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A Blow at Self- Righteousness

Written by: Spurgeon, C.H.    Posted on: 04/01/2003

Category: Sermons

Source: CCN


                                              A Blow at Self-Righteousness

                                                        A Sermon                                                           (No. 350)

                        Delivered on Sabbath Morning, December 16th, 1860, by the                                               REV. C.H. SPURGEON                                                 At Exeter Hall, Strand.

              "If I justify myself, mine own mouth shall condemn me: if I say, I am perfect, it shall also prove me               perverse."Job 9:20.

                  EVER since man became a sinner he has been self-righteous. When he had a righteousness of his own he                   never gloried of it, but ever since he has lost it, he has pretended to be the possessor of it. Those proud                   words which our father Adam uttered, when he sought to screen himself from the guilt of his treason                   against his Maker, laying the blame apparently on Eve, but really upon God who gave him the woman,           were virtually a clame to blamelessness. It was but a fig leaf he could find to cover his nakedness, but how proud           was he of that fig-leaf excuse, and how tenaciously did he hold to it. As it was with our first parents so is it with           us: self-righteousness is born with us, and there is perhaps no sin which has so much vitality in it as the sin of           righteous self. We can overcome lust itself, and anger, and the fierce passions of the will better than we can ever           master the proud boastfulness which rises in our hearts and tempts us to think ourselves rich and increased in           goods, while God knoweth we are naked, and poor, and miserable. Tens of thousands of sermons have been           preached against self-righteousness, and yet it is as necessary to turn the great guns of the law against its walls           to-day as ever it was. Martin Luther said he scarcely ever preached a sermon without inveighing against the           righteousness of man, and yet, he said, "I find that still I cannot preach it down. Still men will boast in what they           can do, and mistake the path to heaven to be a road paved by their own merits, and not a way besprinkled by the           blood of the atonement of Jesus Christ." My dear hearers, I cannot compliment you by imagining that all of you           have been delivered from the great delusion of trusting in yourselves. The godly, those who are righteous through           faith in Christ, still have to mourn that this infirmity clings to them; while as to the unconverted themselves, their           besetting sin is to deny their guiltiness, to plead that they are as good as others, and to indulge still the vain and           foolish hope that they shall enter into heaven from some doings, sufferings, or weepings of their own. I do not           suppose there are any who are self-righteous in as bold a sense as the poor countryman I have heard of. His           minister had tried to explain to him the way of salvation, but either his head was very dull, or else his soul was           very hostile to the truth the minister would impart; for he so little understood what he had heard, that when the           question was put, "Now then, what is the way by which you hope you can be saved before God?" the poor honest           simpleton said, "Do you not think sir, if I were to sleep one cold frosty night under a hawthorn bush, that would           go a great way towards it?" conceiving that his suffering might, in some degree at least, assist him in getting into           heaven. You would not state your opinion in so bold a manner; you would refine it, you would gild it, you would           disguise it, but it would come to the same thing after all; you would still believe that some sufferings, or believings           of your own might possibly merit salvation. The Romish Church indeed, often tells this so very plainly, that we           cannot think it less than profanity. I have been informed that there is in one of the Romish chapels in Cork, a           monument bearing these words upon it, "I. H. S. Sacred to the memory of the benevolent Edward Molloy; a           friend of humanity, the father of the poor; he employed the wealth of this world only to procure the riches of the           next; and leaving a balance of merit in the book of life, he made heaven debtor to mercy. He died October 17th,           1818, aged 90." I do not suppose that any of you will have such an epitaph on your tombstones, or ever dream of           putting it as a matter of account with God, and striking a balance with him, your sins being on one side and your           righteousness on the other, and hoping that a balance might remain. And yet the very same idea, only not so           honestly expresseda little more guarded, and a little more refinedthe same idea, only taught to speak after a           gospel dialectis inherent in us all, and only divine grace can thoroughly cast it out of us.               The sermon of this morning is intended to be another blow against our self-righteousness. If it will not die, at           least let us spare no arrows against it; let us draw the bow, and if the shaft cannot penetrate its heart, it may at           least stick in its flesh and help to worry it to its grave.               I. Endeavouring to keep close to my text, I shall start with this first pointthat THE PLEA OF           SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS CONTRADICTS ITSELF. "If I justify myself, mine own mouth shall condemn me."               