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Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will
come after me let him DENY HIMSELF.
"A HARD saying; who can hear it? Has God " then implanted appetites and affections in me,
only that I may be at the trouble of crossing and 'mortifying them ? Has he spread pleasures and delights before me, for no other end than that I may
act the self-tormentor all my days, by abstaining “ from them? It is a conduct unreasonable in itself,
and dishonourable to his nature. It cannot be. “ I will go back, and walk no more with the author of "such a religion as this."
Reflections like these will but too naturally arise in the uninstructed or the ill-instructed mind, when passages are read from the Gospel (and many
such passages there are) of a similar import with that which has been selected for the subject of our present meditations.
“ To imagine,” says a late philosopher, " that the gratifying any of the senses, “or the indulging any delicacy in meats, drinks, or
apparel, is of itself a vice, can never enter into a “ head that is not disordered by the phrensies of a " fanatical enthusiasm,” And we have seen the pen of a celebrated historian employed in representing the primitive Christians as a set of poor, moping, melancholy, miserable fanatics, because they observed the self-denying precepts of their Saviour, instead of adopting the “elegant mythology of the “ Greeks,” and the no less elegant manners of the Romans.
The matter, therefore, deserves a serious and diligent inquiry. The goodness of God forbids us to suppose that he would willingly grieve or afflict the children of men. Indeed, he himself assures us that he never doth so. And he who has bestowed on man the faculty of reason, can issue no commands which are not founded on the highest and most perfect reason—“He who formed the eye, shall he not “ see?” It shall, therefore, be the design of the following discourse to evince, that the Divine wisdom shines not forth more conspicuously in any one precept of the Gospel than in this, whereby a man is enjoined to DENY HIMSELF.
The point shall be argued from the nature of man; from the nature of religion ; from the influence exerted by the body upon the soul; from the many instances of self-denial practised by the men of the world; and from the reward annexed to the practice of it among Christians.
In the first place, then, be it assumed as a principle, that human nature is in a state of depravity and corruption. Man is not upright. His passions and affections do not naturally move in subordination to the higher principle within him, but are disposed to rebellion. There are in his constitution certain irregular desires and evil propensities, which are continually breaking forth into action. In the mul- . titude of newspapers daily published among us, there is not one but contains abundant evidence to satisfy the most sceptical mind in this particular.
For this reason it is, that self-denial is become, as it were, the form and substance of every virtue; for so far as we deny our natural corrupt tempers, so far we seem to advance in virtue. We are so far humble, for instance, as we deny ourselves in the instances of pride; so far heavenly minded, as we deny our earthly inclinations; so far charitable, as we deny our tempers of self-love and envy; so far temperate and pure, as we deny those appetites, which, if indulged, would render us otherwise : and thus every virtue seems to have its chief foundation in the denial of some corrupt temper of our nature. The matter lies in a narrow compass. Were we upright and perfect, virtue would consist in following our inclinations, because those inclinations would tend only to good ; as we are fallen and depraved, virtue consists in denying our inclinations, because those inclinations tend often to evil.
Upon this principle it is, and because the depravity
of our nature begins to show itself very early in operation; that children, as they cannot be made to understand the necessity of denying themselves, unless we would see them spoiled and ruined, must be denied by others who are about them, their parents or governors. Systems of education, however differing in other respects, all centred here, till some years ago, upon the Continent, arose a genius, brilliant as a comet, but, like that, eccentric and portentous ! who surprised the world by advancing, in substance and effect, the following propositions“ That no kind of habits ought to be impressed on “ children: that you ought never to teach them obe“ dience as a duty: that you should leave them to “ the natural consequences of their own actions: and
that, when reason comes to exert itself in a ma“ turer state, all will be right."--Should the experiment ever be tried in England, the event will only verify what has been predicted, in a beautiful apostrophe to the pupil of this new philosopher, by an elegant writer of our own—“EMILIUS! how I trem“ble for thee, while I see thee exposed to the care “ of thy too ingenious tutor! Fortunate wilt thou be, “ if thou reachest the end of thy fifth year! Nay " rather, fortunate wilt thou be, if those accidents " which must inevitably attend thy situation, deprive " thee of a life destined to future misery from the ills " of body and of mind, contracted through this early " and continued indulgence of thy infant caprices !“ I see thee wilful to thy parents, domineering in the
nursery; surfeiting on meats, bursting with liquids; inflaming thy body with noxious humours, thy mind