Author: C.W. Naylor
No matter how accurate and reliable a set of scales may be, if they are meddled with they may be made inaccurate and undependable. If we were weighing coal and the scales were out of balance a few pounds, it would not matter so much; but if we were weighing diamonds or gold, a very little variation would amount to a great deal. The more valuable that which we weigh, the more necessary it is that the scales be properly adjusted and accurate to a high degree. When it comes to a standard of weighing the human soul, that should be the most accurate of all standards. When it comes to judging ourselves, it is important that we have a right standard of judgment. That right standard God furnishes in His Word. It will weigh us accurately if we take it as it is; but if we misinterpret it or turn it out of its natural course and meaning, we may judge ourselves very wrongly by it. What we need to do is to be absolutely fair with ourselves. If our standard of judgment is so low that it permits us to be impure in heart and purposes and to do things that are wrong in the sight of God, that standard is evil for us, and we are not just to ourselves. If we have too high a standard and require more of ourselves than is just and right, again we do ourselves an injury.
We must learn to be fair to ourselves. We must require of ourselves all that we ought to require, but nothing more than that. In many lives the ideal is far too low, and consequently the life is too low. In other cases the ideal is too high and is entirely out of reach and can never be attained. We should have high ideals, but these ideals should be practicable and should not overlook the facts of human life. They should always be balanced by common sense. We should not live in a spiritual dreamland; for in practice we shall ever have to face the cold facts of life. These facts, not our dreams and imaginations, are what we must adjust ourselves to. If we have too high a standard, we shall always be coming short of it and condemning ourselves. A high ideal, if not too high, is a strong incentive to progress; but when it is made the standard by which we judge our present attainment, it tends to discourage us and becomes a real barrier to our progress. We can never attain to our ideals because they will ever grow as we grow, and they will continue to be in advance of us no matter how fast we grow. We must have a practicable, not an ideal, standard of judgment.
Making someone else our standard has its dangers. We cannot see another’s inner life. We know nothing of their secret conflicts or their secret faults. We can see only the external manifestations. We do know our own inner life, but we can know theirs only as we judge it from outward appearance. God wants each of us to judge himself by His Word, not by any other standard, and He does not want us to judge ourselves by an ideal beyond our reach.
People often make a serious mistake in comparing themselves with someone of a different temperament. It is very common to suppose that if a person makes many demonstrations in religion, he has a great deal of religion, and that if he is very quiet, he has no religion to speak of. I traveled for a number of years in the gospel work with a minister whose temperament was decidedly emotional and who would sometimes become very demonstrative, leaping and shouting, and manifesting his feelings very plainly. I was of a rather unemotional temperament. I had powerful emotions sometimes, but it was not my disposition to give vent to them. People therefore judged that he had a much better experience than I had, and oftentimes I heard people remark that they wished that they had an experience like his. No one ever seemed to wish that about me. No one seemed to covet in the least an experience like mine. They all wanted one like his, because they thought he was so happy. We both had the same salvation and served the same God. The difference was a difference of temperament.
To make our feelings and emotions a standard is to make our temperament the standard. Those of other temperaments will differ from us. They can not and will not have the same experience so far as feelings and emotions are concerned. Great havoc has been caused by unwise preaching on these points. Preachers often relate their experiences, telling how happy they were and what wonderful emotions they had when they were converted. Others, hearing them, are led to suppose that if they too obtain salvation they will have these same emotions; so when they seek salvation, they seek these emotions. If they are of a different temperament, they do not experience them, and as a result they find it very difficult to suppose that they are saved at all. The preaching that emotion is ever a sign of salvation, in the sense that we can base our hope of God’s favor and heaven upon it, is a serious error. Faith is the fundamental. Believing in God is what counts. Emotion is a superficial thing. It is not reliable evidence, and when people are taught to look upon their feelings as evidences, they do not get a settled experience, an experience that will take them through hard places when their feelings subside. A person’s religion does not consist in the joy that he has nor in the amount of noise he makes, but in the attitude of the heart towards God.
Preaching should not at any time go beyond the bounds of common sense. We should never let our enthusiasm run away with our judgment. When feelings are preached, the strong-nerved preacher will preach a strong-nerved gospel, and the weak-nerved one will preach a weak-nerved gospel. The first will make no allowance for those who have weak nerves and who suffer the trials incident to their nervous condition; so he is likely to be the cause of bringing them into severe trials and conflicts. He has no idea of how things look and are to them. The other makes allowance for the infirmities of the weak and preaches his own experience. The strong-nerved persons who hear him know that his experience is not like theirs, and they think that he is lowering the standard. The thing to do is to preach the Word. We may use our experiences to illustrate the things that we preach, but we ought to make it clear that experiences differ widely in many respects and that we should never judge one another by our experiences, nor should we expect our experiences to correspond fully with those of someone else.
The effect of too high a standard is always to discourage. It is important that we have a proper standard, but not an ideal standard. We ought to require nothing of ourselves or others beyond a practical and common sense Christian life. Sometimes the standard of a sanctified life is placed altogether too high, being out of reach. I once heard a sermon that left the impression on me that the preacher felt thus: “I am up here and a few others are up here, but most of you are down there, and you know that you are down there, and you are going to have a very hard time getting up here if you ever do succeed.” The effect of that sermon was very discouraging, but it is far from the only one of the sort that has been preached. Many souls have been crushed by such preaching.
Many times I have heard the experience of sanctification described as such an ideal state that I knew the preacher himself nor anyone else had ever attained to such a state and never would in this life. Sanctification means the purification of our natures, but it does not mean the perfecting of our human faculties. It does not mean that we are automatically perfect in patience or kindness nor that we are in a state where our emotions will always be sweet and ideal. It does not mean that we shall never have a feeling of impatience or anger.
We ought to have the same standard of judgment for ourselves as we have for others. There are those who have a lower standard for themselves and excuse in themselves that which they could not and would not excuse in someone else. They are ready to condemn others for doing the very same things that they themselves do or things that involve the same principle. They find no excuse for others, but only condemnation, but they have a ready excuse for themselves whenever they are guilty of a like thing. Others go to the opposite extreme. They have a higher standard for themselves than they have for anyone else. They can excuse others for doing what they themselves would not feel clear in doing. They condemn themselves for things that they would not condemn others for. They can find excuses for others, but none for themselves. By adopting either of these courses, we do wrong to ourselves. God has the same standard for judging all people, and He desires that we have the same standard for judging ourselves. The standard we set for others is more likely to be correct than the one we set for ourselves. If the standard we set for ourselves is not a proper standard by which to judge others, it is not the proper one by which to judge ourselves. There is a true and just standard. Let us seek that and apply it to our own lives and the lives of others. The true standard is neither too high nor too low.
The standard by which God judges us is flexible, that is, He holds us responsible only for what we know; hence, the greater the light, the greater the responsibility of the person. Others will never be judged by our light nor we by theirs. It is only when persons have the same degree of light and when the circumstances are alike that the same standard is applicable to two or more individuals. But where light and circumstances are the same on any point, all must be judged by the same rule; and what is right for one is right for all, and what is wrong for one is wrong for all.
Overvaluing or depreciating ourselves and our work is another unwise thing. Whichever we do will turn out bad. It is not true humility to be always criticizing and undervaluing ourselves. If we do a thing, it is neither better nor worse than if someone else had done it, and we should not so regard it. Let us not have a double standard, one for ourselves and one for others, but let us have the same standard for all, and let that be a just and right standard, one that God’s approval will rest upon. Then we may live satisfactory lives and have the blessings and approval of God upon us.