AGAINST SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS AND SELF-CONCEIT
Deuteronomy 9:4-6. Speak not thou in thine heart, after that the Lord thy God hath cast them out from before thee, saying, For my righteousness the Lord hath brought me in to possess this land: but for the wickedness of these nations the Lord doth drive them out from before thee. Not for thy righteousness, or for the uprightness of thine heart, dost thou go to possess their land: but for the wickedness of these nations the Lord thy God doth drive them out from before thee, and that he may perform the word which the Lord sware unto thy fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Understand, therefore, that the Lord thy God giveth thee not this good land to possess it for thy righteousness; for thou art a stiff-necked people.
MAN is a dependent creature: he has nothing of his own: he can do nothing: he can control no event whatever; he is altogether in the hands of God, who supports him in life, and accomplishes both in him and by him his own sovereign will and pleasure. Yet he affects wisdom, though “he is born like a wild ass’s colt;” and strength, though he is “crushed before the moth:” nay, so extraordinary is his blindness, that he arrogates righteousness to himself, though he is so corrupt, that he has “not so much as one imagination of the thoughts of his heart which is not evil continually.” If there ever were a people that might be expected to be free from self-complacent thoughts, it must be the Israelites who were brought out of Egypt; for no people ever had such opportunities of discovering the evil of their hearts as they had. No persons ever received such signal mercies, as they; nor ever betrayed such perverseness of mind, as they. Yet did Moses judge it necessary to caution even them, not to ascribe to any merits of their own the interpositions of God in their behalf, but to trace them to their proper source—the determination of God to display in and by them his own glorious perfections.
The words which I have read to you, will furnish me with a fit occasion to shew,
I. How prone we are to self-complacent thoughts—
There are many things which men would not utter with their lips, which yet they will “speak in their hearts.” “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.” But no rational man would be such a fool as to say it with his lips. So, one can scarcely conceive any man absurd enough to impute in express terms to himself, his successes, either in temporal or spiritual matters: yet, “in the spirit of our minds,” we are prone to do it in reference to both.
1. In reference to temporal matters—
[In the event of our succeeding in trade, in husbandry, in war, how apt are we to ascribe to ourselves what really has proceeded from God alone. We may have shewn wisdom in our use of means: but who has rendered those means effectual? Can the merchant command the seas, or the husbandman the clouds, or the warrior the events of war? Yet we take the glory to ourselves, as if we had reaped nothing but the fruits, the necessary fruits, of our own superior skill. Now what should we have thought of the disciples, if, when they had “toiled all the night in fishing, and had taken nothing,” and afterwards, in obedience to their Lord’s directions, had “launched out into the deep again, and taken at one draught so many fishes that both their ships began to sink”—what, I say, should we hare thought of them, if they had ascribed this success to their own wisdom and skill [Note: Luke 5:4-7 and again John 21:3-6.]? Yet this is the very thing which we do, in reference to our successes in any matter; “we sacrifice to our own net, and burn incense unto our own drag [Note: Habakkuk 1:16.].”]
2. In reference to spiritual matters—
[In relation to things of a spiritual nature, we should suppose that no man would think of indulging this propensity; because in the natural man there is not so much as one good desire. But, strange as it may seem, we are more tenacious of our supposed self-sufficiency in reference to these things than to any others. There is not any one who does not hope to conciliate the divine favour by something that he shall do; and that does not imagine himself capable of doing it by his own inherent strength, whensoever he shall be pleased to undertake the work. To self-righteousness, in particular, men cleave with an obstinacy that nothing but Omnipotence can overcome. This was the real cause of the rejection of the Jews, that they would persist in labouring to establish a righteousness of their own by the works of the Law, when they should have embraced the righteousness which is of God by faith [Note: Romans 9:31-32.]. And this is the principle which we have to combat in all our ministrations, and which is the very last that yields to the Gospel of Christ. Men think to get to heaven by their own righteousness; and hope, like the Israelites in Canaan, to make the very mercy of God himself a pedestal for their own fame. “Stiff-necked” as Israel were, they would arrogate to themselves this glory: and vile as we are, we fondly cherish this vain conceit. To renounce wholly our own righteousness, and to submit cordially to the righteousness of Christ, is the last sacrifice we can be brought to make, and the crown and glory of converting grace.]
