Adams then turns to the phrase in Job, “I abhor myself.” (The ESV has “despise.”) This is a turn in the verse and the sermon which might seem most unwise to us. Adams recognizes that
It is a deep degree of mortification for a man to abhor himself. To abhor others is easy, to deny others more easy, to despise others most easy. But it is hard to despise a man’s self, to deny himself harder, hardest to abhor himself. Every one is apt to think well of himself. Not only charity, a spiritual virtue, but also lust, a carnal vice, begins at home. There is no direct commandment in the Bible for a carnal man to love himself, because we are all so naturally prone to it.
This is considered madness and bad policy. A PhD psychologist writes (I am not going to link to the man, because I am not interested in causing conflict; rather I merely want to raise what is considered a truism), “We know it’s important to love ourselves. But what does it really mean to love and care for yourself?”
What then is meant by abhorring oneself? This is admittedly a strange idea. And in what way could Adams be advocating this is a spiritual good? He admits this is strange, “for a man to abhor himself, this is a wonder.”
But then he phrases the matter differently, and in a manner which may sound more comprehensible:
He that doth not admire himself is a man to be admired.
Adams begins to pick apart self-admiration,
It is against reason, indeed, that metals should make a difference of men; against religion that it should make a difference of Christian men. Yet commonly reputation is measured by the acre, and the altitude of countenance is taken by the pole of advancement. And as the servant values himself higher or lower according as his master esteems himself greater or less according as his master is, that, as his money or estate.
The basis for the status is not in the man himself; it is in something outside of him. That is a curious thing: I am great because I have X. But Adams takes the problem in a different direction: if we are going to be judged by our master, who then is that?
But the children of grace have learned another lesson—to think well of other men, and to abhor themselves.
That seems odd, but it stems from the fact that we actually know ourselves:
And indeed, if we consider what master we have served, what wages we have deserved, we have just cause to abhor ourselves. What part of us hath not sinned, that it should not merit to be despised. Run all over this little Isle of Man [a human being] and find me one member that should not merit to be despised….Where is the innocency which desires not to stand only in the sight of mercy? There is our worst works wickedness, in our best weakness, error in all. What time, what place, are not witnesses against us?
Some of the language here has its basis in Romans 6:13, “Do not present your members [parts of your body] to sin as instruments of unrighteousness.” And, “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience which leads to righteousness.” (6:16)
In addition, one might balk at the standard for everything being sin: surely it is not that bad. It is not the case that everyone is always as bad as they could be. But rather that nothing is perfect and perfection is the standard. If we are to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and to love our neighbor as ourselves; and to judge all actions against that standard, we see that we fail.
The trouble is ontological, not just behavioral. The point is not that we don’t live up; it is even worse: we cannot live up to the standard. “For by the works of the law no human being will justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” That everyone falls short is the point: it is that God may justify by grace as an act of mercy.
When we look at ourselves, we have much to loath: we are our own worst enemies. Who would seek to justify the irrationality of humanity. Think of your life and be honest. Think of the causal unkindness; the selfishness and thoughtlessness; not mention worse acts of cruelty.
Adams draws out the thought of the irrationality of sin. And then addresses another tact, “I do love God.”
That we love God far better than ourselves is soon said, but to prove it is not so easily done. He must deny himself, that will be Christ’s servant ….Many have denied hteir friends, many have denied their kindred, not a few have denied their brotehrs, some have denied their parents, but to deny themselves is a hard task. To deny their profits, to deny their lusts, to deny their reasons, to deny themselves? No, to do all this they utterly deny.
He then ends with this paradoxical promise which is at the heart of repentance and the Gospel:
If we despise ourselves
God will honor us
If we abhor ourselves,
God will accept us
If we hate ourselves
God will love us
If we condemn ourselves
God will acquit us
If we punish ourselves
God will spare us
If we seem lost to ourselves
We shall be found on the Day of Jesus Christ.