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DISCOURSES, ESSAYS, &c.
THE RIGHT STANDARD AND THE WRONG STANDARD; OR, THE SIN AND FOLLY OF CHRISTIANS MEASUR ING THEMSELVES BY THEMSELVES.
BY THE REV. R. WALLER.
"But they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise."-2 Cor. x. 12.
IN the sacred Scriptures we have a perfect rule of faith, experience, and practice; and in the example of Jesus Christ we see that rule fully carried out, and exhibited before us in a living form. According to this rule we ought to regulate our lives; and according to this example should we form our characters. There is no other rule that is perfect. There is no other character that is spotless and complete. All other rules are defective. All other characters are marked with imperfections. Many others may be pious and good, distinguished for some excellences; but still they have their defects, and to imitate them in every thing would be to injure ourselves, and by the influence of our example to injure others. Even Moses, though the meekest man in the camp of Israel, at one time spoke unadvisedly with his lips; and Job stained his patience by complaining against God. But we may imitate the Saviour without any fear of getting wrong. In fact, you can never follow him too closely. The more you copy his example, and the more you will please God, and the nearer you will approach to perfection.
But Christian professors frequently erect other standards, and imitate other patterns. Instead of studying the requirements of the Divine law, the nature of true piety, and the extent of Christian holiness in the records of Divine truth; instead of studying the example of Jesus Christ to see how they ought to form their characters, they look at the conduct and practice of their fellow Christians, and make their experience and deportment the rule and measure of their own, and flatter themselves, if they come up to this rule, it is all that can be expected from them at all events, they think they may safely trust for the rest; and thus by taking a human rule of conduct instead of the Divine law, by imitating an imperfect copy and not the Divine original, they go on imposing on themselves and multiplying their own imperfections, and increasing the deformities of the church.
I know this may have been done in some instances innocently, especially by young converts. When such persons first entered the church, they thought all the members were just what they should have been-patient, loving, self-denying, cross-bearing, diligent, faithful followers of the Lamb. They expected to see a constant dying to the world, a constant growing in grace, a constant preparing for heaven. They fancied that in such society they could not but be happy, and hoped to make great improvement in religious knowledge and experience, and rapid advances towards perfection. To certain individuals they especially directed their attention, viz., to those who had spoken to them more frequently on religious subjects, or who had been the chief instruments in their conversion, or who sustained some official
station in the church, and fancied they could not be wrong in following such holy men. But how were they surprised and disappointed to find even those persons whom they looked on as specimens of perfect excellence, selfish, worldly minded, passionate, intent on this world's good, and anxiously labouring after wealth; light and trifling in their couversation, and almost anything but what they ought to have been! How pained and grieved were they to observe this! Yet having begun to walk in a wrong path, we are not much surprised to find them continue therein. Hence after the first feeling of astonishment and pain has passed away, they have settled down into the same state, and measuring themselves by (frail mortals like) themselves," have concluded that it was right to do so, and rocked to sleep their consciences.
But this error, I am sorry to say, is not confined to young converts; it prevails extensively among those who have more experience, who have been long connected with the church, and who ought to know better. When for the time they ought to be teachers, they have need that some one should teach them the first principles of the doctrine of Christ. So far have they run into this error, that they scarcely ever think of seeing how far their lives are in accordance with the requirements of God's word, or how far they were following Christ. The inquiry with them is, whether they are as religious as their neighbours; whether they are performing as many acts of devotion, attending as many religious services as their fellow members. The Bible might not be given to teach them their duty; the example of Christ might not be intended for their pattern. If they come up to the standard of others they think they do well. They are more concerned to avoid censure than to acquire holiness; more anxious to maintain a good name than to be what the Gospel requires; to stand fair in the eyes of others, than to have their hearts right in the sight of God.
