The Threefold Overthrow of Self - Part 2
"Until he come whose right it is." Then there is a coming of Jesus into the souls of his people; not a coming into their judgments to inform their heads; not a coming into their minds merely to enable them to speak with their tongues concerning him; but there is a solemn coming of Christ, with power and glory and grace and majesty into the souls and consciences of his elect family, whereby he sets up his kingdom upon its basis, erects a temple for himself, and builds up his own throne of mercy and truth upon the ruins of self. He does not take the stones of this fallen edifice, and set them up one upon another; nor does he allow profane self to stretch forth its hand, and set the pillars of the original temple in their places; nor does he suffer righteous self to reconstruct the ruined building; nor does he admit presumption to play the architect; but he comes himself into the soul and erects his own blessed kingdom of "righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost," upon the wreck and ruin of self in all its forms, shapes, and bearings.
But this is not a work which is once done, and needs no more repetition. Though there are three solemn overturnings, more or less, in a man s heart and conscience, we are not to suppose, that when these three solemn overturnings have taken place, that there is no more overturning work to be done -that Christ comes into the heart in his beauty and glory, and then there is no more pickaxe or spade or lever to be employed. For we must bear in mind, that this wreck and ruin of self is not a heap of dead stones. Self is a living principle; not a slaughtered and buried rebel, but a breathing antagonist to the Lord of life and glory. Self will ever work, then, against his supreme authority, and will ever rebel against his sovereign dominion. And therefore, though on three special occasions, and though in three distinct senses, most of us, who know anything of the work of grace, have experienced these three overturnings, yet if we look into our hearts, we shall find that day by day we need this overturning work to be done afresh, and again and again repeated in us. For instance, sometimes profane and sinful self stretches forth its hand to put together these stones which the application of God s law cast down, seeking to erect that temple again, and to put into that temple those images of jealousy, which God looks upon with abhorrence. Who of us (with shame be it spoken), who of us has not secretly been indulging in trains of evil thoughts? Who has not been laying, in some manner, plans of sin? Who has not been feeding upon this vile garbage? Who has not felt the love of sin in the carnal mind manifesting it in the secret cravings after it? And if God s grace did not powerfully work in the conscience, who of us would not have fallen headlong into some of those snares and gins and traps, by which we should have disgraced ourselves and the church to which we belong? But there is also righteous self and holy self, which are putting forth their hands again to erect this temple. Have we not endeavoured in some measure, to make ourselves spiritual and holy before God, and work ourselves up into a religious frame, which shall be acceptable in his sight, and so recommend ourselves to his favour; feeling as though now we were pleasing him, and putting ourselves into a fitting posture to receive tokens of mercy from him? Well, then, no sooner does our self-righteous heart put forth its hand to set up this false holiness, this meek spirituality, than the Lord has to take his lever, and overturn holy self in our hearts now, as he overthrew holy self in our hearts before. And who, again, of us, that knows anything of his own heart and the workings of his own fallen nature, does not know, that presumptuous self is continually putting forth its hand to touch the ark, and is often intruding itself into the presence of God, without the Lord himself calling us there by his Spirit, laying hold of things which God himself has not sweetly and powerfully revealed, trusting in doctrines and hanging upon truths of which the power is not, at that moment, sweetly and experimentally felt? Do we not continually trace the workings of that presumption which puts forth its hand again to set up that building which God s grace has cast down? Now, just in proportion as self, in its various forms, sets up its idols against the Lord of life and glory, just so does the Lord fulfil his own solemn denunciation: "I will overturn, overturn, overturn it." Does profane self work? The Lord overturns profane self by cutting us up with sharp convictions, by breaking the snares in which we were entangled, by opening to us the evil of the things in which we were indulging, or which withdrew us from our proper dependence on him. Thus he overthrows profane self. Again, when holy -mock holy self would, as it were, seek in some way to set up its own holiness and its own righteousness, against Christ s holiness and Christ s righteousness, is there not some deep discovery of our fallen nature, some sense of our pollution before God, some solemn feeling of the dreadful state of our corrupt hearts before him, which, when experimentally felt our consciences, overthrows this mock holy self; and makes us "abhor ourselves in dust and ashes?" When, again, presumptuous self comes forth from its secret cave, pushing us beyond our real standing, and seeking to draw us away from an experimental knowledge of the truth, is there not some secret pang of conscience, some inward shrinking of soul, some painful conviction that we are treading upon forbidden ground, some awe and reverence of God s heart-searching presence, so that, with all the presumption that lurks in our carnal minds, there is a groaning prayer to him, that he would not allow this base corruption of our hearts to work up to offend him and to grieve us?
