SELF‑CONCEIT INCIDENT TO A MULTITUDE OF PROFESSORS; OR, THE IMAGINARY PURE GENERATION FOUND NOT WASHED FROM THEIR POLLUTION.
The Nature and Excellency of Purity Opened
[The Eighth on this Text]
“There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness.” Proverbs 30:2.
The greatest step towards Heaven is to step out of our own door, and over our own threshold: to go wholly out of ourselves, and wholly into Christ. Instead of going abroad, and out of ourselves, by self‑denial, we naturally stay at home, by self‑conceit and proud imagination of our own excellency; “There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness.”
It is idolatry to worship an holy angel, as well as a cursed devil. To make our virtues our God is idolatry, as well as to make our belly our God: nay, it rather adds to the idolatry; because that is used to rob him of his glory, which should have brought him in the greatest revenue of glory. If a man boasts of his vices and sins, he pulls down the throne of God and worships a devil: if a man boasts of his virtues and graces, he pulls down the throne of God with that wherewith he should build it up; and worships a golden image, a golden calf: yea, worships himself, while he trusts in his own beauty and purity. “There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes; and yet is not washed from their filthiness.”
Having prosecuted the two first observations we took notice of from these words, we now proceed to the third proposition which we observed from them, namely,
Doctrine 3. That self‑conceit is incident to a multitude of professors.
Many, who are most impure, look upon themselves as pure; and labor under a sad, a woeful delusion, a gross and damnable mistake about the state and case of their immortal souls.
The method we lay down for prosecuting this observation, through divine assistance, shall be the following.
I. To prove and clear the truth of the doctrine.
II. Touch a little at the nature of self‑conceit.
III. Inquire into the grounds, causes, and springs of it.
IV. Point out the evil of it, both in respect of the sinfulness and danger of it.
V. Deduce some inferences from the whole.
I. The first thing, then, to be essayed is to prove and clear the truth of the doctrine, viz., That self‑conceit is incident to a multitude of professors. This point is evident both from scripture and experience.
1. It is clear from a multitude of scriptures. Not only the words of the text, but many other scripture passages confirm it; such as— “Which say, Stand by thyself, come not near, for I am holier than thou,” (Isa. 65:5).—“They seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinances of their God: they ask of me the ordinances of justice: they take delight in approaching to God. Wherefore have we fasted and thou seest not? wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge?” (Isa. 58:2,3). They were much in duty; much more than the generality of professors in our day; but they had an high conceit of themselves and their duties. Self‑conceit is self‑deceit; “For, if a man think himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself,” (Gal. 6:3): or, he that conceiveth of himself highly, deceiveth himself greatly. “How canst thou say, I am not polluted, I have not gone after Baalim? See thy way in the valley; know what thou hast done,” &c., (Jer. 2:23). They said they were not polluted; and yet they are called to see their way in the valley. It is observed by the prophet Hosea, concerning Israel, that they cry, “My God, we know thee,” (Hosea 8:2,3); and yet they cast off the thing that is good. Why are you saying “My God, we know thee?” You are all mistaken, saith God; you have neither part nor portion in me. If you consult the parable of the ten virgins, (Matt. 25), you will there see that the foolish virgins had an high profession, and very high pretensions to religion: they entertained an high opinion of themselves and their lamps; though yet they had no oil in their vessels. Yea, it is told of many, that they shall say, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name, and in thy name cast out devils, and in thy name done many wonderful works?” (Matt. 7:22). To whom Christ will say, “I never knew you, depart from me.” And here it is plainly implied that they will expect to be rewarded with eternal bliss for the same. We are cautioned to this purpose; “Let no man deceive himself: if any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise,” (1 Cor. 3:18). “If any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know,” (1 Cor. 8:2). “If any man think himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself,” (Gal. 6:3). All which supposes that many think something of themselves, who yet are nothing, and are but cheating their own souls; and of all deceit this is the most terrible.—In a word, we find a whole church laboring under a soul‑ruining disease and distemper, namely, the church of Laodicea; “Thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked,” (Rev. 3:17).—Is it not plain from these scriptures that many look upon themselves to be pure, who never yet were washed from their filthiness? But,
2. Let us next compare these scriptures with experience. We may see this doctrine abundantly clear from experience. Are we not exceeding ready to judge ourselves better than indeed we are; and to magnify ourselves, our states, our virtues, above what they are? We act very differently in respect of our good things from what we act in respect to our evil. As to our sins and evils, we have a trick of extenuation that, though our sins be exceeding many, yet we can, like the unjust steward, write down fifty instead of an hundred. Though our sins be great, we can lessen them. But, on the contrary, in our good things or graces, whether real or supposed, we have a trick of aggravation, to make them greater and more than they are; here write an hundred for fifty. And here we have the art of multiplication. It is with many as it was with Simon Magus; they deceive themselves as he deceived the people of Samaria, (Acts 8:9,10). He made them believe that he was some great man; yea, that he was the great power of God; whereas, indeed, he was but a base sorcerer; and one that wrought lying miracles by the power of Satan. So many conceit themselves to be great men, to be the dear children of God, and that the power of Christ dwelleth in them; when, indeed, they are nothing but Satan’s vassals.
