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“Who can understand his errors? Cleanse me from secret faults. Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins. Let them not have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless and I shall be innocent of great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.”
Now, you will get more out of this message if you will repeat those words after me as a personal prayer, not as an attempt at recitation but say them sincerely as a prayer. We’ll say them phrase by phrase, don’t try to say them with us, say them after us.
“Who can understand his errors? Cleanse me from secret faults. Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins. Let them not have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless and I shall be innocent of great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.”
Now the theme that we have felt God gave us for these meetings, Don and his team, Ruth and myself and others, is somehow to open the way for revival to break through in Britain. I preached two messages which were directed toward that, establishing the priorities of the Christian life. The first one, what is the first priority? Love. The Bible says make love your aim, then seek spiritual gifts and other things. And the Bible also says the goal of our instruction is love. And if we diverge from that it’s aimless talk and fruitless discussion.
Then last night I sought to describe to you briefly the kind of love that God talks about, the kind of love that Jesus demands. There was a marvelous response last night, I believe God communicated to many people something of what it really means to love Jesus.
Tonight, tomorrow night and the following night, God helping me, I’m going to deal with what I consider to be the three main hindrances to revival. The first one I’m going to deal with tonight can be summed up in one very short unpopular word. It is pride. I believe without a question pride is the root problem of the church in Britain today. And not only in Britain, but let’s talk about Britain because that’s where we are. Let me tell you in case you don’t know it, no one here is more British than I am, in every way. I’m speaking as to my own people and I’m speaking as for my country which I love.
I want to turn, first of all, to 2 Chronicles 7:14. These are familiar words, it’s a promise of God and I believe it’s a promise of revival. I have preached on these words for at least thirty years but very recently God showed me something about them that I had never seen before. Let me read the words, God is speaking and He says:
“If my people who are called by my name...”
Now if you are a Christian you are called by the name of Christ. It’s called upon you, therefore those words apply to you and to me.
“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
I’ve pointed out many times there are seven sections: four conditions that we have to fulfill and three promises God makes if we fulfill those conditions. The four conditions we have to fulfill are “if my people will humble themselves, pray, seek my face and turn from their wicked ways.” Then God says, “I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
As I say, I have preached on that text in many different countries, I’ve actually written a book which is based on the text called Shaping History Through Prayer and Fasting. But only recently, after all those years, God showed me something that shocked me and startled me. He said, as I understood it, “In this generation, my people who are called by my name have never fulfilled the first condition.” Without the first condition all the other promises are empty. The first condition is “if my people will humble themselves.”
So tonight I’m going to speak about the first condition, humbling yourself, humbling myself. I want to point out to you that the first sin in the universe did not take place on earth, it was not committed by a human being, it took place in heaven and it was committed by an archangel. His name was Lucifer. After his rebellion and his fall his name changed to Satan.
One of the functions of prophesy is not merely to tell us what is going to happen but it’s also to tell us what has happened that we couldn’t otherwise know. For instance, Moses was a prophet and he’s given us the revelation of how creation took place; otherwise, we could never know.
There’s another prophet, Ezekiel, who describes very vividly the fall of Lucifer. You’ll find the words in Ezekiel 28:11 and following. This is a vivid, poetic picture. I could speak on this at length but I only want to just touch on the main outlines.
“Son of man, take up a lamentation for the king of Tyre...”
In this chapter there are two persons, the first person is the prince of Tyre, the second is the kind of Tyre. It’s very clear that the prince of Tyre is a human being. It’s equally clear that the king of Tyre was not a human being. This brings out a fact which is very important, especially in understanding spiritual warfare, human earthly kings are ruled by satanic spiritual kingdoms in the heavenlies. If you really want to deal with the problems, it’s not sufficient to deal with the problem on the earthly level, you have to deal with the problem on the heavenly level. And there is only one company of people that is equipped and armed to do that. It’s not the politicians, it’s not the generals, it’s not the scientists, it’s the church of Jesus Christ. We alone have the knowledge and the weapons at our disposal to deal with those satanic principalities and powers in the heavenlies which actually dominate the course of human history.
