And then, thirdly: selfishness. It is self-denial, not asceticism, which Jesus requires; self-denial to the point of self- renunciation. “If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out; if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off.” Wherever some, desire of the senses gains the upper hand of you, so that you become coarse and vulgar, or in your selfishness a new master arises in you, you must destroy it; not because God has any pleasure in mutilation, but because you cannot otherwise preserve your better part. It is a hard demand. But it is not met by any act of general renunciation, such as monks perform—the act may leave things just as they were before—but only by a struggle and a resolute renunciation at the critical point.
With all these enemies, mammon, care, and selfishness, what we have to exercise is self-denial, and therewith the relation of Christianity to asceticism is determined. Asceticism maintains the theory that all worldly blessings are in themselves of no value. This is not the theory to which we should be led if we were to go by the Gospel; “for the earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof.” But according to the Gospel a man is to ask: Can and ought I to regard property and honour, friends and relations as blessings, or must I put them away? If certain of Jesus’ sayings to this effect have been handed down to us in a general form and were, no doubt, so uttered, still they must be limited by the whole tenour of his discourses. What the Gospel asks of us is solemnly to examine ourselves, to maintain an earnest watch, and to destroy the enemy. There can be no doubt, however, that Jesus demanded self-denial and self- renunciation to a much greater extent than we like to think.