A Blow at Self-Righteousness

A Sermon 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 expressed—a little more guarded, and a little more refined—the same idea, only taught to speak after a gospel dialect—is 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. Continue reading