Adapted from a tract. Previously published in Pulpit Helps, May 2004.
"These are the kings of the country which Joshua and the children of Israel smote on this side Jordan on the west . All the kings were thirty and one" (Josh. 12:7, 24).
The great conflict of the higher Christian life is not a conflict with the grosser forms of sin, for we leave them behind us when we cross the Jordan and come into the land of holiness, obedience, and rest. But there are other foes more subtle, and these are symbolized, we believe, by these kings with whom Joshua made war so long.
There are various forms of self-life which, while not perhaps directly and willfully sinful, in the grosser sense, are yet as contrary to the will of God, and as necessary to be subdued and slain, before the soul can be in perfect harmony with the divine will. They are all tyrants, which, if allowed to remain, will ultimately bring us into subjection to sin and separate us from the Lord. Let us look at these kings of the old Self Dynasty, and see if we can recognize any of them.
This expresses its decrees in the personal pronoun and the active verb: I will, I shall. It recognizes no king but its own imperative choice. Self-will must be slain before love can reign. The will thus surrendered becomes a stronger will, because it is henceforth not our will, but His within us; and when we choose, we choose with the strength of God, and choose forever. Have we yielded our will and received His in return?
This is the gratification of self in any of its forms. Is it wrong to eat and drink, and indulge our appetites? No, the act may not be wrong in itself, but it becomes wrong when we do it for the sake of the indulgence. I am not to eat because it gratifies me to eat; I am not to drink because I enjoy the act; but I am to eat and drink for the glory of God; that is, with the distinct thought and purpose of pleasing Him and ministering to my bodily wants that I may be strong to serve and glorify Him. So the commonest acts of life are to be wholly consecrated to Him and done unto Him, and thus they become sacred and holy.
"Love seeketh not her own." Her object is not to accomplish some personal end, but to benefit another and to glorify God. The great business of the people of this world is to seek their own ends and pleasures. But a consecrated life has but one purpose: to "seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness," and then to rest in His will, knowing that "all these things shall be added."
This is the spirit of pride that takes delight in our own qualities and rests with satisfaction in ourselves. It is very different from vanity, which seeks the approval of others. Self-complacency is a god unto itself.
The converse of self-complacency, it seeks the praise of others. Self-glorying inflates its little bubble because it is so small. It is the lack of real greatness that makes the society butterfly eager to attract attention. The truly consecrated life is conscious of its nothingness, and knows that it is dependent on God alone for all it can ever possess, and therefore it hides in His bosom, saying, "Not I, but Christ that liveth in me."
This is a form of self-life which relies upon its own wisdom, strength and righteousness. It is Simon Peter, saying, "Though all men shall deny Thee, yet will not I." This person believes in his own opinion. He laughs at the people who talk about the Spirit's leadings. This must die before we can become established in the strength of Christ. Therefore, the strongest natures have often to fail in order to bring them to the end of self, and lead them, like Peter, to lean on God.
This is the self that is always thinking of itself. Every act and look and word is studied. This is a dreadful bondage. God wants us to have the freedom of a simple child, that acts without thinking from spontaneous impulses and with a beautiful liberty. How shall we get out of this wretched self-consciousness? Only by getting into a higher consciousness, even the presence of our Lord, and realizing that He is living for us and in us, in those sweet spontaneous impulses that are the true springs of action.
This is an exaggerated form of self-consciousness. This is very offensive and yet very common in small men and women, who make up for their lack of real weight by self-assertion and swaggering assumption. True humility consists not so much in thinking meanly of ourselves, as in not thinking of ourselves at all.
Closely allied to self-importance-and just as bad. It keeps its victims from useful service. If called upon to do some service, it will refuse on the ground of inability. This is all self. A truly-surrendered heart hasn't got any ability to work, and if Christ wants to send it, He must equip it and supply it with all necessary resources. Therefore, it goes unquestioning and fully assured because all of its strength must come from God.
The self that stands for its own rights and avenges its wrongs, it is quick to detect an injury or an offense. This is a very respectable, but a very real form of selfishness. It is directly contrary to the spirit of Christianity and the Lord Jesus Christ. The very idea of His incarnation was the renunciation of all His rights. Being in the form of God, He was entitled to be equal with God, but we are told He did not count this a prize, but "He emptied Himself and made Himself of no reputation."
You have not begun to deal with the question of self-surrender until it reaches your dearest rights, and you let them go into His hand. He will pay you back-some of it in this world, but how much more in the day of eternal recompense!
One of the most painful forms of selfishness. I have seen people who had been all bright and radiant for a time, but something touched them that was offensive, uncongenial, or humbling, and they seemed to have become all at once like Egyptian mummies, ready for a glass case. What is the matter? Self! "Great peace have they that love Thy law, and nothing shall offend them." The Lord bring and keep us there!
There are some people who always see things only from their own side. If they would be willing to believe that there is another side, they would be saved from a thousand misunderstandings. "Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others." Think how you would act if you felt as he feels, saw with his eyes, were placed as he is placed. You will be surprised to see how differently you will look at things.
Our morbid and excessive self-examination is one of the forms of self-life that causes much pain and works much injury in our Christian life. There is a right, but there is a wrong self-examination. God alone can truly search us. Even Paul said, "Yea, I judge not mine own self, but He that judgeth me is the Lord." Let us commit our own way unto Him, and honestly say, "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."
This is the root of all these forms of the self-life. It is a heart centered upon itself and, so long as this is the case, every affection and every power of our being is turned inward and self-ward, and the whole character distorted. God, who is the type of all true being, is essentially love, and lives not for Himself, but for others, and when we become self-centered we seek to assume God's throne, and become gods unto ourselves. It is the ruin and perversion of a soul to love and live for itself.
XV. Self Affections
Such are the natural fruit of self-life. Even the people we love, we love not so much for the blessing that we can be to them, as for the pleasure that they minister to us. Love that terminates on ourselves is selfish and degrading. The love that seeks another's blessing is elevating and divine.
XVI. Selfish Motives
These may enter into the highest acts and mar and pervert them to their inmost core. It is not only what we say and do, but why. The natural heart cannot do a good thing without some selfish object, which perverts and destroys its purity.
Albert Benjamin Simpson was born on Prince Edward Island, in 1843, of Scottish Covenanter heritage. After seminary training (graduating in 1865), the young Presbyterian minister was called to Knox Church in Hamilton, Ontario. After eight years of helping that church grow, he was called to lead a Presbyterian church in Louisville, Ky., where he helped churches bitterly divided by the Civil War find reconciliation in the love of Christ. As the pastors joined their hands together in unity, over 10,000 local residents joined them in prayer meetings lasting for a year.
In 1881 Simpson left the Presbyterian denomination and founded the independent Gospel Tabernacle in New York. There he published the Alliance Weekly and wrote seventy books on Christian living. He helped to form and headed up two evangelization societies-the Christian Alliance and the Evangelical Missionary Alliance. In 1897, they became the Christian and Missionary Alliance. He continued to serve as pastor until 1918, a year before his death.