And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour.
~ Matthew 10:38-39, John 12:25-26
But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world;
~ Acts 4:19, Titus 2:12
Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.
~ Hebrews 11:35, Philippians 3:11
Self-Denial, by Wilhelmus à Brakel. This is from Chapter 65 of his work, The Christians Reasonable Service. 2nd of February, 1700.
The denial of self issues forth out of love for the will of God, and a being content with that will. In Greek we have the word (aparneomai), which is derived from (arneomai). This means a total, complete, and radical rejecting and casting away of property and honour. It means a relinquishing dominion over, denial of, renunciation of, a not knowing or acknowledging something to be one’s property, and thus a forsaking of and desisting from it (Heb 11:24). It is also referred to with other words, such as the mortifying of one’s members which are upon earth (Col 3:5), the putting off of the old man (Eph 4:22), and a crucifying of the flesh with the affections (Gal 5:24).
Self-denial is a Christian virtue, granted by God to His children, whereby they, out of love for God’s will, neither give heed nor yield to their intellect, will, and inclinations insofar as they are in opposition to the will of God and oppose and suppress them instead. They do so by a voluntary forsaking and rejection of all that pertains to their natural well-being, if God’s cause demands such from them this to the honour of God and the welfare of their neighbours.
Self-denial is, first of all, a Christian virtue. Pagans have observed that their inner peace has been disturbed by their lusts. Some therefore sought to extinguish them by way of reason and appeared to practice self-denial in regard to some things.
However, it did not issue forth from the right motive love for the will of God. They did not have the right objective in view, but rather it was a seeking of self (be it in a different manner from others), resting in this as their peace and seeking to be honoured by men.
Their self-denial was thus a splendid sin which had a counterfeit lustre, and was not accompanied by deeds.
Our reference here, however, is to the self-denial of a Christian as being exclusive of all inordinate self-love (and self-reliance which issues forth from this) and seeking of self. Such self-denial issues forth from love for the will of God and culminates in the glorification of God.
Secondly, the moving cause of self-denial is the Lord and not man himself. Man is too deeply immersed in self-love to be able to rid himself from it. And even if he could divorce himself from this, he would not be able to bring himself into the opposite virtuous disposition. Self-denial does not consist in a negation, but is rather a propensity. It is the Lord who grants this grace to His children, for He grants them spiritual life in regeneration (Eph 2:1; James 1:18). Through this virtuous disposition He causes them to be active and thus works in them to will and to do (Phil 2:13). He particularly works in them the mortification of sin:… but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live (Rom 8:13). God, having given life in the soul, stirs up this life and renders it active by His prevening and cooperative power. The believer, uniting himself by faith with Christ and through Christ with God takes hold of His strength as his own, and by reason of this received strength is active in mortifying sin within him. God is thus the original cause, and man having been affected by this power, is himself active in the casting out of sinful self-love and its consequences, as well as in purifying and adorning himself with the contrary virtue. Let us cleanse ourselves (2 Cor 7:1); … work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do (Phil 2:12-13).
Thirdly, the subjects of self denial are the children of God. The unconverted are void of all spiritual life and therefore the motions and operation of life cannot come forth from them. Rather, it is a gift to God’s children as presently being in a converted and believing state. They are those who are Christ’s disciples and follow Him (Matt 16:24). Self-denial does not consist in a few deeds, but is rather a propensity and disposition of the heart. Their heart has been turned away from self-love and a seeking of self albeit imperfectly. The one has made more progress in this respect than the other. The stronger this disposition is, the stronger and more pure the deeds will also be. What is true for all virtues is true for this virtue: In their essence they have been infused by God and are strengthened by way of much exercise. This is the reason why the one progresses in the one virtue and the other in another virtue. Once this virtue has become deeply rooted, the person who practices self-denial will have much inner peace. He will not so readily be enticed to entertain ulterior motives, or be envious, wrathful, and guilty of misuse of words all of which frequently issue forth in a rash manner due to self-love and a seeking of self. He does not fear evil tidings, harm, or whatever may externally affect him, but is quiet and thoughtful, while at the same time engaging in his duty with boldness. All of these do not move him, and all that he does renders him pleasant to all before God and before men.