And when we see to what an awful extent this evil of measuring ourselves by ourselves prevails in the church, we need not be surprised that the standard of piety is so low. But these persons are not troubled that it is so; they are quite content with it, and by comparing themselves only among themselves are satisfied that all is right. Nay, they do not like to be disturbed in their quietude; and when the faithful servants of God speak out plainly, and show them their transgressions and their sins, when they try to raise the standard of Christian piety, of inward and outward holiness, they frequently regard them as censorious, and begin loudly to complain: "Why, he is doing more harm than good: he is exposing the church to the ridicule and scorn of the world. He is making us all a set of hypocrites. What must others think of us after such a tirade as this? He talks as if he were the only good man in the world, and as if the church were all wrong;" and then in a spirit of sarcasm they ask what will become of the world when he dies? Nor is this to be wondered at, for so said they of Jesus Christ and of all the ancient worthies. In whatever garb true holiness appears, it will not meet the approbation of those who measure themselves by themselves. In this way the church proves a hindrance to itself, and its members a stumbling block to one another. By looking at themselves they are prevented from looking at the word of God; and by comparing themselves among themselves they are prevented from comparing themselves with the example of Christ; and so they cannot make those advances
in spiritual knowledge, in heavenly mindedness, in fellowship with God, in purity of heart and holiness of life, which they otherwise would do, and which they must make, if they must ever exercise that seasoning influence on an ungodly world, which God designed they should. By thus following a wrong standard, by measuring themselves by themselves, so far from making progress, they gradually become more degenerate, imperfect, and blinded also in their imperfections; so that when the declension of their piety has become evident to all, they see it not themselves. No; though their lives may be almost as different from that of the Saviour as light is from darkness, they congratulate themselves that they are supporting Sabbath schools, Christian missions, Bible societies, tract societies, &c., and attending public ordinances, and wonder what complainers would have.
It is true, this may not be universal. There are a few, though I am sorry to know they are so few, who have sufficient independence of mind to disregard the example and practice of others, sufficient boldness and courage to act for themselves-to read their Bibles, to learn what God would have them to be and to do; to study the character of the Saviour, and endeavour to tread in his steps. But many of these, whose example has condemned those who have overlooked the true standard and stimulated others to follow it, after they have maintained for a time their zeal, diligence, and love, have fallen into the same error themselves, though not into the same mode of it. They have become pharisaic and censorious; looking at others, they were first astonished at beholding their inconsistencies and imperfections; then grieved; then they began to reprove and condemn, to be censorious; then to compare themselves with them, to fancy themselves greatly superior; then, giving way to spiritual pride, they began to boast of their zeal and purity, and by their conduct to say, "Stand thou there; for I am holier than thou." By comparing themselves with themselves, they no sooner feel their superiority than they become lifted up with pride, and so fall into the condemnation of the devil. This is frequently the case with those who make loud pretensions to sanctity. Such importance do they attach to their own views and experience, that they can scarcely look with charity on those who do not say as they say, adopt the same phrases, and follow in the same course of experience and profession. In fact, their pride is almost insufferable. But if, instead of looking at others, and comparing themselves among themselves, they had continued to study the word of God as their rule, and the life and character of the Son of God as their pattern and example, they would not have fallen into this error; they would not have paused in their progress of holiness, or have been flattered with their own superior sanctity. No, no; they would have discovered such lengths and breadths, such depths and heights of the love of God to which they had not attained; they would have seen such a disparity between themselves and the example of the blessed Saviour; they would have seen such a breadth and a purity in the Divine law, such holiness in God, such spotlessness and perfection necessary as a qualification for the kingdom of heaven, that they would have trembled at the idea of the error into which they have fallen. Then in all their advances in spiritual knowledge and holiness they would have manifested increasing humility. With increasing zeal there would have been increasing modesty; with increasing labours
there would have been less disposition to boast; with increasing success there would have been a greater acknowledgment of the power and grace of God; with an increasing love there would have been greater lowliness of mind; with increasing purity there would have been increasing meekness. And though their holiness, and zeal, and success had equalled that of the apostle St. Paul, still with him they could have said, "Not I, but the grace of God that is in me."
This is not only the case in matters of experience, but also in matters of practice. The great precepts of God's word, by which we ought to regulate our conduct, and the life and deportment of the Saviour, the selfdenial, benevolence, diligence, and humility which shone conspicuously in his character, and which are given to us for a pattern, many overlook, and the tempers and conduct of other professors become the measure of their own. In this respect also they measure themselves by themselves, and compare themselves among themselves." Hence we see much defective practice in the Christian church; such manifestation of evil tempers, such worldly mindedness, such self-indulgence, such worldly conformity, and so much flexible integrity in their dealings with others, such temporizing virtue in worldly company, such connivance at sin in the ungodly, and such time-serving religion when away from home, such coolness and lukewarmness in the service of God, so much shame of Christ and of their profession when attended by or in company with irreligious persons.
