by Thomas Watson
A Christian must deny his own RIGHTEOUSNESS, his moralities, duties, and good works. Philippians 3:9, "That I may be found in Him not having my own righteousness." The spider weaves a web out of her own body. A hypocrite would spin a web of salvation out of his own righteousness. But Paul, like the bee, sucked salvation from the flower of Christ's righteousness. Isaiah 64:6, "All our righteousness are as filthy rags." Our best duties are filled with sin. Put gold in the fire— and out comes the dross. Our most golden services are mixed with unbelief. The angel pouring sweet fragrances into the prayers of the saints, Revelation 8:3, shows that they are in themselves unsavory—and need Christ's sweet fragrances to perfume them.
We must never trust in our duties—but only in Christ's righteousness for salvation. Noah's dove made use of her wings to fly—but trusted the ark for safety.
And, if we must deny our holy things in point of justification, then much more our civilities and moralities. A stake may be finely painted—but it has no root. A man may be painted with morality—and yet have no root of grace. A moral person is only externally washed—not internally changed. The life may be civil to men—when the heart is wicked against God; just as the sea may be calm—when the water is salty. The Pharisee could say he was no adulterer, Luke 18:11—but he could not say he was not proud.
The moral person may have a secret antipathy against godliness. He may hate grace—as much as vice. Morality is but a cracked title to heaven. A piece of brass may shine—but, lacking the King's image, it will not pass as currency. A man may shine with moral virtues—but lacking the image of God consisting in holiness—he will not pass as currency at the day of judgment. Morality is good—but God will say, "You still lack one thing!" Luke 18:22. Morality is a good Jacob's staff to walk with among men—but it is a bad Jacob's ladder to climb up to heaven!
A Christian must deny all SELF-CONFIDENCE. How confident was Pendleton of himself, "This fat of mine shall melt in the fire, for Christ!" But instead of that his courage melted.
The same Hebrew word signifies both confidence and folly. Self-confidence betrays folly. Peter presumed too much on his own strength, "Peter replied—Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will." Matthew 26:33. But how soon was his confidence shaken and blown down with a breath of a young girl! Matthew 26:71-72, "He denied it with an oath, saying, I don't know the man!" Peter's denying of Christ, was the result of not denying his self-confidence. Self jealousy is good. Romans 11:20, "Be not high-minded—but fear." The trembling reed often stands when the confident cedar falls. Who that knows the fierceness of a trial, or the falseness of his heart—will not fear? How have some professors shined like stars in the church's hemisphere, yet have been falling stars? Porphyry, Julian, Cardinal Pool, Gardener, Judas. The Apostles have been called by some of the ancients, by such terms as "the eyes of the world," "Christ's feet," "the church's breasts." Judas was one of these—yet a traitor.
Nay, some of the saints, through God's withdrawing the influence of His Spirit, have relapsed for a time, such as Cranmer and Origen, whose heart fainted under persecution, and he offered incense to the idol.
Deny self-confidence. 1 Corinthians 10:12, "Let him who thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall." It is just with God, that he who trusts himself—should be left to himself! The vine being weak, twists around the oak to support it. A good Christian, being conscious of his own imbecility, twists by faith around Christ. Philippians 4:13, "I can do all things through Christ's strengthening me." Sampson's strength lay in his hair. Ours lies in our head, Christ.
A Christian must deny pride and SELF-CONCEIT. Job 11:12, "Vain man would be wise." In the Hebrew it is "Empty man!" Man is a proud piece of flesh! He is apt to have a high opinion of himself. Acts 8:9, "Simon had been a sorcerer there for many years, claiming to be someone great." Sapor calls himself "Brother of the Sun and Moon." Commodus the Emperor called himself "The Golden Hercules." The Persian kings made others worship their images. Such as view themselves in the flattering looking-glass of self-love, appear bigger in their own eyes than they are. They think their spark is a sun! They think their drop is a sea! They are highly conceited of their acumen, their wit and abilities, and are ready to despise others. The Chinese think so highly of themselves, that they say that Europe has one eye and they have two, and the rest of the world is blind.
Deny self-conceit. Romans 12:3, "I say to every man who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think." Proverbs 23:4, "Cease from your own wisdom." It does not say cease from being wise—but from thinking yourself wise, Proverbs 3:7 and Philippians 2:3.
That you may deny all high, supercilious thoughts of yourselves, consider:
Self-conceit is a great sin. Chrysostom calls it "the mother of hell." It is a kind of idolatry, a self-worshiping.
Whatever noble endowments you have, are borrowed. As the man said of the axe which fell in the water, 2 Kings 6:5, "Oh, my master—it was borrowed!" And what wise man would be proud of a jewel that was lent to him? "What makes you better than anyone else? What do you have that God hasn't given you? And if all you have is from God, why boast as though you have accomplished something on your own?" 1 Corinthians 4:7. The moon has no cause to be proud of her light—for which she is indebted to the sun.