Is it not evident from experience, that many are dreaming that matters are well enough with them? They have a good heart, they think; and they trust in God, they say; and hope to be saved as well as others, that seem to be more strict.—Is it not evident from experience that there are more proud professors than poor converts? And hence, in a day of trial, multitudes of professors apostatize: they are offended at Christ and his cross; they fall off from the faith like leaves from the trees in the time of harvest. They had only an high pretence to devotion, and an high conceit of themselves, but were never truly washed from their filthiness.
II. The second thing proposed was, To touch a little at the nature of this Self‑Conceit. Why, in general, “It is a false apprehension, whereby a man hath an over‑weaning and over‑valuing of himself and his actions, judging of himself more highly than he ought to do.” This self‑conceit may be considered, either as it takes place in the godly, who may apprehend themselves to be in a better condition than they are; or as it takes place in the wicked, who may judge themselves to be in a good condition while yet they are in a bad one.
1. It may be considered, I say, with respect to the godly; they may imagine themselves better than indeed then are, when they think their smoking flax is a blazing flame; when they look at their graces through a magnifying glass, and think them great, when in deed they are but small. They may look upon their own graces as parents upon their own children and think them the fairest of all others; James and John seem to be thus affected, when Christ tells them. “Are ye able to drink of my cup. and to be baptized of my baptism?” (Matt. 20:22). Yea, say they, “We are able:” while yet, alas! they were scarce able to see Christ drink that cup; and therefore fled they while it was coming near. Thus Peter also seems to be too high‑minded about his grace and strength, when he said, “Why cannot I follow thee now? Yea, though all men for sake thee, yet will not I.”
2. It may be considered with respect to the unregenerate, and all the wicked and ungodly. who judge themselves to be in a good state, when indeed they are in a bad one. And here this self‑conceit hath especially these two parts, or two things in it. 1. When men apprehend that they want that evil which indeed they have. 2. When they imagine they have that good which indeed they want.
[1.] When men suppose that they want that evil which indeed they have: or think then are not so bad as indeed they are. Thus the Pharisee talks how free he is of common vices, (Luke 18:11); that he is not unjust nor an extortionist: and yet our Lord Jesus, who could not be deceived, charges that whole tribe with manifold enormities. (Matt. 13:4‑39; Luke 11:29‑44), and elsewhere; how they devoured widows’ houses, through color of long prayers; by teaching their children to starve their own parents, to offer to the altar, which, in effect, was just to fill their purse. Here was injustice and extortion; and yet, because it was more covertly carried on, and not so evident as that of the publicans and common thieves, therefore they bless themselves, as if they had been no extortionists, no unjust persons. Thus many will free themselves of pride. Why? Because they do not exceed in their apparel; and yet they may be swelled with pride and self‑conceit; and discover it in many other respects. Thus many natural men think themselves free of many sins and gross immoralities which take place in the generation; and so, who more religious than they? They think they have not such and such corruptions, because they feel not the powerful operation of them; and it is only God’s restraining hand, but no renewing grace, that makes it so; but a lion is no less a lion when in fetters, than when he is loose.
