Then said Jesus to his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.
The heart-searching truths of this verse are too often neglected in popular presentations of the gospel. We have a Christianity made easy as an accommodation to an age which loves personal comfort. Not only is this unfaithful to the truth, no part of which we have any right to keep back; it is most foolish and shortsighted. It prepares for a surprising disappointment when the inevitable facts are discovered; and it does not really attract. A religion of sweetmeats is sickening. There is that in the better nature of man which responds to the doctrine of the cross; it is the mistake of the lower method that it only appeals to the selfish desire of personal safety, and therefore does not awaken the better nature at all. Christ sets the example of the higher and truer method; he does not shun to set before us the dangers and difficulties of the Christian course. If we meet with them we cannot say we have not been warned.
I. CHRISTIANITY IS FOLLOWING CHRIST. It is not merely receiving certain blessings from him. If we think we are to enjoy the fruits of his work while we remain just as we were, we are profoundly mistaken. He does give us grace, the result of his life work and atoning death. But the object of this grace is just that we may have strength to follow him. It is all wasted upon us and received quite in vain if we do not put it to this use. Now, the following of Christ implies three things.
1. Imitating him.
2. Seeing him.
3. Obeying him. He whose experience comprises these three things is a Christian; no one else is one.
II. FOLLOWING CHRIST IS CONDITIONED BY SELF-SURRENDER TO HIM. This is what be means by self-denial. He was not an ascetic, and he never required asceticism in his disciples; those who did not understand him accused him of encouraging an opposite mode of life. There is no merit in putting ourselves to pain for the mere sake of enduring the suffering. Christ will not be pleased if we approach him in agony because we have affixed a thumb screw to our own person. It is possible to be very hard on one's body and yet to remain terribly self-willed. What Jesus requires is the surrender of our will to him - that we may not seek to have our own will, but submit to his will.
III. SELF-SURRENDER TO CHRIST LEANS TO BEARING THE CROSS FOR HIM. It is impossible to give ourselves up to Christ without suffering some loss or trouble. In early days the consequence might be martyrdom; in our own day it always involves some sacrifice. Now, the cross which the Christian has to bear is not inevitable trouble, such as poverty, sickness, or the loss of friends by death. These things would have been in our lot if we had not been Christians. They are our burdens, our thorns in the flesh. They are sent to us, not taken by us. But the cross is something additional. This is taken up voluntarily; it is in our power to refuse to touch it. We bear it, not because we cannot escape, but because it is a consequence of our following Christ; and the good of bearing it is that we cannot otherwise closely follow him. He, then, is the true Christian who will bear any cross and endure any hardship that is involved in loyally following his Lord and Master. - W.F.A.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.