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 Ninth Sermon 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.
This text assigns two or three differences between the godly and the wicked. 1. They differ from each other in their number; there is a generation of wicked men and hypocrite, a multitude of them: whereas the godly are but a little flock, an handful, a remnant, a few. 2. They differ from each other in their judgment: particularly in their judgment about themselves. Wicked men and hypocrites are proud, and pure in their own eyes: whereas the godly are humble, and vile in their own eyes. 3. They differ from each other in their real qualities. The wicked and hypocritical generation are really vile and polluted, never washed from their filthiness; whereas the godly are purified in part, and cleansed from their filthiness; at least, it is their exercise to get their defilement daily washed away with the blood of Christ.
It is remarkable, that as self‑abasement and purity go together: (for, they that are impure and vile in their own eyes, are a people washed from their filthiness;) so, on the other hand, self‑conceit and impurity go together: for, the generation that are pure in their own eyes, are not washed from their filthiness. The former look upon themselves as impure, and yet are pure; the latter judge themselves pure, but are impure.
The doctrinal part of the subject having been finished in the preceding discourse, it remains now that we make some practical improvement of the point.
V. The fifth thing we proposed in the method, was the application of the doctrine; which we shall essay in several uses.
The first use that we make, shall be of Information. If it be so as has been affirmed, That self‑conceit is incident to a multitude of professors, then we may infer the following things.
1. Hence see the degeneracy of our nature, by reason of the fall. Alas! how corrupt is our nature now! The devil made our first parents fancy, that they should be as gods; and now he makes them dream that they are as gods; for this self‑conceit is a deifying of ourselves. Self is the god that we adore naturally. Instead of lawful self‑love, unlawful self‑conceit takes place. There is a lawful self‑love enjoined; “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself; where you see it is our duty to love ourselves; and then our neighbor as ourselves. And if the generation had a right and lawful love to themselves, either soul or body, they would not destroy their bodies by intemperance and insobriety, and ruin their souls by willful sin and impenitency: but, instead of lawful self‑love, sinful self‑love takes the throne. Self‑conceit and self‑admiration, self-will and self‑satisfaction prevail.
2. See what is the great tendency of true gospel‑preaching; namely to discover and diminish all self‑purity and self‑righteousness, that Christ alone may be exalted: yea, the design of it is to level and dash down all that self‑conceited purity, whereby people are pure in their own eyes, that it may advance gospel‑purity, by which we may be pure in God’s sight. Some make a vast noise about preaching up good works, and of their being friends to holiness and the law; while yet the tendency of their doctrine may be only to make people pure and holy in their own eyes, and in the eyes of men: but that which a gospel‑minister especially aims at, is, to get people pure in the sight of God. He cannot satisfy himself merely in preaching up good works, and charity, piety, devotion, mercy, tenderness, honesty, civility, morality, &c., which is very commendable; and would to God there were more of these; but he goes farther and labors principally to get the foundation of true holiness laid in the heart, self‑purity mortified, the principles rectified, and Christ formed in the heart: otherwise, they build, without laying a foundation. It may be observed, with regret, there never was less morality amongst persons of all ranks, than since so many ministers laid aside evangelical preaching, and made the inculcating moral duties their principal theme. And many who extol moral virtues, are themselves the most immoral persons. The Pharisees set up for great friends to the law, when Christ appeared on the stage; and they flouted at him, as if he had been an enemy to good works, when he was telling them that they were but hypocrites: “Think they (with he), that I am come to destroy the law? Nay, Except your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” Why, they were pure in their own eyes; they verily imagined they were friends to holiness: yet they made clean but the outside, and were not internally washed from their filthiness. The doctrine of the Pharisees was much about washings, and legal purification: Yea, saith Christ; but I tell you, you must be pure in heart, otherwise you cannot see God. Why, say the Pharisees, you must do good works, and bring forth good fruits: Yea, saith Christ; but make the tree good, otherwise the fruit cannot be good. The principles must be changed, the nature renewed, and the soul implanted into Christ; then, and not till then, can any do what is spiritually good. Till there be both a spiritual habit of grace, wrought by the efficacious power of the Spirit of God; and a spiritual communication of heavenly influences, to excite that habit into exercise, there can be no pure act, no holy work acceptable to God: and whatever doctrine doth not aim at this, it comes so far short of pressing holiness, that it may indeed make hypocrites; but can never direct people how to go one step beyond hypocrisy and self-conceit: for, without this radical change, a man may well be pure in his own eyes, and in the eyes of others; but is not pure in God’s eyes, nor washed from his filthiness.
