Matt. 16: 24.—If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.
In the 13th verse we read that Jesus at Caesarea Philippi asked His disciples, “Whom do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” When they had answered, He asked them, “But whom say ye that I am?” And in verse 16 Peter answered and said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus answered and said unto him: “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjonas, for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in Heaven. And I say also unto thee that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Then in verse 21 we read how Jesus began to tell His disciples of His approaching death; and in verse 22 how Peter began to rebuke Him, saying, “Be it far from Thee, Lord; this shall not be unto Thee.” But Jesus turned and said unto Peter, “Get thee behind me, Satan; thou art an offense unto me, for thou savorest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.” Then said Jesus unto His disciples, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.”
We often hear about the compromise life and the question comes up What lies at the root of it? What is the reason that so many Christians are wasting their lives in the terrible bondage of the world instead of living in the manifestation and the privilege and the glory of the child of God? And another question perhaps comes to us: What can be the reason that when we see a thing is wrong and strive against it we cannot conquer it? What can be the reason that we have a hundred times prayed and vowed, yet here we are still living a mingled, divided, half-hearted life? To those two questions there is one answer: it is self that is the root of the whole trouble. And therefore, if any one asks me, “How can I get rid of this compromise life?” the answer would not be, “You must do this, or that, or the other thing,” but the answer would be, “A new life from above, the life of Christ, must take the place of the self-life; then alone can we be conquerors.”
We always go from the outward to the inward; let us do so here; let us consider from these words of the text the one word, “self.” Jesus said to Peter: “If any man will come after me let him deny himself, his own self, and take up the cross and follow me.” That is a mark of the disciple; that is the secret of the Christian life—deny self and all will come right. Note that Peter was a believer, and a believer who had been taught by the Holy Spirit. He had given an answer that pleased Christ wonderfully: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Do not think that that was nothing extraordinary. We learn it in our catechisms; Peter did not; and Christ saw that the Holy Spirit of the Father had been teaching him and He said: “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjonas.” But note how strong the carnal man still is in Peter. Christ speaks of His cross; He could understand about the glory, “Thou art the Son of God;” but about the cross and the death he could not understand, and he ventured in his self-confidence to say, “Lord, that shall never be; Thou canst not be crucified and die.” And Christ had to rebuke him: “Get thee behind me, Satan. Thou savorest not the things that be of God.” You are talking like a mere carnal man, and not as the Spirit of God would teach you. Then Christ went on to say, “Remember, it is not only I who am to be crucified, but you; it is not only I who am to die, but you also. If a man would be my disciple, he must deny self, and he must take up his cross and follow me.” Let us dwell upon this one word, “self.” It is only as we learn to know what self is that we really know what is at the root of all our failure, and are prepared to go to Christ for deliverance.
Let us consider, first of all, the nature of this self life, then denote some of its works and then ask the question: “How may we be delivered from it?”
Self is the power with which God has created and endowed every intelligent creature. Self is the very center of a created being. And why did God give the angels or man a self? The object of this self was that we might bring it as an empty vessel unto God; that He might put into it His life. God gave me the power of self-determination, that I might bring this self every day and say: “Oh, God, work in it; I offer it to thee.” God wanted a vessel into which He might pour out His divine fullness of beauty, wisdom and power; and so He created the world, the sun, and the moon, and the stars, the trees, and the flowers, and the grass, which all show forth the riches of His wisdom, and beauty, and goodness. But they do it without knowing what they do. Then God created the angels with a self and a will, to see whether they would come and voluntarily yield themselves to Him as vessels for Him to fill. But alas! they did not all do that. There was one at the head of a great company, and he began to look upon himself, and to think of the wonderful powers with which God had endowed him, and to delight in himself. He began to think: “Must such a being as I always remain dependent on God?” He exalted himself, pride asserted itself in separation from God, and that very moment he became, instead of an angel in Heaven, a devil in hell. Self turned to God is the glory of allowing the Creator to reveal Himself in us. Self turned away from God is the very darkness and fire of hell.
We all know the terrible story of what took place further; God created man, and Satan came in the form of a serpent and tempted Eve with the thought of becoming as God, having an independent self, knowing good and evil. And while he spoke with her, he breathed into her, in those words, the very poison and the very pride of hell. His own evil spirit, the very poison of hell, entered humanity, and it is this cursed self that we have inherited from our first parents. It was that self that ruined and brought destruction upon this world, and all that there has been of sin, and of darkness, and of wretchedness, and of misery; and all that there will be throughout the countless ages of eternity in hell, will be nothing but the reign of self, the curse of self, separating man and turning him away from his God. And if we are to understand fully what Christ is to do for us, and are to become partakers of a full salvation, we must learn to know, and to hate, and to give up entirely this cursed self.