Fourthly, the object of self-denial is man himself. God has created self-love in man, and mandates the exercise of this love in the second table of the law by giving command that we are to love our neighbour as ourselves (Matt 22:39). After the fall, however, love has become entirely distorted, as it causes man to be opposed to God, to make himself as God, and wanting all to end in man. This principle governs fallen man in his operations, and he wants everyone to function toward him in harmony with this principle.
What Self-Denial is Not
One must not deny his spiritual self, that is, one’s regenerated self, which Paul refers to as I in Rom 7:20. This is the sin of many true, but nevertheless weak, believers: Upon falling into a sin, the arising of a sinful thought, and an assault by the devil, they immediately reject their spiritual state and think, I have no grace; I have deceived myself and it has been nothing more than imagination. To do this is to deny received benefits and in some measure a grieving of the Holy Ghost. This is a manifestation of pride, for it suggests that we are naturally much more virtuous than others, as well as that the former good spiritual frames, motions, and deeds had come about by our own strength.
Therefore, refrain from rejecting your spiritual state; preserve what you have, and render honour to God.
One must also not deny his natural self; that is, the inclination to promote the well-being of the body or one’s health, the inclination for food, drink, clothing, etc. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church (Eph 5:29). If, however, this inclination stands in opposition to Christ and His cause, we must deny all this and deem it to be but loss and dung.
We must also not deny the desire for the well-being of our soul, the fear of hell, the desire for faith, hope, and love, and a desire for communion with God and felicity. This was one of the erroneous arguments of the Labbadists whose activities the Lord has overturned.
They insisted that love for all this since it would make us happy should be rejected as impure and abominable before God and that one ought not to come to Christ with such love in order to become a partaker of Him. They insisted that one should first have died to and denied this, for else one would make Christ a servant of sin and of the sinner; or else, one should only come to Christ from the perspective of and out of love for the glorification of God for His very own sake. In this they hindered poor souls, as they would first teach the denial of love for these spiritual benefits and their salvation, bring them to view the glory of God and stir up love to glorify Him for His very own sake. Only then they would lead them to Christ. They thus misled longing souls, and made themselves guilty of the damnation of the souls of those who, as a consequence of this, have died unconverted among them. They thus opposed the Word of God which stimulates man, either by fear for evil or by a desire for salvation, to run to Christ and to believe in Him.
The Specific Aspects of Self-Denial
Instead one must deny his sinful self; that is, there must be a denial of the old Adam in general with all his motions and desires whatever the nature and contrary to whatever commandment these motions may be, and whatever the faculty of the soul and of the body may be by which such motions are executed.
Specifically, one must, first of all, deny his natural and darkened intellect; that is, to refuse to make a rule of doctrine and life. We do so when we say, I understand “x” to mean this, and I cannot comprehend it any other way. This I may abstain from, this I may do, and this is not sin. One then relies upon such argumentation. However, the natural man does not understand the things which are of the Spirit of God (1 Cor 2:14). We must renounce this corrupt intellect and not give heed to or follow it. Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor 10:5).
Secondly, we must deny our own will. Man wants to have his own way no matter what the cost. If he has an impure lust, it must be satisfied. If he has the lust of gluttony, it must be satisfied. He wants to do whatever pleases him, and he says, Who is lord over me? Others must also behave according to his wishes and, as a king, he would wish to prescribe laws and to have that all would end in him, as if he were a god. If this does not occur, he becomes dissatisfied, envious, wrathful, and vengeful. The man who seeks himself thus becomes an abomination before God and man. The Lord Jesus said, … not as I will (Matt 26:39), and He teaches us to pray, Thy will be done (Matt 6:10).
