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Showing How The “Old Man” Daily Dies, And The “New Man” Is Daily Renewed, In A True Christian; Also, Wherein Self-Denial Consists, And What Is Meant By The Christian's Cross.
If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.—Luke 9:23.
It is the charge of the apostle Paul, “Put off the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” Eph. 4:22-24. And in another of his Epistles, he gives us a reason for doing so: “Ye are not your own; for ye are bought with a price; therefore, glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's.” 1 Cor. 6:19, 20.
2. We have already noticed what is meant by the old man; namely, pride, covetousness, lasciviousness, unrighteousness, wrath, enmity, hatred, etc.; all of which must die in the Christian, if ever the new man arise in him again, and is day by day renewed.
3. In proportion as the old man dies, the new man is quickened. As pride loses its influence, humility, by the grace of God the Holy Spirit, succeeds; as wrath yields, meekness advances; as covetousness is done away, trust in God is increased; and as the love of the world is removed, the love of God takes its place in the soul, and becomes more and more vigorous and ardent. In this consists the renovation of the new man. This is the fruit of the Spirit; this is practical and living faith (Gal. 5:22); this is Christ in us; this is the new command of Christ and new obedience; this is the result of the new birth in us, in which thou must live if thou desirest to be a child of God; for those only who so live have a right to be so called.
4. This is the reason why a man ought now to deny himself; to renounce his own honor and will, his own love and pleasure, and all his profit and interest in the world; and why he ought freely to give up his own right and life, and consider himself unworthy of everything that Providence bestows upon him. A real Christian, who is endued with the humility of Christ, readily owns that no man 46 can lay claim to even the least of those benefits that descend from above, because they are all gifts, and freely proceed from the goodness of God. On this account he uses all as being really the property of God, with fear and trembling; not to promote his own pleasure and satisfaction, his own profit and praise, but from necessity alone, and because he cannot otherwise subsist.
5. Let a true Christian who denies himself, and a false Christian who is filled with inordinate self-love, be compared together. If an affront be offered to the latter, you may soon behold his anger rising, and visible marks of passion and discontent; and these are, not unfrequently, followed up by reproachful language and actions, by a spirit of revenge, and sometimes by imprecations and curses. All this proceeds from the old man, whose proper character it is to be angry and bitter, and to exhibit rancor and asperity. On the contrary, he that is a Christian indeed, and has sincerely begun to practice self-denial, is gentle, patient, and ready to forgive; free from a revengeful spirit; full of compassion and tenderness; and esteems himself worthy of all the sufferings which Providence may be pleased to allot to him. These qualities are all included in self-denial.
6. In the exercise of this patience, meekness, and lowliness of mind, our Lord Jesus Christ has set us an example by willingly denying himself. “The Son of man,” he says, “came not to be ministered unto, but to minister” (Matt. 20:28); and again, “I am among you as he that serveth” (Luke 22:27); and in another place, “The Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” Luke 9:58. David, when reviled by Shimei, practised the duty of self-denial, for his words were: “The Lord hath said unto him, Curse David.” 2 Sam. 16:10. As if he had said: “I am a worm in the sight of God, and deserve to suffer far worse things.” And thus have all the saints and prophets of God freely denied their own will, and esteemed themselves unworthy of every blessing. They bore the burden of their day with patience (Acts 5:40, 41); they cursed not when they were cursed; they blessed their persecutors, and prayed for them by whom they were slaughtered (Acts 7:60); and thus, “through much tribulation, entered into the kingdom of God.” Acts 14:22.
7. This was true when they acknowledged themselves unworthy of any favor, but worthy of all the evils that could befall them.
8. Now, this self-denial is the cross of Christ, which he has encouraged us to bear, saying: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” Luke 9:23. This self-denying life is a severe cross to the flesh; the natural man desires a life free from restraint and contradiction, and would follow the inclination of his own will, and seek after his own ease and pleasure, rather than the humility, patience, and meekness of Christ, with the other graces of his life and example.
9. But whatever opposition the old man may raise for a time, he has received the sentence of death, and if thy soul be ever saved, he must surely die. For never canst thou be clothed with the humility of Christ unless thy natural pride be first subdued; nor canst thou feel a love of his poverty unless thy avarice and thy love of the world be first overcome. Thou wilt not be able to follow Christ in the contempt of vainglory, nor to endure 47 the reproach of his cross, until thine ambition be rooted out; nor wilt thou ever express in thy life the meekness and patience of Jesus until thy revengeful spirit be inwardly mortified.
10. These are the spiritual exercises which the Scriptures mean when they speak of denying ourselves, of bearing the cross of Christ, and of following him,—exercises that are submitted to, not with any expectation of profit, merit, reward, interest, or praise, but from pure love to the Saviour, and because Christ hath passed through all this before us, and “hath left us an example that we should follow his steps.” Since the image of God is the greatest dignity of man, we ought the more earnestly to practise the duty of self-denial, by which that image, effaced by sin, is revived within us. And as this is the highest honor of which our nature is susceptible, so is it the strongest inducement that can possibly be suggested to endear to us the practice of self-denial.
11. Why, then, should man so eagerly desire the fading honors of this world, which, however they may raise him in the estimation of his fellow-mortals, render him in no degree more acceptable in the sight of God. The great and the wise have bodies composed of flesh and blood as the meanest and the most despised; so that, in this respect, no man has the slightest superiority over another. One is born even as the other, and dies even as the other; for the beginning and end of all men, as to this world, is alike. What folly then is it to covet worldly honors and the praise of men! Such desires spring from the root of self-love, that bane of the soul, that seed of all spiritual diseases, by which the heart of man is turned from God to the world, and from Christ to self. How incapable and how backward is the lover of himself to obey the words of the blessed Redeemer, and to lose his life for His sake that he may save it. This is a paradox hostile to the inclinations of the “old nature,” and therefore but little considered by the bulk of mankind.
12. Alas! how small is the number of those who have a thorough knowledge of the depraved life of the old Adam, or who heartily strive against it! And yet, if ever we would rescue our souls from perdition, we must die to it and to all its restless workings. Whatever corruptions have been entailed on us by Adam, must be removed in Christ. In his humility, our pride and ambition must expire; in beholding his poverty, our thirst after earthly things must die away. The contemplation of his bitter sufferings should subdue our sensual lusts; the reproaches which he endured, and the entire resignation with which he submitted to the contempt of the world, should restrain us from the pursuit of worldly honors, and from the indulgence of anger and passion.
13. He who is thus dead to himself, will also readily die to the world, its pomps, and wealth, and honors, and pleasures, solacing himself with those higher riches, dignities, and enjoyments, to which he is admitted by faith in Christ. He becomes, indeed, “a stranger upon the earth” (Ps. 39:12), but he is the friend of Christ, and Christ will comfort his heart with the light of his countenance here, and with joy everlasting and unutterable in the world to come.
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