Now what are the works of self? I might mention many, but let us take the simplest words that we are continually using,—self-will, self-confidence, self-exaltation. Self-will, pleasing self, is the great sin of man, and it is at the root of all that compromising with the world which is the ruin of so many. Men can not understand why they should not please themselves and do their own will. Numbers of Christians have never gotten hold of the idea that a Christian is a man who is never to seek his own will, but is always to seek the will of God, as a man in whom the very spirit of Christ lives. “Lo, I come to do Thy will, oh, my God!” We find Christians pleasing themselves in a thousand ways, and yet trying to be happy, and good, and useful; and they do not know that at the root of it all is self-will robbing them of the blessing. Christ said to Peter, “Peter, deny yourself.” But instead of doing that, Peter said, “I will deny my Lord and not myself.” He never said it in words, but Christ said to him in the last night, “Thou shalt deny Me,” and he did it. What was the cause of this? Self-pleasing. He became afraid when the woman servant charged him with belonging to Jesus, and three times said, “I know not this man, I have nothing to do with Him.” He denied Christ. Just think of it! No wonder Peter wept those bitter tears. It was a choice between self, that ugly, cursed self, and that beautiful, blessed Son of God; and Peter chose self. No wonder that he thought: “Instead of denying myself, I have denied Jesus; what a choice I have made!” No wonder that he wept bitterly.
Christians, look at your own lives in the light of the words of Jesus. Do you find there self-will, self-pleasing? Remember this: every time you please yourself, you deny Jesus. It is one of the two. You must please Him only, and deny self, or you must please yourself and deny Him. Then follows self-confidence, self-trust, self-effort, self-dependence. What was it that led Peter to deny Jesus? Christ had warned him; why did he not take warning? Self-confidence. He was so sure: “Lord, I love Thee. For three years I have followed Thee. Lord, I deny that it ever can be. I am ready to go to prison and to death.” It was simply self-confidence. People have often asked me, “What is the reason I fail? I desire so earnestly, and pray so fervently, to live in God's will.” And my answer generally is, “Simply because you trust yourself.” They answer me: “No, I do not; I know I am not good; and I know that God is willing to keep me, and I put my trust in Jesus.” But I reply, “No, my brother; no; if you trusted God and Jesus, you could not fall, but you trust yourself.” Do let us believe that the cause of every failure in the Christian life is nothing but this. I trust this cursed self, instead of trusting Jesus. I trust my own strength, instead of the almighty strength of God. And that is why Christ says, “This self must be denied.”
Then there is self-exaltation, another form of the works of self. Ah, how much pride and jealousy is there in the Christian world; how much sensitiveness to what men say of us or think of us; how much desire of human praise and pleasing men, instead of always living in the presence of God, with the one thought: “Am I pleasing to Him?” Christ said, “How can ye believe who receive honor one of another?” Receiving honor of one another renders a life of faith absolutely impossible. This self started from hell, it separated us from God, it is a cursed deceiver that leads us astray from Jesus.
Now comes the third point. What are we to do to get rid of it? Jesus answers us in the words of our text: “If any man will come after me, let him take up his cross and follow me.” Note it well.—I must deny myself and take Jesus himself as my life,—I must choose. There are two lives, the self life and the Christ life; I must choose one of the two. “Follow me,” says our Lord, “make me the law of your existence, the rule of your conduct; give me your whole heart; follow me, and I will care for all.” Oh, friends, it is a solemn exchange to have set before us; to come and, seeing the danger of this self, with its pride and its wickedness, to cast ourselves before the Son of God, and to say, “I deny my own life, I take Thy life to be mine.”
The reason why Christians pray and pray for the Christ life to come in to them, without result, is that the self life is not denied. You ask, “How can I get rid of this self life?” You know the parable: the strong man kept his house until one stronger than he came in and cast him out. Then the place was garnished and swept, but empty, and he came back with seven other spirits worse than himself. It is only Christ Himself coming in that can cast out self, and keep out self. This self will abide with us to the very end. Remember the Apostle Paul; he had seen the Heavenly vision, and lest he should exalt himself, the thorn in the flesh was sent to humble him. There was a tendency to exalt himself, which was natural, and it would have conquered, but Christ delivered him from it by His faithful care for His loving servant. Jesus Christ is able, by His divine grace, to prevent the power of self from ever asserting itself or gaining the upper hand; Jesus Christ is willing to become the life of the soul; Jesus Christ is willing to teach us so to follow Him, and to have heart and life set upon Him alone, that He shall ever and always be the light of our souls. Then we come to what the apostle Paul says; “Not I, but Christ liveth in me.” The two truths go together. First “Not I,” then, “but Christ liveth in me.”