Now in this second part of chapter 28 Ezekiel turns his attention away from the prince of Tyre to the king of Tyre. As I read these words you’ll see very clearly it could not be a human being that is being described. In verse 12:
“Thus says the Lord God, ‘You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God. Every precious stone was your covering: the sardius, topaz and diamond, beryl, onyx and jasper, sapphire, turquoise and emerald with gold. The workmanship of your timbrels and pipes was prepared for you on the day you were created.’”
Notice he’s an angelic being but he’s a created being. There’s only one person who is uncreated, that’s God. All the rest of us are created. There’s a teaching today that’s even infiltrated the church that somehow we can become gods. But dear brothers and sisters, that’s ridiculous. The created can never become the uncreated.
Then it goes on:
“You were the anointed cherub who covers, who covers the throne of God. I established you [God speaks]. You were on the holy mountain of God, you walked back and forth in the midst of fiery stones...”
Obviously this is not a human being that’s being addressed.
“You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created, till iniquity [or rebellion] was found in you.”
And then we just take one further verse, verse 17:
“Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty. You corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor. I cast you to the ground, I laid you before kings that they might gaze at you.”
What was the reason for Lucifer’s fall? What was his sin? Pride, that’s right. And pride, brothers and sisters, is the original sin. We use the word original sin theologically speaking about the sin that’s been inherited from Adam. But really that’s not a correct use. The original sin is pride. And in my opinion pride is the root of every other sin. Satan’s main tactic against us is to induce in us a condition of pride. I heard a fellow preacher once say, an Indian brother, he said, “Pride is the only sin of which Satan never makes you feel guilty.”
So tonight we’re going to deal with pride. How can we handle the problem of pride? The answer is found in 1 Peter 5:5, beginning in the middle of verse 5 which is a quotation from the Old Testament.
“God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
Do you see how futile it is to pray to God out of pride? Because, God is resisting you, He’s standing against you. You may use the finest words and the most eloquent scriptures but if you’re praying out of pride God is resisting you, your prayers will not accomplish what you hope.
“God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
Now we come to the next verse and it begins with a therefore. Many of you have probably heard me say when you find a therefore you want to find out what it’s there for! This therefore is because of the previous verse.
“Therefore, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God that He may exalt you in due time.”
The only remedy for pride is to humble ourselves. I would suggest to you that there is not a single person here tonight who does not need to deal with pride in your life, not one person. The only remedy is humble yourself. Let me point out to you from the scripture you cannot ask God to make you humble because God always says humble yourself. God can humiliate you, He may have to do it, but only you can make yourself humble. You can only do it when the Holy Spirit moves you, you cannot do it out of your own will. But when the Holy Spirit touches you, touches your heart—as I believe He touched our hearts with the singing of that first song by Brother Spencer, it touched my heart to think of that unclean sinful woman who ended up at the feet of Jesus. She was the only one who walked out of that banquet a free woman. Why? What did she do? She humbled herself. She couldn’t have done more than she did. She washed His feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. There’s no other remedy for pride.
And you know, people say pride goes before a fall. That’s not what the Bible says. The Bible says pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. If you tolerate pride in your life and do not deal with it the scriptural way, ultimately it will destroy you and it may well destroy your family, too.
Let me say this, God will not do it for us. He will give us the grace, He will send the Holy Spirit to us, the Holy Spirit will plead with us but we have to make the response. And humility is not an emotion. Don’t try to feel humble, it’s ridiculous. Humility is a decision of the will that’s expressed in action. As a matter of fact, the very passage that’s the theme of this song in Luke 14, Jesus gave some examples of true humility. Luke 14, beginning at verse 7. He was at a banquet given by a Pharisee, a religious ruler. It says:
“He told a parable to those who were invited when he noted how they chose the best places.”
Everybody went for the top seat. Suppose there was a banquet such as the Full Gospel Businessmen and other people hold from time to time, and there’s a head table, the speaker and the big people sit there. It’s like in this scene everybody comes in and heads straight for the head table because that’s where they want to sit. And so Jesus said don’t do that.
