IF ANY MAN WILL COME AFTER ME, LET HIM DENY HIMSELF. MATT. xvi. 24
Consider first, that the disciple of Jesus Christ, by the rule of the gospel, is not only obliged to renounce, (at least in affection,) all things else for the sake of his master, but what is the hardest of all, he must also renounce and deny himself. And this his renouncing of himself is absolutely insisted upon by our Lord, as the first, the most essential, and the most indispensable condition for every one that would come after him, and belong to him. Yes, Christians, there is that irreconcilable opposition between this self, strangely corrupted by sin, surrounded with darkness, and bent upon evil, and the purity and sanctity of Jesus Christ, and the bright light of his truth, that there is no coming, in a proper manner, at the one without renouncing the other; there is no coming at divine charity, which teaches us to love our God with our whole heart, (the principal of all Christian duties,) without declaring an eternal war with self-love, the capital enemy to the love of God, and the parent of all vices. And therefore we are not only commanded in the gospel to renounce and to deny ourselves, in order to follow Christ, but also to hate ourselves, or as it is expressed in the original, (Luke xiv. 26, and John xii. 25,) to hate our souls in this world in order to save them in the next. See, my soul, upon what conditions thou art to be a disciple of the Son of God; thou must not only renounce all things else, thou must also renounce and hate thyself too.
Consider 2ndly, the grounds upon which is founded this strict obligation of denying and of renouncing ourselves in this world: namely, that we may be in a proper condition to give ourselves up entirely to God; and thus leaving ourselves, may find him, and be eternally his. So that in effect, this denying and renouncing ourselves is the best way we can have of loving ourselves, because it procures us the greatest good, and brings us to our sovereign good. As on the other hand, that unhappy self-seeking and loving to gratify ourselves brings misfortunes upon us, both for time and eternity. If then we are to renounce the affections to all things else, in order to follow Christ, lest the love of them should divide our heart, and take it off from him – how much more are we to renounce self-love for the love of him, as being much stronger than all our other affections; and far more apt to captivate our heart and shut out the love of God? Yes, my soul, thy self-love is indeed the greatest enemy both of thy God, and of thy own true and everlasting welfare, and therefore thou must not only renounce it, but abhor it too, with almost perfect hatred, and turn all thy forces against it in order to abolish and destroy it.
Consider 3rdly, and attend to the sentiments of a great servant of God upon this subject. ‘My son, thou must give all for all, and be nothing of thy own. Know that the love of thyself is more hurtful to thee than anything in the world… Thou canst not possess perfect liberty unless thou wholly deny thyself. All self-seekers and self-lovers are bound in fetters, full of desires, full of cares, unsettled and seeking always their own ease, and not the things of Jesus Christ, but oftentimes devising and framing that which shall not stand; for all shall come to nothing that proceeds not from God. Take this short and perfect word: “Forsake all, and thou shalt find all; leave thy desires, and thou shalt find rest.” Consider this well, and when thou shalt have put it in practice, thou shalt understand all things.’ – Following of Christ, 1. iii., c. 27 and 32. And again: “Son, as much as thou canst go out of thyself, so much shall thou be able to enter into me. As the desiring of nothing abroad brings peace at home, so the relinquishing thyself interiorly joins thee to God. I will have thee learn the perfect renouncing of thyself in my will, without contradiction or complaint. Follow me, I am the way, the truth, and the life. If thou wilt be my disciple, deny thyself,’ c. 56. My soul, let these be thy sentiments also, and strive to conform thy practice to them.
Conclude to give up both thyself and all things else to follow Christ, and by following him to come at thy sovereign good, and to enjoy him for all eternity. If thou wert to give ten thousand worlds to purchase such a treasure, all that thou wouldst give would fall infinitely short of the value of it.