Denying Self and Taking the Cross.

Notes of an address on Matthew 16:24.

W. J. Hocking.

1915 280 I should like to call your attention this evening to one of the verses we have now read (Matt. 16:13-24): "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."

In considering this verse, containing, as it does, the direct words of our Lord Jesus Christ, I think it would be well for us to be clear that, so far as the Scriptures record, we never find that the Lord Jesus Christ invited men to come after Him unless they first of all had come to Him. This may seem a very small and unimportant distinction, but, in point of fact it involves a very great principle.

To come after Jesus is in itself an arduous task from which any man might well shrink who knows not the Master. It is the knowledge of the gracious and glorious person of the Lord Jesus Christ which awakens the sincere and whole-hearted response that men ought to make to His call to discipleship. But there are degrees and measures in the knowledge of Christ. There are many persons who know something of our Lord Jesus, who have answered His invitation and come to Him in their distress and weariness and penitence, and have found rest in Him and peace for their conscience but yet they have never followed Him! They have been content, as it were, to know Him from afar. Such Christians, sad to say, count absolutely nothing in the world in the matter of witness, of effective testimony for the One whom they profess to love.

I heard during this past week from a Christian man what illustrates this. He is at the present moment in training in the Army. He, I know, is bold and forward to testify, when occasion offers, for his Master, but among all the recruits with whom he is associated he and one other are the only ones that take a pronounced and definite stand, firm and true for Christ. The majority are those who will listen attentively to the words of the gospel, who make a general profession of following Him, and who, if pressed to a confession, will vow that they do really believe in Him; but when it comes to standing up for Christ in the midst of a company of ungodly men, when it comes to putting on a firm front and confessing the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, their faith cannot carry them to such a pitch. Their courage fails to rise and face the jeers and persecution of the world. To such the Lord calls in the words of our text, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me."

Why is it that men and women who have rested their souls for all eternity upon Jesus Christ, and upon His work at Calvary's cross, and who do, in the inner recesses of their hearts, love Him — why is it that they cannot speak out for Him when His name is abused, when evil things are said against Him, in Whom they are trusting for salvation? Why is it that at such times they seem dumb? Is there nothing within their hearts that prompts them to say something, and do something for Him, that will show that they are following after Him, and are not, like the rest of men, carried along by the world and in the ways of the world? The answer must surely be that they have not yet learned the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus the Lord.

But let me repeat, it is necessary first of all to come to Him. The Lord said, "Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Now we know that deep down in the hearts of men and women there is a sense of something wrong there, and that wrong cannot be set right except by Him. They come to Him in their several ways — in their feebleness, in their sorrow and in their penitence; and they find Him true to His word, ready to receive them and to speak peace to their guilt-stricken hearts. Oh, it is a great day when a man goes in his sins to the feet of the Saviour!

Was it not a great day in the life of the woman of Capernaum when Jesus was sitting at the table of Simon the Pharisee and she came to Him in all her need? She came because she was sinful, and she came to the feet of Jesus seeking rest for her accusing conscience. She could find a refuge nowhere else, and she dared the power of the world, as represented by the surly Pharisee, to come to Him whom she believed to be the Saviour of sinners. She wept over His feet, feeling afresh the sin of her soul, and she waited at His feet until she had His word: "Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace." And she went away freed and forgiven. It was a great day for her soul. It was a day that could never be matched in her history. She had come to Jesus. The poor woman, in all her grief and in her inability to cleanse the fountain of evil within her heart, came to Him, the fountain of light, in order to be cleansed. And she was cleansed.

This was a wonderful episode in her life, as it is in the life of every one who comes as she did but, beloved friends, let us face another fact. We must understand that conversion does not comprise the whole of a man's Christian life. I admit it is the most important point in a man's history when he turns from the broad way that leads to destruction into the narrow way that leads to life, but we must remember that the career of a follower of Christ is not a gate, but a way. When you enter that narrow way, having passed through the Door, which is Christ, what do you find throughout that narrow way? You find Christ who is your Master and Lord. Recollect His words to the disciples of old and to you: "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life; no man cometh unto the Father but by Me."

