For whoever will save his life shall lose it: but whoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.
Men are saved only as they get the better of themselves; the higher self treading down and treading out the lower self. What is virtue but sharp conflict all the way along, and in death alone the victory? If ever we enter heaven, we go in on our shields. To escape with our lives is to lose our lives. To be slain is to live for evermore.
I. IT IS COMMONLY REQUIRED OF US TO SACRIFICE A LOWER GOOD IN ORDER TO GAIN A HIGHER. Not always, but almost always. The rule is, with regard to the good things of this world, that every man shall take his choice, and then abide by it; selecting some one thing that he wants, and consenting to forego all the rest. The world is thus turned into a vast bazaar, where everything is ticketed and has its price, but where no man makes more than one purchase at a time. Especially true is it that a lower sort of good has to be given up for a higher. If we may not have God and Mammon for our friends, still less may we reverse the order, and have Mammon and God. All that a man may win of earthly good he must be ready to sacrifice, if need be, in order to save his soul. You may call the demand a hard one; but all the analogies of our ordinary life endorse and favour it. As pleasures are trampled on in the chase after gain, and gold has no glitter for a proudly aspiring eye, so is it no more than just and fair that he who would shine as a star in heaven, should be willing to have his light eclipsed and quenched on earth. Pleasure, money, fame — each has its price; and nobody complains of it. The soul, too, has its price. Its redemption is precious. It may cost us all we are worth, and all we covet, to save it. The life temporal may have to be flung utterly away in order to make sure of the life eternal. The men who burnt thought they were taking his life. They would have taken it, had they persuaded him to deny his Lord.
II. BY FIRST SECURING THE HIGHER GOOD, WE ARE PREPARED PROPERLY TO ENJOY THE LOWER, AND ARE MORE LIKELY TO SECURE IT. The principle I wish to emphasize is, that no worldly good of any sort can be well secured, or properly enjoyed, if pursued by itself and for its own sake. This may be seen in our most ordinary life. The man whose aim is pleasure may, indeed, secure it for a while; but only for a while. It soon palls upon his senses, disgusts and wearies him. So of gold. So also of fame. The best way to win renown is not to work for it, not to think of it, but to work for something higher; to work for God and work for man, forgetting self, and, by and by, it will be found that both God and man are helping us. He that most utterly forgets himself is the one most surely and most warmly remembered by the world. General Zachary Taylor, the twelfth President of the United States, spent forty years of his life in comparatively obscure, but very faithful, service at our Western outposts; receiving no applause from the country at large, and asking for none; intent only upon doing promptly and efficiently the duties laid upon him. By and by events, over which he had exercised no control, called him into notice upon a broader theatre. And then it was discovered how faithful and how true a man he was. The Republic, grateful for such a series of self-denying and important services, snatched him from the camp, and bore him, with loud acclaim, to her proudest place of honour. And this was done at the cost of bitterest disappointment to more than one, whose high claims to this distinction were not denied, but who had been known to be aspiring to the exalted seat. And so through our whole earthly life — in all its spheres and in all its struggles. To lose is to find; to die is to live. It is so also in our religion. We begin by abjuring all; we end by enjoying all. He that loves God with all his heart, and serves Him with all his powers, working here, with a self-forgetting devotion, in the world where God has planted him; willing to forego pleasure, gain, renown, and everything for Christ, shall find that everything comes back to him — if not in its material fulness, yet in its essential strength and spirit. Am I charged with preaching that "gain is godliness"? Not so, my friend. But godliness is gain. It begins by denouncing and denying all; it ends by restoring all. First it desolates, and then it rebuilds. In conclusion —
1. We may learn the great mistake committed by men of the world in their chase after worldly good. They make it an end. They must reverse the present order of their lives. They must learn to seek first the kingdom of God. They must abandon themselves to the service of Christ.
2. We may learn why it is the happiness of Christians is so imperfect. They have only partially denied themselves; are only partially resigned to the love and service of their Maker. Hence they are still in part devoted to the world and fettered by it. blot till the last link is sundered, and their souls entirely absorbed in Christ, can they attain to a perfect joy. Not till they are wholly dead can they wholly live.
(R. D. Hitchcock, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.