Tag Archives: righteousness

Aristocrats in Our Own Righteousness

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

Aristocrat: a member of elegant nobility. With that definition in mind, consider this quote from Charles Spurgeon.

“We are all aristocrats in our own righteousness; we do not like to bend down and come among common sinners. If we are brought there, it must be the Spirit of God who casts us to the ground.”

True and brilliantly stated. All of mankind shares an unrelentingly self-justifying nature. We are aristocrats in our own righteousness, and we think most everyone else a common sinner. I am reading Charles Spurgeon’s “Spurgeon on the Holy Spirit” with a couple of young men, and I heartily recommend it. Here is the extended section that contains the above quote.

     “A person comes into church one morning. He is one of the most reputable men in London. He has never committed any outward vice; he has never been dishonest. He is known as a staunch, upright tradesman. Now, to his astonishment, he is informed that he is a condemned, lost sinner, and just as surely lost as the thief who died for his crimes upon the cross.

     Do you think that man will believe it? Suppose, however, that he does believe it, simply because he reads it in the Bible. Do you think he will ever be made to feel it? I know you say, ‘Impossible!’ Some of you, even now, perhaps, are saying, ‘Well, I never would!’ Can you imagine that honorable, upright businessman saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner’ – while stands side by side with the harlot and the swearer? Can you imagine him feeling in his own heart as if he was as guilty as they, and using the same prayer and saying, ‘Lord, save, or I perish’?

     You cannot conceive it, can you? It is contrary to nature that a man who has been so good as he should put himself down among the chief of sinners. But that will be done before he will be saved; he must feel that guilty before he can enter heaven. Now, I ask, who can bring him to such a leveling experience as that, except for the Spirit of God? You know very well that his proud nature will not stoop to it. We are all aristocrats in our own righteousness; we do not like to bend down and come among common sinners. If we are brought there, it must be the Spirit of God who casts us to the ground.

     Why, I know that if anyone had told me that I would ever cry to God for mercy and confess that I had been the vilest of the vile, I would have laughed in his face. I would have said, ‘Why, I have not done anything particularly wrong. I have not hurt anybody.’ And yet I know this very day that I can take my place on the lowest form, and if I can get inside heaven, I will feel happy to sit among the chief of sinners and praise the almighty love that has saved even me from my sins.

     Now, what works this humiliation of heart? Grace. It is contrary to nature for an honest and an upright man in the eyes of the world to consider himself to be a lost sinner. It must be the Holy Spirit’s work, or else it never will be done.”

Beware the Religion You Can Do

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

How refreshing our time in the Sermon on the Mount has been!  In the most humbling sort of way, that is.  Week by week we are stripped bare by the text, and the result is (or ought to be) the refreshment of repentance.  We are seeing God as He really is.  We are seeing ourselves as we really are.  Pride is being peeled away and something very precious is being gained.

Jesus said, “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).  We tend to read that verse and say, “How meticulous our obedience must be!”  But that isn’t the meaning here.  Weighed by Jesus’ exposition of the law, which gives us what it always meant and always will mean, the scribes and Pharisees are not commended as good law-keepers – they are condemned as hopelessly unfaithful ones.  Paul summarizes it this way:

“For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God.  For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:3,4).

The deficiency of the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees is one of type, not degree.  In other words, they didn’t need more of the same, they needed an entirely different type.  They established their own kind of righteousness, which satisfied themselves but put them at enmity with God Almighty.  They needed Christ.  They needed His righteousness.  Through warped interpretation and distortion they had arrived at a religion that is like every other religion known to man.  A religion that satisfies us but enrages God.  A religion that can be done with a little rigor and self-discipline, not to mention careful concealment of the inward man.  Poverty of spirit?  Not required.  Mourning?  Nope.  Meekness?  Nope.  Hungering and thirsting for righteousness?  Not God’s kind.  Mercy?  Towards those “sinners”?

As we head into Jesus’ exposition of “You shall not murder”, I am praying that we will continue to be crushed.  The letter of the law, which the scribes and Pharisees were happy enough to have on the list (with a big fat check box beside it), is exponentially expanded by the spirit of the law.  “What about heart-murder?” says Jesus.  “What about tongue-murder?” says Jesus.  “Heart-murder?  Tongue-murder?” say we.  This is all very uncomfortable, of course, and I want to suggest that we should run towards the discomfort and not away from it.  The sooner we are free from any remnants of a religion we can do, the happier we will be, the humbler we will be, the more dependent on Jesus we will be.  That is indeed something to run towards!

Is this a case against meticulous keeping of the law?  May it never be!  We are called to meticulous law-keeping.  Again, the words of Jesus:  “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone” (Matthew 23:23).  It wasn’t tithing down to the garden spices that Jesus condemned – in fact, He says they ought to have done that – it was their neglect of the weightier matters of the law.  But beyond that, obedience is not our righteousness.  Obedience is our response of gratitude to a redeeming Father.  A renewed round of self-effort wasn’t going to fix this for the scribes and Pharisees.  They needed to be redeemed.  Anything short of that leaves people with only the self-justification that setting aside a tenth of the mint has to offer.

May God use the Sermon on the Mount to make us this kind of people.  People who have been laid low by the impossible rigor of the spirit of the law.  People who have thrown themselves on the mercies of Jesus Christ for the only true righteousness.  And people who now look to the law to understand how to love God and love their neighbor out of profound gratitude to a mighty Redeemer.