“Do not sit down in the best place, lest one more honorable than you be invited by him, and he who invited you and him come and say to you, ‘Give place to this man,’ and then you begin with shame to take the lowest place.”
Jesus is so practical, He said start by taking the lowest place because then you can’t go any lower.
I don’t know whether you know the little poem by John Bunyon that appeals to me so much:
“He that is down need fear no fall, he that is low no pride. He that is humble ever shall have God to be his guide.”
You know there’s one safe place to be? It’s on your face before God. Before Ruth and I came to this meeting here tonight that’s where we were, on our faces before God, because I know how dangerous it is to preach on this subject unless you’ve met the conditions. Generally speaking, and this is not always true, this is not a pattern that everybody has to follow, when Ruth and I are invited to any preaching assignment, sometime before the assignment we will be on our faces on the floor before God, reminding ourselves and telling Him that we have nothing to give except what He gives us. I told God that here tonight even in the meeting, I said, “Lord, I have nothing to give to these people except what comes from your heart through my heart to them.”
So Jesus goes on in verse 10:
“But when invited, go and sit down in the lowest place so that when he who invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, go up higher.’ Then you will have glory in the presence of those who sit at the table.”
See how simple and practical Jesus is? Humility is not an emotion, it’s not a spiritual thing, it’s a decision and it’s expressed by the way you act. Do you go for the top place or do you take the lowest place? You may talk about being humble but if you always aim for the highest place, all it is is talk.
And then He gives a universal law. When I say a universal law I mean a law that governs the universe, not just human life or life on this earth but all life. It’s in verse 11:
“Whoever exalts himself will be abased, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
That’s totally universal, there are no exceptions to it. It has an application in the life of every one of us. Do you want to be exalted? Then abase yourself. But if you exalt yourself you will be abased. In other words, as I see it, you determine how high you end up by how low you start.
We often are confronted by situations that are embarrassing, people may humiliate us, they may insult us, they may just treat us with contempt or reject us. Brothers and sisters, whenever that happens, rejoice because you’ve been given a wonderful opportunity to abase yourself. And remember, the lower down you go the higher up you’ll end. This is not an accident, it’s not an experiment, it’s a law that governs the entire universe.
It’s most wonderfully illustrated in the life of Jesus in Philippians 2. We have this amazing contrast between Lucifer and Jesus. Lucifer was right on the level of the throne of God but he sought the highest place and he fell. Jesus, by His divine nature, had equality with God but He humbled Himself to the lowest place and therefore God has exalted Him to the highest place. I want you to notice the therefore. Let me read that. It’s a remarkable fact that this epistle was written by Paul in prison. Who knows what writing materials he had? He probably didn’t have a desk but the construction of it is absolutely perfect. The more you analyze it the more perfect it is. Describing now the humility of Jesus and then His exaltation Paul describes seven steps that He took downwards and seven steps that God raised Him up. If you have the scripture before you, follow it with your eyes. Philippians 2, beginning at verse 5:
“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus...”
In other words, learn to think about things the way Jesus thought. Going on it says:
“...who, being in the form of God did not consider it robbery to be equal with God.”
Another version says “did not consider equality with God something He had to snatch because He had it by divine right”. He didn’t have to grab for it, it was His.
You see the difference? Lucifer reached up, grabbed and fell. Jesus went down and God raised Him up.
Let’s look at the seven steps down, verse 7:
“He made himself of no reputation...”
The Greek says He emptied Himself. Charles Wesley says in one of his hymns, “He emptied Himself of all but love.” So that’s step number one, He emptied Himself.
Step number two, He took the form of a servant. But He could have been a servant and been an angel.
Step number three, He came in the likeness of men, He came down to the level of humanity. But, He didn’t come down to the level of Adamic perfection, He came down to the level of the men and the women of His age.
And so it says in step number four:
“He was found in appearance as a man...”
When the people of His day looked at Him there was nothing in His outward appearance that indicated His divine nature.
