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The Connection between Self-denial
LOVE ESSENTIAL TO SELF-DEVELOPMENT.
“Love is the fulfilling of the law.” –ROMANS xiii. 10.
MHE context reads, “ Owe no man anything,
1 but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law."
We have seen that to live a completely human life is to live in the lives of others. The attempt to live entirely for one's self is to make, not the best of one's life, but the worst. Unless we do our duty towards our neighbour, we fail to do our whole duty towards ourselves. We only find our life by losing it; that is to say, then only do we truly live, when the narrow, meagre, self-contained life belonging to us as isolated individuals, has given place to the broad, deep, sympathetic life of communion and affection, belonging to us as members of a family, of a country, of a race. Now it is manifest that the development of this higher life will involve selfdenial. Personal inclinations must be subordinated to the general good. Our own pleasure inust be foregone if it would cause pain to others. Private interests must give way when they clash with the larger interests of society. But, as Burns truly says,
“But och! mankind are unco weak,
And little to be trusted;
It's rarely right adjusted !”
It would seem then, at first sight, as if the higher life of unselfishness were quite beyond our reach. How can we ever hope to fulfil the law which saith, “Thou shalt do no ill to thy neighbour”? How shall we ever be able to
practise the requisite amount of self - denial ? This question is, I think, answered in our text, “Love is the fulfilling of the law.”
The “natural man,” as he is called in the New Testament—that is, the man who is trying to live exclusively for himself—looks upon the law as a nuisance. Why, he asks, should it be fulfilled ? It acts as a check upon his inclinations and passions, and so he considers it his enemy; he would fain do away with it altogether. His duty towards his neighbour he regards as a curtailment of his own rightful pleasures. To any one in this state of mind I should like to say,— My good sir, if you will reflect upon the matter for a very little, you can scarcely fail to see that law is in reality your most useful friend. Law, throughout the whole universe, is the essential condition, the sine quâ non, of wellbeing. Would the world be a better place to live in, think you, if there were no law of planetary motion ?—if the stars, instead of revolving, as they do, with mathematical precision, in orbits marked out for them by the law of gravitation, were at liberty to move in any direction with any velocity? Better ! Why, this earth of ours, set free from the control of law, might one day be as far from the
sun as Neptune, where we should die of cold, and the next as near as Mercury, where our frozen remains would be cremated. And law is infinitely more necessary in the social than in the physical sphere. The great thing requisite to make human life even tolerable is security; and this, of course, we could never feel if every one were at liberty to treat every one else exactly as he might happen to please. In that case we should live in a state of universal warfare and continual dread. Without law the human race would quickly perish, self-destroyed. We owe to law, therefore, a debt of gratitude as well as a debt of obedience. Though it forbids our injuring others, it also forbids our being injured by others. Though it marks out our duties, it also protects our rights. Though it has punishments for the guilty, it also has rewards for the just. As the water which is evaporated from the surface of the earth returns again in fertilising showers, so we are compensated for the selfrestraint which the law demands of us by that which it exacts from others, and by the consequent security in which we are enabled to live. “Of law,” says Hooker, in the celebrated sentence with which he closes the first book of his · Ecclesiastical Polity,'—“Of law there can be no less
acknowledged than that her seat is the bosom of God, her voice the harmony of the world. All things in heaven and earth do her homage: the least as not beneath her care, and the greatest as not exempted from her power: both angels and men, and all creatures of what condition soever, though each in a different sort and manner, yet each with uniform consent, admiring her as the mother of their peace and joy.” If this, then, · be the nature and value of law, its fulfilment will be eminently rational and desirable.
We thus arrive, I may point out in passing, by another route, at a similar conclusion to that which we reached in the last discourse. We there saw that our lives could only be perfected by the sacrifice of personal gratification for the general good. We now perceive that law, though at first sight it may appear to have been devised solely in the interest of others, is absolutely essential for our own wellbeing. The point, however, with which we are at present specially concerned is this,—we shall only be able to achieve the self-denial that is involved in the fulfilment of the law, when love becomes the ruling passion of our lives.
The law, of course, is often obeyed on account of the punishment which would follow its viola