From him shall be taken even that which he seemeth to haveLuk 8:18
Not Hypocrisy but Self-Deception
You will observe that when our Lord speaks of the man who seems to have, He is not referring to the hypocrite. Our Lord poured out the vials of His wrath upon the hypocrite, but it is not the hypocrite who is in question here. There is a sense in which every hypocrite seems to have. He makes pretentions to virtues or to graces that he does not in reality possess. But then he is aware, more or less clearly, that he lacks them. The hypocrite deceives others, not himself. But this is a case of genuine self-deception. The man is not practicing trickery on anybody. There are things that a man may imagine that he has, and Jesus says he only seems to have them.
The Pharisees—More Self-Deceived Than Hypocritical
There are one or two notable instances of this in the New Testament. For example, there is the Pharisee in the parable. We quite mistake the meaning of that parable if we think that the Pharisee was consciously a hypocrite. The moral of the story lay in this, that it was spoken to those who trusted in themselves that they were righteous. The Pharisee thanked God quite sincerely that he was a great deal better than his neighbor. He believed most genuinely in his superior self. There was no question in his own mind of his possessions. And the tragedy of the man’s career is found in this, that he only seemed to have.
The Church of Laodicea Was Self-Deceived
On a larger stage we are faced by the same spirit in the Church of Laodicea in the Apocalypse. it was a very prosperous and comfortable church. I am rich, it said. I am increased with goods, I have need of nothing. An exceedingly snug and smug society, with its own peculiar Laodicean smile. Yet thou art wretched, said the Spirit of God; and thou art miserable, and poor and blind and naked! The tragedy of that church’s career is found in this, that it, too, only seemed to have.
The Causes of Self-Deception
I venture, then, to speak for a little on that most subtle form of self-deceit. There is probably not one of us, in pew or pulpit, but is giving himself credit for what he does not possess. Now, how is this? Can we detect the causes of this delusion? I shall endeavor to touch on some of them.
The first and most innocent of all is inexperience. In all inexperience there is a seeming to have, which the rough and pushing world helps to dispel. I take it that every rightly constituted youth has a kind of lurking scorn for all his ancestors. All things are possible to faith, says the apostle. And all things are possible to one-and-twenty also. Unmatched with the intellect and power of the great world, untried by the searching discipline of life, we seem to have aptitudes, touches of heaven within us, that will carry us to the front imperiously. And then we are launched into the great depths of life, and we find there were brave men before Agamemnon. it is a humbling and sobering experience. We have to recast everything, before we are through. But at least we come to know what we possess. We learn what we can do, and what we cannot. When we were immature and inexperienced, before we had come to grips with actuality—ah, then we seemed to have. Today we have far less, but it is ours.
Again, this strange deception is intimately connected with self-love. We seem to have much that we do not really have, simply because we love ourselves so well. In all love, even the very purest, there is a subtle and most exquisite flattery. Love is not worthy of its name at all, unless it clothes its object with a thousand graces. You fathers and mothers—you don’t know how much you seem to have to your young children, it is enough to make the hardest of us cry to God for mercy when we remember that, to our child of five, we are still perfect. You know the kind of week you spent last week; yet to your little family there is not a stain on you. Such love is wonderful. Was there ever a mother who was not quite convinced that her one-year-old was a most marvelous child? He seems to be, because she loves him so. I think you see, then, the point I wish to make. Love can make any wilderness blossom as the rose. And never a child loved the most honored father, and never a mother loved the dearest child, more passionately than most men love themselves, it is thus that we seem to have, just because self-love is dominant. It is thus that he that hateth his life for Christ’s sake begins to learn the secret of self-knowledge. “He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.”