3. Hence see the difference that there is between believers and hypocrites. The hypocrite doth the same action externally that the sound believer doth; he may pray, and praise, and read, and hear, and what not. What doth the best believer that I do not? with the hypocrite. What can they do but I will do? Yea, he may exceed the believer in the multitude of duties. But, behold! all the while he is a mass of impurity and pollution: and only pure in his own eyes. He may indeed affect holiness, and seem to be one that is freed of self‑conceit: but yet self is still his principle, and self still his end. Whereas the true believer, as such, hath no self‑conceit, but what is his burden; no self‑motive, but what is his grief; no self‑ends or aims, but what are his exercise either sooner or later. And, in a word, there is as great a difference between the most refined hypocrite, and the poorest believer, as there is between a painted image, and a living man; yea, as there is between an angel of light, and a devil transforming himself thereunto.
4. Hence see ground to lament this common distemper and epidemic plague of self‑conceit that hath seized the generality of professors, whereby they are pure in their own eyes. There are few or none that we come to close converse with, but they would fain make us believe that they are as clean and pure as can possibly be. Say they, “We are all sinners; and who can say otherwise, but they have sin about them? But God be thanked, I am not guilty of such and such a gross wickedness; you must not have such ill thoughts of me: I was never a liar, nor a cheat, or a murderer: I have always had a liking to the best way; I have a good heart, and do good duties; and wherein I fail, I hope I will be better.” Alas! sirs profanity kills its thousands, but delusion kills its ten thousands: and this delusion kills its twenty thousands, while they fancy themselves to be right, and in a good condition, and yet are in the gall of bitterness, and bond of iniquity. What is the bane and disposition of the generation? Even a settled contentedness in their sinful state; a presumptuous confidence that natural men have of their good condition. Every man is so full of self‑love, that he is loath to pass a sentence against his own soul; loath to become a judge and self‑condemner, and so an executioner of all his vain hope and false confidences, that he hath been building upon. If people were once come to see their sinful state, so as to cry out, Oh! I am unclean, unclean! and to see their miserable state, so as to cry out, Alas! I am undone, undone! there would be more hope in Israel concerning them: but while they are content with their present condition, there is no hope of their seeking out for another.—Or, if any happen to see something of their sinfulness and misery; yet, how doth their self‑conceit lead them instantly to accept help and supply from their own sufficiency; for this Arminianism is natural to us all. We hope, that either by our natural ability, common graces, or beautiful performances, we may help ourselves out of the horrible pit; not knowing that we have destroyed ourselves, and that in Christ only doth our help lie: and therefore we will scramble for our comfort, and try the utmost of our strength, rather than be obliged to him to help us; and consequently when the body or conscience is brought to trouble, men are so ready to resolve, and apt to promise and profess amendment, saying “0, I will be a renewed man: you will see that I will take up myself, and reform all that has been amiss.” But, behold! when their fear and horror is over, all comes to nothing: they either fall back into the same, or greater abominations; or else waste away into a wearisome formality and hypocrisy.
5. Hence we may see matter of comfort to all whom the Lord hath humbled and separated thus from a generation of self‑conceited sinners, who are pure in their own eyes. It is ground of comfort, if the Lord has killed your pride, and made you vile in your own eyes: for, “Thus saith the Lord, the high and lofty One, that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a humble and contrite spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the spirit of the contrite ones,” (Isa. 57:15). Yea, “To this man will I look, (saith the Lord;) even to him that is poor, and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word,” (Isa. 66:2). Hath the Lord brought you to the valley of humiliation? It is ground of comfort; because he has given this valley of Achor for a door of hope.