But to be more particular in our description. Thus we see the Sabbath so frequently violated by professors, and with so little consciousness of guilt. The Sabbath is, perhaps, nowhere so sacredly observed as it should be. All classes and all parties unite to pollute it. Government breaks it; gentlemen break it; merchants break it; travellers break it; mechanics and labourers break it: but surely Christians ought not to break it. Yet they do, and often without compunction of spirit. Overlooking the right standard, and measuring themselves by themselves, they are soon brought to think that it is right to do many things on the Sabbath day which might safely be done on other days. They can send to the Post Office for letters and open them; they can often give instructions about business; they can hold parties and go out to visit; they can contrive journeys for that day to see their friends, because it is in some respects a more convenient day; they can sacrifice the services of the sanctuary for the sake of a journey into the country to see their friends; they can stay away from the morning service to cook dinners, or employ others to break the Sabbath for them; they can even clean their houses, &c., on that day. If we reprove them and point out to them the sinfulness of such conduct, they instantly refer to others who do the same thing. They do not ask whether such practices are in accordance with the precepts of God's word, or with the spirit and tendency of the Gospel of Christ; but Brother and Sister do so, and therefore it must be right. They measure themselves by themselves, and compare themselves among themselves, and so make void the law of God, and render the example of the blessed Saviour of none effect.
Hence also we find so much foolish talking and jesting, so much vain and trifling conversation among professors of religion. The apostle St. Paul classes foolish talking and jesting with filthiness and fornication,
and commands us to let no communication proceed out of our mouths but what is good, and will minister grace to the hearers. The blessed Saviour declares, "But I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give an account thereof in the day of judgment: for by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words shalt thou be condemned." (Matt. xii. 36, 37.) But many professors see no harm in these things. In fact, they are frequently engaged in the most foolish, vain, and unprofitable jesting and babbling with each other. And they think it right, because their fellow professors do so. They sometimes hear those persons blamed who are more grave and serious, as persons who would invest religion with the gloom of melancholy, and require all persons to wear a long countenance, and conduct themselves as if they were about to take the cowl or the hood, and to enter a monastery or a nunnery; as persons who would exclude all lively and cheerful intercourse from religious society; and with such remarks they are wonderfully pleased; and build themselves up in notions of their own virtue in avoiding such extremes. But such persons forget that the joy of the Christian is not the hilarity of the foolish and vain; that the pleasure of the righteous is not the mirth of the jovial and the wicked; that the sweets of Christian intercourse are not the foolish tattlings and empty jestings of the loquacious inebriate or the vain worldling; and they much belie or mistake those who would censure their vain tattle and improper merriment, when they represent them as persons who would exclude all social enjoyment from circles of the righteous. But they see so many professors who are foolish and jesting, and when they engage in such unsavory conversation they are only doing as others do, and therefore satisfy themselves that they are doing no wrong. What the Bible teaches, what the Saviour declares, is forgotten or disregarded. These are no longer their rule, for they "measure themselves by themselves, and compare themselves among themselves," and not by the law of God or the example of Christ.
Hence also we see so much worldly mindedness in the church. Men are now regarded as honourable and happy-not only by worldly people, but also by the majority of professing Christians-not in proportion to their holiness, but in proportion as they are wealthy; and hence so many are striving to get money and to become rich. It is the object which principally occupies their thoughts, fills their minds, and employs their energies. A worldly character is consequently formed, concerning which the Saviour says, "How hardly shall they that have riches enter the kingdom of heaven!" Concerning whom the apostle St. Paul says, "They that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows." (1 Tim. vi. 9, 10.) But these statements, and many others, are overlooked, while they measure themselves by themselves. Mr. are doing this; and we are commanded to be diligent in business; it must therefore be right. It is commonly said, there are no persons that love money more than professors, that none are more anxious to get it, and that none are more unwilling to part with it when they have it. And has not our conduct given ground for such complaints? Here is a young convert just enter