This self‑conceit, whereby men judge that they are not so bad as they are, it looks not only thus to present circumstances, but it looks sometimes backward to former times, saying with the Pharisees, “If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have murdered the prophets,” (Matt. 23:30), when yet their bloody persecution of Christ discovered the same spirit to be in them. Even so many will say, “Fie upon the persecuting high priests that crucified Christ! Fie upon Judas that betrayed him! if we had been living, we would have taken Christ’s part against the Jews; we would have taken the martyrs part against their persecutors.” And yet, their spiteful and malicious mind against the people of God, whom they mistake, reproach, and misrepresent, shows that they would have been as ready as the forwardest to execute all these villainies and butcheries. If one had asked Herod concerning the conduct of Ahab and Jezebel toward Elias, and what he would have done in the case, no doubt he would have condemned them, and declared he would never have been guilty of the like; and yet he did the same thing to the new Elias [viz. John the Baptist], that came in the spirit and power of Elias; and so discovered that he would have done the same thing to the old Elias.
Again, sometimes it looks forward to future times, saying, with Hazael, when the prophet told him he would cruelly rip up the women with child, and dash their children against the stones “What, am I a dog?” He thought better of himself than that ever he should break out into such wickedness. All the sons of Adam are, in their vicious qualities, worse than dogs, bears, and tigers; and there is no sin so odious, to which we are not inclinable; for, original sin hath in it the seed of all other sins: hence it is that Christ addresses that admonition, even to disciples, that they take heed of surfeiting and drunkenness, (Luke 21:24). For they had in them the common poison of nature, and so were obnoxious, even to the most shameful and reproachful evils; and yet many think themselves far enough from these and such like enormous sins. What! am I a dog, to do so and so? Men persuade themselves, through self‑conceit, that their nature is not so far venomed, that it should break forth into such wickedness. Indeed, there may be some sins that we are not so much tempted to as others: so Luther said of himself, “That he never was tempted to covetousness.” Yet there is no sin but we may both be tempted to, and, through temptation, even fall into, if the everlasting arms do not under‑prop; this is supposed in that motive adduced, “Brethren, if any man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted,” (Gal. 6:1). We need to suspect our own hearts, if we knew our nature: however they may be tamed by education, civility, good example, and the like. As you would readily suspect a bear, or wolf, or lion, or any such like beast, and be loath to trust yourself to it, though never so well tamed, knowing its natural voracious disposition: even so, “He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool: and he that leaneth to his own understanding is not wise.” Fear even those sins which ye least suspect, and to which you find not yourselves so pronely carried.
[2.] Another part of self‑conceit is, when they suppose they have that good, which indeed they want: and when they imagine themselves in a good state, when they are in a very bad, miserable one. This is a very sad deceit: “He that thinketh himself to be something, when lh is nothing, deceiveth himself,” (Gal. 6:3). And, as was formerly observed, self‑conceit is self‑deceit. And here we might condescend on a variety of persons who thus deceive themselves.
(1.) The rich worldling deceiveth himself, because of his outward prosperity: but, though riches be the gift of God, yet we must consider with what God reaches them, whether with the right hand, in his love, or with the left‑hand in his anger. I have read of a king that heaped up riches upon those whom he most hated; that, together with their riches, he might crush them with a heavy burden of cares. God puts some into fat pastures, that he may feed them for a day of slaughter.
(2.) Civilians deceive themselves, and think their state good, because they live honestly without scandal, saying, Whose ox or ass have I stolen? Whom have I wronged? But, what sort of religion is that, which consists only in honesty towards men, while there is not also devotion towards God? A negative and external religion, without something positive and internal, will never bear a person out in the sight of God: “Except your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
(3.) Libertines deceive themselves; even these who turn the grace of God into wantonness, and apprehend their case to be good. Why, they have been born in the church, and enjoy the privileges thereof: they have been washed with holy water, and fed with the spiritual manna of the word and sacraments; they cry, “The temple of the Lord:” we have gone to church and heard sermons: yea, we believe, say they; though yet the means of faith, the word, and powerful ministry thereof, are what they despise.
