« PreviousContinue »
Each of these points therefore I purpose fully to discuss. Thus every duty respecting himself, which the christian is obliged and enabled to discharge, will be sufficiently explained.
The origin of self-denial is to be traced to the corruption of our nature by the fall of Adam. For if there were no innate propensity in all his offspring to evil, we might then indeed have been warned not to debase our dignity, by complying with iniquity. . Supposing that we possessed an untainted purity of nature, so far would the abstaining from sin be from deserving the name of selfdenial, that it would be the highest self-gratification. In this case, a total opposition to transgression of every kind would be perfectly undisturbed by any thing within of a contrary tendency, The native bent of the soul would then incline with all its power, and with the highest relish, to perform duty in its full extent. This we necessarily conceive to be the state with those angels, who are sent forth to minister to them that shall be heirs of salvation, and who consequently must be witnesses of what passes in our world. For, to connect the idea of selfdenial with their abstaining from the poliitions of which they are spectators, would be to destroy the very perfection of their state.
But the present condition of man is directly opposite to that of superior beings who never fell from God. A corrupt bias prevails in his heart, which instead of appearing to him detestable as it ought, is loved and cherished; so loved, that to be deaf to its tender pleadings for indulgence, and to sacrifice it in obedience to God, is compared by him, who knew what was in man, to cutting off a right hand and plucking out a right eye. For though happiness is in fact inseparable from an uniform subjection to the truth of God, yet our corruptions represent these as things distinct, and even incompatible. Hence men naturally fight against the prohibition of God for their favourite selfish enjoyments, as subjects for their native rights against a tyrant: nor can they ever submit to it without doing violence to their own depraved appetites.
This being our natural state, the Lord Jesus Christ assures us in the most unreserved manner, that, if we ever become partakers of his great salvation, we must not only
oppose the prevalent wickedness of the world around us, but those very inclinations too, which are interwoven with our present frame, and therefore may properly be called a part of ourselves.
Having thus briefly observed what is the origin of selfdenial, I proceed to point out the particulars in which this grace is to be exercised. Now as the constitutional sin makes that an instance to some of great self-denial, which is scarcely any to others ; as there are cases also, where decency, reputation, and worldly interest create and maintain a kind of self-denial; and other instances, in which the power of Christian godliness only is sufficient : I shall therefore begin with such instances of it as, generally speaking, are most easy to practise, and then ascend to those, in which the sincerity and eminence of Christian self-denial shines forth, and most redounds to the honour of God.
First then, Temperance with respect to our food, is not to be practised without self-denial. Few indeed find much difficulty in abstaining so far from this bodily indulgence, as to escape the censure of gluttony or epicurism ; yet to be so abstemious with regard to the pleasures of the table, as not to infringe upon the grace of Christian temperance, calls for some mortification in most people, and in many for a great deal. Without practising this, we shall be often guilty of being over charged with surfeiting,” so far at least as to feel the desire after eternal blessings and the delight in them, greatly abated, if not extinguished for a time. With a reputation for temperance, we may indulge at our table, till indolence takes full possession of us, till neither body nor mind are disposed for any rational, much less any spiritual employment. To the want of self-denial, in respect of this low appetite, is owing that strong uneasiness and vexation often discovered, though more frequently concealed, when the gratification of the palate in the parlour, is disappointed by ignorance or neglect in the kitchen; to this are owing the many sensual remarks made in conversation, upon what deserves no more notice than the husks the swine devour. These things, so frequently occuring, are sufficient proofs, that there is need of self-denial even with respect to our food. Indeed he that receives any other pleasures than
what health and hunger will make the common provisions of his table afford, has already begun to yield to intemperance, and is a transgressor of his christian duty. He is shamefully giving encouragement to an appetite which must exceedingly sensualize his soul, enthral it to bodily gratification, and of consequence render it averse to suffering in any degree for the sake of truth and conscience. So that those who allow themselves to eat immoderately, and permit their thoughts to dwell with delight on the luxury of the palate, are so far from taking heed, as Christians are required, to “make no provision for the flesh,' that they are evidently pampering it: so far from being temperate, as is absolutely necessary for all who run the race Christ has set before us, that they remain slaves to sensuality. None are capable of relishing, much less of making a progress in any thing so spiritual and divine as Christianity, till in the language of holy writ they "put a knife to the throat,” when dainties are set before them : that is strike at the root of that carnal gratification which arises merely from the pleasure of feasting.
