Sermon 1497. Self-righteousness-a Smoldering Heap of Rubbish
DELIVERED ON LORD'S-DAY MORNING, SEPTEMBER 28, 1879,
BY C. H. SPURGEON,
AT THE METROPOLITAN TABERNACLE, NEWINGTON.
"Which say, Stand by yourself, come not near to me; for I am holier than you. These are a smoke in My nose, a fire that burnsall the day." Isaiah 65:5.
THE Apostle Paul shall be our interpreter here. You remember how in the 10th chapter of his Epistle to the Romans he quotesfrom this chapter and says, "Isaiah is very bold and says, I was found of them that sought Me not; I was made manifest untothem that asked not after Me. But to Israel He says, all day long I have stretched forth My hands unto a disobedient and gainsayingpeople"? Isaiah was very bold to speak the Gospel so plainly, when a legal spirit prevailed, and very bold to defy the enmityof his own nation by declaring that they would be rejected for their sins, while the far-off heathen would be brought in bySovereign Grace. He was bold to denounce hypocrites to their faces and to smite a proud nation with the threats of the Lord.Perhaps it was for this boldness that he suffered a cruel death by the hands of Manasseh.
The application of the passage to Israel is just thus. Year after year God dealt with great patience towards His chosen people,but they seemed to be desperately set upon idolatry in one form or another. Sometimes they worshipped Jehovah, but then theydid it under figures and symbols, whereas He has expressly forbidden that even His own worship should be thus celebrated.He who said in the First Commandment, "You shall have no other gods before Me," also said in the Second, "You shall not makeunto you any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in Heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that isin the water under the earth: you shall not bow down yourself to them, nor serve them."
At other times they altogether rejected Jehovah and worshipped Baal and Ashtaroth and whole troops of the gods of the heathenand thus they exceedingly provoked the Lord. They also practiced necromancy, or pretended communion with the dead, witchcraftand sorcery and all manners of abominable rites like the depraved nations around them. When this open rebellion was givenup, as it was after the captivity, for the Jews have never been guilty of idolatry since that day, they fell into anotherform of the same evil, namely, self-righteousness-so that when our Lord came, He found self-righteousness to be the cryingsin of Israel-the Pharisees carrying it to such a pitch as to render it utterly ridiculous!
They reckoned that the touch of a common person polluted their sacredness so that they needed to wash after walking down astreet. When they traversed the ways, they took the edge of the pavement so that they might not brush against the garmentsof the passers-by. And even in the Temple, in prayer, they stood by themselves lest they should be defiled! Their whole spiritis expressed in the words of the text, "Stand by yourself, come not near to me; for I am holier than you." God declares thisto be as obnoxious to Him as smoke in a man's nose. He could not bear it. He was no more able to tolerate their self-righteousnessthan to endure their idolatry.
It is this last form of the evil of the Israelite heart which I am going to speak about this morning because it is a phaseof evil which is now common among us. Self-righteousness is rampant in our own day! There are many who come up to the courtsof the Lord's house and mingle among the followers of Christ who still say, "Stand by, for I am holier than you." Our sermonis meant to be a cannonade against self-righteousness-that righteousness which a man makes a show of his own doings, his ownfeelings, his own alms, prayers, or sacraments-all such righteousness is to be utterly despised!
I. The first point is this-THE SIN OF SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS GROWS UP AMONG RELIGIOUS PEOPLE. It is not always the sin of theoutside world, for many outsiders do not pretend to any righteousness at all and I fancy they think all the better of themselvesfor that! This is an idle plea which needs not many words to expose. "I make no profession," says one. This is about as honorablea confession as if a thief should boast when caught at picking pockets,
"I do not make any pretense to be honest," or a liar, when detected, should turn round and cry, "I never professed to speakthe truth." Would you have men glory in not professing to be honest or true? Yet, surely, they do no worse than one who boaststhat he does not profess to fear God. Such a man has gone to a considerable pitch of iniquity before he can bronze his faceto make his glory in that which is his shame.