Beloved friends, the Lord Jesus Christ, in this verse I am pressing upon you, calls to those who have already come to Him, who know already something of the sweetness of His love and His grace, and He calls such to come after Him. And who is it calling for volunteers? It is the blessed Saviour and Lord come down from heaven, walking through this world. Only a few heeded His call. Multitudes of men in the world of that day scorned and despised the Nazarene. He had some followers it is true; a few women also here and there believed on Him. Crowds came to be healed, but how many were with Him as He traversed Galilee and juda? Oh, such a little company. Why was this? Because the mass did not discern the beauty that was in Him. They saw not the glory of His Person, and yet, if they would, they might have seen it. If they had only considered His wonderful deeds and utterances, they might have. learned sufficient of the glories of His Person to have renounced self and the world for His sake.

Now, by way of illustration, let us think of the man spoken of in the immediate context — Simon Peter. Why was it that he was commissioned to hold the keys of the kingdom of heaven? You will remember, perhaps, the first interview Peter had with our Lord Jesus Christ, as it is given us in the first chapter of John's Gospel. There we are told how he came to Jesus at the invitation of his brother Andrew. And he came, why? His brother said, Come to Jesus. We have found Him! He is the Messiah! He is the Christ! He is the One of whom all the prophets have spoken. He is the One whom all the types foreshadowed and foretold.

So Peter came to Jesus. Jesus knew him and welcomed him. Simon had learned something concerning the Person whom he found. The One to whom he had come was not merely Jesus of Nazareth; He was the Messiah of Israel; He was Jehovah's Anointed who should come into the world and be a king on David's throne.

Now it is clear the lessons Simon Peter learned that day prepared him to answer the subsequent call of Jesus. Some little time after, when Peter was on the shore of the lake of Galilee, a voice fell upon his ears, "Follow Me." He followed Him. Why? Because he knew it was not just an earthly voice that called to him. It was the voice of the Messiah. It was the voice of the Christ, the Son of the living God. It was the voice of One who had come down from heaven to seek and to save the lost. Heaven was in that voice. Boats and nets were not worth considering. Jesus was worth more than them all. Beloved friends, do you know what it is to have left all and to be following Jesus?

In contrast with Simon Peter, there was another man whom you know from the Gospels. I mean a young ruler who came to Jesus and said: "What must I do that I may inherit eternal life?" Jesus answered, "Go, sell that thou hast and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven." That was a bargain. But the Lord added, "Come, follow me." Here was the test. The man looked at Him, the Prophet, whom all Galilee and juda despised. Leave my wealth and possessions! Leave my rites and ceremonies! Leave my religion and my friends, and follow this Nazarene! There was no beauty in Him that he should desire Him. He could inquire of Jesus as a Teacher, but he would not follow Him as Master. The call of the Lord Jesus to him was in vain: "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."

It is the great secret of power in Christian life, beloved friends, to love and adore the glorious Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. You may make the mistake most easily of slighting Him if you listen to the promptings of your own heart, if you are carried away by the formalities of religion. You may think of Jesus as only a name, just as much and no more to you than an historical name, with no living person behind it. The great secret of strength is to find out the power behind the name of Jesus.

There was a man in Jerusalem who thought that Jesus was one of those deceivers who had gone about seeking to draw away true men after him; and he did all he could to stamp out that name, to eradicate the desire from men's hearts to follow. Jesus. That man's whole life was suddenly revolutionized. How was this? How was Saul of Tarsus converted? How was he turned from being a hot-brained persecutor, to be a meek follower of the Nazarene? It was because he saw the heavenly glory of Jesus.

On his way to Damascus, suddenly from heaven at noonday, shining brighter than the Syrian sun, the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ shone down upon this man. He was stricken to the dust. "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" Me, by Whom all things consist, whether thrones, dominions, principalities or powers! Me, before Whom all angels bow! Saul found that he, a puny man upon the earth, was persecuting the One who was in the Shekinah of glory.