Come, friend, thou who dost justify thyself by thine own works, let me hear thee speak. "I say that I have no           need of a salvation by the blood and righteousness of another, for I believe that I have kept the commands of God           from my youth up, and I do not think that I am guilty in his sight, but I hope that I may be able in my own right to           claim a seat in paradise." Now, sir, your plea and this declaration of yours is in itself a condemnation of you,           because upon its very surface it is apparent that you are committing sin while you are pleading that you have no           sin. For the very plea itself is a piece of high and arrogant presumption. God hath said it, let Jew and Gentile stop           his mouth, and let all the world stand guilty before God. We have it on inspired authority, that "there is none           righteous, no, not one." "There is none good, save one, that is God." We are told by the mouth of a prophet sent           from God, that "all we like wandering sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way." And           thou, in saying that thou art righteous, dost commit the sin of calling God a liar. Thou hast dared to impugn his           veracity, thou hast slandered his justice. This boast of thine is in itself a sin, so great, so heinous, that if thou hadst           only that one sin to account for, it would be sufficient to sink thee to the lowest hell. The boast, I say, is in itself a           sin; the moment that a man saith, "I have no sin," he commits a sin in the saying of it,the sin of contradicting his           Maker, and making God a false accuser of his creatures.               Besides, dost thou not see, thou vain and foolish creature, that thou hast been guilty of pride in the very           language thou hast used? Who but a proud man would stand up and commend himself? Who, but one who was           proud as Lucifer, would in the face of God's declaration declare himself to be just and holy? Did the best of men           ever speak thus? Did they not all of them acknowledge that they were guilty? Did Job, of whom God said that he           was a perfect and an upright man, claim perfection? Did he not say, "If I justify myself, mine own mouth shall           condemn me?" Oh! proud wretch, how art thou puffed up! How hath Satan bewitched thee; how hath he made           thee lift up thine horn on high and speak with a stiff neck. Take heed to thyself, for if thou hadst never been guilty           before, this pride of thine were quite sufficient to draw Jehovah's thunderbolts out of the quiver, and make him           smite thee once for all to thine eternal destruction.               But further, the plea of self-righteousness is self-contradictory upon another ground; for all that a           self-righteous man pleads for, is comparative righteousness. "Why," saith he, "I am no worse than my neighbours,           in fact a great deal better; I do not drink, or swear; I do not commit fornication or adultery; I am no Sabbath           breaker; I am no thief; the laws of my country do not accuse, much less condemn me; I am better than the most           of men, and if I be not saved, God help those who are worse than I am; if I cannot enter the kingdom of heaven,           then who can?" Just so, but then all that you claim is that you are righteous as compared with others. Do you not           see that this is a very vain and fatal plea, because you do in fact admit that you are not perfectly righteous;that           there is some sin in you, only you claim there is not so much in you as in another. You admit that you are           diseased, but then the plague-spot is not so apparent in you as in your fellow-man. You admit that you have           robbed God and broken his laws, only you have not done it with so desperate an intent, nor with so many           aggravations as others. Now this is virtually a plea of guilty, disguise it as you may. You admit that you have been           guilty, and against you the sentence comes forth"The soul that sinneth it shall die." Take heed to thyself that           thou find no shelter in this refuge of lies, for it shall certainly fail thee when God shall come to judge the world           with righteousness and the people with equity.               Suppose now for a moment that a command is issued to the beasts of the forest that they should become           sheep. It is quite in vain for the bear to come forward and plead that he was not so venomous a creature as the           serpent; equally absurd would it be for the wolf to say that though stealthy and cunning, and gaunt, and grim, yet           he was not so great a grumbler not so ugly a creature as the bear; and the lion might plead that he had not the           craftiness of the fox. "It is true," saith he, "I wet my tongue in blood, but then I have some virtues which may           commend me, and which, in fact, have made me king of beasts." What would this argument avail? The indictment           is that these animals are not sheep, their plea against the indictment is that they are no less like sheep than other           creatures, and that some of them have more gentleness and more docility than others of their kind. The plea would           never stand. Or use another picture. If in the courts of justice, a thief, when called up, should argue, "Well, I am           not so great a thief as some; there are to be found some living in Whitechapel or St. Giles's who have been thieves           longer than I have, and if there be one conviction in the book against me, there are some that have a dozen           convictions against them." No magistrate would acquit a man on such an excuse as that, because it would be           tantamount to his admission of a degree of guilt, though he might try to excuse himself because he had not reached           a higher degree. It is so with you, sinner. You have sinned. Another man's sins cannot excuse you; you must stand           upon your own feet. At the day of judgment you must yourself make a personal appearance, and it will not be           what another man has done that will condemn, or acquit you, but your own personal guilt. Take heed, then, take           heed, sinner; for it will not avail thee that there are others blacker than thyself. If there be but a spot upon thee           thou art lost; if there be but one sin unwashed by Jesus' blood, thy portion must be with the tormentors. A holy           God cannot look even upon the least degree of iniquity.               