Well, then, as the Lord keeps overturning self in its various shapes and bearing, he builds up Christ upon the wreck and ruin of self. Does a man see all his worldly plans frustrated? Does he find that the world can give him no pleasure? Does he feel that he "cannot do the thing that he would," and that all his purposes and schemes and contrivances are broken, so that he "cannot find his hands?" When thus convinced, he falls down a guilty sinner before God, abhorring himself on account of the workings of his base heart, the Lord will sometimes drop into his soul some sense of reconciliation, some tokens of forgiving love, some drops of atoning blood, and thus draw forth his affections, and Christ becomes exceeding precious. And so again, when mock holy self and all creature righteousness is utterly disclaimed, there will be at times some sweet apprehension of Christ s glorious righteousness and sanctification, so that the soul is glad that self should be abased, and that Christ should be exalted upon its ruins. And so when cursed presumption is checked in the heart, and we are brought to confess it before God, and to abhor ourselves for it, does not the Lord bedew the soul sometimes with a sense of his mercy, in not cutting us off on account of those daring acts of rebellion against him, but meekens our spirits and leads us to the foot of the cross, desiring to feel the sweet manifestation of Christ s presence, the application of his atoning blood, and to rejoice in him and in him alone? But wherever self rises up as a rebel against Christ, be it self in profaneness, self in mock holiness, or self in presumption, there is no sweet appearance of Christ, no humbling sense of mercy, no lying at his feet, no dew of the Spirit s favour in the heart. And thus, it is only when the soul is broken down and overturned and overthrown, that Christ, in a measure, to each according to his faith and the depth of manifestation, becomes sweetly and abidingly precious.
But again, the Lord will overturn everything which is against the kingdom and reign of Christ in the heart, as, for instance, whatever plan we undertake which would in any way set up self. There are many worldly plans that a man undertakes; and what is the real object of them? It is, in some measure, to be independent of God s providence; it is, in some way, to seek gratification and ease for the flesh; or to get out of a painful, self-denying, and distressing path. Well, whatever plan we endeavour to bring about which is contrary to God s purpose, and which is contrary to the exaltation of Christ in our hearts -that plan must be overturned. The Lord himself will bring it to nought; the Lord himself will make it a heap of ruins before our eyes; and the Lord himself, in his own time, will show us why he has reduced it to wreck and ruin. Because, had the plan succeeded, had the purpose of our hearts prospered, the glory of Christ in us would have been obscured, and we should not have been reduced to those circumstances to which Christ is adapted, and in which be is made experimentally known.
So again, if we chalk out a path in religion, wherein we shall attempt to walk, perhaps, to make ourselves wise in the letter, to stand upon the doctrines of grace without feeling their power, to rest upon the good opinion of ministers, to stand in other people s experience, to lean upon any vain delusive prop, or to rest upon any other foundation than "Christ in the heart, the hope of glory"- whatever plan or device it be that we are seeking to set up, it will be overthrown: "I will overturn, overturn, overturn it," saith the Lord; and overturned, overturned it shall be, if it be inconsistent with God s appointment, if it be not compatible with the manifestation of Christ to the heart. Yes, everything, take it a worldly shape or a religious shape, everything of every kind and form that is contrary to the decrees of God, and contrary to the manifestation of Christ s glory in our hearts, shall be sooner or later made a heap of ruins before our eyes; that "the rich man may not glory in his riches, nor the wise man glory in his wisdom," but that "he that glorieth may glory in the Lord," that Christ may be all in all in us, and all in all for us, and that we may have nothing in self wherein to boast and whereon to rest, but that all our salvation and all we spiritually are and have, may come from, and centre in him.
"He shall come whose right it is." If we are his, he has a right to our hearts. Is a husband satisfied with merely possessing the person of his wife? It is her heart and affections that he wants. What is the wife s person without the wife s love? So the Lord of life and glory does not merely want the persons of his people. It is their hearts and affections that he claims; it is there that he sets up himself; it is to them that he establishes his right. Therefore every idol must go down, sooner or later, because the idol draws away the affections of the soul from Christ. Everything that is loved in opposition to God must sooner or later be taken away, that the Lord Jesus may be worshipped alone; everything which exacts the allegiance of the soul must be overthrown, so that he may come whose right it is.
"I will give it him." I will put him into full possession of it; for "he must reign until he shall put all enemies under his feet." "He shall sit upon his throne, and the counsel of peace shall be between them both." "I will give it him." It is no matter of creature choice, it is not a thing which may be or may not be, but it rests upon God s eternal appointment. "I will give it him." He shall have the heart and affections, but in having the heart and affection, he shall have it wholly, solely, and undividedly -he shall have it entirely for himself, he shall reign and rule supreme. Now, here comes the conflict and the struggle. Self says, "I will have a part." Self wants to be honoured, admired, set up, bowed down to; self wants to indulge in and gratify its desires; self wants, in some way, to erect its throne in opposition to the Lord of life and glory. But he says, "No -I most reign supreme." Whatever it be that stands up in opposition to him, down it must go. Just as Dagon fell down before the ark, so self must fall down before Christ. In every shape, in every form, whatever subtle guise self wears, down it must come to a wreck and ruin before the King of Zion. Then if we are continually building up self, there will be a continual overthrowing of self; if we are setting up images of jealousy, there shall be a casting of them down; if we are continually hewing out "cisterns that can hold no water," there will be a continual dashing to pieces of these cisterns. If we think highly of our knowledge, we must be reduced to perfect folly; if we are confident of our strength, we must be reduced to perfect weakness; if we highly esteem our attainments, we must be brought to doubt whether they are spiritual and Divine. If we, in any measure, rest upon the power of the creature, the power of the creature must be overthrown, so that we shall stand weak before God, unable to lift up a finger to deliver our souls from going down into the pit. In this way does the Lord teach his people the lesson, that Christ must be all in all. They learn, not in the way of speculation, nor in the way of dry doctrine, -not from the mouth of others, but they learn these lessons in painful soul-experience. And every living soul that is sighing and longing after a manifestation of Christ and desiring to have him enthroned in the heart, every such soul will know, sooner or later, an utter overthrow of self, a thorough prostration of this idol, a complete breaking to pieces of this beloved image, that the desire of the righteous may be granted, and that Christ may reign and rule as King and Lord in him and over him, setting up his blessed kingdom there, and winning to himself every affection of the renewed heart.
"Until he come whose right it is." Is it not his right? Has he not established it? Has he not in some measure won our hearts to submit to it? Are there not moments, friends, are there not some few and fleeting moments when the desire of our souls is, that Christ should be our Lord and God; when we are willing that he should have every affection, that every rebellious thought should be subdued and brought into obedience to the cross of Christ, that every plan should be frustrated which is not for the glory of God and our soul s spiritual profit? Are there not seasons in our experience when we can lay down our souls before God, and say "Let Christ be precious to my soul, let him come with power to my heart, let him set up his throne as Lord and King, and let self be nothing before him?" Well, we utter these prayers in sincerity and simplicity, we desire these prayers to be fulfilled; but oh, the struggle! the conflict! when God answers these petitions. When our plans are frustrated, what a rebellion works up in the carnal mind! When self is cast down, what a rising up of the fretful, peevish impatience of the creature! When the Lord does answer our prayers, and strips off all false confidence; when he does remove our rotten props, and dash to pieces our broken cisterns, what a storm -what a conflict takes place in the soul! Angry with the Lord for doing the very work we have asked him to do, rebelling against him for being so kind as to answer those petitions that we have offered up, and ready to fume and fret against the very teaching, for which we have supplicated him with many desires. Be he is not to be moved; he will take his own way. "I will overturn," let the creature say what it will; "I will overturn," let the creature think what it will. Down it shall go to ruin, it shall come to a wreck, it shall be overthrown. My purpose shall be accomplished, and I will fulfill all my pleasure. But I will overturn, not to destroy, not to cast into eternal perdition, but I will overturn the whole building to erect a far more goodly edifice. Self is a rebel who has set up an idolatrous temple, and I will overturn and bring the temple to ruin, for the purpose of manifesting my glory and my salvation, that I may be your Lord and your God.
Then shall we not, with our hearts and minds thank the Lord for the many blessings, in disguise, that he has thus bestowed upon us? Shall we not bow down before his altar and worship at his footstool? If God has overturned our bright prospects, shall we say it was a cruel hand that laid them low? If he has overthrown our worldly plans, shall we say it was an unkind act? If the Lord has reduced our false righteousness to a heap of rubbish, in order that Christ may be embraced as our all in all, shall we say it was a cruel deed? Is he an unkind father that takes away poison from his child and gives him food? Is she a cruel mother that snatches her boy from the precipice on which it was playing? No. The kindness was manifested in the act of snatching the child from destruction. So if the Lord has broken and overthrown our purposes, it was a kind act; for in so doing he brings us to nothing, that Christ may be embraced as our all in all, that our hearts may echo back, "The right is his, let him exercise it." O Lord, fulfil all thine own promises in our souls, and make us willing to be nothing, that upon the nothingness of self the glory and beauty and preciousness of Christ may be spiritually exalted!