Beloved friends, are there not tens of thousands of men who are turning their faces away from God? They go about their business day by day as if there was no God, and perhaps they attack the book that tells of Him, fighting in this way against Him that sits in the heavens. Perhaps there may be none such in this audience tonight. But I ask you, one and all, what is Jesus in your life?

To the proud man there prone in the dust, confused and desolate, came the word, "I am Jesus, whom thou persecutest." He who was despised on the earth was magnified in the heavens. The same appeal is made to you, my hearer. Are you on the side of earth, or on the side of heaven? Are you on the side of those that nailed Jesus of Nazareth to the cross, or are you on the side of God who has exalted Him? Will you not come after Him? He does not force you to be His disciple.

Some people say thoughtlessly, "I should like to follow Him," just as that man who said, "Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest." But Jesus spoke to this man. It was as if He said, Do you know what you are saying? Do you know why it is you are so ready to come? "Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head." Will you follow the Homeless Stranger?

God in His word sets before your view the glorious Person of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of sinners, once crucified on Calvary, now enthroned in glory, and He seeks the devotion of your life. He wants a complete and devoted response from your heart to the claims of His Son. If He has forgiven your sins, if He has made your future bright with the hope of His coming, is it not right that you should be for Him here in this world? The world is against Christ, and the man who comes to the Lord Jesus Christ should not stoop to serve the world.

But see what the Lord asks the man to do who comes after Him. "Let him deny himself." When you have come to Christ, and have perhaps passed the first flush of the joy and rapture of knowing that all your sins are forgiven, that you have been accepted, and that, vile and sinful as you were, the Lord received you, and showered upon you the blessings of His love and His grace: I say, when the joy of this experience has for a moment subsided, then it is that many a person finds out, to his surprise, that he has a traitor within his own heart, that he has a foe within himself, and that he has within him what rises up day by day to impede his walk and service for the Lord Jesus Christ. The position then is that there is a voice within him that calls him to serve and follow Jesus Christ, and there is another voice which says, 'Take your ease. All is right with you for the heaven to come. You have eternal life. Rest on your oars. Do not struggle. What need to make such efforts? All will come right in the end. Take your ease.' Need I say what result invariably follows unwatchfulness? The man who does not watch and pray is the man who falls into temptation. He succumbs, and what a spectacle such a failure is? That is a man who has rested upon Christ, and there he is, back in the mire, so to speak.

Beloved friends, I am referring tonight to facts which come to view in the professing life of men and women on our right hand and on our left, and why is it so? Why is it? Because they do not in self-denial follow the One that is the Lord Jesus Christ. He saw the great need for a continuous habit of self-denial. Some people have one week a year for this purpose, and let the other weeks of the year go. If you look at the parallel passage in the Gospel of Luke, you will see that the Lord has fixed the time: "daily."

Let us then, who follow Christ, deny ourselves. The word means to say "No," to refuse. We read that when Moses came of age he refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter. The term used is precisely the one we have here. Moses denied himself and resisted the alluring prospect. He would not sit on the throne of that despot who was crushing the people of God in horrible slavery. He would be on the side of God, and he denied himself the throne of the world's empire. He re fused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, and set aside the pleasures of sin, which were for a season.

We naturally like to be on the side of popular opinion. There is many a person today who is meddling with the things of this world just because he will not deny himself. A tempting offer comes from a worldly quarter: the desire for rest and ease from Christian endeavour arises. He is unable to say 'No.' Lethargy and indifference have come over him, and Satan takes him at a disadvantage.

Remember, that when the Lord Jesus went to the garden of Gethsemane Himself to pray, He told His disciples that they ought to pray, lest they entered into temptation. Separated from the apostles, you see the Blessed Lord there left alone to visions of Calvary, of the power of Satan, and of all the power of the world rising up against Him. What does He say, "Father, if Thou be willing, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not my will, but Thine be done." He rises strengthened. Again the supplication is repeated. But what of His disciples? No power received, for there was no intercession on their part, no denying themselves on that last night. And when those who apprehended their blessed Master came, those who had slept fled with the others. The Lord said, "Let a man deny himself," and this example illustrates the need for it.