Whatever acuteness of wit, or sageness of judgment you have—think how far short you come. How far short do you come of that knowledge which Adam had in innocence? He was the oracle of wisdom. He could unlock nature's dark cabinet and find out those secrets which bewilder us. Adam had a full inspection into the cause of things. He was a kind of earthly angel.
But how far short do you come of him! Your knowledge is checkered with ignorance. There are many hard knots in nature which cannot be easily untied—like why the loadstone should draw iron and leave gold and pearl; or why the Nile should overflow in the summer when waters are usually lowest. Job 38:24-25, "Where is the path to the origin of light? Where is the home of the east wind? Who created a channel for the torrents of rain? Who laid out the path for the lightning?" Why is the sea higher than the earth, and yet does not drown it? How do the bones grow in the womb? Ecclesiastes 11:5. Who can explain exactly how the body functions? He who sees clearest, has a mist before his eyes. By eating of the tree of knowledge, we lost the key of knowledge!
How far short do you come of that knowledge Satan has? He is called "demon" from his knowledge. We read of the "depths of Satan," Revelation 2:24, and his stratagems, 2 Corinthians 2:11. Satan is an intelligent spirit. Though he has lost his sanctity—yet not his knowledge. Though he has lost his breastplate—yet not his headpiece. He has wit enough to deceive the nations, Revelation 20:3. His understanding is nimble, and, being compared with ours, is like the swift flight of an eagle, compared with the slow motion of a snail. Why, then, should any be puffed up with deceit of their knowledge, wherein the devil far outstrips them!
How far short do you come of the knowledge they have who are perfected in glory? He who is higher than a dwarf—may be lower than a giant. Such as excel others in natural abilities—are of a lower stature than the glorified saints. 1 Corinthians 13:12, "We see through a glass darkly." But the saints in bliss have a full-eyed vision of God. Their light which burned here like a smothered fire—is now blown up into a pure flame. An glorified young Christian, knows more than the most profound theologians on earth. In heaven, all shadows fly away—the sun of righteousness having risen there with his illustrious beams! This may pull down the plumes of pride and self-conceit.
Your dark side is broader than your light side. Your ignorance is more than your knowledge. Your knowledge is but candle-light; your ignorance as the Cimmerian darkness. Job 26:14 "How little a portion is known of God?" The Septuagint renders it, "How little a drop!" To imagine that we can comprehend the Deity, is as if we should think that we can measure the skies. Christians, the greatest part of your knowledge is not as much, as the least part of your ignorance. This may demolish all proud imaginations. You have no cause to be conceited of the knowledge you have—but rather to be humbled for what you lack!
Think of what a hell of sin you carry about you. Sin is the accursed thing, Joshua 5:13. It is the quintessence of evil. It is like a stain to beauty. It was typified by the menstrual cloth, which was the most unclean thing under the Law. Though you have knowledge, sin eclipses it. It is as if a woman should have a fair face—but a cancer in her breast! Your knowledge does not so much adorn you, as sin debases you.
Grace can never thrive where pride and self-conceit grow. As a body with cancer cannot thrive—so neither can the soul thrive which is cancered with pride and self-conceit. A proud head—makes a barren heart!
A supercilious conceitedness is odious, and much lessens any worth in a person. It is like a great flaw in a diamond. The more one values himself, the less God and angels value him. Let a person be eminent—yet, if he is self-conceited, he is loved by none. He is like a physician who has the plague. Though he may be admired for his skill—yet none care to come near him.
Such as have a high opinion of their own excellencies are on the fast track to eternal ruin! Either God infatuates them, Isaiah 29:14, or denies a blessing to their labors, or allows them to fall into some great sin. Peter, who was so well-conceited of himself, as if he had more grace than all the Apostles, the Lord let him fall very low! He denied Christ with an oath, nay, an imprecation, Matthew 26:74. Peter wished a curse on himself if he knew Christ; nay, some think he cursed Christ.
The Lord sometimes lets vain, conceited people fall—not only foully, but finally. "The doves," says Pliny, "take pride in their feathers, and in their flying high at last, they soar so high that they are prey to the hawk!" So, when men fly high in self-conceitedness, they become prey to the prince of the air!
Let all this, make us deny our pride; let it kill the worm of self-conceit. If we are proud of our knowledge—the devil does not care how much we know. Let Paul be our pattern. Though he was the chief of the Apostles, he says, "I am less than the least of all God's people." Ephesians 3:8. "I am nothing." 2 Corinthians 12:11. This illustrious Apostle, a star of the first magnitude, shrank into nothing in his own eyes. It is excellent to be like Moses, whose face had a luster on it—but "he was not aware that his face was radiant." Exodus 34:29.
Excerpt From The Duty of Self-Denial by Thomas Watson