Among those who profess to be religious, self-righteousness very frequently comes in because they have not truly receivedthe religion of Jesus Christ. If they were true Believers they would be humble and contrite, for self-righteousness and faithin Christ are diametrically opposed. He that is saved by Grace finds no room for glorying in himself. What says the Apostle?"Where is boasting, then? It is excluded." The word is, it is shut out and it has the door shut in its face. A sinner washedin Jesus' blood and clothed in Jesus' righteousness glories only in the Lord! He has done, once and for all, with that particularform of sin which glories in self. It is detestable in his sight. His cry is "God forbid that I should glory save in the Crossof our Lord Jesus Christ."
Many who mingle with Christians and are religious in a certain sense because they practice the forms of religion, are knownto put the forms into the place of the Holy Spirit. With them, in Baptism, the washing in water is everything, but the burialwith Christ which it sets forth is quite unknown. With them the partaking of the bread and the wine are everything at theLord's Table, but the spiritual feeding upon the body and blood of Christ is not understood. With them, the place of worshipis everything, but the spirit of worship is lacking. The broken heart, the contrite spirit, the soul that trembles at God'sWord, the heart that joys in the Lord-they are strangers to all this though they can sit as God's people sit, though theycan hear as God's people hear and look as if they were all that saints should be.
These persons, too, even when they do not join the Christian Church but only worship or seem to worship with Christians, arevery apt to think that they must be better than other people because they do so. They are not openly Sabbath-breakers. Isthere not something in this? Yes, there is something in it, certainly, and we will not say a word against it. But there isnot everything in it and certainly not enough in it to make a perfect righteousness of it! The bed is shorter than that aman may stretch himself on and the covering is too narrow for a man to wrap himself in. "Oh, but I have occupied a seat inan orthodox Chapel for many years." Yes, that may be, and if you have not received the Gospel, those sermons which you haveheard will rise up against you in judgment to your condemnation!
It is true you close your eyes in prayer, but if you never pray, do you not mock God with a pretense of doing it? And mayit not turn out that your religiousness is only an impudent provoking of God to His face? Avoid the tendency to say, "We arecertainly much better than the outside world and if God is hard with us, He will be hard with a great many." Avoid this, Isay, for it is the danger of outwardly religious people who are not savingly converted to dream that they are somewhat advantagedby a mere attendance on the means of Grace. Should an Egyptian rub his shoulders against an Israelite, would it turn him intoan Israelite? Will living near a rich man make you rich?
Because the Lord Jesus eats and drinks in your streets, are you, therefore, safe, even though you have never believed on Him?Be not deceived by such a notion! Do you forget that cry of our Lord's, "Woe unto you, Chorazin. Woe unto you, Bethsaida"!Did He not proclaim woe to the very places where His voice was most often heard and where His miracles were most often worked?Beware, I pray, you outwardly religious people, lest you fall into the sin of self-righteousness and fancy that you are holywhen you are not!
II. THIS IS A SIN WHICH FLOURISHES WHERE OTHER SINS ABOUND. We read of these people, that they did evil before the eyes ofGod and chose that wherein He delighted not. They blasphemed God and polluted themselves with unhallowed rites, communingwith demons and the powers of darkness-and pretending to speak with departed spirits and yet for all that, they said-"Standby yourself, I am holier than you." Self-righteousness is never more ridiculous than in persons whose conduct would not bearscrutiny for a moment!
Look at the Pharisee with his phylactery and his broad-hemmed garment standing there in conscious perfection! Look at himand feel disgust, for the wretched hypocrite has been secretly devouring a widow's house and his heart is full of wickedness!In his greediness and lust he makes clean the outside of his cup and platter, but within he is full of extortion and excess!Hear how the devil derides him. "Ah, ah," he laughs with satanic glee, "the outside may be as you will. What care I, as longas the inside is foul!" It is dreadful that any man should be self-righteous, but it is monstrous that men of openly evillives should dare to set up such a pretense.