Sometimes the Lord will put you into a place, so to speak, where you are face to face with the hostile armies of the world, and then a sense of your own utter weakness to resist such force is borne in upon you. Then it is you learn you must never take your eyes from Him.

Take up your cross daily. This direction does not imply that we are to take up the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. It rather says, 'Let a man take up his cross.' What does the expression mean? We must not confound taking up the cross with being upon the cross. You find the Lord Jesus Christ was nailed to the cross of Calvary, but you also find that it was the custom of that day that the one who was sentenced to crucifixion should carry his cross to the place of execution. The man who was seen carrying his cross was therefore the man who was thereby known to be adjudged for death, and the death of the cross; and the multitude were not slow to display their feelings against such a person. There is a man, they would say, who is worthy of death: he has outraged the laws of his country, and they would mock him and show how glad they were to be rid of him. Carrying the cross was therefore the sign of an outcast.

And the cross is the chosen badge of our service to Christ. It is the distinguishing mark which shows a person to be a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. The cross as a symbol in these days of ours has lost something of its original significance, because it has now been made an object of pride. When our officers distinguish themselves exceptionally in the present campaign they will be rewarded, probably, with the newly instituted military cross as a decoration. It is an official diploma, so to speak, of their bravery, of their special courage and devotion to their country. But there is its form. It is that of a cross.

There is, however, a feature of this new cross which connects it with the spiritual one. The military cross bears a crown upon each of its four ends; and so it is, beloved friends, with the cross you are asked to take up. The cross of a believer supports a crown. No cross, no crown. Each suffering one shall wear the crown.

When you look at a certain man, you know by his demeanour that he is a follower of Christ. He has something about his deportment that marks him out as a follower of the meek and lowly Nazarene. He is one who does not answer back. He is one who does not mind being made the off-scouring of all things. He has taken up the cross, and upon that cross he wears, you may see it if you will, the future crown. Those that suffer with Christ shall reign with Him.

Beloved friends, I ask you whether it is not a fact that when you go into general company you find you can speak of ordinary things, politics, pleasures, nature, and even God, and men will listen to you, join in the conversation, and attend to what you say. But when you introduce the name of Jesus the Nazarene, of Him who suffered and died, you get less response than before. Many will speak of God in an abstract way, while they have no real regard for Jesus in their hearts. Have you any place for Him? I feel sure you believe that there is a Creator of this world and that you are confident that there must be an Omnipotence somewhere that controls the world with all its intricate operations; but have your sins been forgiven? If you have had your sins forgiven, have you such little love in your heart for the Saviour that you will not allow it to show itself by following Him?

"If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." That is the way. The way of the cross is the way of salvation. And the blessed Lord points the finger at you! No, He does not point the finger and tell you to go; He says, Come after Me, and points to the narrow way which He trod in such patience and obedience to His God, the end of it being involved in the blackness of darkness. But He who went to the cross is now enthroned in brightest glory. That is your way, it is my way, if we follow Him.

"If any man follow me." It will be a great attainment, beloved friends, when we are there in the place He has gone to prepare for us, when this world will be a thing of the past, when all the suffering for His name's sake will be over. Is it not a fact that the sufferings of this little while are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us?

Depend upon it, there is a great future before you and me if we do but answer to these words of the Lord Jesus Christ, and deny ourselves and follow Him. He looks down, as it were, from heaven, and calls to you. He wants you to enlist for the duration of the war.' There must be no turning aside, no resting; we are in a hostile country, and the campaign must go on until the Lord comes. It is a time of peril; and who is there upon the earth prepared to follow the a Lord Jesus Christ in loyalty and devotion? You cannot follow Him with your sins. You must come and be cleansed from your sins. You must have that black past forgiven and obliterated, and nothing but the blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, can cleanse you from your sins. Having been cleansed from your former sins, let your future be to take your cross, to deny yourself, and to follow the Lord Jesus Christ. W.J.H.