"If we Say that we have not Sinned, we Make Him a Liar, and his Word is not in Us. "
1 John i.10. -- "If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us."

There is nothing in which religion more consists than in the true and unfeigned knowledge of ourselves. The heathens supposed that sentence, {GREEK SMALL LETTER GAMMA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER NU}{GREEK SMALL LETTER OMEGA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER THETA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER IOTA} {GREEK SMALL LETTER SIGMA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER EPSILON}{GREEK SMALL LETTER ALPHA}{GREEK SMALL LETTER TAU}{GREEK SMALL LETTER OMICRON}{GREEK SMALL LETTER NU} "Know thyself," descended from heaven. It was indeed the motto of the wisest and most religious amongst them. But certain it is, that the true and sincere understanding of ourselves descends from "the Father of lights," and is as great a gift as man is capable of, next to the knowledge of God himself. There is nothing more necessary to man, either as a man or as a Christian, either as endowed with reason or professing religion, than that he should be thoroughly acquainted with himself, his own heart, its dispositions, inclinations, and lusts, his ways and actions, that while he travels abroad to other creatures and countries, he may not commit so shameful an absurdity, as to be a stranger at home, where he ought to be best acquainted. Yet how sad is it, that this which is so absolutely needful and universally profitable, should be lying under the manyest difficulties in the attainment of it? So that there is nothing harder, than to bring a man to a perfect understanding of himself: -- what a vile, haughty, and base creature he is -- how defiled and desperately wicked his nature -- how abominable his actions, in a word, what a compound of darkness and wickedness he is -- a heap of defiled dust, and a mass of confusion -- a sink of impiety and iniquity, even the best of mankind, those of the rarest and most refined extraction, take them at their best estate. Thus they are as sepulchres painted without, and putrified within -- outwardly adorned, and within all full of rottenness and corruption, "the imagination of his heart only evil continually." Now, I say, here is the great business and labour of religion, -- to bring a man to the clear discerning of his own nature, -- to represent unto him justly his own image, as it is painted in the word of God, and presented in the glass of the law, and so by such a surprising monstrous appearance, to affect his heart to self abhorrency in dust and ashes and to have this representation, however unpleasant, yet most profitable, continually observant to our minds, that we may not forget what manner of persons we are. Truly I may say, if there be a perfection in this estate of imperfection, herein it consists, and if there be any attainment of a Christian, I account this the greatest, -- to be truly sensible of himself, and vile in his own eyes.

It was the custom of Philip,(248) king of Macedonia, after he had overcome the famous republic of Greece, to have a young man to salute him first every morning with these words, Philippe homo es, -- Philip, thou art a man, to the end that he might be daily minded of his mortality, and the unconstancy of human affairs, lest he should be puffed up with his victory, and this was done before any could have access to speak with him, as if it were to season and prepare him for the actions of the day. But O how much more ought a Christian to train up his own heart and accustom it this way, to be his continual remembrancer of himself, to suggest continually to his mind, and whisper this first into his ear in the morning, and mid day, and evening, -- peccator es, thou art a sinner, to hold our own image continually before us, in prayer and praises, in restraints, in liberties of spirit, in religious actions, and in all our ordinary conversation, that it might salt and season all our thoughts, words and deeds, and keep them from that ordinary putrefaction and corruption of pride and self conceit, which maketh all our ointment stink.

"If we say we have no sin, we make him a liar." Why is this repeated again, but to show unto us, even to you Christians who believe in Christ, and are washed in his blood, how hard it is to know ourselves aright? If we speak of the grosser sort of persons, they scarce know any sin, nor the nature and vileness of any that they know, therefore they live in security and peace, and bless themselves in their own hearts, as if they had no sin. For such, I say, I shall only say unto them, that your self deceiving is not so subtile, but it may soon be discerned; your lie is gross, and quickly seen through. But I would turn myself to you Christians, who are in some measure acquainted with yourselves, yet there is something against you from this word. After ye have once got some peace from the challenge of sin, and hope of pardon, you many times fall out of acquaintance with yourselves. Having attained, by the Lord's grace, to some restraint of the more visible outbreakings of sin, you have not that occasion to know yourselves by, and so you remain strangers to your hearts, and fall into better liking with yourselves, than the first sight of yourselves permitted you. Now, my beloved in the Lord, herein you are to be blamed, that you do not rather go to the fountain, and there behold the streams, than only to behold the fountain in the streams. You ought rather, upon the Lord's testimony of man, to believe what is in you, before you find it, and see it breaking out; and keep this character continually in your sight, which will be more powerful to humble you than many outbreakings. I think we should be so well acquainted with our own natures, as to account nothing strange to them that we see abroad, but rather think all the grossness and wickedness of men suitable and correspondent to our spirits, -- to that root of bitterness that is in them. The goodness of God in restraining the appearance of that in us, which is within us in reality, should rather increase the sense of our own wickedness, than diminish it in our view.

