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", strength,” that “ Christ died for the ungodly;" “ while we were yet sinners,” that “ Christ died
And faith itself, which is the gift of God,t has its high station in the scheme of redemption, that the whole "might be by grace.” If then the condition of our eternal happiness be thus the purchase of the Son of God, thus the plan and gift of the Father, in behalf of sinful men; what can be more equitable on our part, than the denial of our own righteousness, as the foundation of our privileges and our hopes? what more reasonable, than to ascribe to God the absolute and unmingled honour which is his due, and to acknowledge in ourselves that weakness and that guilt, which the necessity of such a scheme, as he hath laid for our redemption, proves to have been ours? What, in short, more fit than that we renounce all dependence on the merit of our own attainments, and trust solely in the everlasting righteousness of God our Saviour?
Such is the reasonableness of self-denial. And were we what we ought to be, the reasonableness of any thing proposed would alone sufficiently recommend it to our attention and practice. In prosecuting it, we should gradually' experience that what is reasonable is also profitable, and a sense of interest would quicken us, in pursuing what a sense of duty prompted us to begin. But, alas! so much more are we drawn by what appears advantageous, than led by what is just or reasonable, that, in order to gain our serious attention to any exertion or course of action proposed, we must also be per* Rom. v. 6,
* Eph. ii. &.
* Rom. iv. 16.
suaded that our happiness or profit is connected with what we are required to do, or to renounce. On this principle, our great teacher from heaven, the Lord Jesus, often addressed those who attended his ministry ;-—" Blessed," said he, “ are the poor " in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “ Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be " comforted,"* and the like. To engage our attention to the virtues and duties, which it is his object to enforee, he assures us of the happiness resulting from them, and of the substantial advantages attending them. And on the same consideration of advantage he recommends' self-denial, in the passage before us. For observe the argument, by which the precept of the text is supported in the following verses : " Whosoever will save his life, “shall lose it, and whosoever will lose his life for
my sake, shall find it: For what is a man profited, “ if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own "
Let us therefore : III. Attend to the advantages of denying ourselves.
1. One important advantage of self-denial is, that' thereby we become uniform and consistent in our sentiments and conduct.
It were superfluous to use much pains to point out to you how numerous are the varieties of situation, among the different individuals or families of mankind, or the changes of condition to which even the same person is liable, in the few years of hu. man life.--Health and sickness, riches and poverty, reputation and reproach, with all the varieties of
• Mats. V. 3, 4.
blessíng and affliction contained under these, are not. merely the lot of different persons, but frequently are all poured, at different periods, into the cup of the same individual.-What I wish you to remark is, that these changes of condition occasion also differences of feeling, and views, and character, and conduct, not only in different persons, but in the same person, at different times : So that a man, according to his circumstances, is often as much opposite to himself, as different men are one to another. He is sometimes gay, and sometimes sad ;
; now elated by hope, and anon depressed by fear and despondency; to-day zealous and active, tomorrow dispirited and indolent; at one time roused to serious consideration ; at another carried away by inconsiderate levity, or sunk in vicious dissipation. Poverty leads him to fraud and falsehood; or, perhaps, to extraordinary efforts of industry. Riches tempt him to sloth, to haughtiness, to intemperance. The superiority of others begets in him envy and hatred; and their insults provoke him to revenge; while any elevation above his fellows swells him with self-conceit, and renders him supercilious and insulting in his turn. Affictions make him dejected, fretful, sour, discontented; and the removal of them intoxicates his mind with childish joy; as the sun, after rain, calls to wing the fluttering insects, which were half lifeless but the moment before. Fashion, in other words, the opinions and conduct of others, or the dread of incurring their displeasure or contempt, by singularity however virtuous, rules him with despotic sway; so that he appears giddy or solemn, liberal or churlish, temperate or voluptuous, as it directs him. In
short, so many different passions and principles bear rule in his mind, and these are so variously affected by the ever-varying circumstances of his condition, that both his sentiments and his actions present but a mass of inconsistencies. The sea does not more readily bend its form to every blast, or the face of the sky change its appearance with each passing cloud, than his character is altered, accord. ing to time, place, outward condition, and similar contingencies. As a liquid takes the form of the vessel into which it is poured, so is he moulded by the circumstances of his state. Ever-varying, and never fixed, he is steady only in this, in resting on his own inconstant judgment, and in following the bent of his own capricious will and passions.
But are there none, then, among men, on whose invariableness of principle, on whose constancy of affection, on whose uniformity of rule, and consistency of conduct, you may depend? Are all « like ” waves of the sea, driven with the wind, and toss" ed?" No: there is a character, though little no. ticed by the vulgar eye, that hath escaped this wretched state of fickleness and mutability. He who hath learned to deny himself, is fit to reign, pay, hath already gained a victory over himself; and hath ceased to be subject to those principles of our nature, which are themselves subject to the perpetually changing circumstances of our outward
He is throughout even and consistent. Prosperity and adversity find him the same. For he is not governed by external contingencies, or by his own variable judgment and inclinations, but by the mind and will of the unchangeable God. He has one end to glorify God, and to be glorified
by him; one rule, the immutable law of heaven; one foundation of hope, and invigorating principle of holiness, the Mediator's obedience unto death, and the all-sufficient influence of the Spirit; that obedience, which is called “ an everlasting righte
ousness ;"* that Spirit, which Jesus hath promised " to abide with him for ever.”+ If his self-denial, then, be complete, he is, in his desires, his judgments, his choices, his designs and conduct, as conșiştent and steady as the unchangeable will of the Eternal King. One sentiment occupies his mind, and forms his character, Speak, Lord, for thy * servant heareth."I
It is indeed rare to find a man so entirely free * from the law of sin,” from the domination of self. Nay, if you require these characteristics in all their extent, it is impossible. But though there be not perfection, there may be an evident tendency towards it. Though the virtue be yet but“ in part, it enters into the character of all who belong to Christ. And the more that any one walks worthy of his name, the more will this and every kindred grace appear. There may be a continual and acceptable offering, though the flame do not ascend without a mixture of smoke. And there is an essential difference between the spirit expressed in the decided answer of Peter, “Lord, to whom shall “we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life,"S and the intentions of the Jews, who came to Beth. any, “ not for Jesus' sake only, but that they might “ see Lazarus also, whom he had raised from the dead." Dan. ix. 24. 1 San, iii. 9. 10.
John xii. 9. * John xiv. 16.
John vi. 68.