For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.
A truism, yet such that, while everybody is ready to apply it to his neighbour, few are wise enough to take it home to themselves. By the very nature of the case it is always ignored where it fits most aptly. Hence the need of insisting upon it.
I. THERE ARE STRONG INDUCEMENTS FOR FORMING AN UNDULY FAVOURABLE OPINION OF ONE'S SELF. Self-knowledge is a difficult acquisition. We cannot get the right perspective. The effort of turning the mind in upon itself is arduous. Then we are inclined to take imagination and desire for direct perception, i.e. to think we possess qualities which we only picture in thought; or to measure our faculties by our inclinations, to suppose that the wish to do certain things carries with it the power. E.g. an enthusiast for the violin is likely to suppose he can handle the instrument musically before other people are of that opinion. The very habit of thinking about ourselves causes a growing sense of self-importance. Moreover, by an unconscious selection we are led to dwell on the favourable features of our own characters, and leave out of account the unfavourable.
II. A HIGH OPINION OF ONE'S SELF IS COMMONLY FOUND TO BE ASSOCIATED WITH A LOW CONDITION OF REAL WORTH. Not invariably, for we sometimes find men of high endowments painfully self-assertive, either because they know that their merits have not been duly recognized, or because their vanity has been excited by the applause of their friends. Such cases reveal a weakness, and strike us as peculiarly unfortunate, for the men of worth would be wiser to wait for the acknowledgment which their merits by themselves will ultimately command had they but patience enough, or at the worst should be above caring overmuch for any such acknowledgment. Still, the merit may be real. In most cases, however, it is those who are least who boast the loudest. The man of little knowledge thinks he knows everything; wide knowledge reveals the awful vastness of the unknown, and impresses profound humility. So the holiest man is most conscious of his own sinfulness. At best, too, what right have we to think much of ourselves when all we have comes from God-our natural abilities as gifts of Providence, our spiritual attainments as graces of the Spirit?
III. AN UNDUE OPINION OF ONE'S SELF IS NOTHING BUT SELF-DECEPTION. It cannot long impose upon others. The world is not inclined to attach much weight to a man's own evidence in favour of himself. (Hypocrisy, or the deliberate effort to deceive others, is out of the question here, as that implies a knowledge of the falseness of our pretensions, while we are now considering the honest belief in them.) Such self-deception is unfortunate,
(1) because it will put us in a false position, incline us to make wrong claims, and to attempt the unattainable, and so result in disastrous failure;
(2) because it precludes the endeavour to improve ourselves;
(3) because it destroys the Christ-like grace of humility;
(4) because it provokes the ridicule, scorn, or even enmity of others. - W.F.A.
Parallel VersesKJV: For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.