What We Think of Ourselves Is Important

THE MAN WHO IS SERIOUSLY CONVINCED that he deserves to go to hell is not likely to go there, while the man who believes that he is worthy of heaven will certainly never enter that blessed place.

I use the word "seriously" to accent true conviction and to distinguish it from mere nominal belief.

It is possible to go through life believing that we believe, while actually having no conviction more vital than a conventional creed inherited from our ancestors or picked up from the general religious notions current in our social circle. If this creed requires that we admit our own depravity we do so and feel proud of our fidelity to the Christian faith. But from the way we love, praise and pamper ourselves it is plain enough that we do not consider ourselves worthy of damnation.

A revealing proof of this is seen in the squeamish way religious writers use words. An amusing example is found in a cautious editorial change made in the song "The Comforter Has Come." One stanza reads:

"O boundless love divine!

How shall this tongue of mine,

To wondering mortals tell

The matchless grace divine -

That I, a child of hell,

Should in His image shine!"

That is how Dr. Bottome felt it and that is how he wrote it; and the man who has seen the holiness of God and the pollution of his own heart will sing it as it was written, for his whole inner life will respond to the experience. Even if he cannot find chapter and verse to brand hint a child of hell, Ins heart indicts him and he eagerly accuses himself before God as fit only for perdition. This is to experience something profounder than theology, more painfully intimate than creed, and while bitter and harsh it is true to the man's Spirit illuminated view of himself. In so confessing, the enlightened heart is being faithful to the terrible fact while it is singing its own condemnation. This I believe is greatly pleasing to God.

It is, I repeat, amusing if somewhat distressing to come upon an editorial change in this song, which was made obviously in the interest of correct theology, but is once removed from reality and twice removed from true moral feeling. In one hymnal it is made to read,

"That I a child of SIN

Should in His image shine!"

The fastidious song cobbler who made that alteration simply could not think of himself as ever having been a "child of hell." A finicky choice of words sometimes tells us more about a man than the man knows about himself.

This one instance, if isolated in Christian literature, ought not be too significant, but when this kind of thing occurs everywhere as thick as dandelions in a meadow it becomes highly significant indeed. The mincing religious prudery heard in the average pulpit is all a part of this same thing-- art unwillingness to admit the depths of our inner depravity. We do not actually assent to God's judgement of us except as we hold it as a superficial creed. When the pressure is on we back out. A child of sin? Maybe. A child of hell? No.

Our Lord -told of two men who appeared before God in prayer, a Pharisee who recited his virtues and a publican who beat on his breast and pleaded for mercy. The first was rejected, the other justified.

We manage to live with that story in some degree of comfort only by keeping it at full arm's length and never permitting it to catch hold of our conscience. These two men are long ago dead and their story has become it little religious classic. We are different, and how can anything so remote apply to us? So we reason on a level only slightly above our unconscious, and draw what comfort we can from the vagueness and remoteness of it all.

But why should we not face up to it? The truth is that this happened not a long while ago, but yesterday, this morning; not far-away, but here where some of us last knelt to pray. These two men are not dead, but alive, and are found in the local church, at the missionary convention and the deeper life conference here, now, today.

Every man lives at last by his secret philosophy as an airplane flies on its electric beam. It is the profound conviction that we are wholly unworthy of future blessedness, that, we are indeed by nature fitted only for destruction, that leads to true repentance. The man who inwardly believes that lie is too good to perish will certainly perish unless he experiences a radical change of heart about himself.

The poor quality of Christian that grows out of our modern evangelistic meeting may be accounted for by the absence of real repentance accompanying the initial spiritual experience of the converts. And the absence of repentance is the result of an inadequate view of sin and sinfulness held by those who present themselves in the inquiry room.

"No fears, no grace," said Bunyan. "Though there is not always grace where there is fear of hell, yet, to be sure, there is no grace where there is no fear of God." And again, "I care not at all for that profession which begins not in heaviness of mind .... For the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, and they that lack the beginning have neither middle nor end."

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