to venture
on the seas, though rough and tempestuous, if he were sure to be crowned as
soon as he came ashore? Persecutors may take away from us our goods—but
not our God. They may take away our liberty—but not our
freedom of conscience. They may take off our head—but not our crown!
He who cannot deny his life for Christ, will deny Christ.
And he who is ashamed of Christ, Christ will be ashamed of him. Mark 8:38,
"Whoever shall be ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful
generation, of him shall the Son of Man be ashamed when He comes in the
glory of His Father with His holy angels."
3. The GROUND of the Proposition
The grand reason why we must deny ourselves, is because
we can be saved no other way. A town or castle may have several ways leading
to it. But there is only one way leading to the celestial paradise, and that
is self-denial. Without self-denial, we can never come up to Christ's terms.
If the world cannot be denied—Christ cannot be trusted. If the will is not
denied—Christ cannot be obeyed. Therefore, self-denial is absolute
necessity to enter heaven.
4. An INFERENCE Drawn from the Proposition
From all that has been said, see how hard a thing it is
to be a Christian. Were it only to put on the mantle of profession,
it would be easy. Even Satan can transform himself into an angel of light, 2
Corinthians 11:14. But a man must deny himself. This self-emptying or
self-annihilation is the strait gate through which a Christian must enter
into the kingdom of God. He is not to deny only those things which are
outside of him—his worldly profits; but those which are within
him—his sins, nay, his righteousness. Self is an idol, and it is hard to
sacrifice this idol; but this must be done. Either carnal self must be
denied, or we cannot truly follow Christ.
5. A Check to Epicures and Sensualists
This justly indicts those who live in a contradiction to
the text, who instead of denying themselves—they let loose the reins and
give themselves up to all manner of pleasure and licentiousness.
Ecclesiastes 7:4, "The heart of fools is in the house of mirth." The prophet
calls them fools—who do not mortify the flesh—but gratify the
flesh. "You push away every thought of coming disaster, but your actions
only bring the day of judgment closer. How terrible it will be for you who
sprawl on ivory beds surrounded with luxury, eating the meat of tender lambs
and choice calves. You sing idle songs to the sound of the harp." Amos
6:3-5. Pleasure enchants men's minds, and transforms them into beasts!
There is a place in Africa called Tombutium where the
inhabitants spend all their time in singing and dancing. And have we not
many who consume their hours in plays and brothels? As if God has made them
like the leviathan—to play in the sea (Psalm 104:26). How will their
countenances be changed when God shall say, "Give an account of your
stewardship!" These frolicking sensualists live as if there were no world to
come. They pamper their bodies—but starve their souls! As if one
should feed his dog—but starve his wife!
Do epicures deny themselves? Indeed, in one sense they
do. Enjoying their lusts—they deny themselves a part in heaven! In
the country of Sardinia there is an herb-like balm, that if a man eats of
it, he shall die laughing. Such an herb is 'pleasure'. If one feeds
immoderately on it, he will go laughing to hell.
Esau lost the blessing while he was hunting. O! How many,
while they are hunting after worldly pleasures, lose eternal blessedness?
There is a 'sin cup' brewing which will spoil the sinner's mirth.
Psalm 75:8, "For the Lord holds a cup in his hand; it is full of foaming
wine mixed with spices. He pours the wine out in judgment, and all the
wicked must drink it, draining it to the dregs." This wine is the wrath of
God, and it is mixed; the never-dying worm and the eternal fire
are mixed the cup! The Lord will proportion a sinner's torment to his
pleasure. Revelation 18:7, "She has lived in luxury and pleasure, so match
it now with torments and sorrows!"
6. The Lack of Self-Denial Lamented
In the next place, we may sadly lay to heart the lack of
self-denial. O self-denial, where have you gone? We live in a knowing
age—yet few know how to deny themselves! Selfishness is the reigning sin
of the world. This makes the times have a bad aspect. 2 Timothy 3:1-2,
"Perilous times shall come—for men shall be lovers of themselves."
SELF may have divers actions brought against it. It is an
enemy to the public. James 4:1, "Whence come wars?" Whence is robbery and
bribery? Whence is oppression and drunkenness, but from those selfish lusts
which men cannot conquer? When Lentulus had declared Tiberius Caesar to be
his heir in his will, so brutally selfish was Caesar, that he sent and
killed Lentulus that he might have immediate possession of his goods.
Self-denial lodges but in a few hearts. It is a sacred,
exotic herb which has grown very scarce. Luke 18:8, "When the Son of Man
comes, shall He find faith on the earth?" May it not be said, "Shall He find
self-denial on the earth?" Self-denial has gone on a long pilgrimage, and
who can tell when it will return?
7. PERSUASIVES to Self-Denial
My next work is to persuade Christians to the practice of
this momentous duty of self-denial. Man lost himself at first by
self-exaltation, and he must recover himself by self-denial.