But further, the plea of the self-conceited man is, that he has done his best, and can claim a partial           righteousness. It is true, if you touch him in a tender place he acknowledges that his boyhood and his youth were           stained with sin. He tells you that in his early days he was a "fast lad;" that he did many things which he is sorry           for now. "But then," says he, "these are only like spots in the sun; these are only like a small headland of waste           ground in acres of fruitful soil; I am still good; I am still righteous, because my virtues exceed my vices, and my           good deeds quite cover up all the mistakes that I have committed." Well, sir, do you not see that the only           righteousness you claim is a partial righteousness? and in that very claim you do in fact make an admission that           you are not perfect; that you have committed some sins. Now I am not responsible for what I am about to state,           nor am I to be blamed for harshness in it, because I state neither more nor less than the very truth of God. It is of           no saving avail to you that you have not have committed ten thousand sins, for if you have committed one, you           are a lost soul. The law is to be kept intact and entire, and the least crack, or flaw, or breakage, spoils it. The robe           of righteousness in which you must stand at last must be without spot or blemish, and if there be but one           microscopic stain upon it, which is supposing what is never true, yet, even then the gates of heaven never can           admit you. A perfect righteousness you must have, or else you shall never be admitted to that wedding feast. You           may say, "I have kept such a commandment and have never broken it," but if you have broken another you are           guilty of the whole, because the whole law is like one rich and costly vaseit is one in design and fashion. Though           you break not the foor, and stain not the margin, yet if there be any flaw or damage, the whole vessel is marred.           And so if you have sinned in any point, at any time, and in any degree, you have broken the whole law; you stand           guilty of it before God, nor can you be saved by the works of the law, do what you may.               "It is a hard sentence," says one, "and who can bear it!" Indeed, who can bear it? Who can bear to stand at           the foot of Sinai and hear its thunders roar? "If so much as a beast touch the mountain it must be stoned or thrust           through with a dart." Who can stand when the lightnings flash and God descends upon Mount Paran and the hills           melt like wax beneath his feet? "By the deeds of the law there shall no flesh living be justified." "Cursed is every           one that continueth not in all things that are written in the law to do them." Cursed is the man who sins but once,           yea, hopelessly cursed so far as the law is concerned. Oh! sinner, I cannot help turning aside from the subject for           a moment to remind you that there is a way of salvation, and a way by which the law's demands can be fully           satisfied. Christ bore all the punishment of all believers, so that they cannot be punished. Christ kept the law of           God for believers, and he is willing to cast about any and every penitent sinner that perfect robe of righteousness           which he himself has wrought out. But you cannot keep the law, and if you bring up your self-rigtheousness the           law condemns both it and you; Out of your own mouth it condemns you, inasmuch as you have not done all           things and have not kept all the law. A great rock lies in your path to heaven; a mountain insurmountable; a gulf           impassable; and by that road no man shall ever enter into eternal life.               The plea of self-righteousness, then, is in itself self-contradicting, and has only to be fairly stated to an honest           man for him to see that it will not hold water for a single moment. What need of laboured argument to disprove a           self-evident lie? Why should we tarry longer? Who but a very fool would maintain a notion which flies in its own           face and witnesses against itself?               II. But now I pass to the second point, THE MAN WHO USES THIS PLEA CONDEMNS THE PLEA           HIMSELF.               Not only does the plea cut its own throat, but the man himself is aware when he uses it that it is an evil, and           false, and vain refuge. Now this is a matter of conscience, and therefore I must deal plainly with you; and if I           speak not what you have felt, then you can say I am mistaken; but if I speak what you must confess to be true, let           it be as the very voice of God to you. Men know that they are guilty. The conscience of the proudest man, when it           is allowed to speak, tells him that he deserves the wrath of God. He may brag in public, but the very loudness of           his bragging proves that he has an uneasy conscience, and therefore he makes a mighty din in order to drown its           voice. Whenever I hear an infidel saying hard things of Christ, it reminds me of the men of Moloch, who beat the           drums that they might not hear the screams of their own children. These loud blasphemies, these braggart           boastings, are only a noisy way of drowing the shrieks of conscience. Do not believe that these men are honest. I           think all controversy with them is time thrown away. I would never controvert with a thief about the principles of           honesty, or with a known adulterer concerning the duty of chastity. Devils are not to be reasoned with, but to be           cast out. Parleying with hell serves no one's turn except the devil's. Did Paul argue with Elymas? or Peter with           Simon Magus? I would not cross swords with a man who says there is no God; he knows there is a God. When a           man laughs at Holy Scripture, you need not argue with him; he is either a fool or a knaveperhaps both.           