Thirty-one Kings, or The Victory Over Self

by A. B. Simpson

"These are the kings of the country which Joshua and the children of Israel smote on this side Jordan on the west . . . All the kings were thirty and one" (Josh. 12:7-24).

The great conflict of the higher Christian life is not a conflict with the grosser forms of sin, for we leave them behind us when we cross the Jordan and come into the land of holiness, obedience, and rest. But there are other foes more subtle, and these are symbolized, we believe, by these kings with whom Joshua made war so long.

There are various forms of self-life which, while not perhaps directly and willfully sinful, in the grosser sense, are yet as contrary to the will of God, and as necessary to be subdued and slain, before the soul can be in perfect harmony with the Divine will. They are all tyrants, which, if allowed to remain, will ultimately bring us into subjection to sin and separate us from the Lord.

Let us look at these kings of the old Self Dynasty, and see if we can recognize any of them.

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1. Self-Will: This expresses its decrees in the personal pronoun and the active verb: I will, I shall. It recognizes no king but its own imperative choice. Self-will must be slain before love can reign. The will thus surrendered becomes a stronger will, because it is henceforth not our will, but His within us; and when we choose, we choose with the strength of God, and choose forever. Have we yielded our will and received His in return?

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2. Self-Indulgence. This is the gratification of self in any of its forms. Is it wrong to eat and drink, and indulge our appetites?  No, the act may not be wrong in itself, but it becomes wrong when we do it for the sake of the indulgence. I am not to eat because it gratifies me to eat; I am not to drink because I enjoy the act; but I am to eat and drink for the glory of God; that is, with the distinct thought and purpose of pleasing Him and ministering to my bodily wants that I may be strong to serve and glorify Him. So the commonest acts of life are to be wholly consecrated to Him and done unto Him, and thus they become sacred and holy.

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3. Self-Seeking: "Love seeketh not her own." Her object is not to accomplish some personal end, but to benefit another and to glorify God. The great business of the people of this world is to seek their own ends and pleasures.  But a consecrated life has but one purpose: to "seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness," and then to rest in His will, knowing that "all these things shall be added."

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4. Self-Complacency: This is the spirit of pride, that takes delight in our own qualities and rests with satisfaction in ourselves. It is very different from vanity, which seeks the approval of others.  Self-complacency is a god unto itself.

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5. Self-Glorying: The converse of self-complacency, it seeks the praise of others. Self-glorying inflates its little bubble because it is so small. It is the lack of real greatness that makes the society butterfly eager to attract attention. The truly consecrated life is conscious of its nothingness, and knows that it is dependent on God alone for all it can ever possess, and therefore it hides in His bosom, saying, "Not I, but Christ that liveth in me."

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6. Self-Confidence: This is a form of self-life which relies upon its own wisdom, strength and righteousness. It is Simon Peter, saying, "Though all men shall deny Thee, yet will not I." This person believes in his own opinion. He laughs at the people who talk about the Spirit's leadings. This must die before we can become established in the strength of Christ. Therefore, the strongest natures have often to fail in order to bring them to the end of self, and lead them, like Peter, to lean on God.

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7. Self-Consciousness is the self that is always thinking of itself. Every act and look and word is studied. This is a dreadful bondage. God wants us to have the freedom of a simple child, that acts without thinking from spontaneous impulses and with a beautiful liberty. How shall we get out of this wretched self-consciousness? Only by getting into a higher consciousness, even the presence of our Lord, and realizing that He is living for us and in us, in those sweet spontaneous impulses that are the true springs of action.

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8. Self-Importance is an exaggerated form of self-consciousness. This is very offensive and yet very common in small men and women, who make up for their lack of real weight by self-assertion and swaggering assumption. True humility consists not so much in thinking meanly of ourselves, as in not thinking of ourselves at all.

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9. Self-Depreciation is closely allied to self-importance-and is just as bad. It keeps its victims from useful service. If called upon to do some service, it will refuse on the ground of inability.  This is all self. A truly-surrendered heart hasn't got any ability to work, and if Christ wants to send it, He must equip it and supply it with all necessary resources. Therefore, it goes unquestioning and fully assured because all of its strength must come from God.

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10. Self-Vindication is the self that stands for its own rights and avenges its wrongs. It is quick to detect an injury or an offense. This is a very respectable, but a very real form of selfishness. It is directly contrary to the spirit of Christianity and the Lord Jesus Christ. The very idea of His incarnation was the renunciation of all His rights. Being in the form of God, He was entitled to be equal with God, but we are told He did not count this a prize, but "He emptied Himself and made Himself of no reputation."