Such persons know, if they will but think, that they are trying to palm off a barefaced lie! Yet it is common enough in spiritualthings for those who are naked, poor and miserable to declare that they are rich and increased in goods! How are they ableto keep up this imposture upon their own consciences? Is it not a part of their spiritual madness? The very blindness whichmakes them choose sin prevents their seeing how sinful it is and enables them to fancy that all is well. As men who wear spectaclesof colored glass find all things tinted with their own hue, so does a self-righteous heart impart a tint to actions till theworse appears the better and sin glitters like righteousness.
Moreover, self-righteous men, like foxes, have many tricks and schemes. They condemn in other people what they consider tobe very excusable in themselves. They would cry out against others for a 10th part of the sin which they allow in themselves!Certain constitutional tendencies, necessities of circumstances and various surroundings all serve as ample apologies. Besidesthis, if it is admitted that they are wrong upon some points, yet in other directions they are beyond rebuke! If they drink,they do not swear! And if they swear, they do not steal-they make a great deal out of negatives. If they steal, they are notgreedy and miserly, but spend their gains freely. If they practice fornication, yet they do not commit adultery! If they talkfilthily, yet they boast they do not lie.
They should be counted good because they are not universally bad. They do not break every hedge and, therefore, they pleadthat they are not trespassers. As if a debtor for a hundred pounds should claim to be excused because he does not owe twohundred! Or, as if a highwayman should say, "I did not stop all the travelers on the road. I only robbed one or two and thereforeI ought not to be punished." If a man should willfully break the windows of your shop, I guarantee you, you would not takeit as an excuse if he pleaded, "I did not break them all! I only smashed one sheet of plate glass." Pleas which would notbe mentioned in a human court are thought good enough to offer to God! O the folly of our race!
Besides, these people will make righteousness this way-they plead that if they do wrong, yet there are some points in whichthey are splendid fellows. "You should see how grandly I acted on such an occasion. You will think me almost a saint and quitea hero if you will but fix your eyes on that one particular virtue. Drink, Sir? No! I never touch a drop." I am glad you donot, but still, if you live in lying, or in pride, your abstinence is a short piece of stuff to make a garment out of. Themere fact that you are not a drunk is so far so good, but it goes a very little way towards the perfect righteousness whichGod's Law demands.
Some one thing in which the unconverted man may excel is put in to make up for his deficiencies in a hundred other things.By hook or by crook a man will make out that he is not so bad as he seems to be-the inventiveness of self-esteem is extraordinary!Those who come with the language of repentance but without the spirit of it are sometimes the most self-righteous of all,for they say. "I am all right because I am not self-righteous." They make a self-righteousness out of the supposed absenceof self-righteousness! "Thank God," they say, "we are not as other men are, nor even as these self-righteous people." Hypocritesall the way through!
Have you ever heard of the monk who said he was a very great sinner? He said that he had broken all the Ten Commandments,that he was as bad as Judas and deserved to be hanged as well as he! But when his confessor began to go over the Commandments,he said about each one of them, "Holy father, I have not broken that, I have kept that." He was a sinner in the gross butnot in detail! A sinner by name but not in reality-so he said-and hosts of people virtually say the same. Listen to them-"Yes,Sir, of course I am a sinner. We are all sinners." But if you bring one fault home to them, straightway they bristle up! Whoare you that you should speak evil of them? They have done nothing amiss-they are most excellent people-and you will go along way to find anybody better than they are and so on!
Oh, this horrible self-righteousness! It is not merely to be found in the man who attends his Church regularly and reads hisprayers daily-it is found in the man who will not go to his Church nor say his prayers! The harlot has her self-righteousness.The thief, the drunk, the profane still have their self-justifications. Yes, and it may be seen even in Atheists who havecast off all fear of God and then stand in an elevation of self-esteem which hardly any other man can match! Hear him-"I haveproved my freedom of thought and nobility of mind! I am the model man! As for these Christians, they are cants and hypocritesand believers in Christ are either fools or knaves. No man has any honest and rational convictions but myself! I can improveupon the Bible and criticize the life of Christ! Stand by yourself. I am holier than you."
