Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div
“Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.” Psalm 51:6
There is a remarkable foreshadowing of the insight of Christ Jesus in these words. They ring with that depth which is so clear a note of Jesus’ moral teaching. We have been inclined to think of the Old Testament as dealing with the outward sphere of action; we have been inclined to say that it was Jesus who first ran down the action into the heart. But we must not separate the Old and New by any hard and fast distinctions such as these. They intermingle, both in creed and character. If Abraham saw Christ’s day and was glad, David saw Christ’s day and was sad. He recognized God’s passionate insistence that a man should be thoroughly sincere.
It is worth noting, too, that when David recognized this, he had a broken heart. David had sinned, and David was repentant, and a repentant man sees deeply. There are some hours in life when we are blind; hours when we see nothing and forget everything; and all our past, and all our honour and duty and God, and heaven and hell, fade and are blotted out. But when repentance comes, we see again. We see what we have done and what we are. We touch a sinfulness far deeper than our actions. And that was David’s case. On ordinary days he might have been content with ordinary sacrifices; but in an hour like this it was “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned,” and “Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts.”
This, then, is God’s insistence on sincerity, and it is always a hard thing to be sincere. Life is so full of little insincerity’s that it is often the man who is seriously struggling to be true who feels most keenly how untrue he is. It is always a hard thing to be sincere. But there are times when it is harder than at other times. And it is especially hard today.
The Struggle for Existence
One reason it is so hard to be sincere is the fierce struggle for existence. There is a fierceness in a modern competition that makes it very hard for a man to be a man. There are so many interests involved, so many whirling wheels within the wheels, that to be true to self is difficult. Men are not free as the shepherd on the hills is free. Men are combined and interlocked in the great mechanism of modern life until at last, to say what a man thinks and to be what a man is, is one of the quiet heroism of honesty. Thank God, there are such heroisms!–as worthy of honour as any deed upon the battlefield. But when to be sincere spells heroism, we must not wonder if insincerity is common. Few men are heroes. For one soul that has a passion for sincerity, there are a hundred that have an overriding passion for success. And this, and the great gulf between Monday’s warfare and Sunday’s worship, and the compliance’s and the accommodations and the silences have tinged our city life with insincerity.
The Pressure of Public Opinion
I think, too, it is harder to be sincere because of the increasing pressure of public opinion. It seems there never was a time when the thought of so many was so quickly voiced and registered. For centuries the people had no voice. They lived and loved and had their griefs and died. But what their thought might be on the great themes mattered no more to their rulers than the thought of brutes. Then came the awakening of knowledge, the dawn of power, the rising of the people like a giant, the vote, the newspaper; until today the thought of the people have been caught and voiced, and public opinion is a dominant power. It is an untold blessing. But the voice of the people is not always the voice of God, and in the tremendous pressure of general opinion, it is harder for a man to be himself. It is a difficult thing to be an individual. I am so apt to be all warped and pressed out of the mental form that God has given me until my life becomes play acting and all the world a stage, and I don’t have the courage to think, and I don’t have the heart to feel, and I don’t have the heroism to be myself. And losing my individuality, I cease to be sincere.
A Time of Transition
But perhaps the deepest cause of insincerity is that we are living in a time of transition. All times to some extent are that. There is never an age, however dull and dead, but the old like a river is watering its plains, and the new like a spring leaps up into the light. But there are some times when the transition is very sharp and clear, and we are living in such a time as that today. Old things are passing away. Old faiths are in the crucible again. Old truths have got to be recast and readjusted. There is not a doctrine, whether of heart or Bible, but earnest minds are trying to reset it in the growing knowledge of these latter days. In one pew a father and a son are sitting; and though the father may never dream of it, there is the space of centuries between the two. For the father, with all the loyalty of his heart, still clings to the great message of the past; and to the son, the strain is to reconcile that message of his childhood with the wider horizon that he cannot yield.
That is the pain of a transition time. There can be little question that for many the only antidote for that pain is insincerity. It is impossible, it is utterly wrong, to cast away the past. It has meant too much to us and been too much to us for that. It is impossible, it is utterly wrong, to flout the new. It is the air we breathe. So springs the temptation to be insincere, to join in the worship that was formed and fashioned when faith was an enthusiasm, to sing the hymns that were the music of unclouded souls through the enthusiasm of our faith is gone and there are more clouds than sunshine in the sky.
Insincerity Robs a Man of His Dignity
Insincerity takes all dignity out of life and makes this world a very low place. We think we can be insincere, and men will be tricked and never find it out. O brethren, God Almighty has His own awful ways of writing a man’s insincerity upon the heavens and engraving it as with a pen of iron on the world. All reverence is impossible, all purity is stained, and all innocence rebukes me when I am insincere. If I am false and double, I cannot hear the laughter of my children but what it sends a pang of pain into my heart. Better be excitable, better be inconsistent, better be dead than insincere. Peter was excitable, brimful of inconsistencies; yet if ever a sincere heartbeat, it was the heart of Peter–and Jesus was Christ to Peter and heaven was heaven. But Judas, I don’t know what his other sins were, was insincere till he came to feel the very sincerity of Jesus was like an insult; and, insincere, he went to his own place.