6. Hence we may see matter of terror to those that are still filled with self‑conceit, and are pure in their own eyes; so stuffed with pride, and puffed up with the wind of self‑confidence, supposing themselves to be good, and honest, and upright, that the word of conviction makes no impression, but falls upon their hard hearts, as water upon a rock, that cannot enter, nor prevail, nor profit at all. May not this doctrine dash the hopes, and sink the hearts, of all haughty and hard‑hearted sinners? If your hearts were never humbled, God never dwelt there: dwell you where you will, God doth not dwell with you; for, though he has respect to the lowly, yet he knoweth the proud afar off; yea, resists the proud. You may be pure in your own eyes, and draw the eyes of others after you; but God will not come near you, nor cast his eye toward you, but with abhorrence. Hear and fear, then, you that are stout‑hearted, and far from righteousness: whose consciences can attest, that the day never yet dawned, where you found not your sins a pleasure to you. You are so far from being humbled or troubled for your sins, that it is your only trouble that you cannot commit them with content, and without control: and you are only troubled with admonitions, counsels, commands, threatenings, scriptures, and sermons that cross you.—Know for certain, if you be never humbled, and broken for your abominations, you must burn for them one day. Your proud hearts were never abased and laid in the dust; and if they remain so, the Lord will ruin both you and them.—There are few in the world, whose hearts fail them, under the weight of their abominations; and who lie low in the dust for their sins: but you, being pure in your own eyes, and never humbled for your heart and life-abominations, deride and scorn these humbled and broken ones, and look down upon them, with a supercilious eye, as silly and despicable men: But yet a little while, and you shall see them exalted to glory, and saved forever: when such self‑conceited, proud, and presumptuous wretches, as you are, shall be turned into hell! O sirs, “Be not high‑minded, but fear.”
The second use that we make of the doctrine is for Dehortation and Caution. 1. To the wicked. 2. To the godly. 3. To all in general.
1. To the wicked and ungodly. Is this self‑conceit so incident to a multitude of professors? O sirs, do not draw this inference from it, as if there were no real Christians in the world, because many pretend to be so, who yet are not so. Nay, God hath his own remnant in the world; his Nathaniels, who are Israelites indeed, in whom there is no guile, no allowed or unlawful guile. In the church‑visible there is a heap of chaff; but there is some wheat among the chaff: In Zion there is a heap of stones; but there are some diamonds among the stones. Though many satisfy themselves with a form of godliness without having the power thereof; yet there are some to whom the gospel hath come, not in word only, but in power, and that understand the power of godliness.
2. To the godly there is this Caution. Do not think that you ought not to profess religion, because so many professors do deceive themselves; and profess very solemnly, who yet are impure indeed. The possession of Christ in the heart is the principal thing, but the confession of Christ with the mouth is also a duty; “With the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation,” (Rom. 10:10). Give not over your profession of the name of Christ; although many have but a name to live, and are dead; but endeavor, through grace, to prove your profession before the world, by your practice before God and Christ, by the principle of faith, in love to, and zeal for a God in Christ, moving you thereunto.
3. To all in general. The caution and dehortation we tender is, seeing this abominable evil doth so much prevail and abound, and that many pretend to call themselves by the God of Israel, and take great titles to themselves in the church of Christ, and are pure in their own eyes, who yet are naught in reality; O then, sirs, “Be not high‑minded, but fear.” What reason have we to fear, lest we be amongst the number of self‑conceited persons, and self‑deceivers? For, if we survey our hearts, we will find what a high conceit of ourselves we have entertained. Beware of this sin; for it is a dangerous evil, as I have already shown on the doctrinal part, and might here resume, were it not for gaining of time.
The third use of the subject is for reproof. This doctrine teaches a reproof to all that are pure in their own eyes, and filled with self‑conceit.
1. Some have an high conceit of their own persons. They are proud, perhaps, of a white skin, amiable features, and a handsome shape; little remembering what a few days’ sickness will produce, and that all will molder into dust in the issue. They that are proud of their bodily excellencies, or yet of their soul accomplishments, do not duly ponder, that their body is but a piece of clay, and their soul a piece of hell, by nature.
