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SELF-CONFIDENCE REPROVED. Prov. xxviii. 26. He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool.
THE Holy Scriptures speak plainly, and without reserve: they know nothing of that squeamish delicacy that keeps men from designating things by their appropriate names: they declare sin to be sin, and folly to be folly, without considering what the pride of man will say to the fidelity that is expressed. Now this gives an exceeding great advantage to ministers : for though it does not sanction rudeness, or indelicacy, or inattention to the feelings of mankind, it does authorize a “great plainness of speech” in all who deliver the messages of God to a sinful and self-deceiving world. Indeed, by universal consent, a greater freedom of speech is admitted, even by the most fastidious in our public addresses, than would be palatable in private converse: nor will any be offended with us, if we declare authoritatively, and without any palliating modifications, what God has said, and what we know to be true, and what therefore we must affirm, that “ he who trusteth in his own heart is a fool."
In confirmation of this plain and solemn truth, I will shew, I. What is the conduct here reprobated
Man, when he fell from God, renounced not only his allegiance to him as his Maker, but his affiance in him as his God. Since that time, man affects to be a god unto himself, and places his reliance rather on his own inherent powers than on the Majesty of heaven. He relies on, 1. His own wisdom and understanding
[This is true, especially in reference to all that concerns the soul. Every one conceives that he knows what religion is, and how he is to obtain favour at the hands of God. The most careless of men stand, in this respect, on a footing with the most thoughtful and sedate : every one is alike confident that his opinions are just; and he holds them fast, with a degree of assurance which the most studious habits would scarcely warrant.
Some, however, will admit the Scriptures to be the only true standard of religious sentiment: but then they suppose themselves to be perfectly equal to the task of extracting from them the mind of God. They feel no need of divine teaching: they are unconscious of the blindness of their minds, and of the bias that is upon their hearts on the side of error. Hence they will take some few particular passages which favour the prejudices they have imbibed ; and on them they will build, as securely as if it was impossible for them to err.] 2. His own purposes and resolutions
[Every one has, at some time or other, thought with himself, that it was desirable for him to be prepared for death and judgment: and most persons have formed some faint purposes at least, if not a fixed resolution, that they will amend their lives, and prepare for their great account. In some imminent danger, or under some distressing occurrence, the purpose may have been formed with a view to a speedy change : but, in general, the convenient season is looked for at somewhat of a distant period. But the power to turn to God is doubted by none. The sufficiency of man to execute his own purposes and resolutions is never questioned. Every one supposes that he shall be able to effect whatever his judgment shall direct, and his necessities require. As for any need of divine assistance for these things, men have no idea of it. Their own strength is equal to the performance of all that they judge necessary for their salvation; and therefore they may safely defer the great work of their souls to any period which it may suit them to assign.]
That I may dissuade you from such vain confidence, I proceed to state, II. The folly of it
Even in relation to earthly things an overweening confidence in our own judgment and strength is a mark of folly : but in reference to the concerns of the soul it is folly in the extreme. For,
1. It robs us of the benefit we might receive from trusting in God
[This is particularly intimated in the words immediately connected with my text: “He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool; but whoso walketh wisely shall be delivered.” Now here the “walking wisely” is put for trusting in God, rather than in ourselves : and the person who so conducts himself, “shall be delivered” from those evils into which the self-confident must fall. Indeed the very honour of God is concerned to leave us, that we may reap the bitter fruits of our own folly. If we succeeded in effecting our own deliverance, we should “burn incense to our own net," and ascribe all the glory to ourselves. But God has warned us, that, if we provoke him thus to jealousy, we shall lose the benefits which, by trusting in him, we might have obtained; and bring on ourselves the very evils which, by trusting in him, we might have escaped :“ Thus saith the Lord: Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the Lord: (where you will see, that to trust in ourselves is a departure of heart from God :) for he shall be like the heath in the desert; and shall not see when good cometh; but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land, and not inhabited. But blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is: for he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river; and shall not see when heat cometh ; but her leaf shall be green, and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruita."]
2. It ensures, beyond all doubt, our ultimate disappointment[If ever any man was authorized to trust in himself
, methinks Peter and the other Apostles were, in relation to their desertion of their Lord, in his lowest extremity. In the fulness of his own sufficiency, Peter said, “ Though Í should die with thee, I will not deny thee. And so likewise said they all.” Yet, behold, no sooner was their Master apprehended, than “they all forsook him and fled.” And Peter, the most selfconfident of them all, denied him with oaths and curses. thus will it be with all of us : however firm our resolutions be, they will prove only as tow before the fire, if they be made in our own strength. We need, indeed, only look back and see what has become of the resolutions we have already made. *We would turn from this or that sin: we would mortify this or that propensity: we would give up ourselves to God in newness of life.' Alas! alas! how have these purposes vanished, as smoke before the whirlwind! And though we may
think to profit by experience, and to become more steadfast in consequence of our former disappointments, we shall only live to prove with still greater evidence the folly of our own ways, and the truth of that inspired declaration, that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?"]