This weed of self-righteousness will grow on any dunghill! No heap of rubbish is too rotten for the accursed toadstool ofproud self to grow upon!
III. As self-righteousness grows among sins to our surprise, so IT IS, IN ITSELF, A GREAT SIN. One is almost startled to findself-esteem placed after such a list of sins as this chapter records. To the Jew, the eating of swine's flesh and broth, ofall abominable things, was a great pollution-and self-righteousness is classed with it-it is even placed with necromancy andwitchcraft. To us, drunkenness and swearing are sins in rags, but self-righteousness is sin in a respectable black coat. Itis an aristocratic sin and does not like to be put down with the common ruck. And if we even call it sin, yet many will pleadthat it is only so in a very refined sense.
But God does not think so. He classes it with the very worst and He does so because it is one of the worst. For a man to beself-righteous is, in itself, a sin of sins. For, first, it is blasphemy! Perhaps you do not see that. Follow me, then. Godis holy. Here comes this base imposter and boasts, "And I am holy, too." Is not that a ludicrous and contemptible form ofblasphemy? It is profanity in its very essence! The cherubim are crying, "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts: Heaven andearth are full of the majesty of Your Glory" and amid it all there is heard this squeaking pretender, whining, "And I am holy,too!"
O wretched egotist, you do at once lie and blaspheme! The heavens are not pure in His sight! He charged His angels with follyand do you, that are born of woman and defiled from head to foot, dare to talk about righteousness? Righteousness, indeed,when you are but a mass of sin! This self-righteousness is idolatry, for the man who counts himself to be righteous, by hisown works worships himself! Practically, the object of his adoration is his own dear, delectable, excellent self! All hisconfidence is in himself! His boasting is in himself and, though he may sing Psalms to God with his voice, yet his heart isreally singing hymns to himself and he is saying to himself, "You have done well, my Soul. There is something great and brightin you. You deserve much of your Creator. You shall surely enter Heaven on your own terms. At your worst you have never beenso bad as your fellow men-at your best you are a right noble being and a brilliant reward is your due."
What is this but idolatry in its worst form? Then, again, it is profanity, for it calls God a liar. The Lord declares thatno man is righteous. He says that He looked from Heaven and surveyed the sons of men and He saw that, "There is none righteous,no, not one." To this Divine assertion self-righteousness gives a flat contradiction, for it claims to be, itself, holy! Goddeclares that we have gone astray and altogether become unprofitable and He proves that He believes this, for He sets Christto bleed and die for the world of sinners, as it is written, "All we, like sheep have gone astray. We have turned, everyone,to his own way, and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all." But He could not lay our iniquity upon Jesus if we hadnone, nor impute transgression to Christ if there were no sin in us!
And thus the self-righteous man virtually declares that God is false and speaks not the strict truth, since he claims to bean exception to the rule. He testifies that God's "No, not one," is false, for he himself is one righteous person and, therefore,there may be others. Though God says that by the works of the Law no flesh shall be justified in His sight, yet this man says,"By the works of the Law I shall be justified," and so he profanes the Word of the Most High and questions the Truth of God,which is as the apple of Jehovah's eye. It is clear beyond all question that self-righteousness is, in itself, a great, God-defyingsin! May the Lord deliver us from it and, by the Holy Spirit, work in us a humble, lowly faith in Jesus Christ, the Lord.
IV. In the fourth place we would remark that SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS IS THE FRUIT OF MAN'S OWN
THOUGHTS. Look at the second verse of the chapter-"I have spread out My hands all the day unto a rebellious people, whichwalks in a way that was not good, after their own thoughts." Those who have high thoughts of themselves do not walk accordingto God's Commandments, but according to their own notions. If any man thinks himself to be righteous in himself, he has neverderived that idea from God's Law. Read the Ten Commandment. Understand their spirituality and know that they concern not onlyovert deeds but thoughts and imaginations-and you will see that the Law condemns us all without exception.
