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none can pray sincerely for any good, without being willing to do whatever is necessary on their part to obtain it. They cannot pray for the poor sincerely, without being willing to do whatever is necessary and proper on their part to assist, support and comfort them. They cannot sincerely say to the naked and destitute, “ Be ye warmed, and be ye filled,” while they are not willing to give them those things which are needful to the body. They cannot pray sincerely for the spiritual good of a person, or of a people, or of the world, without being willing to do all that is proper on their part to promote and secure the spiritual blessings prayed for. Moses appears to have been sincere in his intercessions for his people, because he was willing to do and suffer any thing which he believed to be proper and necessary to promote and secure their temporal and eternal good. His prayers, and faith, and works were
, consistent and sincere, and of vast benefit to the people of God. If christians would follow the example of Moses, and act as consistently with their intercessions for others, they would avail much in drawing down the blessings of providence and grace upon individuals, societies, and all the nations of the earth. All the blessings which God has yet to bestow upon mankind, he means to bestow in answer to the effectual, fervent, sincere prayers of his people. He has set them apart for himself, and they have devoted themselves to him. They have a serious and important part to act on the stage of life, and their own interests and the interests of all mankind are lodged in their hands; and it highly behooves them to be faithful to God, to themselves, and to the world.
6. If the conditional prayer of Moses was proper and acceptable to God, then the prayers of the people of God are always heard and answered. They always pray, as Moses did, conditionally. They pray for nothing unconditionally nor unsubmissively. They never know what it is best for God to grant, or to deny. Moses did not know whether it was best for God to forgive his people, though he ardently desired it; and therefore he prayed conditionally and submissively for their forgiveness. This was acceptable to God, and he granted his request; and if he had refused to forgive them, still he would have granted his request; just as he granted Christ's request, though he denied what he prayed for in particular. God knows what is best for a person or a people, better than they do; and this, christians believe to be true; and accordingly refer it to God to grant, or deny the particular favors they plead for; and he always either grants what they ask, or gives them something better, so that their petitions are always answered. He never said to the seed of Jacob, “Seek ye me in vain.” To pray in
faith is not to pray in a certain belief of God's granting what is prayed for; but to pray in faith is to pray in a belief that he will do what is wisest and best to be done, and in cordial submission to the divine disposal. This is all the assurance that christians ought to desire to have, to encourage their intercession for others. It is all that Moses had to encourage him to pray for himself and others. And men would have reason to be afraid to pray, if they knew beforehand that God would certainly give them the very things they prayed for. For they might desire and pray for things that would prove a curse to them and others, instead of a blessing. It is their wisdom, as well as their duty, always to pray conditionally and submissively; for then they may be assured that their prayers will be benevolently and graciously answered.
7. If the conditional prayer of Moses was proper and acceptable to God, then the prayers of sinners are always sinful and unacceptable to God. For they never pray conditionally, but unconditionally. They are not willing to be denied on account of God's glory. It does not satisfy them to be told that God cannot grant their requests consistently with his own glory and the good of the universe. For his glory and the good of the universe do not appear so important as their own good; and they will not submit to be denied for such reasons. But if they will only ask for mercy, conditionally and submissively, they shall certainly find mercy.
THE HAPPINESS OF SELF DENIAL.
THEN Peter said, Lo we have left all and followed thee. And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, there is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God's sake, who shall not receive manifold more in this present time ; and in
the world to come, life everlasting.-LUKE, xviii. 28 – 30.
There was no duty that Christ more frequently and plainly inculcated, than that of self denial. He made it the cardinal condition of men's becoming his sincere followers.
66 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.” And when a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? “ Jesus said unto him,Sell all that thou hast, and distribute unto the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." And when he heard this he was very sorrowful, for he was very rich. And when Jesus saw that he was very sorrowful, he said, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God; For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. And they that heard it said, Who then can be saved? And he said The things which are impossible with men, are possible with God. Then Peter said, Lo, we have left all and followed thee. And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, there is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God's sake, who shall not receive manifold more in this present time; and in the world to come, life everlasting." Mark expressly says that the self denying man,“ shall
" receive an hundred fold now in this time, and in the world to come eternal life.” The text fully warrants us in saying,
That the exercise of self denial is productive of the highest happiness, both in this life and in the life to come.
