The Image of Self*

Bibliology
Christology
Guest Writer Sabine Baring-Gould

“Whose is this image?” (Matthew 22:20).

Some people are fond of contemplating their own excellencies, of admiring their good qualities, or their success in life; they will talk to you of what they have done, how they made this lucky hit, how they outwitted So-and-so, how they escaped such a danger by their foresight. But they are not fond of considering their imperfections, of lamenting their faults, of confessing their failures, their lost opportunities, their neglected duties, their grave transgressions. No, no! they do not see them, they see only their own good qualities and none of their blemishes, they extol their successes, and hold their tongues over their failures.

But it would be well for us to contemplate ourselves as we really are, and see ourselves in the light in which we are seen by God, for the Apostle says: “If we would judge ourselves, we shall not be judged” (1 Corinthians 11:31), that is, if we would only see ourselves with all our defects, and repent our faults here, and judge ourselves and go and amend, then we should escape the judgment hereafter.

King David says, Psalm 51, “I acknowledge my faults, and my sin is ever before me” (51:3). Now, think of this! If any man had occasion to boast it was King David. He had been a poor sheep-boy attending the flocks of his father, a farmer at Bethlehem, and he was taken from the sheepfolds and exalted to be king (1 Chronicles 17:7). What an exaltation for him from a humble origin to the highest place! He might well look back on that with exultation; but no, a shadow steps between and clouds the view, “My sin is ever before me.”

I daresay his palace walls were hung with tapestry, or painted in colors with pictures representing his deeds. There he was shown fighting the bear, there taking the lamb from the lion’s mouth, and smiting him. There he was pictured with his sling going against the giant Goliath. There he was represented standing over the fallen Philistine and hewing off his head.

Look! another picture! his marriage with Michal, the daughter of King Saul.

“Whose is this image?” It is that of the conqueror over Amalek.

“Whose is this image?” It is David crowned king of Judah in Hebron. And here is a goodly picture; of whom is it? This is David anointed king over all Israel.

There is another! David defeating the Philistines in the battle under the mulberry trees.

There is one more! “Whose is this image?” It is that of David bringing the Ark of the Covenant from Kirjath-jearim, and playing his harp and dancing before it.

What a goodly array of pictures! All—all about the glories and successes of David.

David paces idly through the halls, he sees the tapestries and paintings, but he regards them not, “My sin is ever before me.” He sees only one picture, which is not upon the wall, which the flattering painter has omitted, his guilt with Bathsheba.

He goes to war in his armor, and takes the city of Rabbah. He carries off the crown of the king and puts it on his own head. The spoil of the city is great. In the turmoil of battle, in the flush of victory, “My sin is ever before me.”

He flees before his enemies, before his rebellious son, and is hiding in the wilderness with a few faithful friends, and then there rises up before him the remembrance of his great transgression, and weighs down his heart. “My sin is ever before me.”

In joy, in sorrow, in prosperity, and in distress it is always the same.

“Whose is this image?” It is that of a great king, a mighty warrior, a sweet poet—”No, no!” says David. “It is the image of a grievous sinner. My sin is ever before me. Let no man call me a good king, I gave over the innocent Uriah to the sword, and took from him his beloved wife. Let no man call me a just man, I divided the land of Mephibosheth with his false, lying slave Ziba, because it went against my pride to go back from what I had said. Let no man call me merciful, when I tortured the Ammonites cruelly, putting them under saws, and under harrows and axes of iron, and made them pass through the brick kiln. Let no man speak of me as a conqueror, when I was miserably conquered by my wicked passions.”

My brethren! I wish that you would see yourselves in the way in which David did. I wish that instead of turning away your eyes from those pictures in your life which do you no honor, you would look at them with shame. I wish that instead of boasting yourselves as the image of all perfections, you would see yourselves as sinners.

There was a painter called Bonamico, who was engaged by Cardinal Aretino to paint a series of pictures in his chapel. He began with a beautiful fresco of Jesus Christ. A day or two afterward, when he came to his work in the morning, he found his picture smeared all over with dabs of color, red, and black, and blue, and yellow, and utterly defaced and spoiled. The painter was so angry that he refused to go on with his work till the culprit was found. A watch was set, and then it was discovered who had done it. When the painter had left the chapel, a pet ape of Aretino’s came in, and having during the day seen the artist at work, he took up brush and colors, and began, in mischief or in imitation, to daub over what the painter had executed.

“Whose is this image?” You were made in the image of God, and redeemed by Christ.

“Whose is the image?” You are expected to grow to the stature of the fullness of Christ, to be like Christ, but alas! the Devil, or your evil passions, deface the image, and obliterate the likeness. Can I see anything like Christ in you?

Where are the traces of the divine image? I know what Christ is. “I am meek and lowly of heart” (Matthew 11:29). Where is your meekness? Some ape has daubed self-conceit over it, and I see nothing else but his bold colors.

“He shall not strive nor cry, neither shall any man hear his voice in the street” (Matthew 12:19). Where is this quietness and unobtrusiveness in you? Do I not hear angry words and quarreling? Some ape has daubed out this feature of the Savior.

“I am come not to do mine own will, but the will of Him that sent Me” (John 6:38). Where is this readiness to submit to the will of God? Do I not see an eager following of your own will? Surely, also, this characteristic of the Son of God is effaced.

My brethren, one chief reason why we should see ourselves as we really are is that we might be able by penitence to wipe out the ugly smears that deface the divine image, and that we might go on to perfection, becoming daily more like Him who is our pattern, so that at the Last Day, when we wake up, it will be with the likeness complete, for “we shall be like Him” (1 John 3:2).

“For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29).

O to be like Thee! O to be like Thee,
Blessèd Redeemer, pure as Thou art;
Come in Thy sweetness, come in Thy fullness;
Stamp Thine own image deep on my heart
. ~Thomas O Chisholm (1897)

Copyright © 2014 Alexandra Lee

Photo Credit: East Light, Lincolnshire, England

*Adapted from Sabine Baring-Gould [1834-1924], The Village Pulpit, Volume II. Trinity to Advent / A Complete Course of 66 Short Sermons, or Full Sermon Outlines for Each Sunday, and Some Chief Holy Days of the Christian Year (London: Skeffington & Son, 1886), sermon 60. Quotes, scriptural locations, photos, links, emendations added.

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