2. Some have a high conceit of their possessions and attainments; puffed up because they have an opulence of worldly things, and some natural and acquired abilities: not knowing that they are without life, without light, without holiness, yea, without God, and without hope in the world; really poor, miserable, wretched, blind, and naked, (Eph. 2:12; Rev. 3:17). Surely the best of us want more than we have.
3. Some have a high conceit of their performances; while yet they do little or nothing for God, or for the generation; nothing for their own souls; nothing for their families; nothing for the spiritual good of the neighborhood that are about them. They have the leaves of a profession, the flourish of resolutions, and the appearance of fruit; but it never ripens to a spiritually good work.
4. Some have an high conceit of their own power and ability they think they can repent, they can believe, they can pray, they can meditate, they can mortify sin when they please; they think they can communicate as well as the best; they can love God and their neighbor: while yet they are wholly without strength, and can do nothing: yea, are not sufficient of themselves, to think anything as of themselves.
5. Some have a high conceit of their own sufferings, as well as doings. Some will speak very boastingly of their suffering that they have undergone, and what persecutions they have endured for religion, and a good cause; and, perhaps, think more of these than they do of Christ’s sufferings for them; but they are not of Paul’s disposition; “God forbid (saith he) that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Gal. 6:14).
Many are pure in their own eyes; and why? Because they judge amiss concerning themselves.
(1.) Some judge themselves pure, because of their profession, their eminent profession; who yet maybe cursed with the barren fig‑tree. Such a sandy foundation many build upon, that they take a profession of religion for true Christianity. What? say they; ministers talk of conversion, regeneration, the new birth, and we know not what unintelligible things; but, God be thanked, we are not papists, neither are we atheists, nor infidels, without the church; we are within the very bosom of the church, and even enjoy the privileges of the church. Alas! sirs; mistake not your own shadow for a bridge, and so, venturing thereupon, drown yourselves forever.
(2.) Some judge themselves pure, because of their gifts. One may have the gift of prattling, and be able to speak well of religion, and recommend religious things; and think, who but he. Another may have the gift of prayer, while he is a stranger to the grace of it; yet he may suppose the gift to be sufficient; and being thus eminent above many others, he may think he is well enough. But gifts and graces are not the same: many have gone down to the pit of hell with their great gifts, and with all their wisdom and learning, that they valued themselves so much upon.
(3.) Some judge themselves pure because of their common graces, which they mistake for saving graces. There is many times such a resemblance between common and saving grace, that they take counterfeit coin for true, because of its likeness to it. As Saul took the devil for Samuel, because of his mantle: so many take a common work of the Spirit, for the true saving work, because of its good appearance.—In the understanding there may be a common illumination, as well as a saving one, (Heb. 6:4); though there is a vast difference between the two. For the common illumination doth only adorn and beautify the soul; but the saving doth irradiate, enlighten, and warm the soul. The one is informing, the other is transforming: the one is barren, the other fruitful.—In the conscience, there may be common convictions and qualms, as well as those that issue in saving conversion. Some may have had such a work upon their hearts, as that the relating of it may procure them ample testimony among ministers and Christians: and no doubt but the disciples would have given a good testimony of Judas, before he was discovered: though Christ gave him none. But what though he had a testimonial written, with an ample recommendation from men or angels; if Christ’s hand be not at it, God will reject it: and the blessed Redeemer of sinners will say, I never signed it.—In the affections, there may be common desires and delights, as well as special; there maybe false joys and sorrows, like the joy of the stony‑ground hearers; and like the sorrows of Esau for losing the birth‑right.—Yea, in the will, there may be a common change as well as a saving one: Men may take on good resolutions, and starts of devotion, as if they would take heaven by violence; and yet the will never renewed, or made willing in the day of God’s power.—O then, sirs, let us take heed that we be not deceived in this matter.