Thirdly, we must deny our inclinations. Natural man is empty and desires to be filled. He does not know God as the all-sufficient One and he has no desire after God. His passions therefore focus on the creature and he says to whoever appears to be capable of entertaining him, be thou my satisfaction. He does not cease desiring until he gets what he wants; and if he does not get it, he becomes restless and fretful. To such inclinations we must not yield. Dearly beloved, I beseech you … abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul (1 Pet 2:11).
Fourthly, we must deny our own honour. There is no sin more common to man and more deeply rooted in the heart than a desire to be honoured. Even if one has the most despicable disposition and even if his conduct is abominable, he nevertheless wishes to be honoured and somewhat esteemed. In all that he does he has his honour in view, wanting others to acknowledge and treat him according to what he imagines himself to be and considers himself worthy of. He who fails to do so, or does something which appears to dishonour him, must expect his wrath. Such an objective and such a desire we must purge ourselves of. Let us not be desirous of vain glory (Gal 5:26); Let nothing be done through … vainglory (Phil 2:3).
Fifthly, we must deny our desire for possessions. Man’s corrupt nature focuses on the physical. He desires to possess much, puts his trust in it, and determines to live from it. If he lacks all this, he is discouraged; all his passions, objectives, and seeking are solely focused on possessions. If he acquires it, he is encouraged and rests in it. A person who denies himself, however, is satisfied with necessities and purges himself of a desire to have much. If he does not have much, he is well satisfied; and if he prospers, he does not set his heart upon it. We find the following exhortation in 1 Tim 6:8-9: And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. If the cause of Christ requires it, the person who denies self will relinquish all that he has even that which is needful and deem all that stands in opposition to Christ to be no more than loss and dung, as Paul did (Phil 3:8).
Sixthly, we must deny our friends. Man will very readily cleave to another person who either loves or pleases him. Father, mother, children, husband, or wife are very dear to the heart. God commands appropriate love in the second table of the law; however, we so readily make an idol of them, cleave to them in an inordinate manner, and rely upon and put our trust in them. The person who denies self purges himself of such inordinate cleaving particularly if it draws him away from the genuine practice of religion and the profession of the Lord Jesus. Then he knows no father, child, or friend. He that loveth father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me (Matt 10:37); If any man come to Me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple (Luke 14:26).
Seventhly, we must deny our life. It is the duty of a Christian to preserve his life. To cleave to it, however, as if it were tantamount to salvation and felicity itself and thus to quake and tremble when thinking about death issues forth either out of ignorance concerning eternal glory, from not believing that we are partakers of this, or due to a condemning conscience conveying to us that we shall be eternally damned if we die in such a condition. A Christian must therefore not be so attached to his life, but must by faith commend it into the hands of his Father and rest in this. If then the cause of Christ is at stake, and we must either forsake our life or forsake and deny Christ, the person who denies self will surrender his life and will be glad that he has something precious which he may yield to Christ. If any man come to Me, and hate not … his own life also, he cannot be My disciple (Luke 14:26); But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself (Acts 20:24).
The Motivation for Self-Denial: Love for the Will of God
The essence of self-denial is that its acts ensue out of love for the will of God. It is the believer’s desire neither to give heed nor yield to his desires concerning the aforementioned matters, insofar as they are contrary to the will of God, but rather to oppose and purge himself of them.
(1) He does so out of love for the will of God. Man will not forsake that which he loves except there be something superior which he loves more. A person who denies self loves God above all that exists also far above himself. Since he loves God above all, he also loves God’s will above all also above his own will. Since God loves holiness and hates sin, and since God commands the one thing and forbids the other, he also loves the one and hates the other.
(2) From this love proceeds that he does not give heed to his lusts.
He does not lend his ear to them, nor does he even consider whether he will conform to his desires.
(3) He does not yield to them. He does not do the will of the flesh nor of the mind. He is neither a servant of his desires and lusts, nor does he obey them.
(4) Rather, he resists his lusts when they surface, suppresses them, and promptly casts them out as one, without hesitation, would shake off fire from his clothes.
