THE SELF-RIGHTEOUS GUESTS.
DO ye see that other table yonder, in the middle of the palace? Ah, good easy souls! Many of you had thought that you never went to the feast of hell at all; but there is a table for you too; it is covered over with a fair white cloth, and all the vessels upon the table are most clean and comely.
The wine looks not like the wine of Gomorrah, it moveth aright, like the wine from the grapes of Eshcol; it seems to have no intoxication in it: it is like the ancient wine which they pressed from the grape into the cup, having in it no deadly poison. Do you see the men who sit at this table?
How self-contented they are! Ask the white fiends who wait at it, and they will tell you, “This is the table of the self-righteous: the Pharisee sits there.
You may know him; he has his phylactery between his eyes; the hem of his garment is made exceeding broad; he is one of the best of the best professors.” “Ah!” saith Satan, as he draws the curtain and shuts off the table where the profligates are carousing, “be quiet; don’t make too much noise, lest these sanctimonious hypocrites should guess what company they are in. These self-righteous people are my guests quite as much as you, and I have them quite as safely.” So Satan, like an angel of light, brings forth a gilded goblet, looking like the chalice of the table of communion. And what wine is that? It seems to be the very wine of the sacred Eucharist; it is called the wine of self-satisfaction, and around the brim you may see the bubbles of pride. Look at the swelling froth upon the bowl — “God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.” You know that cup, my self-deceiving readers.
Oh, that ye knew the deadly hemlock which is mixed therein! “Sin as other men do? Not you; not at all! You are not going to submit yourself to the righteousness of Christ; what need you? You are as good as your neighbors: if you are not saved you ought to be, you think. Don’t you pay everybody twenty shillings in the pound? Did you ever rob anybody in your life? You do your neighbors a good turn; you are as good as other people.”
That is the first cup the devil gives; and the good wine makes you swell with self-important dignity, as its fumes enter your heart and puff it up with an accursed pride. Yes, I see you sitting in the room so cleanly swept and so neatly garnished, and I see the crowds of your admirers standing around the table, even many of God’s own children, who say, “Oh, that I were half as good as he!” While the very humility of the righteous provides you with provender for your pride. Wait awhile, thou unctuous hypocrite, wait awhile, for there is a second course to come. Satan looks with quite as selfsatisfied an air upon his guests this time as he did upon the troop of rioters. “Ah!” says he, “I cheated those gay fellows with the cup of pleasure, — I gave them afterwards the dull cup of satiety, and I have cheated you, too; you think yourselves all right, but I have deceived you twice, I have befooled you indeed.” So he brings in a cup which, sometimes, he himself doth not like to serve. It is called the cup of discontent and unquietness of mind, and many there be that have to drink this after all their selfsatisfaction.
Do you not find, you who are very good in your own esteem but have no interest in Christ, that when you sit alone and begin to turn over your accounts for eternity, they do not square somehow — that you cannot strike the balance exactly to your own side after all, as you thought you could? Have you not sometimes found, that when you thought you were standing on a rock, there was a quivering beneath your feet? You heard the Christian sing boldly — “Bold shall I stand in that great day, For who aught to my charge shall lay?
While through thy blood absolved I am From sin ’s tremendous curse and shame. ” And you have said, “Well, I cannot sing that. I have been as good a Churchman as ever lived, I never missed going to my church all these years, but I cannot say I have a solid confidence.” You had once a hope of self-satisfaction; but now the second course has come in, and you are not quite so contented. “Well,” says another, “I have been to my chapel, and I have been baptized, and made a profession of religion, though I was never brought to know the Lord in sincerity and in truth; and I once thought it was all well with me, but I want a something which I cannot find.” Now comes a shaking in the heart. It is not quite so delightful as one supposed to build on one’s own righteousness. Ah! that is the second course.
Wait awhile, and mayhap in this world, but certainly in the hour of death, the devil will bring in the third cup of dismay at the discovery of your lost condition. How many a man who has been self-righteous all his life has, at the last, discovered that the thing whereon he placed his hope had failed him! I have heard of an army who, being defeated in battle, endeavored to make a good retreat. With all their might the soldiers fled to a certain river, where they expected to find a bridge across which they could retreat and be in safety. But when they came to the stream, there was heard a shriek of terror — “The bridge is broken, the bridge is broken!” All in vain was that cry; for the multitude hurrying on behind pressed upon those that were before, and forced them into the river, until the stream was glutted with the bodies of drowned men. Such must be the fate of the self-righteous. You thought there was a bridge of ceremonies; that baptism, confirmation, and the Lord’s Supper, made up the solid arches of a bridge of good works and duties. But when you come to die, there shall be heard the cry — “The bridge is broken, the bridge is broken!” It will be in vain for you to turn round then. Death is close behind you; he forces you onward, and you discover what it is to perish through having neglected the great salvation, and attempting to save yourself through your own good works.
This is the last course but one: and your last course of all, the worst wine, your everlasting portion must be the same as that of the profligate. Good as you thought yourself to be, inasmuch as you proudly rejected Christ, you must drink the winecup of the wrath of God, that cup which is full of trembling. The wicked of the earth shall wring out the dregs of that cup, and drink them; and you also must drink of it as deep as they. Oh, beware in time! Put away your high looks, and humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and ye shall be saved.