(4.) Some judge themselves pure, because they have escaped the pollutions of the world. They have, it may be, forsaken some sins, that only time and circumstances changing, have tired them out of. They may imagine that their abstaining from the gloss evils of the generation is true sanctity. But there is a two‑fold sanctification; one of the flesh, and another of the spirit; I take the former to be an abstaining from gross and scandalous sins, like those spoken of, (2 Pet. 2:20). They may come this length, and yet be strangers to purity, or true sanctity of heart or life. But there is sanctification of spirit, when God gives the promised new heart and new spirit. Now many take the former for the latter: they take restraining grace for renewing grace. God restrains Pagans, yea, devils also, from doing a thousand ill turns that they would otherwise do. What is the motive that makes them abstain from these sins? Is it the love of God, or the fear of God? Nay, take away public shame and reproach, they would go forward to all manner of wickedness: and yet because they are outwardly pure, they are ready to conclude themselves innocent. But man, what though you had not a tongue? yet you can curse God in your heart. What though you had not eyes? yet you can commit adultery in your heart.
(5.) Some judge themselves pure, because they side with the strictest party, like Paul; an Hebrew of the Hebrews. But it is not siding with the truth, though that be commendable; but being sanctified by the truth, that will do the business. Judas was a son of perdition though he joined with the truth for a while.
(6.) In a word, many judge themselves pure, because they have no disquiet or disturbance in their consciences; whereas it may be but the devil that is keeping all his goods in peace: “While the strong man armed keepeth the house, his goods are in peace,” (Luke 11:21). When the conscience once becomes scared, or sopited, it ceases to be God’s faithful deputy; and thou there is nothing but an entire calm.
The Fourth Use that we make of the doctrine is for Trial and Examination. Well, sirs, O put yourselves to the trial, lest you go down to the grave with a lie in your right hand. When God is saying, “There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, yet not washed from their filthiness;” a generation of self‑conceited people, that are but deceiving themselves; it should put us to say, “Master is it I?” And if we should suspect ourselves, were it said, “One of you shall betray me;” one of you shall deceive yourself; how much more, when it is said, a whole generation is thus set to deceive themselves about eternal salvation. Try if ever you have been humbled for, and delivered from this self‑conceit. You may examine it by these things following.
1. Try it by the end you propose in doing any good action, or going about any good duty. The proud self‑conceited man is always vain‑glorious: “How can you believe, that seek glory one of another;” saith Christ, (John 5:44). The man that seeks his own. praise and applause: thus Jehu, as you may see, (2 Kings 10:15,16), “Is thy heart right as mine?” saith he to Jehonadab. Whereas the humble man hath always a better conceit of another person’s heart than of his own, being always suspicious of himself; and so would rather say, when he meets with one like Jehonadab, O! is my heart right and upright as his is. Again, says Jehu to Jehonadab, “Come, see my zeal for the Lord:” yea, but true zeal desires not to be seen of any, but him who seeth in secret. If our lamp will not burn without the oil of men’s praise, it is a sign that self-conceit hath the predominant. I read of one, who, when in a monastery, fasted whole days together with ease; but in the desert he could not hold out till noon, but his belly would crave presently: when he demanded the reason of this, he had the following answer given, That in the monastery the praise of man was instead of meat to him, he fed there upon it: which sustenance failing him in the desert, his fasting strength failed also.
2. Try it not only by the end you propose in doing good actions, viz. the glory of God, not daring to seek yourself, if truly humbled; but examine it also by the manner of doing the duty; not daring to trust yourself, but affected with a sense of your own infirmity, resting wholly upon the power of God, to be perfected in your weakness. Self‑conceit will venture upon any duty without fear, saying, with Peter, “Though all men forsake thee, yet will not I” But humility will venture upon nothing, without looking for the promised supply, saying, with Paul, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God,” (2 Cor. 3:5).
3. Examine it by the issue of your religious duties; or your deportment after the doing thereof. Self‑conceit will take the praise of the duty done, saying, with Nebuchadnezzar, “Is not this great Babylon that I have built?” (Dan. 4:30). But humility sends it back to the Lord, saying, with David, “Not unto us, not unto us, but to thy name be the glory,” (Ps. 115:1).