Step number five, He humbled Himself. He was a humble man. He was not a prince, He was not a priest, He was a carpenter. There’s no reproach in being a carpenter but it’s not the highest level of society.
Step number six, He became obedient to the point of death. He lived as a man, He died as a man.
And step number seven, the ultimate step down, the death at the cross, the death of the criminal, the utmost extreme of shame and agony.
That’s our pattern. Paul says, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus...” Learn to think the way that Jesus thought. Don’t reach up, don’t grab, stoop down, see how you can come lower.
Let’s look at seven steps of exaltation that followed. And notice in verse 9 the first word is therefore. I want to point out to you that Jesus was not exalted because He was a favorite son, He was exalted because He met the conditions to be exalted. He is a pattern.
“Therefore God also highly exalted Him...”
Step number one.
Step number two:
“...gave Him the name which is above every name...”
Step number three:
“...that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow...”
Step number four:
“...those in heaven...”
Step number five:
“...those on earth...”
Step number six:
“...those under the earth...”
And step number seven:
“...that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Can you see? I was a logician, I was an analyst of words before I became a preacher. One of the things that delights me is the perfect structure of scripture. Seven steps down and seven steps up joined with the word therefore. And that therefore, dear brothers and sisters, applies to the life of every one of us. The measure to which we go down will determine the measure to which God raises us up.
I wrote a series of messages once which never were very popular but they were entitled “The Way Up is Down.” That’s how it is. I don’t think people ever felt attracted to that series of messages but it’s true, the way up is down. And if we want God to hear our prayers for revival in Britain, we cannot bypass the first condition which is “if my people will humble themselves.” Without that everything else is vain, you can pray as much as you like, you can fast, you can cry out to God, you can preach. But God says the first condition is humble yourself. And He means it. God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.
Now I want to give this a practical application, very simple. How can we humble ourselves? There are many possible answers but I’ll share with you one that comes out of scripture but I learned it by experience the painful way. Somebody said the school of experience is the best school in the world but it’s also the most expensive. At the end of 1990 and on into 1991 Ruth and I took a six month sabbatical to get away from everything, seek God and, as we thought, relax and rest. We went to a beautiful part of the world, Hawaii. We had a condominium that looked right out over the Pacific and we thought now we’re going to have a wonderful time of Bible study and fellowship. We had dear believing friends there. Everything is going to be lovely. I have to tell you, it was exactly the opposite! I don’t think we ever passed six more painful months in our lives. You say did everything go wrong? No, everything went God’s way, not our way.
Looking back I thank God for those six months. A dear friend of ours, Lance Lambert, said to us—because during that period I became desperately ill with a heart condition which is very difficult to diagnose and without antibiotics cannot be cured. It’s called SBE which is subacute bacterial endocarditis. It’s an inflammation of the lining of the heart. I don’t want to go into all the details but I suffered from it progressively for several, I would say, months before it was diagnosed. God had ordered that we would take that sabbatical and Lance said to us, “I think that saved your life because if you had been traveling around as you usually do and had not had time to stop and go to one doctor and be thoroughly examined, it would have killed you.” So that’s just a little testimony of the faithfulness of God.
And dear brothers and sisters, remember, obeying God may save your life! Literally.
So, here I am, I preached healing, I’ve practiced healing, I’ve prayed for the sick, I believe in divine healing and in the atonement—and I’m sick. My problem was not emotional, I’m not afraid of death, my problem was intellectual, what’s gone wrong? Why doesn’t it work? Let me tell you, never ask that question, why doesn’t it work, because it’s not it, it’s He. It’s very different when you put He in place of it.
Well, God has a habit of speaking to me about 2:00 am. Sometimes if I’m wide awake at 2:00 am I’m pretty sure that God has something to communicate. I don’t want to use the word “God spoke to me” in a sloppy way. I’ve heard God speak audibly, I’ve heard God speak through the gifts of the Spirit, but many times it is simply an inward impression. As I lay there at 2:00 am, it so happened that I didn’t know it but that day I went into the hospital and was in hospital for nineteen days. I was saying to God in my heart, “What’s gone wrong?” I had an interview with these—I think it was a little bit like when Paul describes we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ to receive the things done in the body, whether they’re good or bad. That’s not a judgment of condemnation, that’s a judgment of believers, to assess our faithfulness and our rewards. It was like Jesus very calmly—I would say unemotionally—without ever being condemnatory, opened up my understanding to see many different ways in which I had failed to live the way I should have been living.
