Herman Witsius was a renowned theologian of the latter half of the 17th century. One his devotional works is entitled ‘The Practice of Christianity’. It was written originally in Dutch in 1665 and was translated into French in 1731. The work is being translated from French into English by Pastor Wes White.
All of the translation completed to date can be found: HERE
Self Denial, part 3
16. What does it mean to deny our desires and will?
This means that we should not always want everything to happen according to our pleasure nor to do everything according to our own fancy but to be disposed to see without any perceptible grief that many things happen to us or to our possessions otherwise than we expected according to our own desires. We should even make every effort to no longer live according to our own fancy but, by abandoning our own thoughts, govern ourselves in all things according to the will of God which is revealed to us in His Word. This denial has a place in the things that he has decreed about us as well as in those things that He has commanded us.
17. How can we deny our will in those things that God has decreed about us?
This way: fallen man is naturally very proud and would like every human being, all the creatures, and even God Himself to be submitted to his own desires and subjugated to his interests. He is extremely irritated when others think of things a little bit differently than him and even when rain and clear skies, heat and cold, the weather and the wind do not work out according to his inclinations. It is as if he wanted to take over the government of the world from God and govern in His place. Everyone who examines himself with care will find that this is his natural disposition. He must, therefore, renounce and deny these senseless and unreasonable desires, since things cannot always turn out just as we would like. We should accommodate ourselves to the things that happen to us and leave it to God to govern everything according to His wise and holy will. We should be content at everything God sends our way, whether in adversity or prosperity, whether according to our desires or opposed to them, and say with Eli, “He is the Lord who does what pleases Him” (1 Sam. 3:18) and with the companions of Saint Paul, “The will of the Lord be done” (Acts 21:14). See also 2 Sam. 15:26, and Lev. 10:3.
18. When someone has denied his will in these sorts of things, won’t he find a great deal of rest and consolation?
Yes, in every way. For by this method man can be perfectly tranquil. This occurs when everything happens according to his own good and well-regulated desires and his good will in all things. Such a man has learned to regulate his will according to the will of God and, since the will of God is always done, he always has his own will done. Moreover, this will in conformity with God’s will is always good because God’s will is the rule and standard of all good. Man’s good will on these matters is capable of making him tranquil and comforted at all times.
19. How should we renounce our own will in the things that God has commanded us?
We can do this by not making an idol of ourselves in order to follow our own desires and feelings and thereby seek the things of this world and those things that conform to our desires. Much less should we erect ourselves as masters over the commandments of God to reject one and accept another according to how we feel at the moment. This is how the natural man generally acts, for he does not receive any of the commandments of God for the reason that God has commanded them (for he should observe them all simply because God has commanded them). But if the natural man does observe some of the commandments of God, it’s because they are in accord with his own ideas and feelings, and that’s why he neglects the rest of them. Therefore, a Christian should put himself in a frame of mind in which he no longer has his own will and but regulates his inclinations and conduct according to the commands and the will of God. He cannot, without making himself guilty of disobedience, say to God, “I want this or that, and I do not want this or that.” We have no will of our own when the Lord commands or forbids something. Our will must be regulated by the commandment of the Lord.
20. Can you say in a few words all at once about what this self-denial includes?
Yes. This self-denial primarily includes three things.
- First, renouncing all our known sins and all the ways of the old man as much as possible, even if we love them as much as our right eye or our right hand (Mt. 5:29–30, Col. 3:5).
- Second, we must seriously examine what it costs to be a Christian, that is, that we will sever ourselves from many good things that we can expect in the world and many sorts of pleasure, profit, honor and that, on the other side, we will expose ourselves to many disagreeable difficulties, losses, and reproaches (Jn. 15:19–21). We must resolve to commit ourselves to all these things rather than to turn aside from the Lord Jesus and His sacred service.
- Third, in consequence of all this, we must abase ourselves and attempt to live in humility, telling ourselves, “I am a man who has denied myself and has crucified myself to the world and the world to me” (Gal. 6:14). Why would I want, then, to hinder myself much with external things? Why should I be upset or grieved if things do not go according to my will or if someone says or does evil to me? I am worthy to be covered with shame and reproach. I have merited the injuries and persecutions of others. So, why would I be so quickly astonished by it or so quick to balk at it?” That’s how man should reject himself if he wants to make himself capable of serving God and Jesus Christ.