(4.) The temporary believer deceives himself with a false faith, repentance, and obedience; apprehending it to be true faith, true repentance, true religion; nay, hence concludes he shall be saved: and this is more dangerous than the former, because he thinks his argument is certain, and agreeable to the word. And, indeed, his graces may be so like the true believer’s, that the most discerning Christian cannot distinguish between them: although in fact his faith fails both in the knowledge and application of it. It fails in the knowledge of it, in that it is not grounded and rooted in the testimony of the word and spirit: and in experience, in that it is not a heating and warming knowledge, working love in the heart to the truth known; and in that it is not humble and abasing, making him to loath and abhor himself. Yea, his faith fails in the application of it; in that the application of it is not mutual; the believer takes hold of Christ? because Christ takes hold of him. True faith conflicts with unbelief; the believer finds much ado to believe, and to live by faith. The hypocrite finds it very easy: Satan doth not try his faith: for he begat that presumptuous faith in him. The true believer believes against sense; and like the woman of Canaan, can pick comfort out of the reproachful name of a dog; and with Jonah, even in the whale’s belly, look towards God’s holy temple: can see heaven in the very extremity of misery. But, in such a case, the temporary believer’s jolly confidence fails him. And so I might instance how his repentance and obedience fail him. But however, herein the man apprehends his state good, while yet he is in the gall of bitterness, and bond of iniquity.
There are two extremes of judging of ourselves. Some judge their state worse than it is; as when the children of God judge themselves to be Satan’s: and their faith to be no faith, their repentance to be no repentance. Some again, are in the other extreme, and judge better of themselves than they are, even to be the children of God, when they are Satan’s; to have faith, when it is but presumption; to have religion, when it is but hypocrisy. So men may be puffed up with a conceit of knowledge; as of faith, repentance, love, and other graces: and surely, of these two, the last is most dangerous, as well as the most common deceit and error. It is better for a good man to think he hath no faith, no religion; than, on the contrary, for an ill man to judge that he hath them: for to judge the worst of ourselves, is a mean to awaken us out of security, and to stir us up to make our calling and election sure; but to judge we have grace, when we have none, this lulls us asleep, and sends us securely to hell.
III. The third thing proposed was, To speak of the grounds, causes, and springs of this self‑conceit. The grounds of this great and epidemical distemper are many; such as,
1. The deceitful and desperately wicked temper of the heart; for, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked,” (Jer. 17:9). As Jacob cheated Esau out of his earthly inheritance; so doth the hearts of the children of men cheat them out of their eternal inheritance. There are many deceitful things in the world; riches are deceitful, favor is deceitful, beauty is deceitful, enemies are deceitful; but the heart is deceitful above all things; yea, above the devil himself: and this doth in nothing more palpably appear, than in making people believe that they are going to heaven, when they are going the straight road to hell. O sirs, do not trust your own hearts.
2. Ignorance is another cause of self‑conceit. Many, through ignorance, cannot distinguish between good and evil; but take common grace for saving grace, as Saul took the devil for Samuel. Many do not know or consider what it is that brings the soul to heaven; that they must be born again, and go through the pangs of the new birth, and the hardships of mortification. We must not think to lie in Delilah’s lap all our days: and then betake ourselves to Abraham’s bosom when we die. Ignorance is so far from being the mother of devotion, as the Papists affirm, that it is the mother of pride and presumption. “Thou thoughtest that thou wast rich, and increased in goods: Why? Thou knewest not that thou art poor, wretched, miserable, blind, and naked,” (Rev. 3:17). Men are proud because they know not their misery; it is impossible that a man, who truly knoweth his misery should be proud. True, the apostle saith, “Knowledge puffeth up:” that is, unsanctified knowledge, notional knowledge; but true knowledge humbleth; and none more proud and arrogant than the brutishly ignorant man. I will get you an ignorant man, that will truly imagine he can keep the whole law; “All these things have I done from my youth up; what lack I yet?”