Now because I’m a preacher you may all assume that I was involved in adultery or drunkenness or the misappropriation of funds. I just want you to know those were not my problems, by the grace of God. So we’re not talking about problems like that.
I cannot go into all the details but one of the things the Lord showed me was how carnal I had often been. Religious, preacher, involved in meetings and conferences, but carnal. I don’t know if I can define carnal in a way that you can understand but I think carnality is any time you live as if there wasn’t any eternity. Any time you lose sight of the fact that we’re here briefly for a few years and eternity is our destination, you’re carnal, you’re living in the flesh. The word of God says he who sows to the flesh will from the flesh reap corruption. What is sickness? It’s corruption, that’s right. You might not believe it but that cleared my mind, I thought there’s nothing wrong with God, He hasn’t failed.
He also showed me there were sins in my life that I had not confessed. Some of them, at least one of them, went back at least forty years. It wasn’t a terrible sin, it was embarrassing not so much because it was terrible but because it was so stupid. But God made it clear to me, and I believe the scripture says the same, that if we want our sins forgiven there is one thing we have to do; which is, confess them. If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. I have come to believe personally that we cannot claim the forgiveness of sin we have not confessed. One of the great faithful ministries of the Holy Spirit is to convict of sin. Not to condemn us but to liberate us because when you’re convicted you can confess.
Let me say I went into hospital for nineteen days and I was very kindly treated. I think some preachers, maybe myself at times in the past, have kind of spoken in a kind of slightly ungracious way about doctors, nurses and hospitals. I want to repent. I thank God for the doctors, the nurses and the hospital.
I tell you something else I thank God for—this isn’t super-spiritual—I thank God for antibiotics. I was on intravenous antibiotics for six weeks and in the natural that saved my life.
Let me give you something else that God gave me in connection with this experience. It’s from Psalm 117, the middle of the psalm, I think it begins with verse 15. It’s one of the scriptures that Ruth and I have memorized. It begins by addressing the devil, not God. It says:
“You pushed me violently that I might fall...”
And the devil undoubtedly did that. He pushed me violently to make me fall. But the next verse goes on:
“...but the Lord helped me. The Lord is my strength and my song, and He is my salvation.”
Then it says:
“The voice of rejoicing and salvation is in the tents of the righteous. The right hand of the Lord does valiantly. The right hand of the Lord is exalted, the right hand of the Lord does valiantly.”
“I shall not die but live and declare the works of the Lord.”
And the next verse says:
“The Lord has chastened me severely but He has not given me over to death.”
And brothers and sisters, if God doesn’t give you over to death you will not die. But He certainly chastened me severely. He brought me face to face with things in my life and character and ministry which were displeasing to Him. He blessed my ministry for many years. The fact that God blesses you doesn’t always mean that He approves of everything you do, do you know that? I’m not sure that there are many of us of whom it is said that God approves of everything we do. If you are such a person, well, it’s good to have you with us.
I say this because I believe this is the key to self-humbling, it’s very simple. It’s not complicated, it’s confessing our sins. You cannot stay proud in the presence of a God to whom you’ve confessed your humiliating, embarrassing, personal sins. And let me suggest you call them by the right names. Don Double was talking with us earlier today and he said people just don’t use the word sin today. They talk about problems. The blood of Jesus does not cleanse us from problems, the blood of Jesus only cleanses us from one thing: sin. If you don’t confess sin, God won’t cleanse you. As Don said, you have to take responsibility for what you’ve done. Don’t blame your parents or your pastor or your spouse. You are answerable to God for what you have done. If you have sinned, there’s only one remedy, confess your sin. If we confess our sins God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
I’m inclined to think—this is just an opinion—that if you haven’t been cleansed you probably haven’t been forgiven because the two, it seems to be, go together.