(5) Yes, he roots them out, for he cannot endure that lusts continually arise in his evil heart. He is not satisfied with rejecting lusts as they arise, but does not even want them to arise. He therefore seeks for a purer motive. He purifies his heart by faith, strives for communion with God, and endeavours to fear and love God, so that his heart may attain to a holier disposition. Desires will arise out of such a heart which are more holy and less sinful, and thereby the regenerated man will have more power to deny the lusts of the flesh.
(6) Yes, if the cause of Christ necessitates it, he will be more ready and willing to depart from all that which he was permitted to have and enjoy without sinning in doing so it being the will of God that he surrender all for Him and His cause. In this manner the person who denies self will know whether having possessions is contrary to or agrees with the will of God.
The Objective of Self-Denial: The Glory of God and the Welfare of Our Neighbour
The objective of self-denial is to glorify God and to promote the welfare of our neighbour.
(1) The objective is not to eradicate all desires and thus to be without fear for evil and a desire for that which is good. To do this would be to dehumanise man and to render him incapable of serving God according to His will and being of benefit to his neighbour.
(2) The objective is also not to receive honour from man, nor to be esteemed as a saint; for that would be the ultimate in hypocrisy.
(3) The objective is also not to merit thereby something before God. Such is the practice of some within blind popery, who, due to their erroneous objective, use erroneous means. They deprive themselves of lawful foods, walk about in a hairy garment, do not sleep upon a bed, scourge themselves, and perform similar examples of will-worship, which are not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh (Col 2:23).
(4) It is also not the objective to base one’s salvation upon this self-denial. That would be a pagan activity. Rather, the objective in self-denial is,
(1) the glorification of God as being holy, worthy of obedience, and the only lawgiver. This is true for themselves, and also to others they reveal that God is to be acknowledged as such, and ought to be obeyed. And if the cause of Christ necessitates it, then with the denial of all that is dear to us (which apart from such circumstances would be lawful to desire and enjoy), one has the objective to glorify God in that He is both sovereign as well as that He may require again all that He has given. We thus indicate that He is so precious that we would let go of that which is most precious for His sake.
(2) In self-denial one’s objective will also be to be beneficial to one’s neighbour; that is, to adorn godliness so that the ungodly may be convicted and converted, and the godly be aroused to deny their sinful self also, and willingly to forsake everything for the cause of Christ.
The Converted and Unconverted Distinguished
We have thus presented to you the nature and the attending circumstances of self-denial; this can serve as a mirror for you. The unconverted may thus perceive his failure to deny self, and his living for and cleaving to the world and his own lusts. A converted person may thereby also detect his faults, the extent to which the old man is still present within him, and in what measure he still cleaves to his sinful self. In order to make this even more clear to you, we shall place a person who does not deny self in contrast with a person who does deny self.
A person who does not deny self:
(1) Is a slave of his lusts, makes that which is of the world his portion, and insists that his lusts be satisfied at any cost. He clings as tenaciously to worldly things as a bat bites into bacon even though it has been nailed to a piece of wood. It is either a desire for money, honour, entertainment, immorality, or food and drink which ignites his lusts, and he must have it even if it is contrary to his judgment, and even if he is tired of sinning.
(2) Entertains great thoughts about himself. The one is beautiful and attractive in his own eyes, the other is wise, the third is of noble descent, the fourth is rich, and the other is a scholar. And thus everyone has something which he imagines himself to be even if in reality this is not true. He will puff himself up concerning this as a balloon filled with air.
(3) Has a proud disposition of the heart engendering a desire to be honoured and perceived as such. He is worthy of this, and it is his due. Even though he is conscious himself that he is not what he imagined himself to be, he nevertheless wishes to be honoured, served, revered, and loved.
(4) Has himself in mind when he is or intends to be in the presence of people not to take care of that which is honest in everyone’s view, but to be honoured by men. This is his objective when he dresses himself. His choice of colour and fashion; his decision to join or abstain from certain company; the manner in which he carries himself; and his speaking or being silent are all governed by a seeking of self. If his ego did not stir him up, he would be lazier than a donkey, grimier than a hog, more careless than a beggar, more foolish than a fish, and more talkative than a fool. However, his ego is the wind in his sails that renders him active.