It proves our guilt, reveals our proneness to evil, pronounces a curse upon us and gives us over to condemnation. It paysus no respect, but shuts us up in hopeless despair. A man who is self-righteous, therefore, did not derive his self-esteemfrom a true consideration of the Law. No Jew that stood at Sinai and saw the mountain on a smoke and heard the Words whichsounded forth with noise as of tempest and trumpet, dared to stand there and say, "I am righteous." But crouching away, movingfurther and further from the burning mountain, the best Israelite begged that the Words might not be spoken to him anymore,for he could not endure the terror of that thrice holy Law.
A Pharisee stands on an elevation raised by his own fancy, for the Law would pull him down and never, for a moment, set himup. His proud notions come not from the Law and certainly not from the Gospel, for the Gospel knows no man after the fleshas righteous. It regards all men as sinners and comes to them with pardon! It treats men as lost and comes to save them! Ifthere is a man in the world who is pure and perfect by nature, the Gospel has nothing to say to him, for it was not intendedto meet such a case. Its medicines are not for those upon whom the sickness of sin has never come, for, "the whole have noneed of a physician, but they that are sick."
Our great Lord came not to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance! Jesus is the sinner's friend. Christ came to washaway stains, not to flatter men into a notion of their spotlessness. He came to heal the sick, not to applaud the vigorous.To such as are righteous in themselves there is not a single syllable of promise in the entire Gospel-why should there be,for they don't need it? Self-righteousness is a child which neither Law nor Gospel will own-it is born in the house of follyand it is nursed by human fancy!
Self-righteous people are not much inclined to search the Scriptures-they do not read them with an understanding heart soas to get the meaning-they rather make the Bible say their own meaning and twist it to support their own pleasing dreams.Like a battery of ordnance of the strongest kind, both Law and Gospel fire into the sinner's righteousness and sink it, likea riddled hulk, into the deeps of the sea! "But cannot a man arrive at a religion by his own unaided thoughts?" asks one.A great many have tried it, but the very idea is absurd! Facts about God and man are to be learned-not invented.
Suppose a man were to think out the science of botany but never went to see the flowers? He would deliver strange botanicallectures, misleading and absurd, for no cogitation upon what a flower ought to be would always require a man to guess at whatflowers really are. Suppose a man who never looked at the stars were to despise the telescope and depend on his thoughts forhis astronomy? Would he not make strange work of it? We have heard of the German who carefully thought out in his own inwardconsciousness, a camel, and there are many people of the same order of learned ignorance and profound folly. Such do not lookat what the Gospel is, but they have their own notions of what it ought to be- they do not look at what Revelation declares,but at what their own precious thoughts can manufacture.
Half the people in the world make their own theology and are either too idle or too proud to be guided by the Infallible Scripture.As many a vintner composes his own wine, so do these concoct their own doctrine and by this means they arrive at a high opinionof their own goodness. Like the spider, they make their web out of their own bowels-they are righteous and by no stretch ofthe imagination the sort of persons which the Word of God declares them to be! He whose foundation is his own dream is certainto be deceived.
Listen, O man, and learn wisdom! God's thoughts are not your thoughts! Neither are His ways your ways and in the day whenHe comes to deal with your fancied righteousness, He will make short work of it and you will have to cry, "We all fade asa leaf and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags, and our iniquities, like the wind, have carried us away." The soonerthat happens the better, for if it comes not until you get into the next world, it will be dreadful, then, to be found nakedwhere you never can be clothed-to have your fancied riches melt into a poverty from which you never can recover-to be madea bankrupt where you thought yourself wealthy and in a world where you never can begin again!
Woe to those who make eternal shipwreck while they dream that they are steering straight to the desired haven! God save youfrom setting up to furnish yourselves with inspiration. You are not Oracles and should never dream of being so! Search theScriptures to know the facts of your case and then you will recoil from the very idea of the righteousness of unrenewed man!Your glory will become your shame! Your spangled robes will turn to worthless rags and you will accept, with humble gratitude,the righteousness which is of God by faith!