I would like you to say that verse, it’s 1 John 1:9, after me because I want to impress it upon your hearts and minds. I’ll say it first phrase by phrase, you say it afterwards. You don’t have to do this, it’s voluntary.
“If we confess our sins God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Do you really believe that? Then you know the next thing you need to do is to say thank you. No words can express how important that is in your life. There is a remedy for sin. I’ve lived in places and in communities and in amongst cultures where people did not know there was a remedy for sin. How privileged you and I are that God has revealed to us there is a remedy for sin. I love that old song, “There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Emmanuel’s veins, and sinners plunged beneath their flood lose all their guilty stains.” Do you believe that? Thank God for the blood of Jesus. There’s nothing that will cleanse us, nothing that can purify our hearts but the precious blood of the Lamb of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God who gave Himself on the cross, paid the penalty for our sins, shed His blood that we might be forgiven, that we might be cleansed, and that we might be justified. And do you know what the word justified means? I don’t have time to go into it but justified means I’m just as if I’d never sinned because I’ve been made righteous through the blood of Jesus with His righteousness. Not mine, but His. A righteousness that has never known sin. I can’t have a guilty conscience, I have no sins to confess. That’s justified. Brothers and sisters, justification is not some complicated theological formula, it’s a glorious reality. I tell people justified means this, you were being tried for which the mandatory penalty was death, and you knew you were guilty. But when the judge returned to the court and gave his verdict, he said, “Not guilty.” Your wife was sitting there beside you and you turned to her and said, “That was a nice (unintelligible).” Or did you? Or did you throw your arms around her neck and say, “Sweetheart, I’m free!”
I don’t believe that Christians understand what it means to be justified if they’ve never been excited. I don’t understand how you can believe that you were tried for a crime for which you were guilty and for which the penalty was death, and you were pronounced acquitted and free. If you don’t get excited you’ve never really believed it.
When I was a boy growing up in the Anglican church I loved the praises of the Anglican liturgy. But, you know, critical boys at the age of about 12, I would look at people walking out of church and I would say to myself I don’t think they really believe what they said. Those words are so glorious. It’s no sin to get excited. In fact, it’s almost a sin not to get excited. If I can get excited, you can get excited.
So, step number one in humbling yourself is confess your sins to God.
David, who was a man after God’s own heart, did a lot of confessing of sins. I don’t know whether you’ve ever noticed that. I don’t know whether you’ve ever noticed how many times he struggled with sickness, too. But in Psalm 38:3–4 David said:
“There is no soundness in my flesh, because of your anger. Nor is there any health in my bones, because of my sin.”
Brothers and sisters, if you came here seeking for healing, that’s not the only reason, there are other reasons but why don’t you check and see whether your sickness is due to your sins. David was a man after God’s heart. God loved David and David loved God. But he had to say, “Nor is there any health in my bones because of my sin.” Then he said:
“For my iniquities run over my head, like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me.”
You see, if you let unconfessed sin pile up in your life it’s a burden that’s added upon a burden that’s added upon a burden that’s added upon a burden that’s higher than your head. And you’re staggering through life under the burden of unconfessed sin. If it could happen to David, dear brothers and sisters, don’t say it couldn’t happen to me. I think that’s the problem with much of the church, there’s a lack of real joy, a lack of real life, there’s really very little freedom to witness, there’s very little concern for the unsaved because we are staggering under a burden of unconfessed sin. And every sin that we commit without confessing it adds to the burden.
Confessing our sins to God is what I call vertical self-humbling, we humble ourselves in our vertical relation. But you know there’s another kind of relationship which is horizontal. And many of us, particularly husbands, have been proud and arrogant and insensitive in our relationship to our wives. You know what we have to do? We have to humble ourselves. It’s not only husbands, there are some wives that are due for a season of self-humbling. But it is a particularly male characteristic. We find it very hard to apologize to our wives, is that true? How many of you said recently, “I’m sorry I got angry.” “I’m sorry I was so insensitive.” “I’m sorry that I didn’t consider your feelings.” “I’m sorry that I was rude.” “I’m sorry that I read the newspaper at breakfast when you were trying to talk to me.” “To tell the truth, I’ve been a brute.” Brothers and sisters, brothers especially, if you were to say that sincerely it would change the atmosphere in your home in a miraculous way. I’m not saying all of you have to do it but I’m saying many of you need to do it. The hardest thing, I think, for a husband is to humble himself before his wife.