But, perhaps, it may be asked, Where will you find a man on earth that is not tainted with this pride and self?
To this it might be replied, thoughts of pride and vain‑glory may rush into the heart of an humble saint; yea, but they rest in the heart of a hypocrite. Again, if the saint sees himself in the doing of anything proud, then he is twice as humble afterwards, because he was not humble. There may be some kind of humility in an hypocrite, and some remains of pride in a saint; but here is the difference; the hypocrite’s humility makes him proud, whereas the saint’s pride makes him humble. The hypocrite’s humility is followed with pride, and the saint’s pride is followed with humiliation. The hypocrite is proud because he is humble, but the saint is humble on account of his pride. Thus Hezekiah’s heart was lifted up, but it is said of him, (2 Chron. 32:26), that he humbled himself for the pride of his heart. In a true believer there is either the fore humility, helping him to do the duty right; or the after humility, exercising for the doing the duty wrong, which is the most severe of the two. “He hath either,” as one saith, “the directing humility for the right manner, or the correcting humility for the erroneous manner of doing.” If we can follow the sway of our own pride and vain‑glorious affections, without all respect to God’s glory, and yet never be truly humbled afterwards, this is evident hypocrisy, and an incontestable proof that we have not the least grain of sincerity. And, indeed, gospel‑sincerity is many times more humbled for such mixtures of defilement in duty than for some actions simply evil in themselves.
4. Try this point by your severity against sin in yourselves. An hypocrite cannot endure sin in others: no, not so much as a mote in his brother’s eye, though yet he can endure a beam in his own. A true believer is ready to throw the first stone at himself; he will be ready to say more against himself than any other can say against him: he cannot wink at sins in himself, nor in his nearest and dearest relation. As he loves good in his greatest enemy; so he hates sin in his dearest friend.
5. Examine it by your rejoicing at the graces, and grieving at the sins of others, as well as your own. The man that is pure in his own eyes, and selfish, if he can grieve for his own sins, he is not careful to grieve for the sins of others: this is suspicious, as if he grieved not for God’s cause, or for the dishonors his own sins hath done to him; for, were he truly affected for the offence he himself hath done to God, then would he grieve also, that the sins of others dishonor God, and stain his glory: but he is grieved for his own sake, for fear of some evil procured to himself by his sin; which argues self‑love rather than love to God.—Again, the man that is pure in his own eyes and selfish, if he rejoices in his own graces, yet not in the graces of others; or, when he sees the glory of God set forth by others, when he hath no hand in it himself; he is like the men of Ephraim saying to Jephthah, “Wherefore passedst thou over to fight against the children of Ammon, and didst not call us?” (Judges 12:1). But the humble soul, in whom self is broken, can rejoice, and give praise and thanks, to hear or see that God is glorified, though he himself was not the instrument thereof. This appears to be the frame of Paul, Though some preached Christ out of envy and vain‑glory; yet, for the matter, sound, though for the manner unsuitable; what was that to Paul, that Christ was truly preached? “Therein,” says he, “I do rejoice; yea, and will rejoice,” (Phil. 1:8).
Examine yourselves by these things: judge and try yourselves, that you may not live in the dark, and still remain uncertain whether you are in a state of nature or grace.
The fifth use that we make of the doctrine, shall be for exhortation. O sirs, seek that the Lord would deliver you from self conceit, and proud thoughts of yourselves. Here we might address three different kinds of persons.—We might exhort the proud, to receive a word of terror; but having dropt a word of this nature, on the sixth inference on the use of information, we shall not here insist farther upon it.—We might also speak a word to the humble, and advise them to receive a word of comfort: but having likewise insisted a little on this, on the fifth inference, on the above use of information, we shall refer to what was there offered:—We might address ourselves to all in general: but as we offered something of this nature on the third particular on the second use, viz. of caution, we shall pass this by at the time also.