You have not begun to deal with the question of self-surrender until it reaches your dearest rights, and you let them go into His hand. He will pay you back-some of it in this world, but how much more in the day of eternal recompense!

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11. Sensitiveness is one of the most painful forms of selfishness. I have seen people who had been all bright and radiant for a time, but something touched them that was offensive, uncongenial, or humbling, and they seemed to have become all at once like Egyptian mummies, ready for a glass case. What is the matter? Self! "Great peace have they that love Thy law, and nothing shall offend them." The Lord bring and keep us there!

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12. Self-Seeing: There are some people who always see things only from their own side. If they would be willing to believe that there is another side, they would be saved from a thousand misunderstandings. "Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others." Think how you would act if you felt as he feels, saw with his eyes, were placed as he is placed.  You will be surprised to see how differently you will look at things.

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13. Introspection: Our morbid and excessive self-examination is one of the forms of self-life that causes much pain and works much injury in our Christian life. There is a right, but there is a wrong self-examination. God alone can truly search us. Even Paul said, "Yea, I judge not mine own self, but He that judgeth me is the Lord." Let us commit our own way unto Him, and honestly say, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my thoughts, and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."

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14. Self-Love is the root of all these forms of the self-life. It is a heart centered upon itself and so long as this is the case, every affection and every power of our being is turned inward and self-ward, and the whole character distorted. God, who is the type of all true being, is essentially love, and lives not for Himself, but for others, and when we become self-centered we seek to assume God's throne, and become gods unto ourselves. It is the ruin and perversion of a soul to love and live for itself.

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15. Self Affections are the natural fruit of self-life. Even the people we love, we love not so much for the blessing that we can be to them, as for the pleasure that they minister to us. Love that terminates on ourselves is selfish and degrading. The love that seeks another's blessing is elevating and divine.

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16. Selfish Motives may enter into the highest acts and mar and pervert them to their inmost core. It is not only what we say and do, but why. The natural heart cannot do a good thing without some selfish object, which perverts and destroys its purity.

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17. Selfish Desires are always springing up in the old natural heart, and even if they never reach fruition, we want to be free from the very wish, and have God so give us our desires that they shall spring from Him, and be prompted by His love. The spirit of covetousness is just a selfish desire, and God has pronounced it idolatry and most dreadful sin.

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18. Selfish Choices are still more serious, for the will is the spring of human actions, and determines all our words and deeds. We want a will directed by "Him who worketh in us to will and to do of His good pleasure."

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19. Selfish Pleasures: There are two kinds of enjoyment: one, which we seek for its own sake, and this is selfish; the other is the pleasure that comes to us from doing good, and because we are in harmony with God and with our own being, which is the truest enjoyment. Selfish pleasure is earth-born, transitory, and wrong.

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20. Selfish Possessions: The worldling seeks to gain the world, and calls his possessions his own.  The true child of God has nothing for himself, but holds all as a sacred trust for God. "Neither said any of them that aught of the things that they possessed was their own." The true Christian conception of property is stewardship; holding the gifts of God for His service, and subject to His direction, and for His glory.

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21. Selfish Fears and Cares: Nearly all our cares and anxieties spring from pure selfishness. If we were wholly yielded to God, and recognized our life in its every movement as absolutely His, we would have no anxiety, but would regard ourselves as His property and under His safe and constant protection.  The Lord has said, "Ye cannot serve God and Mammon," and added "Therefore, I say unto you, take no anxious care for the morrow."

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22. Selfish Sorrows: Many of our griefs and heartbreaks spring from the purest selfishness, wounded pride, ambition, self-love, or the loss of something which we should not have called our own. The death of self blots out a universe of wretchedness and brings a heaven of joy.

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23. Selfish Self-Denials are as real as they are paradoxical. A man "may give all his goods to feed the poor, and his body to be burned" and yet do it all for the gratification of his vanity or the display of his orthodoxy. Simon Stylites sat for a quarter of a century on  top of a pillar, living on roots and pauper pittances. Yet he denied himself to gratify himself, to exalt himself, and to save himself. It was simply the old stream of his life turned into a new channel.

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24. Selfish Virtue: The Pharisees were virtuous, but their virtue was a selfish cloak, intended for display, and therefore worthless, or worse.  It was simply an advertisement, and its motive destroyed its value. The lady who walks the street with her skirts held carefully away from the touch of her fallen sister may be an icicle of selfish propriety.

