Friday, October 13, 2006

Trying the Spirits of Vain Confidence & Irreverence

Yesterday's post contained excerpts from "Trying the Spirits," a sermon delivered by J.C. Philpot in 1844. Today's post extrapolates two points from this sermon which help people to discern truth from error. Philpot introduces the second part of his sermon with this statement:

II.—But let us now look at some marks of that spirit which is not of God; and which God's people feel in a measure in themselves, and see more fully developed in others.

These two points are particularly relevant to today's church (as are the other points in this sermon). When reading this first excerpt below, many modern church leaders and their methods -- particularly this new vocation of "visioning" -- may come to mind:

A Spirit of Vain Confidence

…2. A spirit of vain confidence is from the devil; and you are to try whether the spirit that comes before you is of this kind. Sometimes we feel vain-confidence creeping upon us; a spirit of presumptuous assurance that does not spring from the Spirit's inward witness; a sort of fleshly confidence, that when it works brings death into the soul. I know the feeling well; a proud daring boldness, which is as different from God's teachings and leadings as hell is from heaven. Now, as we feel the workings of this vain-confidence in ourselves, it opens our eyes to see it in others; and as we detest the spirit in our own hearts, we cannot but abhor it in theirs. For myself I must say, of all persons, I would least choose for my companions those who have much of this vain-confidence; and of all preachers, those whom I would least wish to hear Would be those in whom it is most manifested.

There is such a thing as true confidence given and maintained by the Spirit. Every grace and fruit of the Spirit will attend this; and its companions will be humility, godly fear, contrition, tenderness of conscience, deadness to the world, prayerfulness, and heavenly-mindness. But the confidence that rests upon the doctrines of grace in the letter only, is a confidence that God never gave. It is usually little else but health, strength and good spirits carried into religion; and its general companions are pride, worldliness, covetousness, frivolity, levity, selfindulgerice, and carnality. Depend upon it, this vain confidence in minister or people is death to all that is good. When once a vain-confident spirit takes hold of them, and they can rest in a dead assurance, and believe and talk as though they were going to heaven, whilst they know nothing of the Spirit's inward teachings and testimony, and are not broken down in godly fear, it will be the death of everything good and spiritual in that people and congregation. When ministers get possessed of this vain-confident spirit, it will be sure to spread itself. Spirit, as I before said, is of a diffusive nature; it will com. municate itself. And if a man stand up in vain-confidence, and you give him your ears and heart, if God the Spirit do not mercifully break the snare, depend upon it, that vain-confidence will soon spread and grow upon you.

Look, and see whether you are now standing in this vain-confidence. Perhaps, some years ago you had more doubts, fears, and exercises than at present; but you say, "Now I have lost them all; and can talk more confidently of going to heaven!" But what has been the cause of the removal of these doubts and fears? What has made them take flight, and brought you out of them into this confidence wherein you now stand? Has it been by the liftings up of the light of God's countenance upon you? Has the Lord Himself raised you out of the dust, given you the inward witness of the Holy Ghost, and softened, melted, and humbeled you by His teaching? In a word, is your eltm a broken heart and a contrite spirit? Is your soul dissolved at times in godly sorrow, and brought into sweet communion with a broken-hearted Jesus? Or does it rest merely in the doctrines of the Bible? Have you borrowed it from some minister? Do you speak confidently because the members of your church do so; and because doubts and fears are generally scouted and ridiculed where you attend? Does your assurance rest upon the letter of the word without the inward witness and sealings of the Spirit? Depend upon it, if it stand not in the inward witness and testimony of the Spirit, it is a spirit of vain-confidence, however subtle and refined. And you had better be harassed with doubts and fears all your life than get out of them in any other way than God's way.

This next excerpt may call to mind the increasing irreverance one sees in the language and behaviors of the Emergent/Emerging church movement:

A Spirit of Presumption and Irreverence

3. A spirit of presumption and irreverence in divine things is a sure mark that the spirit is not of God. I think of all painful things to a living soul, one of the most is to see a spirit of irreverence in the things of God. Lightness, frivolity, irreverence in the pulpit; a talking to God as an equal, instead of lying at His feet as a suppliant—how painful a spectacle to the soul that has been taught to tremble at His word! I do not say a man of God may not be entangled in this snare; but where can his conscience be, not to see the awfulness of approaching a holy God without reverence of His dread majesty? What says the Scripture? "Let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire. (Heb. xii. 28, 29.) How the Lord has visited with the hottest tokens of his displeasure those who dared to rush irreverently before Him! How Nadab and Abihu were consumed because they offered strange fire! (Lev. x. 1, 2.) How Uzzah, because he touched the ark, not being a Levite, was smitten by the immediate judgment of God! How more than fifty thousand of the men of Bethshemesh were smitten with a "great slaughter," because they dared irreverently to look into the ark of God! (1 Sam. vi. 19.) Is He not the same holy, jealous Jehovah now? And will He suffer any man to rush into His presence with irreverence, and talk to Him as though he were His fellow? O where can a man's conscience be, who can go before the Lord without some reverence and godly fear in exercise?

Now this spirit is diffusive, like every other spirit, for good or bad. Tender, reverent feelings soon get damped; and if we do not take an early alarm, and heed the first admonitions of the Spirit, we know not how soon the same irreverence may creep upon us. A man may as well think he can expose his face to the wind, and not feel it blow upon him, as expose his conscience to an irreverent spirit, and think it will produce no injurious effect. "Try the spirits," then, and see whether they be of God: see whether this familiarity of approach to the throne of grace in yourself or others be the spirit of irreverence and presumption, or whether it be the inward teachings of the Holy Ghost in a tender conscience. …

About J.C. Philpot

J.C. Philpot left the apostasizing Church of England early in his ministry (1835) and went public about his reasons for resigning his curacy and his fellowship. The rest of his life was spent ministering amongst the Strict Baptists. An official biography notes, "His preaching was marked by clear views of gospel truth; an ability to set forth the deepest truths in a simple manner; a wealth of similies from nature to open up and explain the things of God; and a clear discernment of the vital distinctions between a mere profession of Christ and a true saving knowledge of Him."

Many of J.C. Philpot's sermons are found on the Internet in various locations. One can also purchase inexpensive bound sets of his sermons from Old Paths Gospel Press at 406-466-2311.