That I may, as God shall enable me, beat down all self-complacent conceits, I will proceed to shew,
II. How erroneous they are—
To the self-righteous Israelites, Moses said, “Not for thy righteousness, or for the uprightness of thine heart, dost thou go to possess their land: but for the wickedness of these nations the Lord thy God doth drive them out from before thee, and that he may perform the word which the Lord sware unto thy fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Now here Moses has informed us what it is that God consults in all his dispensations, even the glory of his own perfections:
1. Of his justice and holiness—
[God determined to shew his indignation against sin: and therefore, when the iniquity of the Canaanites was full, and they were ripe for vengeance, he drove them forth from their land, and utterly destroyed them. The Israelites he used merely as his instruments, whom he had raised up to fulfil his will: and in them he made known his power to execute what his justice had decreed.
Look now at the redemption which he has vouchsafed to us, and you shall find it altogether ordained to display the very same perfections of the Deity. Look at the atonement made for sin: go to Calvary, and behold the Lamb of God expiating, by his own blood, the guilt of a ruined world! There read the holiness of God, in his hatred of sin, and his justice in punishing it. Or go to the Gospel, which proclaims this deliverance; and declares, that none shall ever be saved who do not plead this atonement as their only hope; and none shall ever perish who truly and unfeignedly rely upon it. Go, follow the self-complacent Pharisee to the regions of misery, or the believing penitent to the realms of bliss, and you shall see in both an equal display of these very perfections: in the one, the punishment of sin in his own person; in the other, the reward of righteousness, wrought out for him by our Lord Jesus Christ.]
2. Of his faithfulness and truth—
[To Abraham, God had promised the possession of the land of Canaan; yet not to Abraham personally, but in his descendants. The fulfilment of this promise was delayed four hundred and thirty years: but it was not forgotten. When the time for its accomplishment was fully come, it was fulfilled; and in fulfilling it, God shewed himself faithful to his promises. And if any one of us should ever arrive at the heavenly Canaan, it will be in consequence of the covenant made with Christ; wherein the Father stipulated, that “if his Son would make his soul an offering for sin, he should see a seed who should prolong their days, and the pleasure of the Lord should prosper in his hands [Note: Isaiah 53:10.].” Whence is it that any one of us is led to Christ? Whence is it that we are carried in safety through this dreary wilderness, and brought at last to the possession of the heavenly land? Was it for our righteousness that we were chosen? No: “God loved us simply because he would love us [Note: Deuteronomy 7:7-8.].” Was it for our righteousness that we were preserved? No: we were “a stiff-necked people” from first to last. Was it for our righteousness that we were crowned with ultimate success? No: “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he will have saved us [Note: Titus 3:4.],” “according to the good pleasure of his own will, to the praise of the glory of his own grace [Note: Ephesians 1:4-6.].”
It is worthy of observation, that no less than three times in the short space of our text does God declare that his people were not thus favoured on account of their own righteousness: and amongst all the hosts of heaven there will not be found so much as one, who does not ascribe his salvation altogether to God and to the Lamb; that is, to the electing love of the Father, and to the redeeming love of Christ.]
In order still more forcibly to counteract self-righteous thoughts, I proceed yet further to shew,
III. The importance of utterly discarding them from our own minds—
Observe the energy with which this hateful propensity is assailed: “Understand, therefore,” says Moses, “that the Lord giveth thee not this good land to possess it for thy righteousness; for thou art a stiff-necked people.” How much more, then, may I say this to you, in reference to the heavenly land! “Understand it,” then, and consider it well: for to dream of any righteousness of your own, is to be guilty,
1. Of the grossest injustice—
[Did the self-applauding Israelites rob God of his glory? How much more do ye! What becomes of all his stupendous love, in giving his only Son to die for you? What becomes of his sovereign grace, in choosing you at first, and in giving you to his Son? What becomes of all his mercy in pardoning, his power in sanctifying, his faithfulness in keeping you to the end? By this one act of self-righteousness you rob God of it all; and take the crown from the Saviour’s head, to put it on your own. What construction would you put on similar conduct shewn towards yourselves? If you had taken the most helpless and worthless of the human race from a dunghill, and had with vast cost and trouble educated him for your heir, and had actually made over to him all that you possess; would you think he offered you no indignity, if he denied his obligations to your unmerited love, and ascribed all the glory of his exaltation to his own superior merit, which left you no option, but claimed it all at your hands? How base, then, must ye be, if ye so requite the love of Almighty God! Know, that” His is the kingdom,” to which you have been called: and “His is the power,” by which you have been kept: and “His must be the glory” for ever and ever.]
