7. Like Christ: In His Self-Denial.
"We then that we strong ought to bear the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification. For even Christ pleased not Himself, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell upon me. Wherefore receive ye one another, even as Christ also received us to the glory of God."óRom. 15:1Ė3, 7.
"If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me."óMatt. 16:24.
Even Christ pleased not Himself: He bore the reproaches, with which men reproached and dishonoured God, so patiently, that He might glorify God and save man. Christ pleased not Himself: with reference both to God and man, this word is the key of His life. In this, too, His life is our rule and example; we who are strong ought not to please ourselves.
To deny selfóthis is the opposite of pleasing self. When Peter denied Christ, he said: I know not the man; with Him and His interests I have nothing to do; I do not wish to be counted His friend. In the same way the true Christian denies himself, the old man: I do not know this old man; I will have nothing to do with him and his interests. And when shame and dishonour come upon him, or anything be exacted that is not pleasant to the old nature, be simply says: Do as you like with the old ties of the Adam, I will take no notice of it. Through the cross of Christ I am crucified to the world, and the flesh, and self: to the friendship and interest of this old man I am a stranger; I deny him to be my friend; I deny his every claim and wish; I know him not.
The Christian who only thinks of his salvation from curse and condemnation cannot understand this; he finds it impossible to deny self. Although he may sometimes try to do so, his life mainly consists in pleasing himself. The Christian who has taken Christ as his pattern cannot be content with this. He has surrendered himself to seek the most complete fellowship with the cross of Christ. The Holy Spirit has taught him to say, I have been crucified with Christ, and so am dead to sin and self. In fellowship with Christ he sees the old man crucified, a condemned malefactor; he is ashamed to own him as a friend: it is his fixed purpose, and he has received the power for it too, no longer to please his old nature, but to deny it. Because the crucified Christ is his life, self-denial is the law of his life.
This self-denial extends itself over the whole domain of life. It was so with the Lord Jesus, and is so with every one who longs to follow Him perfectly. This self-denial has not so much to do with what is sinful, and unlawful, and contrary to the laws of God, as with what is lawful, or apparently indifferent. To the self-denying spirit the will and glory of God and the salvation of man are always more than our own interests or pleasure.
Before we can know how to please our neighbour, self-denial must first exercise itself in our own personal life. It must rule the body. The holy fasting of Him who said, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God; and who would not eat until His Father gave Him food, and His Fatherís work was done, teaches the believer a holy temperance in eating and drinking. The holy poverty of Him who had not where to lay His head, teaches him so to regulate the possession, and use, and enjoyment of earthly things, that he may always possess as not possessing. After the example of the holy suffering of Him who bore all our sins in His own body on the tree, he learns to bear all suffering patiently: even in the body as the temple of the Holy Spirit, he desires to bear about the dying of the Lord Jesus; with Paul he keeps under the body and brings it into subjection; all its desires and appetites he would have ruled by the self-denial of Jesus. He does not please himself.
This self-denial keeps watch over the spirit too. His own wisdom and judgment the believer brings into subjection to Godís word: he gives up his own thoughts to the teaching of the Word and the Spirit. Towards man he manifests the same self-denial of his own wisdom in a readiness to hear and learn, in the meekness and humility with which, even when he knows he is in the right, he gives his opinion, in the desire ever to find and to acknowledge what is good in others.
And then self-denial has special reference to the heart. All the affections and desires are placed under it. The will, the kingly power of the soul is specially under its control. As little as self-pleasing could be a part of Christís life, may Christís follower allow it ever to influence his conduct. "We ought not to please ourselves. For even Christ pleased not Himself." Self-denial is the law of his life.
Nor does he find it hard when once he has truly surrendered himself to it. To one who, with a divided heart, seeks to force himself to a life of self-denial, it is hard indeed; but to one who has yielded himself to it unreservedly, because he has with his whole heart accepted the cross to destroy the power of sin and self, the blessing it brings more than compensates for apparent sacrifice or loss. He hardly dare any longer speak of self-denial, there is such blessedness in becoming conformed to the image of Jesus.
Self-denial has not its value with God, as some think, from the measure of pain it causes. No, for this pain is very much caused by the remaining reluctance to practise it. But it has its highest worth in that meek or even joyful acquiscence which counts nothing a sacrifice for Jesusí sake, and feels surprised when others speak of self-denial.
There have been ages when men thought they must fly to the wilderness or cloister to deny themselves. The Lord Jesus has shown us that the best place to practise self-denial is in our ordinary intercourse with men. So Paul also says here, "We ought not to please ourselves, let every one please his neighbour unto edification. For even Christ pleased not Himself. Therefore receive ye one another, even as Christ has received you." Nothing less than the self-denial of our Lord, who pleased not Himself, is our law. What He was we must be. What He did we must do.
What a glorious life will it be in the Church of Christ when this law prevails! each one considers it the object of existence to make others happy. Each one denies himself, seeks not his own, esteems others better than himself. All thought of taking offence, of wounded pride, of being slighted or passed by, would pass away. As a follower of Christ, each would seek to bear the weak and to please his neighbour. The true self-denial would be seen in this, that no one would think of himself, but live in and for others.
"If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me." This word not only gives us the will, but also the power for self-denial. He who does not simply wish to reach heaven throuoh Christ, but comes after Him for His own sake, will follow Him. And in his heart Jesus speedily takes the place that self had. Jesus only becomes the centre and object of such a life. The undivided surrender to follow Him is crowned with this wonderful blessing, that Christ by His Spirit Himself becomes his life. Christís spirit of self-denying love is poured out upon him, and to deny self is the greatest joy of his heart, and the means of the deepest communion with God. Self-denial is no longer a work he simply does as a means of attaining perfection for himself. Nor is it merely a negative victory, of which the main feature is the keeping self in check. Christ has taken the place of self, and His love and gentleness and kindness flow out to others, now that self is parted with. No command becomes more blessed or more natural than this: "We ought not to please ourselves, for even Christ pleased not Himself." "If any man come after me, let him deny himself, and FOLLOW ME."
Beloved Lord, I thank Thee for this new call to follow Thee and not to please myself, even as Thou didst not please Thyself. I thank Thee that I have now no longer, as once, to hear it with fear. Thy commandments are no longer grievous to me; Thy yoke is easy, and Thy burden light. What I see in Thy life on earth as my example, is the certain pledce of what I receive from Thy life in heaven. I did not always so understand it. Long after I had known Thee, I dared not think of self-denial. But for him who has learned what it is to take up the cross, to be crucified with Thee, and to see the old man nailed to the cross, it is no longer terrible to deny it. Oh, my Lord! who would not be ashamed to be the friend of a crucified and accursed criminal? Since I have learned that Thou art my life, and that Thou dost wholly take charge of the life that is wholly entrusted to Thee, to work both to will and to do, I do not fear but Thou wilt give me the love and wisdom in the path of selfdenial joyfully to follow Thy footstep. Blessed Lord, Thy disciples are not worthy of this grace; but since Thou hast chosen us to it, we will gladly seek not to please ourselves, but every one his neighbour, as Thou hast taught us. And may Thy Holy Spirit work it in us mightily. Amen.