It is the easiest thing in the world for a man to flatter himself, and dream that he is rich, and increased in goods, and stands in need of nothing: and to think the best of himself: but yet nothing is more dangerous. It is dangerous to be flattered by another; “A man that flattereth his neighbour, spreadeth a net for his feet,” (Prov. 29:5): but, yet, it is more dangerous to flatter ourselves; for self‑flattery spreads a net for our souls: and many souls are caught at last in this net. It is a great evil for a man to deceive another; but much more for a man to deceive himself: even so, it is a terrible thing for a man to kill another; yet it is still more dreadful for one to kill and destroy himself. But the evil and danger of it I opened before.
Let us take heed then, and be jealous and suspicious of ourselves, especially when we find good conceits of ourselves arise in our hearts. And that we may not be self‑conceited, and pure in our own eyes, let us take these following directions, by way of antidote, with which I conclude the subject.
Question: Mow may a man avoid this self‑conceit, of judging of himself better than indeed he is?
Answer: The first antidote against self‑conceit, is, “To look well to ourselves, and our foul faces, in the glass of the holy law.” Mary may vainly imagine their faces fair and clean, till they come to look in a glass; and they no sooner look therein, but they see many spots and defilements which before they thought not of. So let us do here; let us examine ourselves by the law; examine what, and how much the law requires; and how far short we come of that purity, grace, and holiness that is there required: and then you will find little cause of falling in love with your Ethiopian face, or dote upon yourselves, when you see that you are so ugly and deformed: a sight of your deformity would keep you from self‑conceit. When, in the glass of the law, you see your own defiled and deformed visage and monstrous shape, you will find little cause to be enamored with your own beauty. Men are pure in their own eyes, because they do not make use of this looking glass. When the commandment came, and Paul saw himself in this glass, then sin revived, and he died to all conceit of his own purity. When you view yourself in this glass, it will make you say the quite contrary to the young man in the gospel, None of all these things have I kept from my youth.
The second antidote against self‑conceit, is, “To take a look of Christ’s fair face in the glass of the gospel.” This would be a mighty preservative: “Beholding as in a glass the glory of God, we are changed,” (2 Cor. 3:18). When Job saw this sight, then he cries out, “Behold, I am vile: now, I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” A sight of Christ’s matchless beauty would make us loathe our deformity. A sight of his perfect righteousness, in its glory, would make us see and be humbled for our own guiltiness and sin.—If a foul faced person, who thinks himself handsome enough, set himself with a very beautiful person, to look into a glass together, the beautiful face, which he sees beside his own, will make him think very little of himself, when compared with the other. O! how infinitely more, if, with one eye we look at our deformed picture, and with the other at the infinite perfection of beauty that is in Christ! we cannot but abhor ourselves. Never any man saw Christ’s beauty, but he looked upon himself as a monster, and sank into nothing in his own conceit. O then, sirs, seek a sight of the glory of Christ.
The third antidote against self‑conceit, is, “To compare ourselves with those that are before us, and not behind us.” A block head is but a blockhead still, though he hath more learning still than a ploughman: though, perhaps, comparing himself with a clown, he thinks himself to be a learned man; but compare him with a learned man, and then, notwithstanding his high opinion of himself, he will appear but half an idiot. So it is here; the civil honest man when he compares himself with the swinish drunkard, the foul adulterer, the prodigious swearer, he begins, in a manner, poor man, to saint himself, as if he was the only man that should be saved. And thus the proud conceited Pharisee raises himself on his tip‑toes, by comparing himself with the Publican; “God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men; nor as this Publican:” so saith the civil man; I am not such a drunkard, such a swearer, as such a man is; and so, because they are not so bad as others that are worse, hence they conceive themselves to be wonderfully good. But now, the way to measure yourselves is not to look backward, but to look forward: not to consider how much you are behind drunkards and swearers, but to look for ward, and see how far short you are of them who are truly zealous and religious, truly godly and gracious. Compare yourselves with them; have you that measure of knowledge, faith, experience, mortification, zeal, and obedience, which they have? Are you as conscientious in secret devotion, and other parts of religion? Alas! how far short do you come of them! and yet the best of them are far short of what they should be: and if you be short of them, who are but short‑comers themselves, how far short do you come! What grounds have you to think well of yourselves, who are beyond a drunkard, when, in the meantime, you are far short of a good Christian? Therefore, to keep down this spiritual pride, look not at publicans, but gracious persons. And if you find yourselves like to swell with this conceit, “I am not as this publican;” then, on the other hand, humble yourselves with this meditation, “I am not as this gracious person.”