1. Self-denial is just and equal. How much has
Christ denied Himself for us? He eclipsed His glory, Philippians 2:7, "He
denied Himself." What a wonderful self-denial was it for Christ to leave His
Father's bosom and be incarnate! For Christ to be made flesh, was
more than for all the angels to be made worms! Christ denied His name
and reputation, Hebrews 12:2, "He endured the shame." He denied
worldly grandeurs and riches. 1 Corinthians 8:9, "For our
sakes He became poor." A feeding trough was His cradle, the cobwebs His
curtains. He denied His life, Philippians 2:8, "He became obedient to
death." It is but equity—that we should deny ourselves for Christ.
2. Self-denial is the sign of a sincere Christian.
Hypocrites may have great knowledge and make fair pretenses—but it is only
the sincere saint who can deny himself and lay his life at Christ's feet.
This was a touchstone of Moses' sincerity. He denied the pleasures of the
court—and chose affliction rather than iniquity, Hebrews 11:25.
I have read of a holy man who was once tempted by Satan.
Satan said to him, "Why do you take all these pains? What do you do, more
than I? Are you no drunkard, no adulterer? Neither am I. Do you watch? I
never sleep. Do you fast? I never eat. What do you do, more than I?"
"Why," said the good man, "I tell you, Satan, I give
myself to prayer, nay, more, I deny myself."
"Nay," said the devil, "you go beyond me, for I exalt
myself." And so he vanished.
3. Self-denial is a rational thing. For if
self is an enemy—then it is wisdom to discard it. There is a rationality
in all God's commands. Why would He have us deny fleshly lusts—but because
they wage war against our souls! 1 Peter 2:11. Why would He have us deny
pride—but because of its harmful quality! Proverbs 16:18 "Pride goes before
destruction." Where pride leads the van, destruction brings up the rear!
God would have us deny nothing for him—but that which will damn us if we
4. There is nothing lost by self-denial. We
shall be abundantly compensated. Matthew 19:29, "Everyone who has given up
houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or property,
for my sake, will receive a hundred times as much in return and will have
eternal life." If we deny our name and reputation for Christ, God will give
us inward peace. There is "a hundredfold" in this life, and He will honor us
before the angels. How many hundredfolds that amounts to, I am not able to
tell. If we deny our estate to keep our conscience, God will give us a
kingdom, Luke 12:32. What does he lose, who parts with a flower—and
gets a precious jewel! We may lose all we have for Christ—yet lose
nothing by Him.
8. HELPS to Self-Denial
For the attaining of self-denial, let these rules be
1. Be convinced of the incomparable excellency of Christ.
He is the quintessence of goodness. He is compared to a head of gold—for
riches, Song of Solomon 5:10; to the Rose of Sharon—for perfume, Song
of Solomon 2:1; to a bright morning star—for beauty, Revelation
22:16. Jesus Christ is all that is good and lovely. He is all we can require
for satisfaction, or that we can desire for salvation. He is fully
commensurate to our needs. He has eye salve to anoint us, white
raiment to cover us, and His blood to heal us. We shall never
deny ourselves for Christ—until we see glory and a beauty in Him. Christ is
all marrow and sweetness. He is better than life, estate, or heaven!
2. Endeavor after a vital principle of grace.
Grace will do that which flesh and blood cannot do. A man may do that by
skill—which he cannot do by strength. A burden of great weight
may be lifted up by pulleys, which cannot be lifted up by strength of arm.
Grace will teach one the art of self-denial, which cannot be done by
strength of nature. In particular, labor for three graces.
Humility. A proud man admires himself;
therefore he cannot deny himself. A humble man lays his mouth in the
dust. He has lower thoughts of himself, than others can have of him. He
renounces himself. He opens to God as the flower opens to the sun. He will
have—what God will have for him. He will be—what God will have
him be. He is like melting wax. God may set whatever stamp and impression He
will, upon him. The humble man is the self-denier.
Love. Who will not deny himself for a friend
whom he loves? He will part with anything he has. He will gratify him who he
loves, though it is to his own loss. He whose heart is fired with love for
Christ—will stop at nothing for His sake. Gregory Nazianzen said of his
Athenian learning, that he was glad he had anything of worth, to esteem as
nothing, for Christ. Love for God will devour self-love.
Faith. Abraham was a great self-denier. He
left his kindred and country and was willing to travel to any place where
God would have him. Whence was this? It was from his faith. Hebrews 11:8,
"By faith Abraham obeyed and went out, not knowing where he went." He who
believes that Christ and heaven are his—what will he not relinquish for
Christ's sake? The stronger a Christian's faith is, the more eminent will
his self-denial be.
3. Pray much for self-denial. Prayer sets God
to work, Psalm 10:17. Let this be your grand request—a self-denying frame of
heart. Self-denial does not grow in nature's soil. It is a fruit of the
Spirit. Beg God that He will plant this heavenly flower in your soul. Say,
"Lord, whatever You deny me, do not deny me self-denial. Let me
rather lack great abilities, nay, let me lack the comforts of the
Spirit—rather than self-denial."
There may be going to heaven without comfort—but there is
no going there without self-denial.