The Peril Of Self-Deception
By J. Stuart Holden
"Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (Psa. 139:23-24).
The psalmist has been looking out upon the world of sin, upon the tumults of men, upon the unending controversy between good and evil (vv. 19-22).
A true man of God, the psalmist ceases to look at the circumference, and begins to look at the center. He himself becomes conscious of that of which every good man is conscious. There follows upon his musing the conviction as to his own state in the sight of God. He realizes that it is he himself who chiefly merits the judgment of God. "If any man needs judged, I am the man. Judge me, O Lord."
In the opening chapters of the prophecy of Isaiah, as the prophet looks out from his standpoint of prophetic vision upon the world of his day, he declares his "Woe! Woe!" upon every section of the community. In the first five chapters of Isaiah how frequently does that word of warning recur! Then at the opening of the sixth chapter, the prophet sees "the Lord...high and lifted up"; he sees Him, not merely in His relationship of government to the world, but in His relationship of fatherly grace and love toward men. And in the light of that vision he sees his own uncleanness, and he cries – not, "Woe to Jerusalem"; not, "Woe to Samaria" – but, "Woe is me! for I am undone" (Isa. 6:5).
No good man can be blind to all that goes on around him, nor can he be insensible of the moral issues which are being decided on every hand. But, most important of all, he knows full well the secret of his own inner life. The tragedy of many a one is that he discovers that secret, and then locks it away from sight, and seeks forever to be rid of it. Oh, that we might learn, not only to look upon things as they are in the world, but upon things as they are in our own lives! For if we would thus judge ourselves, we have it on apostolic testimony that we shall not be judged with the world. If we would thus judge ourselves, our lives will become transparent, and through them men will see something of the beauty of the Lord, whose name we profess and bear.
There is nothing more disquieting than the fact that zeal for truth, in any one of its expressions, may be of an utterly unspiritual character. A man may have a fervent zeal for truth in the abstract; he may give mental assent to certain standards of truth, and yet in his daily life totally contradict the very things which he professes to believe. Indeed, there is nothing quite so humiliating as the sight of an unspiritual and selfish man. It is that which makes religious controversy, whether public or private, not only utterly abhorrent to the really good man, but entirely abhorrent, if we read the Word of God rightly, in the sight of the Lord Himself. There is the peril of utter self-deception which grows until it becomes a complete destruction. It will avail us nothing in that day when the work of life is passed under review to have stood for those who contended for the truth, if, by our lives, we have denied that same truth by our refusal to submit to its sanctifying influences. We shall stand in that day, not as we appear before men, but as we actually are before God.
"Search me, O God." Let us consider the inwardness of this prayer, and let us think of the methods by which God answers it. This is the prayer of a man who is conscious that he has himself made a personal contribution to the moral condition which he deplores in the world around him. While he sees that things are wrong in the world, he does not fail to see also that he has had some share of personal responsibility. "If things are wrong, then I have a share in them. I am making some contribution, wittingly, or unwittingly, to the moral condition of the world." "Search me, O God." This is the cry of a man who is conscientious enough to recognize the moral evil in his own life. This is the cry of a man who is serious enough to take time for the searching of his own soul, whether in the sanctuary, or in the secret trysting place with the Lord of Glory, whose eyes of love are as a flame of fire.
Contrast that state of heart with the common attitude of self-excuse regarding character in its spiritual and moral significance which exists among many professing Christians today. They excuse themselves – and, oh, the sin of it – on the ground of the free grace of God. They repeat in church almost parrotlike their confessions of sin. As they thus come to God in prayer, do they really believe that they have wandered from God as lost sheep? Is it really the cry of a soul lost on the dark mountains far from home? There can be no greater condemnation for anyone than that of unfelt confession of sin, which has no depth or reality in it. By frequent repetition of such prayers they imagine themselves free from the necessity of cultivating holiness, without which no man can see the Lord. The important question that we should each ask ourselves is this: "Do we love God enough to desire to be really His, manifesting His Spirit in our daily lives, doing His work, obeying His commands?" For, if so, then we shall get past all these superficialities of worship, and we shall pray constantly, "Search me, O God." The fact is that every day is a judgment day to the one who humbles himself before God. The fact is that the great white throne is set up each day for the man who knows his own heart, and seeks to walk in the light of God.
"Search me, O God." How does God respond to such a prayer? What are the standards of His judgment? Are we in the position of those who appear before a judge and whose only plea is that we are ignorant of those standards? No! The standards of God are in His written Word for all who will read them. His standards are not only in His written Word, but in the living Word who is Himself enshrined within it.
What are the governing motives of life? A Christian is a man who seeks to follow Christ, and we know that the governing motive of His life was the supreme devotion to the will of His Father. It was His meat and drink to do the will of God. Let us compare our lives in this respect with His. What is the governing motive of our lives? What has got the greatest grip upon us? Let us anticipate the opinion of those who know us best, for some day they will express it quite freely. As they leave the cemetery, they will talk about us, and they will say, "Yes, he lived for" – what? For money; well, he got it. For popularity; well, he was popular. He lived to avoid adverse verdicts in the world. Or will they say of you and me, "He lived for God, and for His glory"? "Search me, O God," as I compare my life with the life of my Savior. For I am His, or I am not His, judged in the degree in which the will of God is supreme in my life.
God judges us by our faith. A Christian is a man who seeks to follow Christ; and it was His faith which inspired His sacrifice. It was His faith in the purposes of God which took Him to Gethsemane and to Calvary. Let us compare our faith with His. Is our faith an opinion, or an inspiration? Is our faith merely an assent, or is it a passion?
God judges us also as to the attested quality of our relationship. Christ’s relationship with men reflected His relationship with God. How do our lives compare in this respect with the Savior’s? What is our relationship to others? What is our relationship to the church of God? Are we critics, or are we working members? Are we mere spectators in worship, or does every beat of our hearts proclaim our loyalty to His church because of our loyalty, first of all, to Him, the great Head of the church? What is our relationship to those in our own homes? What is our relationship to the world outside, to those with whom we come into contact day by day? It is on this wise that God judges us. I cannot but believe that if we are honest and sincere in this prayer that we offer, such light will fall upon our hearts, that we shall cry out, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" Every false motive, every unholy relationship will be brought to an end, and God’s mercy will be experienced, and the aid of His Spirit realized, and life will become true indeed.
– The Sunday School Times