(5) Takes careful notice of what everyone says of him. If he is praised even if it is in his presence he is wonderfully delighted. With delight he allows this to transpire and as a result thinks a bit more of himself.
(6) Will immediately be displeased at heart if, in his estimation, he is not loved, served, and revered according to his wishes; or if this is manifested more to others than to him, displeasure will immediately arise in his heart and he will abhor such a person. He hates them and will no longer have fellowship with such persons. His anger is aroused and he avenges himself as much as he can be it with words or with deeds.
(7) Is envious of others if they receive more love and honour, and do more business than he does. Even if the other person is more worthy of this, he nevertheless imagines by himself that he deserves it as much as others. And even if he is personally convinced of his own unworthiness, he not only wishes to be treated equally, but wants to be honoured and esteemed above the other. Those who are elevated above him, as well as those who elevate such a person above him, are his enemies.
(8) Becomes sorrowful and despondent if others do not fulfil his desires. His work stagnates, he functions at a slower pace, and he may even go in the very opposite direction of his previous course. The wind is no longer in his sails, for he can neither attain love nor honour. Thus, a person who does not deny self shows that he is not satisfied unless everything ends in him. In his activity he has himself in view, ends in self, and also wants others to behave in this fashion toward him.
(9) Will be a zealous Christian in the realm of religion, as long as he can gain love, honour, and profit yes, he even wants to be counted among the most orthodox. If, however, that does not materialise and the very opposite occurs, his religion is also finished. Before losing esteem, position, or possessions, he would rather let go of Christ and His cause. Once having denied Him, he will then become the greatest persecutor in order to make his apostasy all the more honourable. Such is the person who does not deny himself.
Over against this we shall present a person who practices a great measure of self-denial as is generally true for a godly person so that everyone may perceive how it ought to be, may be enamoured with that condition, and endeavour to increase in it.
(1) A person who denies self desires no honour of men. He does not wish to do anything that would render him dishonest and despicable, for that would be sin and to the detriment of godliness. If he receives honour and love, he acknowledges himself to be unworthy thereof and becomes smaller in himself. He does not want people to end in him, but is desirous that God be glorified through Him. He thus lets all things pass him by or, through him, allowing them to end in God. However, he neither desires nor strives for honour in himself. Yes, even if honour did not belong to anyone and were, so to speak, lying upon the street, he would not pick it up out of a love for honour itself. He perceives that if any one should receive it, he would not be the one, since he is acquainted with his abominableness. Since he does not desire to have it, he can thus accept it if another person receives it and that from all sides. He is not envious, for he neither desires it, nor is worthy of it, yes, he does not want people to end in him. This would be burdensome and grievous to him. Honour is therefore not his objective in all his activity. He is neither grieved nor becomes fretful if he is not honoured for his accomplishments. He does everything out of God, through God, and unto God. It is sufficient to him to serve the Lord he has surrendered his honour to the Lord Jesus, and it thus no longer belongs to him.
(2) The person who denies self does not desire love. To be loved is even more deeply ingrained in us than to be honoured. The person who does not deny self wants to have the heart of the other person, but the person who denies self neither desires nor seeks this. He judges himself aright and knows himself to be hateful, defiled, and abominable. He perceives that all that he does is so maimed and deformed, that it would rather stir up repulsion instead of a being pleased. He would therefore demand something unreasonable if he were to desire that others would love him. He finds delight in loving others, and this he pursues with his entire heart. He rejoices in the fact that others are loving and exercise the virtue of love even if it is toward him (although he considers himself the wrong object). If he is loved, he uses it as a suitable opportunity to be of benefit to those who love him. However, he neither seeks nor has in view the love of others unto himself. He does not find delight in the fact that he is loved for the sake of who he is. He is also neither grieved nor becomes ill-tempered when he is not loved. He is not envious when another person receives more love than he, for he is not worthy of love. And, if anything of Jesus’ image is to be perceived in him which is truly delightful, he desires that this be delighted in. This is not of himself, however, and he therefore does not want the expression of love to end in him. He neither wants to be attached to another person in an inordinate manner nor does he wish to be someone else’s idol. He jealously guards against receiving from others who are attached to him anything which would be God’s worthy due and thus cause the Lord to be loved less. With such a heart he loves his God, a heart which is divorced from the creature. This suffices him and he stands amazed that he is loved of God.