V. This leads us on to our fifth remark which is this-SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS HAS THIS VICE ABOUT IT,
THAT IT ALWAYS LEADS TO DESPISING OTHERS. That is the meat of the text. They said, "Stand by yourself, come not near to me;for I am holier than you." The self-righteous think thus of one another-one sinner dreads pollution from another-one rebelis alarmed lest he should be made disloyal by another! Think of a wretch condemned to die for his sin and yet afraid thata fellow criminal might soil his innocence! To what a pitch of madness does pride lift itself! "Do not come near me; I amholy," cries the man steeped in sin! Oh, the absurdity of self-righteousness! This pride is loathsome to the last degree!
But this pride is seen to be still more loathsome when the proud self-deceiver bids the lowly penitent man stand off. Therepenting publican has his eyes opened to his real state and he goes up to the Temple and prays, "God be merciful to me, asinner." He does not dare look up, he is so broken-hearted. But yonder Pharisee is bold to thank God for his own surpassingvirtues! Look how he gathers up his garment for fear the fringe of his raiment should touch the ground whereon the publicanhas set his polluting feet! Why, Sirs, that publican was one of God's jewels and this abominable Pharisee was a mere dunghillreeking with offensive self-conceit! He did not know it, but his self-righteousness made him despise the very man of whomGod has said, "To this man will I look, and with him will I dwell; even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit and thattrembles at My Word."
"Oh," says one of my free-thinking but self-righteous hearers, "I hate such cant! Confessing sin is all nonsense. I cannotendure to hear such talk." We are well aware of that, good Sir, but this weighs not with us. We know you very well and recognizein you an old acquaintance of some 1,900 years standing. Proud Pharisees never can endure penitent publicans, nor their Savior,either. They are always saying of the Lord's ministers that which they once said of Him, "This man receives sinners and eatswith them." They find fault with the great Advocate and His clients, with the great Physician and His patients-but the Redeemer'skingdom waits not their patronage and fears not their opposition! If you reject the banquet of mercy and will not come toit, there are others who shall and your refusal shall bring on your own head the contempt you now reserve for others!
Yes, and this self-righteous spirit dares to pour its bitterness upon the most gracious men. If you need a thoroughpaced persecutor,find a self-righteous man! I tell you there is no venom in the heart of dissolute, debauched men against Christianity thatis at all comparable to the poison of asps which lie in the heart of the self-righteous man! Who was it in Jerusalem thathunted down the saints? It was not some son of Belial who railed at them. I daresay that many a Jerusalem rioter said, "Whatdoes it matter? They have their ways and I have mine-let the men alone." But there was one man in Jerusalem who, above mostothers, thought that verily he had kept all the Commandments of God from his youth up and was utterly blameless-and he hatedthe Christians because they preached a doctrine which struck at his self-esteem.
Therefore he despised men who were a hundred times better than himself! He dragged them into the synagogue and scourged themto compel them to blaspheme. And when he had done all he could in his own country to worry them, he obtained letters fromthe High Priest that he might go to Damascus to hunt them even in strange cities! He verily thought he did God service whenhe breathed out threats and bloodshed against God's own children! Yes, it is so, and must be so-they that are born after theflesh persecute them that are born after the Spirit. Ishmael, the child of Hagar the bondwoman, which comes from Sinai, inArabia, hates the Isaac that is born of the free woman, according to promise. There is a deadly feud between these two andthis is a part of the sin of self-righteousness, that it sets itself so bitterly against Christ and His people and is thedirest opponent that the Gospel has among men.
We see the self-righteous spirit, at times, display itself in the papers when they touch on religious subjects. One of themlately condemned the hymn-
"Sinner, nothing do, either great or small, Jesus did it, did it all, long, long ago." This is shocking doctrine, so theysay, for it denies salvation by good works! Of course, editors of papers are good judges, for they are so exceedingly carefulof our morality and so studious never to insert anything that could injure our purity! That precious, plainspoken bit of Gospelverse is too much for our pious friend, the editor, and he is afraid that it will hurt our morals!