2. Of the extremest folly—
[What can provoke God, if this does not? Or, what can ye expect, but that, as the recompence of your conceit and arrogance, he should say to you, ‘Go on without my help. You have done thus much for yourselves: carry on now the good work within you. You have overcome Satan: overcome him still. You have merited my favour: continue still to merit it. You have paid a price for heaven: complete your purchase. Bring with you your works to my judgment-seat; and I will deal with you according to them.’ Ah, Beloved! what would become of us, if God were thus to give us up to our proud delusions, and our vain conceits? It would soon appear what we are, and what measure of sufficiency we possess for any thing that is good. If, then, you would not provoke God to give you up altogether to yourselves, discard from your minds these “lofty imaginations, and let every thought of your hearts be brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.”]
Having thus directed my attention, throughout the whole subject, to the self-sufficient, I will conclude with an address to,
1. The desponding sinner—
[You are ready to say, God will not have mercy upon me, because I have no righteousness whereby to recommend myself to him. But you need none for this end. It was not the righteous, but sinners, whom he came to save. You are to go to Christ guilty, that you may be forgiven; vile, that you may be made holy; and weak, that his strength may be perfected in your weakness. “Understand” this; and your conscious unworthiness, so far from appearing any longer a bar to your acceptance with him, will be a motive for coming to him, and an encouragement to trust in him: for “where sin has abounded, there, you have reason to hope, shall his grace much more abound.”]
2. The joyful saint—
[Let not the freedom of God’s grace ever prove a snare to you. Though God will never save you for your righteousness, he will never save you in an unrighteous state. Though he requires no righteousness of yours as the ground of your acceptance with him, he requires the utmost attainments in righteousness as your meetness for heaven; yes, and as the means whereby he may be glorified. Take heed, therefore, that you “understand” this: for “without holiness no man shall see the Lord.” At the same time, you must cultivate a spirit directly opposite to that of the self-applauding Pharisee—a spirit of humiliation and self-abasement before God. This was the state of mind which he required of those whom he conducted into Canaan; and this is the spirit which he expects to find in us. Hear his own words to them, and to us in them: “Ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I shall bring you into the land of Israel, into the country for the which I lifted up mine hand to give it to your fathers. And there shall ye remember your ways, and all your doings wherein ye have been defiled; and ye shall lothe yourselves in your own eight for all the evils that ye have committed. And ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I have wrought with you for my name’s sake, not according to your wicked ways, nor according to your corrupt dealings, O ye house of Israel, saith the Lord God [Note: Ezekiel 20:42-44; Ezekiel 36:22; Ezekiel 36:32.].” Here, I say, you see the spirit that becomes you. To your latest hour, and in your highest attainments, be ye abased, and let God be glorified as “all in all!”]
A PENITENTIAL RETROSPECT ENJOINED
Deuteronomy 9:7. Remember, and forget not, how thou provokedst the Lord thy God to wrath in the wilderness.
THERE is no sin more deeply rooted in the heart of man than pride: nor is there any thing which will not serve as a foundation for it to prefer its claims. Even an excess of impiety will afford to some an occasion of glorying; and a precedence in rebellion against God, give them a title to praise amongst those whom they have out-stripped in the career of wickedness. It may well be expected, then, that success in any lawful enterprise should very generally be thought to give a man a legitimate ground for self-applause. Yet, doubtless, if ever there were a people less entitled to self-admiration than others, it was the people of Israel, who were a stiff-necked people from the very first moment that God took them under his peculiar care. And, if ever there were a matter that entirely precluded all ground of glorying, surely it was the establishing of that people in the land of Canaan. Their fathers had all provoked God to destroy them in the wilderness: and they themselves were also a rebellious generation: so that they at least might be expected to acknowledge themselves indebted to the sovereign grace of God for all the blessings of the promised land. But behold, God, who knew what was in man, was constrained to caution them against the enormous evil of ascribing to their own superior goodness all the interpositions of God in their behalf: “Speak not thou in thine heart, after that the Lord thy God hath cast them out from before thee, saying, For my righteousness the Lord hath brought me in to possess this land: but for the wickedness of these nations, the Lord doth drive them out from before thee. Understand, therefore, that the Lord thy God giveth thee not this good land to possess it for thy righteousness; for thou art a stiff-necked people. Remember, and forget not how thou provokedst the Lord thy God to wrath in the wilderness.” This was the state of mind which became them; and this is the habit that becomes us also.