However villainous he may be, his conscience has some light; he knows that what he speaks is untrue. I cannot           believe that conscience is so dead in any man as to let him believe that he is speaking the truth when he denies the           Godhead; and much more I am certain that conscience never did give assent to the utterance of the braggart, who           says he deserves eternal life, or has no sin of which to repent, or which by repentance may be washed away           without the blood of Christ; he knows within himself that he speaks that which is false. When Professor Webster           was shut up in prison for murder, he complained to the prison authorities that he had been insulted by his           fellow-prisoners, for he said that through the walls of the prison he could hear them always crying out to him,           "Thou bloody man! thou bloody man!" As it was not consistent with law that one prisoner should insult another,           the strictest enquiry was made, and it was found that no prisoner had ever said such a word, or that if he had said           it, Webster could not have heard it. It was his own conscience; it was not a word coming through the walls of the           prison, but an echo reverberating from the wall of his bad heart, as conscience shouted, "Thou bloody man! thou           bloody man!" There is in all your hearts a witness who will not cease his testimony; it cries, "Thou sinful man!           thou sinful man!" You have only to listen to it, and you will soon find that every pretence of being saved by your           good works must crumble to the ground. Oh! hear it now, and listen to it for a moment. I am sure my conscience           says, "Thou sinful man! thou sinful man!" and I think yours must say the same, unless you are given up of God,           and left to a seared conscience to perish in your sins.               When men get alone, if in their loneliness the thought of death forces itself upon them, they boast no more of           goodness. It is not easy for a man to lie on his bed seeing the naked face of death, not at a distance, but feeling           that his breath is breathing upon the skeleton, and that he must soon pass through the iron gates of deathit is not           easy for a man to plead his self-righteousness then. The bony fingers thrust themselves like daggers into his proud           flesh. "Ah!" saith Death, in tones which cannot be heard by mortal ear, but which are listened to by the mortal           heart"Where now are all thy glories?" He looks upon the man, and the wreath of laurel that was upon his brow           fades and falls to the earth like blasted flowers. He touches his breast, and the star of honour which he wore           moulders and is quenched into darkness. He looks at him yet againthat breast-plate of self-righteousness which           glittered upon him like golden mail, suddenly dissolves unto dust, like the apples of Sodom before the touch of the           gatherer, and the man finds himself to his own surprise naked, and poor, and miserable, when most he needed to           be rich, when most he required to be happy and to be blessed. Ay, sinner, even while this sermon is being uttered,           you may seek to refute it to yourself, and say, "Well, I believe I am as good as others, and that this fuss about a           new birth, imputed righteousness, and being washed in blood, is all unnecessary," but in the loneliness of your           silent chamber, especially when death shall be your dread and grim companion, you shall not need me to state this,           you shall see it clearly enough yourselves; see it with eyes of horror; and feel it with a heart of dismay, and           despair, and perish because thou hast despised the righteousness of Christ.               How abundantly true, however, will this be at the day of judgment. I think I see that day of fire, that day of           wrath. You are gathered as a great multitude before the eternal throne. Those who are robed in Christ's fine linen,           which is the righteousness of the saints, are caught up to the right hand. And now the trumpet sounds; if there be           any that have kept the law of God, if there be faultless ones, if there be any that have never sinned, let them stand           forth and claim the promised reward; but, if not, let the pit engulph the sinner, let the fiery thunder-bolt be           launched upon the impenitent offenders. Now, stand forth, sir, and clear thyself! Come forth, my friend, and claim           the reward, because of the church you endowed, or the row of alms-houses that you erected. What! what! does           your tongue lie dumb in your mouth? Come forward, come forwardyou who said you had been a good citizen,           had fed the hungry, and clothed the nakedcome forward now, and claim the reward. What! what! is your face           turned to whiteness? Is there an ashy paleness on your cheek? Come forward, ye multitudes of those who rejected           Christ, and despised his blood. Come now, and say, "All the commandments have I kept from my youth up."           What! are you seized with horror? Has the better light of judgment driven out the darkness of your           self-righteousness? Oh! I see you, I see you, ye are not boasting now; but you, the best of you, are crying, "Ye           rocks, hide me; ye mountains, open your stony bowels; and let me hide myself from the face of him that sits upon           the throne." Why, why such a coward? Come, face it out before your Maker. Come up, infidel, now, tell God           there is no God. Come, while hell is flaming in your nostrils; come, and say there is no hell; or tell the Almighty           that you never could bear to hear a hell-fire sermon preached. Come now, and accuse the minister of cruelty, or           say that we love to talk on these terrible themes. Let me not mock you in your misery; but let me picture to you           how devils shall mock you. "Aha!" say they "where is your courage now? Are your ribs of iron and your bones of           brass? Will you dare the Almighty now, and dash yourselves upon the bosses of his buckler, or run upon his           glittering spear?" See them, see them as they sink! The gulf has swallowed them up; the earth has closed again,           and they are gone; a solemn silence falls upon the ear. But hark below, if you could descend with them, you           would hear their doleful groans, and hollow moans, as they now feel that the God omnipotent was right and just,           and wise, and tender, when he bade them forsake their righteousness, and flee to Christ, and lay hold on him that           can save to the uttermost them that come unto God by him.               III. THE PLEA IS ITSELF EVIDENCE AGAINST THE PL

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