"If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me."
We are reading through a booklet on self-denial in our family devotions each evening. It is a compilation of sermons and/or articles written by men of God from long ago.
This is one by George Whitefield that I found to be particularly helpful.
Proceed we therefore now to...offer some considerations, which may serve as so many motives to reconcile us to, and quicken us in, the practice of this duty of self-denial.
1. The first means I shall recommend to you, in order to reconcile you to this doctrine, is to meditate frequently on the life of our blessed Lord and Master Jesus Christ.
Follow Him from His cradle to the cross, and see what a self-denying life He led! Shall we not drink of the cup that He drank of and be baptized with the baptism that He was baptized with? Or think we that Jesus Christ did and suffered everything in order to have us excused and exempted from sufferings? No, far be it from any sincere Christian to judge after this manner: for St. Peter tells us, "Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps" (1 Peter 2:21). Had Christ, indeed, like those that sat in Moses' chair, laid heavy burdens of self-denial upon us, (supposing they were heavy, which they are not) and refused to touch them Himself with one of His fingers, we might have had some pretense to complain. But since He has enjoined us nothing but what He first put in practice Himself, thou are inexcusable, O disciple, whoever thou art, who wouldst be above thy persecutes self-denying Master. And thou art no good and faithful servant, who art unwilling to suffer and sympathize with thy mortified, heavenly-minded Lord.
2. Next to the pattern of our blessed Master, think often on the lives of the glorious company of the apostles, the goodly fellowship of the prophets, and the noble army of martyrs.
[They,] by a constant looking to the Author and Finisher of our faith, have fought the good fight and are gone before us to inherit the promises. View again and again how holily, how self-denyingly, how unblameably they lived: if self-denial was necessary for them, why not for us also? Are we not men of like passions with them? Do we not live in the same wicked world as they did? Have we not the same good spirit to assist, support, and purify us as they had? Is not the same eternal inheritance [extended] to us as was to them? And if we have the same nature to change, the same wicked world to withstand, the same good Spirit to help, and the same eternal crown at the end, why should we not lead the same lives as they did?...
3. Thirdly, think often on the pains of hell.
Consider whether it is not better to cut off a right hand or foot and pull out a right eye if they offend us (or cause us to sin), rather than to be cast into hell, "where the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched" (Mark 9:44). Think how many thousands there are now reserved with damned spirits in chains of darkness unto the judgement of the Great Day! Think withal that this, this must be our case shortly unless we are wise in time, deny ourselves, and follow Jesus Christ! Think you [that] they now imagine Jesus Christ to be a hard master; or rather think you not [that] they would give ten thousand times ten thousand worlds, could they but return to life again and take Christ's easy yoke upon them? And can we dwell with everlasting burnings more than they? No, if we cannot bear this precept - deny yourselves, take up your crosses - how shall we bear the irrevocable sentence, "Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41)? But I hope those, amongst whom I am now preaching the kingdom of God, are not so disingenuous as to need to be driven to their duty by the terrors of the Lord, but rather desire to be drawn by the cords of love.
4. Lastly, therefore, often meditate on the joys of heaven.
Think, think with what unspeakable glory those happy souls are now encircled, who when on earth were called to deny themselves as well as we, and were not disobedient to that call! Lift up your hearts frequently towards the mansions of eternal bliss, and with an eye of faith, like Stephen, see the heavens opened and the Son of man with His glorious retinue of departed saints, sitting and solacing themselves in eternal joys. Hark! Methinks I hear the chanting forth their everlasting Hallelujahs, and echoing triumphant songs of joy. And do you not long, my brethren, to join this heavenly choir? Do not you hearts burn within you? As the hart panteth after the water brooks, do not your souls so long after the blessed company of these sons of God? Behold, then, a heavenly ladder reached down to you by which you may climb to this holy hill. Let us believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and deny ourselves!
George Whitefield (1714-1770)