Ruth and I have come to a place where we do it with each other not as a ritual but regularly, we confess our sins to one another. See, that’s scriptural. Turn to James 5:16. The NKJ says “confess your trespasses.” I don’t know why because the Greek word is “sins.” It says:
“Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed.”
That’s horizontal self-humbling. You may have to go to your pastor and say, “Pastor, I have to confess I’ve been critical, I’ve been unkind, I’ve opposed you.” Or, you as a pastor might have to go to some member of your flock and say, “I haven’t treated you with the love and concern that I should have given you.” There’s no class of persons that’s exempt from these requirements. And again, you see, here’s a key for healing. Confess your sins one to another and pray for one another that you may be healed. In other words, unconfessed sin is a barrier to healing.
I read the journals of John Wesley in the 1950s and I was deeply impacted by them. I was a Pentecostal at the time, I thought the Pentecostals had everything. But when I read the journals of John Wesley I had to say to myself he has a lot of things we don’t have. But somewhere in his journals he describes the origin of one of the strongest Methodist societies that was formed in his day, and I believe it was in Yorkshire. It started with ten people who agreed to meet together every week and confess their faults one to another. How many churches start that way today?
You see, you can’t build a church on wrong relationships. A church is built out of relationships. A home is built out of relationships. How many of you parents have ever confessed your sin to your children? I remember years ago, somewhere around about 1950, I got angry with one of my daughters, unreasonably. I said things to her I oughtn’t to have said. I didn’t smack her or anything like that but I got angry. And after that I had this strange sort of pressure in my chest and I thought where does it come from? I happened to read in Ecclesiastes “anger rests in the bosom of fools.” I knew what my problem was. I also knew there was only one solution and it wasn’t easy to do. I had to go to my daughter and say, “I’m sorry I got angry with you, I shouldn’t have spoken to you like that.” The pressure lifted from my chest. So, I believe the key to self-humbling is confessing our sins. At least it’s a good place to start. Confess them to God, confess them to one another.
Now just one final question, how can we know what to confess? Let me advise you this, don’t start to probe into your own character because the deeper you go the worse you’ll find. That’s not God’s remedy. God’s remedy is through the Holy Spirit. He convicts of sin, of righteousness, of judgment. Let me give you just two passages from the Old Testament and we’ll finish. Jeremiah 17:9–10:
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, who can know it?”
This comes to me very vividly but in 1947 I was attending the Hebrew University in Jerusalem as a guest student. I was listening to the professor of Hebrew language and he commented on this verse. He was by no means a believer, neither as a Jew nor anything else. He said the word that’s used here “deceitful” in Hebrew is akov, which is the same word that comes out in the name of Jacob, Ja-akov. It means “he will supplant”. And then because of the way the feminine form is formed he said it’s not passive, it’s active. It’s not the heart is deceived but the heart is deceitful, it deceives. He had no spiritual thoughts in mind but I sat there and I thought to myself I’ve learned one of the most valuable lessons in my life. My heart is deceitful, it doesn’t tell me the truth; it deceives me. I cannot rely on my heart to tell me its true condition. And so, God goes on to say:
“I the Lord search the heart, I test the mind even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.”
There’s only one person who truly knows what’s in your heart. It’s not you, it’s not the preacher; it’s the Lord. And if you ask Him, very gently and very graciously He’ll begin to unfold to you the true condition of your heart.
