“All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes; But the LORD weigheth the spirits.” Proverbs 16:2
“Do you not know, brethren and sisters, that very often our ways seem very clean to us when they are not. I have learned by experience, most painful to my own soul, that I am not in the least qualified to judge of my own spiritual health: I have thought myself gradually advancing in the ways of God when I have been going back, and I have had the conceit crossing my mind that I had now overcome a certain besetting sin, when to my surprise I had found it return with greater force than before. Fellow professor, you may be at this moment walking as you think very rightly, and going on very well and comfortably, but let me ask you a few questions: are you not less in private prayer than you used to be? Do you not now hurry over it, do you not sometimes omit it altogether? Do you not frequently come from your closet without really having spoken to God, having merely gone through the form for the sake of quieting yourself? Your way may seem clean, but is it not foul when the mercy-seat becomes neglected?
How about your Bible, is that read as it once was, and are the promises as sweet to you? Do they ever rise from the page and talk with you? Oh, but if your Bible be neglected, my brother, you may be just as diligent in attending to the house of God as you used to be, but is not yours a sad state of decay? Let me come closer still. Is there the vitality about your profession that there used to be? There are some in this house this morning, who, if they could speak, would tell you that, when to their great sorrow they fell into sin, it was because by little and little their piety began to lose its force and power of life. They have been restored, but their bones still ache where they were once broken, and I am sure they would say to their brethren, ‘Take care of allowing a gracious spirit to evaporate, as it were, by slow degrees. Watch carefully over it, lest, settling upon your lees, and not being emptied from vessel to vessel, you should by-and-by become carnally secure, and afterwards fall into actual sin.
I ask some of my brethren here, and I ask the question because I have asked it of my own soul and answered it very tearfully, may not some of us be growing hardened in heart with regard to the salvation of our fellow creatures? Do we not love less now, than we used to do, those who are crying to us, ‘Come over and help us’? Do we not think ourselves getting to be experienced saints? We are not the poor sinners we once used to be. We do not come broken-heartedly to the mercy-seat as we did. We begin to judge our fellow Christians, and we think far less of them than we did years ago, when we used almost to love the ground that the Lord’s saints did tread upon, thinking ourselves to be less than nothing in their sight. Now, if it were the case in others, that they were growing proud, or becoming cold, or waxing hard of heart, we should say of them, ‘they are in great danger,’ but what about ourselves, if that be the case with us? For my own self, I dread lest I should come to this pulpit, merely to preach to you, because the time has come, and I must get through an hour, or an hour-and-a-half of worship.
I dread getting to be a mere preaching machine, without my heart and soul being exercised in this solemn duty; and I dread for you, my dear friends, who hear me constantly, lest it should be a mere piece of clock-work, that you should be in the seats, at certain times in the week, and should sit there, and patiently hear the din which my noise makes in your ears. We must have vital godliness, and the vitality of it must be maintained, and the force and energy of our religion, must go on to increase day by day, or else, though our ways may seem to be very clean, the Lord will soon weigh our spirits to our eternal confusion.
Do you know that to his people the divine weighing in fatherly chastisement is rough work, for he can put the soul into the scale to our own consciousness, and when we think that it weighs pounds, he can reveal to us that it does not even reach to drachms! ‘There,’ saith he, ‘see what you are!’ and he begins to strip off the veil of self-conceit, and we see the loathsomeness and falsehood of our nature, and we are utterly dismayed. Or perhaps the Lord does worse than that. He suffers a temptation to come when we do not expect it, and then the evil boils up within us, and we, who thought we were next door to the cherubs, find ourselves near akin to the demons; wondering, too, that such a wild beast should have slumbered in the den of our hearts, whereas we ought to have known it was always there, and to have walked humbly with God, and watched and guarded ourselves.
Rest assured, beloved, great falls and terrible mischief never come to a Christian man at once, they are a work of slow degrees; and be assured, too, that you may glide down the smooth waters of the river and never dream of the Niagara beyond, and yet you may be speeding towards it. An awful crash may yet come to the highest professor among us, that shall make the world to ring with blasphemy against God, and the church to resound with bitter lamentations because the mighty have fallen. God will keep his own, but how if I should turn out not to be his own! He will keep the feet of his saints, but what if I leave off to watch, and my feet should not be kept, and I should turn out to be no saint of his, but a mere intruder into his family, and a pretender to have what I never had! O God, through Christ Jesus, deliver each of us from this.”
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “Unsound Spiritual Trading,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, Vol. 15. Originally preached on January 10, 1869. (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1869), 22-23.