To fix this admonition the more deeply on your minds, I will endeavour to shew,
I. What impression sin makes upon the mind of God—
It is not so light an evil as we are ready to imagine. It is most offensive to God: it is “that abominable thing which his soul hateth [Note: Jeremiah 44:4.].” In what abhorrence he holds it, we may see,
1. By his own positive declarations—
[” In the day that thou eatest of the forbidden tree, thou shalt die [Note: Genesis 2:17.],” was the declaration of God in Paradise: and “The soul that sinneth, it shall die [Note: Ezekiel 18:4.],” has been his solemn warning to all mankind, even to the present hour. Yes; “the wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men [Note: Romans 1:18.].” “The wicked,” saith David, “shall be turned into hell, and all the people that forget God [Note: Psalms 9:17.].” And again: “Upon the ungodly shall God rain snares, fire and brimstone, storm and tempest: this shall be their portion to drink [Note: Psalms 11:6.]:” “they shall go into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels [Note: Matthew 25:41.]:” “they shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and the smoke of their torment shall ascend up for ever and ever: and they shall have no rest, day nor night [Note: Revelation 14:10-11.]:” they shall be “where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched [Note: Mark 9:44; Mark 9:46; Mark 9:48.];” and shall spend eternity itself in “weeping and wailing, and gnashing of teeth [Note: Matthew 25:30.].”
Now I would ask, What can such declarations mean? or rather, What can they mean who set them all at nought, and say, “I shall have peace, though I walk after the imaginations of my own evil heart [Note: Deuteronomy 29:19.]?”]
2. By the actual exhibitions of his wrath—
[It is easy to say, “The Lord doth not see, neither will the Almighty regard it.” But how do his dispensations accord with these conceits? Was the sin of Adam visited with no expression of his wrath? Was there no manifestation of his anger at the deluge? None on the cities of the plain, the punishment of which was a figure of hell itself? Look at his dealings with Israel in the wilderness: Was sin unpunished there? Do we see there no marks of his displeasure, no proofs of the connexion which he has established between sin and misery? Does the destruction of that whole people in the wilderness give us no insight into this matter? When we see what was inflicted on a man for gathering sticks upon the Sabbath [Note: Numbers 15:33-35.], on Uzzah for a mistake [Note: 2 Samuel 6:6-7.], on the men of Bethshemesh for unhallowed curiosity [Note: 1 Samuel 6:19.], on Herod for pride [Note: Acts 12:23.], on Ananias for a lie [Note: Acts 5:3-10.], shall we listen to the voice that tells us, that “the Lord will not do good, neither will he do evil [Note: Zephaniah 1:12.]?” Know ye of a truth, beloved Brethren, that “God is angry with the wicked every day [Note: Psalms 7:11.];” and that “though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not go unpunished [Note: Proverbs 11:21.].”]
From hence, then, we may see,
II. The impression which it should make on our minds—
Verily, as it makes a deep impression upon God’s mind, so should it also upon ours. We should remember it; and never forget so much as one sin, if it were possible; but should have the iniquity of our whole lives ever treasured up in our minds, and standing in one accumulated mass before our eyes.
This is necessary for the unpardoned sinner—
[We are not to imagine, that it is sufficient for us to acknowledge in a general way that we are sinners, or to have our minds fixed on one or two enormous transgressions, and to confess them to God. We ought to trace sin to the fountain-head, and see how totally we are by nature alienated from God, and “enemies to him in our minds by wicked works:” and at the same time we should have such views of particular transgressions, as to be constrained to come to God, saying, “Thus and thus have I done:” and without such a view of our sins we can have no repentance, no forgiveness, nor even so much as any preparation of heart for the Gospel of Christ.