(3) The person who denies self also does not desire to be revered. A person who does not deny self also wants to be revered, since he imagines himself to be worthy of honour and love. He imagines himself to be in possession of awe-inspiring traits. He imagines that his riches, circumstances, and position all of which render the other person of lesser importance than he is make him awe-inspiring; he is the man and she is the woman who inspires awe. When he is seen and speaks, others ought to tremble and shake for his wrath. Poor worm! A person who denies self, on the other hand, does not consider himself to be in possession of awe-inspiring traits but of despicable traits. Therefore, he does not wish to be revered. External riches and prestige he knows to be but as a garment cast about his shoulders, which do not change him personally. He therefore considers it great foolishness if anyone were to revere him for this external garment. If he has been placed over others in government or within the home, he will uphold this position and insist that others acknowledge, respect, and revere him in this capacity not in view of his person, but because of God’s command. He is thus humble in his elevated position, wants to be revered, and yet at the same time, not be revered.
(4) A person who denies self also does not wish to be served. A person who does not deny self is of the opinion that he has a right to everything and that everyone must be ready at his bidding. Those who are subordinate to him will never be able to satisfy him; he becomes angry if there is the least deficiency in their obedience. A person who denies self, however, always desires to be of service and of help to others that is his delight. It is more a burden to him than a delight when others run around, sweat, labour to serve him, and are ready to obey at his bidding; for he does not consider himself worthy of being served. If he requires service of someone who is subordinate to him, he does not do so for his own sake, but because the Lord has established that order. When others serve him, he is quickly satisfied and graciously overlooks faults. He tenderly cares for his servants, seeing to it that they neither become too fatigued nor toil too much in his service. He is even compassionate toward his cattle.
(5) The person who denies self also does not desire riches. He has chosen God to be his portion, thereby renouncing all earthly possessions. He entrusts the care of his body to God. He knows that he is not worthy of one bite of bread in his mouth nor of any sackcloth to cover his skin. He also considers the goods of this world as being too insignificant and unstable as to concern himself with them. He is satisfied with such food and clothing as are necessary. He lives out of the hand of God and is therefore neither envious of the possessions of others nor of the great profit they earn. It does not matter to him if others boast of their possessions and tower above him; the lowest place suits him best. He is not discouraged if he has little and loses possessions for they were not his portion. It suffices him to diligently use the means to earn his living. If he fares well, he does not cleave to it, but becomes humble by it, as the patriarch Jacob. He does not squander it, but is all the more generous to the poor. And if the cause of Christ necessitates this, he willingly renounces everything and can joyfully witness being deprived of his belongings. In such a manner the person who denies self lives in this world in union with God and divorced from everything else.
The Need for Self-Examination
Behold, this is the mirror; examine yourself in it. An unconverted person will be able to perceive that he is entirely void of self-denial and still lives according to his own lusts, is a servant of sin, in all things seeks himself, and wishes all things to end in him. You who do not deny self, consider in what condition you are! First, it is a clear evidence that you are as yet unregenerate and cannot thus enter heaven (John 3:5). Secondly, you are not a partaker of Christ and His merits (Luke 14:26). Thirdly, you are a worldly-minded person and your portion is only in this world (Ps 17:14).
Fourthly, in this life you will experience nothing but sorrow as you either seek, find, or miss the things of this world, and after this life there will be eternal destruction. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die (Rom 8:13).