I shall first explain self denial, and then show that it is productive of the highest present and future happiness.
I. Self denial is to be explained. Though it be universally allowed that there is such a thing as self denial, yet very different opinions are entertained concerning the nature of it, which makes it necessary to show in what it essentially consists.
In the first place, it does not consist in giving up one temporal and personal good for a greater temporal and personal good. For this is self gratifying instead of self denying. Any entirely selfish person would be willing to do this. Christ said to his hearers, “ If ye love them that love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them. And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same. And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again." Men are generally fond of exchanging a less personal and temporal good for a greater personal and temporal good. And though in some cases, they may feel a degree of reluctance in giving up a smaller for a greater temporal good, yet on the whole they choose to do it, to gratify their selfishness. One man will sacrifice his property to gratify his ambition, which he esteems a greater good. Another man will sacrifice his property to gratify his appetite, which he esteems a greater good. Another will sacrifice his property to gratify his revenge, which he esteems a greater good. But none of these persons, in these cases, exercise the least self denial. They only give up one personal and temporal interest for what they esteem a greater personal and temporal good, which gratifies their selfish and corrupt hearts.
Nor, secondly, does self denial consist in giving up a less temporal and personal good for a greater personal and eternal good. The most corrupt and selfish men in the world, are willing to give up any or all their temporal and personal interests for the sake of obtaining future and eternal happiness. Micah represents a sinner as expressing this willingness in the strongest terms : “ Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old ? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my first born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul ?”
What this person is represented as being willing to do for the salvation of his soul, thousands and thousands of mankind have actually done, to obtain future and eternal happiness. All the idolatrous nations round about Judea, sacrificed their dear infants
and children in order to obtain the favor of Moloch and their other false and cruel gods. The heathens in East India and the East India islands make the same cruel and inhuman sacrifices to their false gods and stupid idols. Some idolize the river Ganges, and sacrifice themselves and others to that idol. Thousands and thousands go as pilgrims, to sacrifice themselves to the grand idol Juggernaut. Some are voluntarily, and others involuntarily burnt to ashes, for their own or their friends' eternal benefit. The Mohammedans, who are semi-christians, go long pilgrimages to Mecca, and practice other self mortifications, for the sake of securing future and eternal happiness. And among those who call themselves christians, there are multitudes of hermits, monks and nuns, and other enthusiastic and superstitious persons, who voluntarily deny themselves the enjoyments of civil society, macerate their bodies, and subject themselves to the extremnes of heat and cold, pain, poverty, and reproach, for the sake of obtaining the salvation of their souls. But there is not the least self denial in such selfish mortifications, sufferings and sacrifices. If a man should gain the whole world, and then give it up for the sake of escaping eternal misery, and obtaining eternal happiness, it would be the highest act of selfishness, instead of self denial; which does not consist in giving up a less temporal and personal good, for a greater temporal and personal good, nor in giving up a less personal and temporal good for a greater personal and eternal good. In a word, self denial does not consist in any thing that gratifies a selfish heart; and therefore it does not consist in giving up our own present good for our own future good, let our own future good be what it may.
But, thirdly and positively, self denial consists in giving up our own good for the good of others. The man who gives up the least personal good for the personal good of another, without any hope of reward, exercises true self denial.
The man who gives up his private good for the good of the public, with out any hope of reward, exercises true self denial. Such self denial stands in direct contrariety to selfishness. No man, who is entirely selfish, can be willing to give up his own good for the good of another person, or for the good of the public, or for the glory of God, without a hope of reward, or of receiving a greater good than he bestows. Satan knows there is no self denial, and consequently no virtue in selfishness, or in any action that flows from selfishness; and on that ground, he denied that Job had any self denial or virtue in his exercising love and obedience to God. “ The Lord said unto Satan, hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? Then Satan answered the Lord and said,