Self-righteousness is always afraid of the Gospel, lest the uncompromising Truth of God should unmask its self-deceit. Why,Sirs, the doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone is the essence of Protestantism and the soul of the Gospel! That ChristJesus came into the world to save sinners and that salvation is not by works of righteousness which we have done, but by theSovereign Grace of God who passes by transgression, iniquity and sin is the great Truth for which Reformers protested andmartyrs died! Let those who deny it look to themselves.
VI. But I must pass on to observe that SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS IS MOST ABOMINABLE IN THE SIGHT OF
God. What does He compare it to? He says, "It is a smoke in My nose, a fire that burns all the day." At the bottom of thegarden we gather together the dead leaves and all the rubbish of the garden. The heap is lighted and it keeps on burning andsmoldering all day-and if you go and stand in the eye of the wind, your eyes will smart, your nose will be offended
and you will feel that you cannot bear it. As you see the refuse burning, smoking, smoldering all day, it will tell you whatthe Lord thinks of man's righteousness.
This is His opinion of those who say," Stand by, I am holier than you." Their boasted righteousness is a burning heap of rubbishpouring forth a thick smoke most obnoxious to Him. We do not wonder that He thus scorns and abhors proud, self-righteousness,for God is a God of Truth and Truth cannot bear a lie-and self-righteousness is a mass of lies! He who is of perfect Naturecannot bear mere pretense. It is so among men in common matters. You introduce a man of real learning to a person who haspurchased for himself a sham degree and who boasts that he is a classical scholar- mark his disgust when the pretender quotesa Latin author and in the very first sentence gives false facts! The truly learned man says, "He is a disgrace to his title.Let me get away from him! He pretends to be a doctor and yet he makes all these blunders." He who possesses the reality isindignant with the counterfeit!
Now, God is truly holy and cannot, therefore, bear that these men should talk about a holiness which they have no claim toand vaunt themselves and brag within themselves of a thing that is not theirs. The true God, therefore, calls them a smokein His nose. Moreover, self-righteousness is such a proud thing. God is always provoked with pride. It is one of the evilswhich His soul hates! He daily fits His arrow upon His string to fetch down the proud in heart. The self-righteous man isproud in himself and proud with a contemptuous sneer at others and, therefore, the Lord abhors him. Self-righteousness alsodenies the wisdom of God's plan and is utterly opposed to it. God's present plan of working in the world goes upon the theorythat we are guilty-being guilty, He provides a Savior for us and sends us a Gospel full of Grace.
His whole system is a gigantic blunder if we are or can be righteous in and of ourselves! The work of the Holy Spirit is needlessif we can be, of ourselves, fit for Heaven! The whole character of this gracious dispensation is a mistake if man is not guilty!The man who says, "I am righteous," virtually casts a slur upon a work which is meant to be the highest display of DivineLove and Wisdom. He is like the Greek to whom the Cross of Christ was "foolishness." I venture to say that self-righteousness,in effect, makes Christ Himself to be a superfluity and this, my Brothers and Sisters, is the unkindest cut of all! This isa stab at the heart of the great Father!
Did Jesus come down from Heaven and take our Nature because we were sinners? And in that Nature did He give Himself as a Sacrificethat He might put away sin-and was all this a mistake? Calvary, are you a blunder? Bleeding Savior, were You an amiable enthusiast,putting away sin which did not exist and filling a fountain for the removal of stains which are not to be found? Yet self-righteousnessinvolves all this! If one sinner has a right to be self-righteous, so has another! And then it comes to this-that God shoulddeal with us all on quite another theory and, instead of His dear Son coming to the world to die for us as sinners, we mightall go to Heaven without an Atonement or a Savior! Do you think God can bear such a slur upon Christ, such a trampling onthe precious blood of His own Son? Can even long-suffering bear this?