The godly can also perceive hereby how much or how little of such self-denial they have. How much their heart still yearns for honour, love, respect, service, and the possessions of this world! Here their ulterior motives originate which at times pollute their very best works, cause them much grief, and rob them of all joy in their work. This is the cause of discouragement and lack of freedom, estrangement from each other, wrathfulness, quarrelling, and a boasting and speaking of one’s own performance be it more openly or in a more subtle and concealed manner. Oh, you who are godly, examine yourself closely. Seek to ascertain what it is that your heart still cleaves to and consider the abominableness of being self-focused and of such seeking of self. Consider that it is the dead fly which causes the precious ointment to stink. Consider that it is an abomination to God and that it irritates others, for it will readily be perceived by both the converted and unconverted alike. Consider that, to a large extent, you render yourself unprofitable to make gain with your talent and to be of benefit to others. Therefore, abhor yourself, resist it, and strive against it. For if you have not denied self now in time of peace, how will you then fare in time of persecution?
Exhortation to Self-Denial
It is thus necessary that we courageously resist our sinful self and endeavour to arrive at a disposition and propensity of inward self-denial, as well as the manifestation of self-denial in all circumstances which occur. Take the following to heart:
First, consider your own state. Who are you that you would pride yourself in anything and seek anything for yourself? God answers you, Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return (Gen 3:19). Bildad the Shuhite answers, How much less man, that is a worm? and the son of man, which is a worm (Job 25:6). Job replies that we are a leaf driven to and fro and dry stubble (Job 13:25). And if that were yet too lofty, David answers: Man is like to vanity (Ps 144:4). Even that is yet too lofty and therefore he says, Surely men of low degree are vanity, and men of high degree are a lie: to be laid in the balance, they are altogether lighter than vanity (Ps 62:9). Such is true for you. Are you then worthy of honour, love, and esteem? Do you now dare to pursue something in order to cause it to end in you?
Secondly, what is it that you desire and cleave to? It is also as insignificant and vain as you yourself are. Are you any better off if a dead dog which every man is renders you honour, love, and friendship rather than if a piece of peat or wood were to bow to you? Are you any better off than if you were to gather a heap of shells or shards as children do, and if this were to render you attractive in your own eyes? Be ashamed that you would turn your heart and eyes to that which is nothing at all. Why would you pollute your soul with the pursuit of such trifles and thus displease both God and man by pleasing yourself? Therefore, divorce yourself from this.
Thirdly, believers, has not the Lord granted and laid away better things for you? The Lord has granted you that steadfast and durable benefit, consisting in the enjoyment of God, communion with Christ, the experience of peace and joy, and eternal glory. He has granted you this in principle, and He will cause you to possess it in perfection. God says therefore: This I have given you and I shall as yet add such and such to it. Now, it is My will that you only keep that in view, only seek that, and only delight yourself in that. It is My will that you would look away from all that is of the world. Neither focus upon, nor seek it, but be divorced from it, and deny self in regard to these things. If I give you a measure of them, it is only that you would use them for your growth in grace and to glorify Me. Therefore, if the cause of the Lord necessitates it, be content with eternal things and renounce that earthly filth.
Fourthly, it is a righteous thing to deny self as far as the things of the world are concerned, for all honour, reverence, service, and possessions are the Lord’s; you are not entitled to them. Shall a man rob God? Give unto God that which is God’s. It is unrighteousness if you desire to be esteemed and to be something, considering that you are nothing; to desire to be loved, considering you are hateful; and to be revered, considering you are nothing but a slave of the lowest order. It is an unrighteous thing to consider yourself to be something and hypocritically appear to be what you are not wishing others to acknowledge you to be what you are not or to be of a more elevated position than you are. Recognise this sin therefore, hate it, and flee from it.