- Pressures around Us
Often, again, we imagine we possess, because of the pressure of the general life around us. We move in certain circles of society; we are surrounded by what we call public opinion; and by the pressure of our environment upon us, our life takes its color and its trend. Now I am far from saying that these outward influences may not have a very real effect on a man’s character. Some of the most useful habits we can form may be formed through compliance with social convention. But there is always the danger of mistaking for our own the support we get from the society we move in. And it is only when that external pressure is removed that we discover how we only seemed to have. Put any man of average sensibility into the company of born enthusiasts, and in a week’s time you shall have him enthusiastic. There are hours when the dullest talker feels that he is gelling on excellently in conversation, and it is not till afterwards that it begins to dawn on him that someone else had the magnetic charm. We seem to have, we think that we possess; but the possession is not really ours. Here is a man living at home in Scotland, a man of correct, perhaps exemplary conduct. He is a regular churchgoer at home; he is quite interested in church affairs. But he goes abroad to China or to India, and there is little of the old Scottish feeling round him now; and gradually, almost insensibly, he drifts away from the old reverence, till the kindliest critic dare not call him religious. What I want you to note is that that man was not a hypocrite. He was not consciously deceiving anybody when he lived that exemplary life at home. He never possessed his possessions, that was all. He was guided and molded by an outward pressure. He seemed to have the root of the matter in himself, and it lay in his surroundings all the time.
The Fate of These Fancied Possessions
Now our Lord tells us the fate of these fancied possessions. From him shall be taken even that which he seemeth to have. Sooner or later, as our life advances, we shall have our eyes opened to these fond delusions. We are to be so led, each one of us, that there will be no mistaking what is really ours. I want to ask, then, what are God’s commoner methods for making clear to us what we only seem to have.
One of the commonest of them all is action. We learn what we possess by what we do. There are powers within each of us waiting to be developed; there are dreams within each of us waiting to be dispelled, and it is by going forward in the strength of God that we learn our limitation and our gift. I am sure there is not one man in middle life here but has been surprised by the revelations of his past. He has been called to work he never dreamed of doing; his way has led him far differently from his wish. There were gifts which you were quite certain that you had; but the years have gone, and you are not so certain now. Meantime, out of the depths of self, some unsuspected powers have been emerging, and the hand that has quickened them into life is duty. The men who do nothing, always seem to have. So-and-so is a genius, we say; if he would only exert himself what he might do! Well, probably he would cease to be called a genius if he did, and, therefore, he is wise in doing nothing. I do not call that genius. I call it cowardice. Life is given us just to find out what we can do. And it is through a thousand tryings and a thousand failures that we come to find what is really our own. That is one of the great gains of earnest duly. We learn from it the confines of our kingdom. It is by action that there is taken from us that which we only seem to have.
This, too, is one great gain of life’s variety, it shows us what is really our own. We are tested on every side as life proceeds, and every mood and change and tear is needed, if we are to be wakened to what we seem to have. It is so easy to be patient when there is no worry. When there is no peril, it is so easy to be brave. It is when the whirligig of time brings its revenges that we discover more exactly what we own. If I want to know the value of an army, I must wait till the campaign has tested it. It may seem to be perfectly equipped for service, yet a month on the field may teach us other things. So you and I, seeming to have so much, are marched into battle, led over weary miles; we are kept waiting, we are baffled, wounded; till out of all that changeful discipline, that which we seemed to have is taken from us. One of the functions of our vicissitudes is to strip us bare of what we seemed to have. Life is so ordered for us in its heights and depths, its changes, its hopes, its sufferings, its fears, that, unless we are blind, we shall discover gradually all that is ours and all that only seems so.
And if life fails, remember death is left. Death is the great touchstone of the man. We may be self-deceived for threescore years and ten, but the deception ceases on the other side. There we shall know even as we are known. Know what? Among other things, ourselves. There will be no delusions concerning our possessions when our eyes open on that eternal dawn. I bid you remember there will be no seeming to have, before the great white throne and Him who sits on it. All that is accidental and imaginary will be revealed in the light of that great day. If we have never let action do its work, and never seen ourselves amid life’s changes, we have not escaped the judgment of the Christ.
I have sometimes thought, too, and with this I close, that the words might apply even to those we love. Is it not true, in the realm of the affections, that sometimes we have and sometimes we seem to have? We are thrown into close relationship with others; we are bound to them with this tie and with that. We call them friends; we think we love them, perhaps. Is it real, or is it only seeming? Nothing can tell that but the strain of life, and the testing of friendship through its lights and shadows. Nothing can tell that finally but death. All that seemed love, and was not really love; all that we fancied or mistook for friendship; all that is taken from us, passed away, in the hour and the separation of the grave. But true affection is an immortal thing; nothing can separate us from love indeed. Where hearts unite, there is eternity. And in eternity partings are unknown.
source : e-Sword