3. Negligence and sloth is another cause of pride and self‑conceit. Many are at no pains to consider where their landing shall be, when the shadows of the everlasting evening will be stretched over them. Truly, the whole world are either atheists, or downright mad; either they believe not that there is a heaven and hell, and that the scriptures are the word of God, whereby they may know how it is between him and them: or, if they believe that there is a God, an heaven, and an hell, they are mad and distracted, if they consider not where they are going.—Spiritual sleep and security is the great cause of self‑conceit. As natural sleep, so spiritual sleep is full of dreams: “It shall even be as when a hungry man dreameth, and behold he eateth; but he awaketh and his soul is empty; or as when a thirsty man dreameth, and behold he drinketh; but he awaketh, and behold he is faint, and his soul hath appetite,” (Isa. 29:8). A man may dream of riches, and treasures, and crowns, and kingdoms conferred on him, but he awaketh, and no such matter, though he truly thought in his dream, that he was possessed of all. So, in spiritual sleep, people may have strange dreams; they may dream of heaven, and that they have faith, and repentance, and Christ, and salvation, and a crown of glory; when, alas! all is but a dream; and the man awakes, either in time or at the day of judgment, and finds himself deceived; and the sweeter the dream, the sadder the disappointment. For, as in natural dreams, it is better, when they are false, to dream of fearful things than of joyful: as for instance, it is better for a king to dream that he is a beggar, than for a beggar to dream that he is a king; for the king, when he awakens, his grief is gone, and his joy is redoubled, seeing the vanity of his dream; but the beggar, when he awakes, his joy is gone, and his grief redoubled, in regard of the false joy of his dream. So it is in spiritual matters; it is safer to be in some fears about our state, than to be filled with presumptuous hopes. Christ tells us, that few shall be saved: but if all were saved, that dream they shall be so, surely there would be few that should be damned; but, “Narrow is the way that leads to life, and few there be that find it.”
4. Another cause of self‑conceit is Satan, who hath a great hand herein. This is one of the great wiles of this cunning sophister. He takes all methods to deceive people: he persuades them that their state is better than it is: and makes them look upon themselves as really good enough, and safe enough: The god of this world hath blinded the eyes of them that believe not. While the strong man armed keeps the house, the goods are at ease. And we are not ignorant of his devices: he hath great skill in deceiving souls. He deceived our first parents when sinless; how easily must he deceive us, who are sinful and ignorant? He deceived them, by making them think they should be as gods, to know good and evil: and he deceives us, by making us think, that we are gods, knowing all that we need to know: and so, lifting them up in pride, they are pure in their own eyes, though remaining in their impurity.
5. Another cause of self‑conceit is judging the goodness or badness of our state by false rules. Many form very erroneous opinions and mistakes of a good condition: and they frequently mistake a bad state for a good one, by reason of the false rules by which they judge themselves.—Sometimes they judge themselves by the opinion that others have of them: they are held in reputation by others in the world who know them, for persons of wisdom, knowledge, prudence, discretion, &.c.; and accordingly form such sentiments of themselves.—Sometimes they judge themselves by their affections, whether of hatred or love: it may be they hate some of the evils of the day, and some of the sins of the times; and show some zeal against these: but Judas may preach against the Pharisees, and preach up Christ, and yet be a traitor. It may be, they have a love to the godly; but not because they are godly, and for the holiness and purity they perceive about them.—Sometimes they judge by the false rule of an erring conscience; and many apprehend that matters are right with them, because of storms and calms in the conscience; but people may have storms in the conscience, like Judas; and calms in the conscience, like the peace of justification; and yet it is but carnal security, saying, “We shall have peace, though we walk after the imagination of our own evil hearts.” Sometimes they judge by the false rule of the audience of their prayers. God may hear the prayer of people, with respect to some blessings that they need: and yet give leanness to their soul.—Sometimes persons judge by the false rules of the law, misunderstood; as when they judge either by a part of the law, or judge by the outside of the law, and not the inside and spirituality of it. Indeed, the application of the law, is one great cause of self‑conceit; so it was with Paul; “I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died,” (Rom 7:9). Sometimes persons judge themselves by the false rules of the gospel, mistaken; such as that word, “If there be a willing mind, it is accepted:” which belongs only to believers, that are accepted in the Beloved.