Insincerity Distorts the Character
Insincerity carries yet another curse. I hardly think that there is any sin that mars and distorts the character like this one. That master theologian Augustine gave us a phrase that has become historic. He spoke of splendid sins. And perhaps there are some sins that in some lights, though not the light of God, have certain elements of splendor in them. But all the insight and all the love of Augustine could never find an element of splendor in the man or woman who had ceased to be sincere. There is no sin that so eats the manhood out of us as insincerity. There is no sin that so robs the character of its quiet and restfulness and strength, and leaves it restless, shifty, self-assertive, loud. The nation has often wondered at the sweet equanimity of our revered Queen. And it was Bright who said the Queen was the most truthful being he had ever met. It is the insincere man who exaggerates. It is insincere who flatters. It is insincere who plays the coward in the crisis. When I have won something of the sincerity of Christ, I shall know something of His strength and peace.
Insincerity Destroys Our Influence
Surely no sin saps and undermines our influence as insincerity. Perhaps you think you have no influence. You feel yourself a very uninfluential person. Come! the humblest woman reading this, it is not so! Most of us think far too much of our abilities and far too little of our influence. We are so interwoven in the web of life that we are making and molding each other every day. In ways mysterious, out of the depths of this mysterious self, we touch and turn each other. And perhaps the men who influence us most are the men who never tried to influence us at all.
Now the one bolt that falls out of the blue to shatter this unconscious influence of character is insincerity. I may be ignorant, and men may not despise me. I may be poor and still command respect. But ignorant or learned, rich or poor, once let men feel that I am insincere and all my influence for good, all my influence on God, is gone. It’s a sad hour when a son sees through his father. Sad for the father, twice sad for the son. And even if a minister has the eloquence of Paul, if his people distrust him, there will be no changed hearts. It is God’s curse on insincerity. It is the separating, isolating power of that heart-sin. There is no more heart-lonely creature in the world than the man or woman who has grown insincere. And to be heart-lonely forever, that is hell.
The Path to a Renewed Sincerity
First, we must win a deeper reverence for ourselves. We must believe in individual possibilities. We must remember there are no nobodies with God. If I am only a leaf tossed by the wind, if I am only a flake carried on the stream, if I am only a light that flashes and is gone, if it will be all the same a hundred years hence, it matters little whether I am sincere or not. I must not mock myself with any self-importance. But if I am a man called into being by an everlasting God, nurtured and bosomed in an eternal love, gifted with faculties that only eternity can ripen, and filled with a ceaseless craving for the truth, to be untrue to self is self-destruction. Therefore, when I am tempted to be insincere, I fall back first upon Bible doctrine. I see my weakness there. I see my fall. But I see there such hopes for me, such possibilities for me, that to be me–myself–becomes a new ambition. And to be me is to be sincere.
Then we must gain a profound faith in God. There is no choice about it. We simply must. I defy any man to be consciously insincere who lives under these eyes that are a flame of fire. It is because God is distant, hidden in the clouds that are around His throne, that we dare be one man within, another man without. The old religious sculptors, says a writer, who came to their tasks with prayer and meditation on unearthly beauty, would never suffer any imperfect workmanship even though placed where a man could never see it. And when one questioned them why the concealed parts of statues removed from human sight should be so exquisitely made, they answered that the eyes of the gods were there. “Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, my way is hidden from the Lord, and my goings are passed over from my God?” It is a speech like Jacob’s that makes insincerity so easy. It is the practice of God’s presence which makes it hard.
And we must gain a closer fellowship with Christ. Of all the help whereby I struggle onwards toward sincerity, there is none like daily fellowship with Him. If it ennobles me to live with noble souls and makes me purer to have a pure woman for my friend, how will it shame me into a new sincerity to live with the sincerest heart that ever beat! There are some men with whom I could not gossip. There are some men in whose presence slander dies. There is one Man whose very company kills insincerity, and that is Christ. When I am near to Him, and He to me, I am proportionately true. When I have lost Him, banished Him, driven Him from His center and His throne, like a strong tide my insincerity creeps up again.
There is a sad lack of sincerity today, but let us not be blinded to the fact that sincerity is not the only virtue. I am not necessarily good, I am not necessarily right, I am not necessarily saved because I am sincere. There is a call for new sincerity in every heart, yet that sincerity is but a stepping-stone. I may sincerely believe the earth is flat, and yet for all my sincerity, the earth is round. I may sincerely consider my friend to be a hero, and yet in spite of that, my friend may be a scamp. I may sincerely be convinced Christ never arose, yet Christ did arise and is at the right hand of God today. Sincerity without humility is the obstinacy out of which fools are made. The truly sincere man is always humble, feels like a child amid God’s infinite mysteries and cries in his heart, “Light, light, more light”; till God in His own way leads him there. And the light is light indeed, and the light indeed is love. And neither height nor depth, nor life nor death, nor any other creature, shall separate him from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.