A second instance of self-denial included under the head of temperance is, the strictly avoiding any degree of excess in drinking. It is necessary to speak distinctly on this subject, because, to the reproach of our species, self-indulgence in this respect is commonly placed in the number only of venial infirmities, and amongst the slight misdemeanours, for which other good qualities will amply atone. To prove therefore the absolute necessity of selfdenial, with respect to excess in drinking, consider what provocation it bears ! It is a waste of that plenty which God designed to supply the wants of mankind. Now what can you conceive more contrary to reason, to humanity, and to the providence of our common Father, than that one man should be inflaming his body with pernicious draughts even to excess, whilst another wants the very necessaries of life? that one should be swallowing down his poisonous cups in riot, which, if properly applied, would prove a cordial to the languishing, and revive the health of those who are fainting for the want of it? Suppose you had yourself several children settled in some distant province, some of them prosperous, and others, through unavoidable misfortune, in a destitute condition; suppose the former were void of all feeling, giving themselves up to rioting and excess, refusing to retrench in the least degree in order to relieve their necessitous brethren; what mingled grief and indignation would the report of this raise in your breast! Yet this is the very case in the eye of our common Father, whenever the man, who has riches, consumęs upon the extravagant gratification of his base appetites, what might have been applied to the relief of the poor and needy. Even allowing the intemperate man to have the means, and, in the language of the world, liberty to live as he pleases, still his conduct is chargeable with inhumanity and cruelty to those who are in want before his eyes; or who are at least so near hiin, that if he was not wilfully deaf or blind, he must hear their groans and see their distress.
But when the man, who indulges in intemperance and drunkenness, is poor, or one whose business or income is but just enough with frugality, to support himself and his family, his guilt is still more aggravated. For then, whilst he is gratifying himself, and rejoicing in his cups, he is breaking through the tenderest ties of nature. He is stripping his children of that which is necessary to defend them from the cold: he is snatching the bread from the mouth of his little ones, ready to famish for want of food; and making his wife suffer to extremity for his sensuality. Therefore, though his besotted companions may extol him for his honesty and good-nature, and some be so stupid as to call him no man's enemy but his own; he is, in the eye of truth and of God, a monster of cruelty and villany. The Father of us all sees no one of his creatures more horridly rebelling against his benevolent laws, or more injurious to those who are miserable enough to be in close connection with him, than the drunkard.
Further, we owe much thankfulness to God for our reason. By this we become capable of knowing him in his word and works here, and of enjoying him for ever hereafter. We are happy in ourselves, and useful to others, just in proportion as our reason is improved, by the due exercise and cultivation of it, through the knowledge of Scripture, and the grace of God. We
therefore safely say, that one of the sorest evils which can befall us in this world, is the loss of our reason.
What guilt then must be chargeable on every drunkard, who presumptuously, only for the poor pleasures of gratifying the lowest appetite of his nature, suspends the use and exercise of his reason, who reduces himself to such a state that he knows neither what he does, nor what he says. And as we are commanded to be always on our guard in our discourse, and warned of the account we must give of it to God, what can be a more audacious offence, than for a man to intoxicate himself till his “ mouth poureth out foolishness;" till there is nothing so filthy or so blasphemous, which he will not utter.
Besides, it is our duty to mortify all our depraved appetites, and to bring them into subjection to the law of God. What a total violation of this comprehensive obligation, is it to strengthen, by intemperate drinking, every evil propensity, and inflame it to the utmost!
Yet this is the certain effect of drinking to excess. It provokes to anger, passion, and quarrelling; it begets insolence, and increases pride; it not only often separates between the greatest friends, but hurries them into duels and transports of bloody revenge upon each other. Lustful passions it heats also beyond measure, and gives to lewd desire an
Now so shameful a violence against reason, so provoking an abuse of plenty, so daring an act of rebellion against God, must, without repentance, certainly exclude every one guilty of it from any share in God's favour, as it demonstrates him to be void of any degree of his grace. Accordingly we are taught, in different yet most alarming ways, the insupportable doom of drunkards, and of those who inflame themselves with wine. Drunkards are enumerated in the black catalogue of transgressors, who, the apostle solemnly declares to the Corinthians, cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” 1 Cor. vi. 10.—Most emphatically is described the dreadful end of this self-indulgence by our Saviour. “But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My Lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to smite his fellow-servants, and to eat and drink with the drunken; the Lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, and shall cut him asunder, and ap