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25. Self-Righteousness would even seek to justify itself before God by its own religious works, and thus forfeit His righteousness and salvation. For it is not of our sins alone, but even of our righteousness, that He has said, they are "as filthy rags," and they must be laid down and we, as helpless, worthless sinners accept the righteousness of Christ for our justification before God.

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26. Selfish Sanctity is to be so absorbed in our religious experience that our eye will be taken off Jesus and centered upon ourselves. True sanctification forgets itself and lives in constant dependence upon the Lord Jesus as its Righteousness and All-sufficiency.

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27. Selfish Charities and Gifts: The largest generosity and the most munificent offerings of money may be only an advertisement of ourselves, and prompted by some motive which terminates on our own interest or honor.

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28. Selfish Christian Work: We may preach because of the intellectual pleasure it gives us. We may engage in a benevolent or Christian profession because it enables us to make a comfortable livelihood, and gives us congenial employment. Or we may do our religious work on selfish principles and from religious selfishness.

The church of God today is blighted by the selfishness of her evangelistic work.  She is spending seven hundred times as much for her own people as she does upon the heathen world, and the spirit of religious selfishness runs through all her plans.

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29. Selfish Prayers: There is nothing that sounds so selfish as the prayers of many Christians. Their prayers are limited to themselves, their families, and perhaps their church. The suffering household of faith and the perishing world are scarcely ever touched by their sympathies or their intercessions. The highest prayer is the prayer of unselfish love, and as we learn to carry the dying world upon our hearts, we shall find ourselves enriched in return, a thousand fold, and prove, indeed, that "it is more blessed to give than to receive."

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30: Selfish Hopes: Many live in the dreams of coming joys and triumphs, and their vision is all earth-bound-and often, alas! as baseless as the fading cloud-land that floats upon the summer sky. The true Hope of the gospel swallows up all these selfish visions and earthly hopes. Even the old hope of heaven that was sometimes a selfish weariness, and a longing to be at rest, has been exchanged for that high and glorious looking for His coming that lifts us out of ourselves into the greater blessing it is to bring to millions.

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31. Our Life: Our very life must be held not as a selfish possession, but as a sacred trust. "Neither count I my life dear unto myself," is the true spirit of consecration; "but that I may finish my course with joy and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus Christ." That is the meaning of life, and the only object for which it should be cherished. The unselfish life is a safe life, and it is immortal till its great purpose shall be fulfilled.

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Conclusion:

How shall we win the victory over self? We must definitely and thoroughly enter into the meaning of the mighty word, "Ye are not your own." We must surrender ourselves and we must abide in this attitude, and never recall that irrevocable surrender.

We must let God make this real in detail, as each day brings its tests and conflicts, and each of these thirty-one kings comes face to face before us. As each of these issues meets us, God is asking us the question, "Are you your own, or are you mine?" And as we stand true to our covenant, He will make it real.

We must receive the great antidote to self-the love of Christ. This love alone can slay the strength of self-love.

Finally, we need not only the love of Christ but the Christ Himself. It is not a principle, nor an emotion, nor a motive, that is to transform our life and conquer these determined foes, but it is a living Person. Christ will put His own heart into us, and so live in us, and we so live in His life, love in His love, and think, speak, and act in Him in all we do that it shall be "not I, but Christ that liveth in me."

Adapted from a tract in the public domain originally published by Christian Publications, Inc.

Thanks to Hillcrest Alliance Church (HillcrestAlliance.ORG)

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About the Author

Albert Benjamin Simpson was born on Prince Edward Island on Dec. 15th, 1843, of Scottish Covenanter heritage. After seminary training (graduating in 1865), the young Presbyterian minister was called to Knox Church in Hamilton. After eight years of helping that church grow, he was called to lead a Presbyterian church in Louisville, Ky., where he helped churches bitterly divided by the  Civil War find reconciliation in the love of Christ. As the pastors joined their hands together in unity, over 10,000 local residents joined them in prayer meetings lasting for a year.

In 1881 Simpson left the Presbyterian denomination and founded the independent Gospel Tabernacle in New York. There he published the Alliance Weekly and wrote seventy books on Christian living. He helped to form and headed up two evangelization societies-the Christian Alliance and the Evangelical Missionary Alliance. In 1897, they became the Christian and Missionary Alliance. He continued to serve as pastor until 1918, a year before his death.

Paul Rader, former pastor of the Moody Church in Chicago and Simpson's long time associate, said: "He was the greatest heart preacher I ever listened to. He preached out of his own rich dealings with God." 

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