E. J. Waggoner
From our youth up we have heard that “Self-preservation is the first law of nature.” This is true; but nature must give way to grace, if we would be saved; and self-denial is the first law of grace; for when Christ was in the form of God, He “counted it not a prize to be on an equality with God, but emptied Himself” (Phil. 2:6, 7); and He says: “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24).
But self-denial does not mean self-torture, nor the doing of penance, nor the depriving of one’s self of any real good. We are told that “the Lord shall give that which is good” (Ps. 85:12); “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of Lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17). “No good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly” (Ps. 84:11). He says: “Hearken diligently unto Me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness” (Isa. 55:2); and of Him it is said that He “satisfieth thy mouth with good things” (Ps. 103:5).
What then is self-denial? —It is just what the term indicates—the denial of self. But the denial of self means the acknowledgment and appropriation of God. It means the cross, it is true, because only in the cross do we find God, who is the sum of all good. “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, whereby the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Gal. 6:14). The only thing that the cross takes from us is the world, which, since it is not of God, passes away with its lusts. That is to say, the cross cuts off from us dead things, excrescences, which if not taken away would cause our death. Self-denial, therefore, is nothing more nor less than the rigid separating from ourselves all those things which are injurious.
This necessarily involves some degree of pain and suffering; yet it is pain that brings lasting pleasure—suffering that contains everlasting joy. An abnormal growth on the body cannot be cut off without pain, but it is momentary pain that gives length of quiet days. It was for “the joy that was set before Him” that Christ endured the cross; and this joy is found in the cross itself. “Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,”—not merely at some future time, but, — “while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.”
Life comes to us through death—the death of Christ, which we must share with Him. We die, self dies, that we may live a new life in Christ. So denying self and taking the cross means simply the cutting off of bad habits and injurious practices, which are ours by nature, and in that very act the finding of the joy of the Lord—the strength of the Divine nature. It does not mean moaning and groaning over hardship endured, but songs of joy for victories gained.
The Present Truth 18, 3 (January 16, 1902), p. 48.