Fifthly, self-denial engenders great peace. All your restlessness is the result of a seeking of yourself. For then your conscience convicts you of sin, you do not get your desire, someone else is in your way, people oppose you in words and in deeds, and you receive the opposite of what you are striving for. Something is always wrong and everywhere there are thorns to prick you. There is much you must care for and preserve, and there is nothing but restlessness and sorrow. However, there is much peace in a heart where self is denied which is content with Jesus. Such a heart is elevated above the earth and is beyond the reach of the world and all that is to be found in it. One then dwells in the secret place of the Most High and abides in the shadow of the Almighty. Therefore, cast self away as being a troublesome burden. Speak as follows: Away sin, away pride, and away self-love; I have been plagued by you long enough. I no longer know you, I no longer desire you, and I wish to live in peace with my God, perform my task with freedom, and run my course with joy.
Sixthly, a person who denies self has freedom, for he has nothing to lose. He fears neither shame, hatred, nor damage to his possessions, for he has renounced all this and whatever the Lord has loaned to him he will readily return to Him if He requires this. Therefore he says what needs to be said, and he is silent when the Lord commands him to be silent. He lets his light shine in spite of all those who hate this and for this reason would wish to cause him grief. He is under no obligation, and is loose and free from everything. In such a manner a person who denies self manifests himself. His path is as a shining light; he proceeds and sheds forth light until it is full noon; he proceeds from strength to strength. He remains steadfast in his course and increases in strength.
Therefore, undertake this task and proceed in it with the courage of a man.
Seventhly, continually hold before you the example of the Lord Jesus and His saints. The Lord Jesus has denied Himself for your sake. Would you then not renounce self for His sake? He who was rich became poor; He who was in the form of God, took upon Him the form of a servant. The Lord of glory was ridiculed and despised, and He who is love was hated. He who is worthy of being served by all, came to serve. The Prince of Life was crucified for you, and would there then be anything too precious to you to relinquish for His Name’s sake? Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob left their homeland and everything else. The prophets renounced everything in order to be faithful to the Lord. The apostles left everything and followed Jesus. The godly martyrs witnessed the spoiling of their goods joyfully, and willingly they surrendered their lives for the sake of the Lord Jesus. Do therefore likewise and no longer seek yourself.
Eighthly, even though all that we possess is not ours, and all that pertains to the body is not worthy of attention, God wants to reward abundantly for whatever one has renounced and relinquished upon His command out of loving obedience toward Him, and for His Name or cause. If we renounce our honour, He will give grace and glory (Ps 84:12). If we deny ourselves love, the Lord will love us (John 16:27). If we deny possessions, the Lord will be our abundant gold and our plentitude of silver. Since the Lord will not permit a service to be unrewarded, He will also not permit all that we relinquish out of love for Him and for His Name to be unrequited. Observe this in the following passages: He that loseth his life for My sake shall find it (Matt 10:39); And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for My Name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life (Matt 19:29); But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life (Mark 10:30). Much true profit can be gleaned from casting away that which is sinful, from ridding ourselves of that which hinders us, from returning that which was loaned, and then receiving in return such great and glorious matters. That truly ought to stimulate us to deny self. If God is willing to promise this, we ought to be made lively by the promises.
Final Advice for Those Who Desire to Deny Self
If you are desirous to be in such a holy condition and have such liberty, and to be weaned from all and whatever the Lord wants us to be weaned from, then:
(1) Make a firm resolution not only in a general sense, but also pertaining to whatever you are most attached, hinders you most, and most pollutes your walk.
(2) Do not imagine, however, that all has been accomplished if you have lively desires for that condition and activity, and now fully want to commit yourself to this, for your own is strong. It was the first to reside in you and it does not readily want to depart. It is not so easy to deny self. Therefore, be aware of the strength of the old man and the weakness of the new man, and call upon the Lord for help and strength.
(3) Be on your guard in all that you do as far as your conduct is concerned, lest your self be mingled with it. You will soon perceive this if you but take notice, and it will bring much strife upon you.
(4) Be encouraged, however, for self must be removed, and you will increase greatly if you are but determined to do so. It will steadily become easier.
(5) Take note of the first stirrings, and smother your own self when it initially surfaces.
(6) And if you cannot root this out so easily, do not cease with this labour, but practice the virtue as well as you can, and you will experience that you will improve.