But some will think that even gracious persons have their blemishes; and so they compare themselves and their sins with the gross sins of Lot, Noah, David, Peter, and other godly men; and so still they conceive a good opinion of themselves, and think all is well. But you would consider, that the falls of the godly did serve for their own humility, and for our warning. God knoweth how to chastise his own who offend, giving repentance unto life and salvation: but he will justly condemn those who wittingly stumble at their falls, and willfully lie in their sins, being fallen. We are not to follow the best of men in all their actions. As the cloud that guided the Israelites had two sides, the one bright and shining, the other black and dark, such is the cloud of the examples of godly men: those that will be directed by the light side thereof, shall, with the children of Israel, pass safely toward the heavenly Canaan; but those that will follow the dark side of it shall perish, with the Egyptians, in the Red sea of destruction.
The fourth antidote against self‑conceit is, “To think upon that exact and strict judgment and estimate that must be taken of you at the great day of judgment.” Then must you be judged, not by what you judge yourselves to be, but by what you are indeed. Meditate with yourselves, “Now, I am pure in mine own eyes; I think I may be content with the purity I have: but am I now, and will I then be pure in God’s sight, whose eyes are as a flame of fire, to penetrate through and try all the most retired wickedness, and hidden dross and corruption, which lies in my heart and nature, thoughts and affections, as well as in my life and actions?” Will you be able to stand that exquisite trial of the impartial Judge? No, by no means. The faith and meditation of this would mortify the elevated conceit you have of yourselves. Remember you must come to judgment.
In a word, if you would not die of this disease, then trust not your own judgment in your own case. He that would be wise, in the scripture‑sense, must become a fool, that he may be wise, (1 Cor. 3:18). He must deny himself, and not lean to his own understanding, (Prov. 3:5). There is pride of understanding that takes place, both in humbled sinners, who dare not come to Christ; and in hardened sinners, who will not come to Christ.
There is a pride of understanding, I say, and a pride of wisdom that takes place in humbled sinners, who dare not come to Christ. Why do they not come to Christ? Truly they judge themselves so vile, that they think they should not come: what pride is here: O! if I was pure, then I would come! What is the language of this? If I were pure and holy, then, you think, Christ would love me. Indeed, it were well, poor humbled soul, if there be any such here; it were well if you were pure and holy; but to imagine that he will not save you, because you have no goodness, or worth in you, to induce him to love you, is an evidence of the greatest pride: is it not pride, that you would be at something in yourself, for which Christ should cast his love upon you? But know, that Christ will save you, not because you are good, but that he may make you good: not because you are pure, but that he may make you pure. And therefore, if the sense of your impurity keep you back from coming to him, it is but stinking pride. Though, perhaps, you did not think it was pride, yet it is so: for though you be vile in your own eyes, yet, the thing you would be at, in this matter, is, you would be pure in your own eyes, and then you think you would be pure in his eyes too. Come to Christ, though you have nothing of your own to bring with you to him; for you must come to him empty, and striped of all your own proper good, that you may get all in him, and from him.
Again, There is a pride of understanding and opinion that takes place in hardened sinners, who will not come to Christ. They trust their own judgment in their own case: they are both judge and party, and their judgment is not according to truth, for they judge themselves not to be so bad as they are. Yea, they are pure in their own eyes; and therefore they will not come to Christ to be purified, justified, or sanctified; and so, no wonder that they are not washed from their filthiness.
Therefore, I say, do not trust your own judgment in your own case. Let the word of God judge you: and judge yourselves, not by your own understanding, but by that word of God that will judge you at the last day.—Examine yourselves by the word; self-examination would bring down your self-conceit. And pray that God would search and try you, saying with the psalmist, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my reins: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting,” (Ps. 139:23,24).