Look at Peter again. Christ said to him, “Deny yourself, and follow me.” Whither had he to follow? Jesus led him, even though he failed; and where did he lead him? He led him on to Gethsemane, and there Peter failed, for he slept when he ought to have been awake, watching and praying; He led him on towards Calvary, to the place where Peter denied Him. Was that Christ's leading? Praise God, it was. The Holy Spirit had not yet come in His power; Peter was yet a carnal man; the Spirit willing, but not able to conquer; the flesh weak. What did Christ do? He led Peter on until he was broken down in utter self-abasement, and humbled in the depths of sorrow. Jesus led him on, past the grave, through the Resurrection, up to Pentecost, and the Holy Spirit came, and in the Holy Spirit Christ with His divine life came, and then it was, “Christ liveth in me.”
There is but one way of being delivered from this life of self. We must follow Christ, set our hearts upon Him, listen to His teachings, give ourselves up every day, that He may be all to us, and by the power of Christ the denial of self will be a blessed, unceasing reality. Never for one hour do I expect the Christian to reach a stage at which he can say, “I have no self to deny;” never for one moment in which he can say, “I do not need to deny self.” No, this fellowship with the cross of Christ will be an unceasing denial of self every hour and every moment by the grace of God. There is no place where there is full deliverance from the power of this sinful self. We are to be crucified with Christ Jesus. We are to live with Him as those who have never been baptized into His death. Think of that! Christ had no sinful self, but He had a self and that self He actually gave up unto death. In Gethsemane He said, “Father, not My will.” That unsinning self He gave up unto death that He might receive it again out of the grave from God, raised up and glorified. Can we expect to go to Heaven in any other way than He went? Beware! remember that Christ descended into death and the grave, and it is in the death of self, following Jesus to the uttermost, that the deliverance and the life will come.
And now, what is the use that we are to make of this lesson of the Master? The first lesson will be that we should take time, and that we should humble ourselves before God, at the thought of what this self is in us; put down to the account of the self every sin, every shortcoming, all failure, and all that has been dishonoring to God, and then say, “Lord, this is what I am;” and then let us allow the blessed Jesus Christ to take entire control of our life, in the faith that His life can be ours.
Do not think it is an easy thing to get rid of self. At a consecration meeting, it is easy to make a vow, and to offer a prayer, and to perform an act of surrender, but as solemn as the death of Christ was on Calvary—His giving up of His unsinning self life to God,—just as solemn must it be between us and our God—the giving up of self to death. The power of the death of Christ must come to work in us every day. Oh, think what a contrast between that self-willed Peter, and Jesus giving up His will to God! What a contrast between that self-exaltation of Peter, and the deep humility of the Lamb of God, meek and lowly in heart before God and man! What a contrast between that self-confidence of Peter, and that deep dependence of Jesus upon the Father, when He said: “I can do nothing of myself.” We are called upon to live the life of Christ, and Christ comes to live His life in us; but one thing must first take place; we must learn to hate this self, and to deny it. As Peter said, when he denied Christ, “I have nothing to do with him,” so we must say, “I have nothing to do with self,” that Christ Jesus may be all in all. Let us humble ourselves at the thought of what this self has done to us and how it has dishonored Jesus; and let us pray very fervently: “Lord, by Thy light discover this self; we beseech Thee to discover it to us. Open our eyes, that we may see what it has done, and that it is the only hindrance that has been keeping us back.” Let us pray that fervently, and then let us wait upon God until we get away from all our religious exercises, and from all our religious experience, and from all our blessings, until we get close to God, with this one prayer: “Lord God, self changed an archangel into a devil, and self ruined my first parents, and brought them out of Paradise into darkness and misery, and self has been the ruin of my life and the cause of every failure; oh, discover it to me.” And then comes the blessed exchange, that a man is made willing and able to say: “Another will live the life for me, another will live with me, another will do all for me,” Nothing else will do. Deny self; take up the cross, to die with Jesus; follow Him only. May He give us the grace to understand, and to receive, and to live the Christ life.