Without calling our ways to remembrance, we can have no repentance. For, what is repentance, but a confession of our sins, and mourning over them before God? — — — We can have no forgiveness; for “he that covereth his sins shall not prosper: it is he only who confesseth and forsaketh them that shall find mercy [Note: Proverbs 28:13.]” — — — Nor can a person be prepared to receive the Gospel: for the Gospel is a remedy; for which they who are unconscious of any malady can have no desire; as our Lord has said, “They that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance [Note: Matthew 9:12-13.].” What then shall an unpardoned sinner do? If he look not back on his transgressions, to mourn over them before God, he rivets them all upon his own soul, and ensures to himself the judgments of an offended God [Note: Luke 13:3.].]
Nor is it a whit less necessary for a pardoned saint—
[In a great variety of views it is desirable for him: first, for the deepening of his humility. Superficial views of sin, though they may suffice to bring us to the Saviour, will never produce that self-lothing and self-abhorrence which are the foundation of all that is good and great in the Christian character [Note: Ezekiel 16:63; Ezekiel 36:31.] — — —Next, for the inflaming of his gratitude. Our gratitude will always bear proportion to our sense of sin. “The man that has been forgiven little, will love little [Note: Luke 7:47.]:” but the man who is sensible, fully sensible, what his deserts have been, will be filled with such wonder and admiration at the goodness of God towards him, as no words can adequately express [Note: 1 Timothy 1:13-15. “Grace exceeding abundant.”] — — —Further, these views of sin are desirable for the confirming of his principles. Let him feel the extent of his guilt, and he will not need to be told that salvation must be altogether of grace, or through faith, in Christ. He will see that a soul taken out of hell itself would not be a greater monument of grace than he: he knows himself to be “a brand plucked out of the burning [Note: Zechariah 3:2.];” and that if there were not an atonement provided for him, and a free salvation offered to him, Satan himself would have as good a hope of mercy as he — — — These views are yet further desirable for the augmenting of his care and watchfulness. Let a man see how he has fallen, and how, even though he may not actually have fallen, he has been tempted by sinful inclinations: he will then see what must have been his state to all eternity, if God had left him to himself; and what must yet be his state, if God should not continually uphold him — — — Lastly, they are necessary for the meetening of his soul for glory. Go up to heaven, and see the state of the saints there: see how they fall on their faces before the throne: hear with what incessant praises they ascribe salvation to God and to the Lamb [Note: Revelation 5:14.]. If you were to go from one end of heaven to the other, you would not hear one self-applauding word, or witness one self-admiring thought. There is but one song throughout all the realms of bliss: and the deeper our sense of obligation to God is for the wonders of redeeming love, the better we shall be prepared to make it the one subject of our thanksgivings to all eternity.]
Before I conclude, let me Add a few words to those who are either looking to God for acceptance through their own righteousness, or imagining that they have already found mercy on such ground as that—
[Take a retrospect of your past lives, and call to remembrance the whole of your conduct in this wilderness world. Compare your lives with the requirements of God’s law; and see whether even so much as a day or an hour has ever passed, that has not given you ground for the deepest humiliation. But if you will not remember your sins, know assuredly, that God will. He says, by the Prophet Amos; “The Lord hath sworn by the excellency of Jacob, Surely I will never forget any of their works [Note: Amos 8:7.].” In the day of judgment, too, will he remember them; yes, and bring them to your remembrance also: for they are all recorded in his book; and when set before you with all their aggravations, they will then appear to you, not light and venial, as they now do, but worthy of the deepest and heaviest condemnation. Stay not, then, till that day, but call them to remembrance now, and beg of God to set them all in order before your eyes. As for the pain which a sight of them will occasion, would you not wish to be pained with that which has so grieved your God? And is it not better to feel a penitential sorrow now, than to die in impenitence, and lie down under the wrath of God for ever? In recommending penitence, I am your best friend; and those who would encourage you to forget your sins are, in truth, your greatest enemies. Begin, then, to “sorrow after a godly sort [Note: 2 Corinthians 7:11.],” and go to the Lord with all your sins upon you: so shall you have them all “blotted out as a morning cloud,” and “cast by God himself into the depths of the sea.” Here is a great mystery: if you forget your sins, God will remember them: but if you remember them, God will forget them utterly, and “remember them against you no more for ever [Note: Hebrews 8:12.].”]
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 9". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany