Charles Simeon Commentary - Luke 9:55 - 9:55

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Charles Simeon Commentary - Luke 9:55 - 9:55

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Luk_9:55. Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of

WHEN we consider what attainments men have made in science and philosophy; when we see them marshalling the stars, measuring their distances, tracing their courses, and ascertaining their influence, we are amazed at the strength of human intellect. But when we turn our eyes to their spiritual attainments, and inquire into their knowledge of their own hearts, we are altogether as much astonished at the extreme ignorance which they betray. Even godly persons have but very limited and partial views of their own principles of action. The very Apostles, who had long enjoyed the instructions of Christ himself, shewed on many occasions an unbecoming spirit, while they supposed themselves actuated by the best motives. One instance in particular we have before us, where, under a cloke of zeal for their Master’s; honour, they would have called down fire from heaven upon a whole village. Our Lord, however, rebuked them in the words we have now read; from whence we shall inquire,

I.       Whence is it that men are so liable to self-deception?

It is manifest, beyond a doubt, that many know not what spirit they are of—

[The various classes of ungodly men are universally labouring under self-deception. However they neglect every duty, or violate every commandment, they persuade themselves that, on the whole, they have good hearts; nor have they the smallest conception that they are “haters of God [Note: Rom_1:30; Rom_8:7. Col_1:21.].” Even the proud persecutor, so far from accounting himself an enemy to God, will imagine that he is doing God service, while he is opposing to the utmost the Redeemer’s kingdom [Note: Joh_16:2. Act_26:9.].

Nor are the godly themselves exempt from similar delusions, though they are influenced by them in a less degree. The zealous are sometimes inflamed with an unhallowed fire [Note: ver. 54. And many, actuated by vanity, too much resemble Jehu: 2Ki_10:16.]; and the timid induced to temporize [Note: Gal_2:12.]. The confident will resolve, when they should rather pray for strength [Note: Mat_26:35.]; and the faithless will harbour fears, when they should rather be enjoying their security [Note: Mat_8:26.].]

This propensity to self-deception is not hard to be accounted for—

1.       There is a close affinity between good and evil—

[Good and evil are in their own nature as opposite as light and darkness: but, through the imperfection of our knowledge, they appear very nearly allied. Indifference assumes the garb of candour: worldliness is dignified by the name of honest industry: the fear of man puts on the mask of prudence: a vindictive spirit passes for a nice sense of honour. There is scarcely any other disposition, however sinful, which does not assume the name of some corresponding virtue, and thus conceal at least its own malignity, or perhaps obtrude itself upon the world as amiable and praise-worthy. Hence there arises a great difficulty in distinguishing between the good and the evil that there is in our own actions, since the very same thing may be either good or evil, according to the principles from whence it proceeds, and to the time, manner, or degree in which it is carried into execution.]

2.       There is a backwardness in man to search out the evil that is in him—

[There is in every man a self-love, which renders nun averse to view his own actions in an unfavourable light; and a partiality that leads him to put the best construction upon them. If there be reason to doubt the purity of our own intentions, we do not like to bring matters to the test, and to weigh our actions in the balance of the sanctuary. If a friend attempt to undeceive us, we shrink from the probe, and would gladly avoid the painful scrutiny. Were we told that there was some hidden fire likely to consume our house, we should search into every corner, and thankfully accept every assistance to discover it, in order that it might be extinguished before it had gained too great an ascendancy. But if a friend would point out the evil of our hearts, we are glad to conceal it from his view, and to harbour, rather than detect, the lurking foe. Even in the public ministry of the word, we are apt to think how suitable such and such admonitions are for others, instead of applying them to ourselves: and hence we continue in an evil way, persuading ourselves that we are influenced by a good spirit, while our most discerning friends lament the delusions which they cannot hinder.]

It will be of no small benefit to us to consider seriously,

II.      How we may counteract its baneful influence—

Doubtless, it is easier to prescribe means to others than to use them ourselves—

But, as God works by means, we would Suggest such as may prove most effectual—

1.       Let every grace receive a due portion of our attention—

[Many in their concern for one grace will trample upon another: in the exercise of zeal, they will forget charity; and, in maintaining confidence, will overlook humility and fear. The ungodly indeed are necessitated often to thwart one propensity, while they indulge another [Note: To gratify their lusts, they must expose their character and dissipate their fortune; or if the love of reputation or of money preponderate, they must impose a restraint on their appetites.]; but all the graces of Christianity may be exercised together, and in their highest perfection: every one tempers and limits that which appears opposite to it; and all, like the rays of the sun, must be combined, to produce their full effect.]

2.       Let every part of Scripture be regarded with equal reverence—

[It is astonishing how irreverently even good persons will sometimes treat those portions of Scripture which militate against their sentiments or practice. The plainest declarations of God are considered as “hard sayings,” and are slighted, either as impracticable in themselves, or as inapplicable to their case. But we must be careful to receive every word of God; and to improve it as “a light to our feet and a lantern to our paths:” for it is only “by taking heed to it” that we can ever effectually “cleanse our way [Note: Psa_119:9.].”]

3.       Let Christ be set before us as our pattern and example—

[Wherever we can trace the steps of our blessed Lord, there we are to follow [Note: 1Jn_2:6. 1Pe_2:21.]. There were indeed some things in him which would not become us, because we are not called to the high office which he sustained. But the spirit of his actions should be copied by us, even where the actions themselves would not be proper for our imitation. We should not attempt to fast forty days and forty nights; but we should exercise self-denial. Nor should we speak of rulers in reproachful terms [Note: Luk_13:32. Act_23:5.]; but we should be bold and faithful in the discharge of our duty. In doubtful circumstances it will be profitable to consider what he would have done if he had been precisely in our situation. By thus divesting ourselves of partiality, and proposing to ourselves his perfect pattern, we shall have our judgment assisted, and our conduct rectified.]

4.       Let us lean to the side that mortifies, rather than to that which suits, our natural inclination—

[In the present corrupt state of human nature, we shall rarely, if ever, find our natural desires drawing with precision our line of duty. Self has too strong a bias, even where its tendencies most accord with the word of God: nor does it ever fail to operate in some measure. If therefore we lean to that side, we may be hurried, before we are aware, to great extremes, without any prospect of recovery. But if we lean rather to the opposite side, we are in no danger of being transported much too far; and we have a bias uniformly operating to bring us back to the line of moderation. This rule is founded on the supposition that our natural inclinations may, in some instances, prescribe what is right. But, in cases where the line of duty is at all doubtful, it will invariably be found safer at least, and in all human probability the only right way, to oppose and mortify self.]

5.       Let us keep our minds open to conviction—

[If we will at all events conclude ourselves right, there is no hope of our being ever undeceived. We must he willing to suspect ourselves, and to listen to the counsel of our friends. Even Peter needed correction from his brother Paul [Note: Gal_2:11.]; and the duty of “teaching and admonishing one another [Note: Col_3:16.],” necessarily implies a readiness to receive, as well as to impart, fraternal admonition. And if we cultivate this disposition, we shall often be preserved from evils into which we might have rushed, and have reason to adore our God for the advice we have received [Note: 1Sa_25:32-33.].]

6.       Let us pray constantly to God to search and try us—

[Our treacherous hearts can put such glosses on our conduct as to deceive both ourselves and others: but they cannot deceive God. “He searcheth the heart, and trieth the reins:” he “weigheth the spirits;” and discerns with infallible certainty the smallest mixtures of evil, and the minutest deviations from his holy law. And, as he beholds, so he can discover to us, the secret workings of our own corruptions. If he shine into our hearts, we shall be astonished to see the delusions which we have held fast perhaps for many years, and of which our dearest friends could never convince us! Let us then pray to him to search and try the very ground of our hearts [Note: Psa_139:23-24.]; and he will not only make our senses more acute to discern good and evil [Note: Heb_5:14.], but will keep our feet in the way of his commandments [Note: 1Sa_2:9.].]