6. Another cause of self‑conceit is self‑righteousness; “Being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, they have not submitted” (Rom. 10:3), their over‑proud conceit of their own righteousness; it flows from their being possessed with a legal righteousness of their own, and this makes them so proud and selfish, that they will have nothing ado with the righteousness of the God‑man. Some have a righteousness of disposition; a good natural temper that they lean to, and deceive themselves with. Some have a righteousness of education; they have been brought up at the feet of Gamaliel, and have had a good example; and this hath had much influence upon them, to restrain them from many evils; and this deceives them. Some have a righteousness of profession, as Paul; one of the strictest Pharisees, of the strictest side; one that sides himself with those who make the most splendid profession. Some have a righteousness of intention: they have good resolutions; “All that the Lord hath commanded we will do.” Some have a righteousness of reputation: they are of good repute among others, and held in high esteem amongst those of distinguished abilities. Some have the righteousness of reformation: they do many things, and reform in many particulars, and keep themselves from many grosser and more open violations of God’s holy law. Some have the righteousness of common spiritual operations; common enlightenings and tastings of the heavenly gift, (Heb. 6:5,6); a common work of the Spirit upon the understanding, will, affections, conscience, and conversation. In a word, some have a natural righteousness, a cradle‑faith; they never did anything amiss. Some have a negative righteousness; they are not as other men. They are not guilty of this and the other gross violation of God’s holy law. Some have a positive righteousness; they read, and pray, and fast, and give alms, and attend upon ordinances. Some have a comparative righteousness; they imagine they are better than others; “I am holier than thou.” Yea, some have a superlative righteousness; they say and do their best. And I know not how many kinds of righteousness might be mentioned. Some have an active righteousness; they do what they can; nay, they do many things. Some have a passive righteousness; they have suffered losses and crosses for a good cause, and the sake of religion. Upon these, and the like, many professors build: and hence they conceive highly of themselves, and are pure in their own eyes; and yet, after all, are not washed from their filthiness.
IV. The fourth general head of the method was, to speak of the evil of this sin of self‑conceit. We may view this, 1. More generally. 2. More particularly.
1stl We may view the evil of self‑conceit more generally. Where self‑conceit is, in its power, it is an evidence and plain indication of being a stranger to religion, and of being a gross hypocrite: for, he that lifteth up his heart, is not upright: “His soul that is lifted up in him is not upright,” (Hab. 2:4). He that hath a conceit of his own purity and attainments is but a dissembler, is not what he pretends to be.
2dly, Let us take a more particular view of the evil of self-conceit. The evil of it will appear in these six respects: 1. In respect of ourselves. 2. In respect of others. 3. In respect of Christ. 4. In respect of graces. 5. In respect of duty. 6. In respect of danger.
1. The evil of self‑conceit will appear in respect of ourselves. Where self‑conceit is in a person, there is pride; and you know, “God resisteth the proud, but he giveth grace to the humble.” Where self‑conceit is, there is carnal security; and “Drowsiness shall clothe a man with rags.” Where it is, there is contempt of means. Self‑conceit produces either a despising of the means, or a not using of the means that God hath appointed. The man being self‑sufficient, he is, in some manner, above means: the means of grace, the means of knowledge are undervalued.
