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A Matchstick a Horse and Man: Chapter Nine

THE DENIAL OF MORTAL MAN

I think most of you will agree that two of the most conflicting statements (seemingly) in the New Testament are:” Deny thyself; take up thy cross and follow Me.” (Matt. 16, 24. Mark 8, 34. Luke 9, 23.) And: “Ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.” (John 16, 24.) The “deny thyself” command suggests (as a Student wrote this week) that one should never ask for anything for oneself except things like strength of character to endure trials, or virtue, perhaps, or patience, or knowledge, or wisdom, or honesty. But if this were so, why are we asked to ask “that our joy may be full”?

Surely this suggests a fullness at all points, of joy? If we were meant to ask only for strength of character, etc., would not the Master have said: “Ask, and ye shall receive, that your strength may be full”? Or: “Ask, and ye shall receive, that your patience may be full”? And so on. Yet how can one deny oneself and still ask for fullest joy?

A little earlier I said that it was only a seeming contradictionand so it is. If you look up the passages I have given, where the “deny thyself” command is mentioned, you will be able to see it in a clearer light. But first of all let me mention that the word “deny” has two meanings, one is to withhold the other is to disclaim.

I was meditating on all this some weeks ago and I jotted down in my notebook with the aid of a concordance all the times that the word “deny” appeared in the Bible. To my surprise I found that in the great majority of instances, the word is used in the sense of disclaiming. There is Josh. 24, 27, “Lest ye deny your God.” Prov. 30, 9, “Lest I be full and deny thee.” Matt. 10, 33, “Whosoever shall deny Me, him will ldeny before my Father in Heaven.” And many more. So you see, we have to consider the possibility that the Master meant by “deny thyself”, its other meaning: “disclaim thyself”or: “say to yourself: ‘I do not know you’ .” Got that?

Now let’s have a look at the passages where the “deny thyself” command occurs. In all of the three instances given we find that the subject under discussion was not austerity, poverty, starvation, joylessness or the casting away of every desire. What was it then? Jesus had just told His disciples privately that He was going to be killed but that in three days He would rise again. Now instead of realising that this was a part of His Christhood (for, as you will see, He had just told them that He was the Christ but had commanded them not to tell anyone about this) and that He had power to rise from the dead, Peter looked at it purely from a human standpoint and rebuked the Master, saying that he would not allow it to happen, and so on.

We can just imagine hot-tempered Peter trying to lay down the law about the protection of his beloved Master Then the Master turned to Peter and spoke sternly to him; He said that he “savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of man “meaning that Peter did not take the divine Power into account, but was looking on Jesus as just an ordinary man.

He had already told them that they too were God’s sons, heirs of God and join theirs with Him, and so He went on to teach them that if they too would come to the glory of being conscious sons of God, they must be ready to suffer, because the world would hate them; they must be ready to strive, to practise selfdiscipline, to be dissatisfied with themselves and ever seek to climb to the spiritual heights. They must no longer “savour the things that are of man,” but must disclaim all knowledge of themselves as just ordinary men; they must deny themselves as but mortal men and start to live as befitted the heirs of God. Then, so that they should not think this was a hard saying and one which should arouse and foster gloom, He went on to speak of the wonderful joy, glory, happiness and power that was in store for those who would follow Him.

Immediately after this He gave them a wonderful demonstration of what He had promised them. He took them privately into a mountain and He was transfigured before them; a great radiance shone around Him and the disciples, at first awestricken, were afterwards so filled with joy that the impetuous Peter actually said that it was so “good to be here” that they had better build tabernacles and stay there ! It was after this wonderful demonstration of Divine Power that Jesus cautioned His disciples, telling them not to tell anyone of what they had seen until after He had risen again from the dead. Then, of course, it would not matter. Everyone would know that it was possible for the Master to return to life after being dead; and the evidence of the disciples that they had actually seen the glorified bodies of Moses and Elias would simply make it all doubly clear.

You see, then, don’t you, that the whole matter had nothing to do with withholding the necessities of life from oneself? True, it might be necessary from time to time as part of the upward spiritual climb, but that it should be the usual practice to refrain from asking for the life’s needs and having all the burdening distractions of wondering how the rent could ever be paid or the children fed or clothed, was never intended.

Indeed, the Master said that we were to ask for these very things from our loving Father. But just as an athlete disciplines himself before entering a contest (and joys in it) so does the one who spiritually climbs delight in the discipline of training. I have fasted for three or four days from time to time, as a spiritual exercise and have also lived very, very frugally for months on end for the same reason. But just as the athlete returns to his joyous reaping, so did I.

Paul knew this, too, when he said he knew ” how to be abased and how to abound, how to be empty and how to be full,” and added: “I can do all things through Christ . . .’ The normal life for every man, then, is to deny that he is merely a mortal man and claim that he is an heir of God. Then, with joy he climbs and climbs, counting any little disciplines on the way as small beside the intense joy of living as God’s heir and asking forand receivingall his least needs. Then he can say with the Master: ” Father, I thank Thee that Thou hast heard me and I know that Thou hearest me always.”

- Bernard