The great preacher Charles Finney once said this, he said, “I am convinced that if a sinner could truly see the nature of his own heart and how evil it is, he could not survive the sight.” We have a very dim concept of how evil and deceitful our own hearts are. The only one who can show us is the Lord through the Holy Spirit. When he, the Spirit of Truth, is come, He will convict of sin, of righteousness and of judgment. Jesus said in one gospel, “If I by the Spirit of God cast out demons,” and in the other gospel in Luke, He said, “If I by the finger of God cast out demons,” which tells us that the Holy Spirit is God’s finger. And when God deals with you He doesn’t put His whole hand there and say, “There’s some problem there,” He puts His finger and says, “That’s where the problem is.” He’ll tell you the name. It may be a very unwelcome name.
So, don’t rely on your own heart to tell you the truth about yourself. There’s only one and it’s the Lord. He’ll be very gracious, He won’t shock you with everything all at one time. Because, He knows you couldn’t stand it.
And then let’s come to a prayer of David. If ever there was a man who knew the forgiveness of sins, it was David. He had sins to forgive. Years ago my first wife and I had an Arab maid who became our maid in Ramallah, in what was then Palestine, into England with us and lived with us in our home. She never learned to read so she couldn’t read the Bible. Her life was, I would say, somewhat inconsistent. There were times when she was infuriating, other times when she was wonderful. But she got by and the way she got by was this: when God convicted her of sin she really poured out her heart to God. I can think of some of the prayers she prayed in Arabic, today. She knew how to humble herself. What a precious gift to know how to humble yourself before Almighty God.
And David, I mean, if you think of the sins he committed and the sins he mentions which are not detailed, it is surely amazing how he became and was the man after God’s own heart. So don’t be discouraged, my dear brothers and sisters, if God puts His finger on things in your life that shock you. You can still be a man or a woman after God’s own heart if you learn to humble yourself.
I want to read the prayer of David in Psalm 139, just the last two verses, 23–24. This is one of our favorite psalms, Ruth and mine. This I believe is the answer to the question how shall I know what God requires me to confess?
“Search me, O God, and know my heart. Try me and know my anxieties...”
Or my anxious thoughts, or my worries.
“And see if there’s any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
Now, I want to challenge you, would you be prepared here this evening to pray that prayer? Don’t make a hasty commitment because you’ll get yourself into something that you’d wish you’d avoided. As an application to my message here this evening I want to close in a moment or two by asking you to join me in saying that prayer together—if you really mean it. If you don’t say it I have no quarrel with you. But let me suggest to you that what I’ve said tonight is something that can be dealt with with what they call an appeal or an altar call. I think it demands that those of you who receive what I said will go to God and spend time in the presence of God. Open your heart to God and say, “God, show me the things that don’t please you. Show me the ways I’ve offended other people. Maybe the ways I’ve harmed my own family. Lord, deal with me gently, don’t take me too fast. I really want to get sin out of my life. I really desire to humble myself.” I’m kind of suggesting that when you go to your units tonight you might try to practice this, some of you, if you feel led. I wonder if there’s a unit here tonight that would be like the Methodist society that would meet together and confess their faults one to another. I think you’ll find by the end of this week things would be very different. Different in this camp, different in your life, different in your unit.
See, I really believe there’s a great cloud of unconfessed sin over the church of Jesus Christ in Britain. I don’t say that to condemn anybody because God is not out to condemn us, He’s out to forgive us and to liberate us. But it won’t be necessarily a quick five minute deal where you come to the altar and kneel. It may be a process. But if that process is initiated here in your life tonight, by the time the camp is held here next year you might be a totally different kind of person. I might be. I’m not going to be here next year, maybe the year after.
Let’s agree next time we meet we’ll be different. All of us, preachers and people.
So now, you’ve been sitting a long while, stand to your feet if you will and say this prayer not with me but after me. If you want to know where it’s found, it’s the last two verses of Psalm 139. You’re not praying to the preacher, you’re praying to Almighty God. You’ve got to be prepared to take the consequences. If you say, “Search me, O God,” He’s going to search you. I’m going to read these words, you say them after me if you mean them. Don’t say them if you don’t mean them because God doesn’t like that.
“Search me, O God, and know my heart, try me and know my anxious thoughts, and see if there’s any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. For Jesus’ sake, amen.”