3. It will keep us from discovering our error, till it is past a remedy
[Tell persons what God says of their ways, and they will not believe it. Every one thinks himself safe ; and holds fast.
a Jer. xvii. 5-8.
his persuasion, in spite of all the admonitions that can be given him. The Rich Man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day, would have deemed any one very uncharitable who should have warned him of his approaching end. He would have found an abundance to allege in his own defence; and would not have believed that so inoffensive a life as his could ever issue in such misery as was denounced against him. His five brethren, who succeeded to his wealth, and followed him in what they esteemed so becoming their situation in life, were equally secure in their own minds, and equally averse to think themselves obnoxious to God's displeasure: nay, so averse were they to admit such an idea, that, if their deceased brother's wish had been granted, and one had been sent from the dead to warn them of their danger, they would not have believed his report. Hence, like him who had gone before them, they held fast their delusions, till, one after another, they all came into the same place of torment. Each, at the instant of his own departure, saw the danger of those who were left behind: for, as they would not believe Moses and the Prophets, their ruin was inevitable, and their misery sure. Precisely such is our state and conduct. We will trust in our own hearts, and deny the necessity for trusting only in the Lord; and the probability is, that we shall never be undeceived, till we come to experience what now we will not believe. And are not they who pursue such a course justly denominated fools? If a man would not be persuaded that the leaping down from a lofty precipice would hurt him, and should desperately put it to the trial, and break all his bones, would any one be at a loss to assign an appropriate name to him? Yet would he be wise, in comparison of one who, in defiance of all the warnings of Holy Writ, will trust in himself rather than in God.) See, then, from hence, 1. How desirable is self-knowledge
[Respecting gross offences, men cannot be ignorant of their condition before God: but respecting the state and habit of their minds, especially in relation to the object of their trust and confidence, they are almost as ignorant as new-born babes. People will not inquire; they will not examine; they will not even suspect that they may be wrong. In truth, they will not believe that their self-confidence is so criminal as the Scriptures represent it, or that any danger can await them on account of it. But, my dear Brethren, I beg you to remember, that the declaration in my text is the word of the living God, and shall surely be found true in the end. I charge you, therefore, to examine carefully into this matter. See whether you have just views of the deceitfulness of the heart. See whether you feel
so fearful of its delusions, that you determine never to take its report of any thing without comparing it with the sacred records, and imploring direction from God that you may not err. And be assured, that, till you are brought to renounce all dependence on yourselves, and to depend only on the Lord, you are not, you cannot be, in a state of acceptance with God: for, if he pronounces you fools, he will surely deal with you according to your proper character.] 2. How necessary is the knowledge of Christ
[Till we come to know what provision God has made for us in the Son of his love, we shall of necessity continue guilty of the folly which is here reprobated. But when once we are assured that there is another in whom we may trust, and who possesses in himself all the fulness of the Godhead, we are encouraged to look beyond ourselves, and to place our confidence in him. Now the Lord Jesus Christ is that
who is sent of God for that very end, and “is of God made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption." Here, then, we have all that our necessities can require. By this, all temptation to creature-confidence is cut off: for who would lean upon a reed, that has Omnipotence for his support? or who would build upon the sand, that can have for his foundation “ the Rock of ages ?" Seek, then, I pray you, the knowledge of this Saviour; and beg of God to shew you what an inexhaustible fulness is treasured up for you in him; and how impossible it is that you should ever fail, if only you trust in him. Once begin in truth to “ live by faith in the Son of God," and you “ shall not be ashamed or confounded world without end.]
DANGER OF OBSTINACY IN SIN. Prov. xxix. 1. He that being often reproved, hardeneth his neck,
shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy. AWFUL, most awful, is this declaration; yet is it most salutary, and worthy of the deepest attention. Many indeed imagine that it is suited only to the dispensation of the Law: but it is no less suited to us under the Gospel. The Gospel does not consist of promises only, but of threatenings also: and St. Paul himself tells us, that “ the day of the Lord will so come as a thief in the night; and that when men are saying, Peace and safety, then will sudden destruction