Indeed, self love is that which blinds us, and bemists us in the sight of ourselves. We look upon ourselves through this false medium, and it represents all things more beautiful than they are, and therefore the apostle hath reason to say, "We deceive ourselves, and we make God a liar." O how much practical self-conceit is there in the application of truth! There are many errors contrary to the truths themselves, and many deceivers and deceived, who spread them, but I believe there are more errors committed by men in the application of truths to their own hearts, than in the contemplation of them, and more self deceiving than deceiving of others. It is strange to think, how sound, and clear, and distinct a man's judgment will be against those evils in others, which yet he seeth not in himself, how many Christians will be able to decipher the nature of some vices, and unbowel the evils of them, and be quick-sighted to espy the least appearance of them in another, and to condemn it, and yet so partial are they in judging themselves, -- self-love so purblinds them in this reflection, that they cannot discern that in themselves, which others cannot but discern! How often do men declaim against pride, and covetousness, and self-seeking, and other evils of that kind? They will pour out a flood of eloquence and zeal against them, and yet it is strange they do not advert, that they are accusing themselves, and impannelling themselves in such discourses, though others, it may be, will easily perceive a predominancy of these evils in them. "Who art thou, O man, who judgeth another, and doest the same thing? Canst thou escape God's judgment?" Rom. ii.1. Consider this, O Christian, that thou mayest learn to turn the edge of all thy censures and convictions against thyself, that thou mayest prevent all men's judgments of thee, in judging thyself all things that men can judge thee, that is, a chief of sinners, that hath the root of all sin in thee, and so thou mayest anticipate the divine judgment too, "for if we judge ourselves, we shall not be judged." Labour thou to know those evils that are incident to thy nature, before others can know them, that is, in the root and fountain, before they come to the fruit and stream, to know sins in the first conceptions of them, before they come to such productions as are visible, and this shall keep thee humble, and preserve thee from much sin, and thou shalt not deceive thyself, nor dishonour God, in making him a liar, but rather set to thy seal to this truth, and his word shall abide in thee.

There is a common rule that we have in judging ourselves, by comparing ourselves amongst ourselves, which, as Paul saith, "is not wisdom," 2 Cor. x.12. When we do not measure ourselves by the perfect rule of God's holy word, but parallel ourselves with other persons, who are still defective from the rule, far further from it than anyone is from another, this is the ordinary method of the judging of self love. We compare with the worst persons, and if we be not so bad as they, we think ourselves good. If not so ignorant as some are, we presume that we know, if not so profane as many, we believe ourselves religious. "Lord, I am not as this publican," so say many in their hearts, -- there is a curser, a swearer, a drunkard, a blind ignorant soul, that neglects prayer in private and public, and upon these ruins of others' sins, they build some better estimation of themselves. But, I pray you, what will that avail you, to be unlike them, if you be more unlike your pattern than they are unlike you? It must be, others will compare with those that are good, but it is with that which is worst in them, and not that which is best. How often do men reckon this way, -- here is a good man, here is an eminent person, yet he is such and such, subject to such infirmities, and here self-love flatters itself, and, by flattering, deceives itself. My beloved, let us learn to establish a more perfect rule, which may show all our imperfections. Let our rule ascend, that our hearts may descend in humility. But when our role and pattern descends to men of like infirmities, then our pride and self conceit ascends, and the higher we be that way in our own account, the lower we are indeed, and in God's account, and the lower we be in ourselves we lose nothing by it; for, as God is higher in our account, so we are higher in God's account, according to that standing rule, Matth. xxiii.12, "Whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased, and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted."

sermon xix if we confess
Top of Page
Top of Page