I may be speaking to some who have never considered what their self-righteousness means, but I hope they see it now. Get ridof it, my dear Friends! Put off your ornaments of fancied virtue and put the dust and ashes of confession on your heads. Gohome and tear your finery to pieces and put on the robe of heavenly righteousness-otherwise you will be, as long as you live,nothing but that smoking heap of weeds at the bottom of the garden! And whereas you think you are a bright and shining light,God's thoughts will be the reverse, for He will count you to be a mere smother of smoke in His nose-a fire that smolders allday.
VII. The last point and one of the most practical is this, that SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS MOST EFFECTUALLY BARS A MAN FROM ALL HOPEOF SALVATION. We cannot be saved unless we become truly holy, but, my Brothers and Sisters, no man ever becomes truly holywho is content with a false holiness. If he says, "I am holy," he never will be holy. The student who enters college as awise man will probably remain a fool. You never can win wisdom till you confess your folly. The man who says, "I am rich,"but is under a delusion which makes him call copper, gold, will never be rich-it is a first necessity that he be able to estimatehis true estate. And so self-righteousness shuts a man out from real righteousness most effectually.
It also prevents the heart from repentance. How can you repent if you have never sinned? How can you mourn your failure toobey while you conceive that you have always kept the Law? It shuts you out, too, from faith. You never will believe in JesusChrist while you believe in yourself. "How can you believe," said Christ, "that receive honor one of
another?" If you can save yourself, you do not need a Savior and, consequently, you will never trust in the Savior of sinners.Man. Woman. While you are righteous, Christ and your heart will never agree! He brings you water, but you are not thirsty!He brings you the Bread of Life, but you are not hungry! He has made a raiment of needlework for you, but you are not naked!He comes to enrich you, but you are not poor! He comes to give you pardon, but you are not guilty! He comes to give you EverlastingLife, but you are not dead!
What is there, then, in Christ for you? Nothing-and so you will never have Christ. All the entreaties of God, even such asare described in this chapter when He stretches out His hands all day, will never make a self-righteous person come to Him.The prodigal did not say, "I will arise, and go unto my father" while he could fill his belly with the husks that the swineate. Soul poverty and destitution bring a man to God-and God may call as long as He wills-man never will come as long as hecan be independent of his heavenly Father and so self-righteousness is the ruin of all who harbor it.
Let me warn you who have heard the Gospel continually, that if you are self-righteous, the privileges which you enjoy willbe all neutralized and cease to be privileges. If you do not come to Jesus when He stretches out His hands, He will call otherswho are not, now, a people and He will be found of those that sought Him not. You are first, now, in point of privilege, butthe first shall be last while those outside that have not heard the Gospel shall hear it and be saved! And so the last shallbe first. God will turn the tables upon you-the children of the Kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness where thereshall be weeping and gnashing of teeth-while many shall come from the east and from the west and shall sit down in the Kingdomof God. Beware, you who are self-righteous, lest, because you put yourselves to be the head, God should make you the tail,for then all your Sabbath privileges and Gospel hearings will be like millstones about your necks, to sink you low as thelowest Hell!
What is the remedy for all this? The remedy is just this. God says, "Behold Me." That is to say, He bids you cease from dotingupon your own fancied beauties and worshipping your own foolish image. Look first to the holy God and tremble! Can you, ofyourself, ever be like He is-pure, spotless and glorious? Can you ever hope to deserve anything from Him? Look to Him anddespair!
Then comes the second, "Behold Me." See Christ Jesus on the Cross dying, the Just for the unjust, to bring us to God! As yousee Him dying, your self-righteousness will die. You will say, "He would never have suffered thus for me unless I had sinto repent of. God would never have put Him to this grief for me unless I had been sadly guilty. I should never have neededsuch a Savior if I had not been a great transgressor. In the heights and depths of dying love I read the heights and depthsof my accursed sin! In the infinity of the Atonement I read the boundless blackness of my guilt and lie humble before God.At the same time, in that perfect Divine righteousness, which has put away sin, I see the hope of a sinner and as a sinnerI look to Christ for everything."
If you do this, it is well. God blesses you. May everyone here be enabled to do this immediately and unto God shall be theglory forever and ever. Amen.