Thursday, 18 August 2022

Bishop Challoner's Meditations - August 18th

ON SELF-DENIAL

Consider first, that the capital enemy of the love of God and of all our good, especially of the resignation and conformity of our will to the will of God, is the vice of self-love, or a disorderly inclination to gratify and please ourselves; which is the unhappy consequence of the corruption of man by sin, and the fruitful parent of all our evils. All our vices and passions spring from this poisonous root; all the seven capital sins are but so many branches of this inordinate inclination to ourselves: take away self-love and you will shut up all the avenues of hell, and establish everywhere the reign of the love of God, and a most blessed heaven upon earth. Hence the virtue of self-denial, the business of which is to suppress and root out this dreadful evil of self-love, is one of the most necessary of all Christian virtues, and must ever go hand-in-hand with the great virtue of conformity to the will of God, which can never take root in our souls as long as we are unhappily attached to our own wills and fond of gratifying our own inclinations. Hence the very first condition the Son of God requires of all that would be his disciples is to deny themselves, Matt. xvi. 24. This self-denial is the great lesson he came down from heaven to teach. Happy we if by his grace we can but effectually learn it in practice.

Consider 2ndly, that this virtue of self-denial is usually called mortification, from a word signifying slaying or putting to death: inasmuch as by this continual fighting against ourselves and against our own corrupt inclinations and passions, we put to death, as it were, and crucify the old man of corruption, Rom. vi. 6, with his vices and sins, (according to that of the apostle, Gal. v. 24 that they that are of Christ have crucified their flesh with its vices and concupiscences,) and so die to ourselves, that we may put on the new man, Jesus Christ, and live in such manner to him as to be able to say with the same apostle, ‘I live now, not I, but Christ liveth in me,’ Gal. ii. 20. See, my soul, what this virtue of mortification means which is much talked of and but little understood, and less practiced, and yet no virtue is more necessary for our true welfare. We may even apply to it what St. Paul says of charity, 1 Cor. xiii., ‘That if we speak with the tongues of men and angels, and have the gift of prophecy, and all knowledge, and all faith, so that we could remove mountains, and are not mortified, we are nothing;’ and that whatsoever other qualifications we may have, or whatsoever good we may do, as long as our passions and corrupt inclinations remain unmortified, we shall still be nothing in the eyes of God.

Consider 3rdly, how this general mortification of our passions and our inordinate inclinations is everywhere strongly inculcated in the Word of God. We are even assured there that we must hate ourselves in this life if we hope to be either true disciples of Christ here, or to be eternally happy with him hereafter; (St. Luke xiv. 26, and St. John xii. 25); ‘that if we live according to the flesh we shall die, but if by the spirit we mortify the deeds of the flesh we shall live,’ Rom viii. 13. ‘And that they who are in the flesh,’ that is, they who are unmortified, ‘cannot please God,’ v. 8, besides many other texts which abundantly demonstrate that no one can be a good Christian without waging a perpetual war against his own sensual inclinations, and diligently taking up the cross of daily mortification. Hence the flesh with its passions and lusts is always reckoned by divines amongst the three great enemies of the soul, and is indeed of all the three by far the most dangerous enemy, because the world and the devil, with all their suggestions, would not easily draw us into sin and hell if our own flesh, that is, our corrupt inclinations and passions, did not pave the way and furnish them with the arms with which they fight against us. The world and the devil besiege us from without, but could never force their way into the soul, if our own evil inclinations did not hold a correspondence with them, and open the gates of the soul to let them in.

Conclude if thou desirest to overcome the world and the devil, to make it thy business to subdue the flesh and to bring it under subjection by wholesale self-denials and mortifications. Without this restraint upon the passions and inclination, there will be no soundness in thy soul – the whole head will be sick, and the whole heart sad, Isaia i. 5.

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