2. The evil of self‑conceit will appear, if we take a view of it with respect to others. The evil of it is such, that it produces either a contempt of others; “Blessed be God, I am not like this man;” he undervalues them, and looks down upon them as below him: or, it produceth uncharitableness, if not contempt. None are so uncharitable as the man that hath a conceit of himself. I think the apostle Paul seems to hint at this (Gal. 6:3), compared with the first verse: q.d., I know none will stand in opposition to this duty of charitable carriage towards their neighbor, but those that are puffed up with an high conceit of themselves.
3. The evil of this self‑conceit will appear in respect of Christ. Such people contemn him: and they despise his fullness, righteousness, and blood.—They despise his fullness for their supply: why, they are full of themselves; they are rich and increased with goods. and stand in need of nothing. They come rich and go empty away, —They despise his righteousness for their justification: while they are pure in their own eyes, they content themselves with a righteousness spun out of their own bowels, out of their own duties.—They despise his blood, his Spirit, his grace, for their sanctification: why, a person that thinks himself already pure will not make application to the fountain where unclean souls are made clean.
4. The evil of self‑conceit will appear if we view it in respect of graces. The evil of it is such, that it stands in opposition to every grace: particularly to that mother‑grace, Humility: “God giveth grace to the humble, but he resisteth the proud.” Humility is such a grace that, without it, a man cannot be a Christian. Now, this pride is opposed to humility and self‑denial, which Christ enjoins on all his disciples; it is opposed to that self‑loathing that he requires. The selfish man will not be covered with the vail of blushing: no; he seldom takes a look of his failings. He looks more on his beauty than his defilement. He will not cry out with Agur, in the context, “I am more brutish than any man; I have not the understanding of a man.” The motto of the humble man is, “I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” The motto of the self‑conceited man is, “God, I thank thee, I am not like other men.” He looks on anything of attainment through a magnifying glass; but upon his sins in a diminishing one.
5. The evil of self‑conceit is great in respect of duties. The evil of it will appear very great, if we consider the following particulars, among several others.—For it produceth rashness in adventuring upon duty, even the most solemn duty; because, being pure in their own eyes, they stand upon no duty; while the poor, humble, and self‑abased creature is afraid lest he mismanage his work. It produces a superficial performance of duty: though they think very much of their duties, yet they perform them but overly; for they imagine any sort of service for them is enough. And yet it produces a kind of meritorious opinion of their duties: “Wherefore have we fasted, and thou seest not? Wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge?” (Isa. 58:3,4). As if God had been faulty in not taking notice of their performances.—We might mention a variety of other things to the same purpose.
6. The evil of self‑conceit will appear in respect of danger. The evil of it is exceeding great. Why so? Here is great deceit; for, “He that thinketh himself to be something, when he is nothing, deceiveth himself,” (Gal. 6:3). And this is the worst of all deceit. To deceive another is certainly a great fault; but to deceive ourselves, what a terrible evil is it! For a man to kill and destroy another is a sad thing; but to kill and destroy himself is yet more dreadful! The self‑conceited person imagines he can perform any duty; that he can read, pray, communicate, believe, repent; but he deceives himself. To be deceived about earthly things is ill; but to be deceived and cheated out of our immortal souls, alas! that is worst of all. When a self‑conceited person hears the threatening of the promise, he misapplies all: that threatening is not to him, he thinks, and yet that is his portion: that promise is to him, he imagines, and yet he hath no part in that matter. Again, as such people are never likely to get good of ordinances, so, they are not easily convinced of their mistake: and no wonder, for we are told, “They hold fast deceit,” (Jer. 7:5), when we say all we possibly can say to them. They will still declare; that they have a good heart towards God, and that they have a great love to Christ; though yet they never saw their ill heart, nor their strong enmity: “They hold fast deceit.” Self‑conceited persons will come under a sad disappointment in the issue; for “Fearfulness shall surprise the hypocrite in Zion. Who among us shall dwell with devouring fire? Who can abide with everlasting burning?” Why will they be surprised with fear and terror? What is the matter? Why, they had a good hope of heaven; and so the higher their hope, the more dismal their fall and disappointment. O! how many ride triumphantly to hell in a chariot of soul‑destroying delusion! They imagine they are right enough, and that all is well; while it is quite otherwise with them.