The only way that we will truly know ourseleves is if God shines His light into our hearts.
Brother Watchman Nee gives a list of some of the well known saints who God gave much light to and how they viewed themselves in the light of God.
From the writings of Watchman Nee:
"The power of this light is the self-knowledge it renders to man. When a man gets into this light, it reveals to him his real condition. Many believers are very self-vindicating, self-satisfied, and full of self-pride. In this condition no human words, explanation, exhortation, warning, or reproof can make them see their own fallen state. Only when God gives grace and shines His light upon them through the Holy Spirit will this kind of person realize how corrupt, fallen, and hypocritical they are. When the light of God comes, everything changes color. In the light of God, everything shows its true color.
Actually, no man can be saved without being shined upon by God. No man can progress in the spiritual path and no man can have an effective work without being shined upon by God.
How can a sinner know that the Lord Jesus is the Savior? Surely not by argument. How can he know that he is a sinner? Surely not by reproof. No matter what method you use, whether arguing with the most logical words, debating with the most sufficient reason, or warning with the most stern words; none of these can make a sinner realize his own sins and see that Jesus is his Savior. I am not saying that all these methods are useless. They have their place. But they can only let people know mentally that they are sinners and that Jesus is the Savior. These methods can never cause them to see. Every sinner is blind, and this kind of blindness keeps him from seeing the true light of the gospel of God. The Holy Spirit opens the sinner's eyes through the light of God, enabling him to see the light of God. Seeing is a special blessing in the New Testament. God reveals His Son in me. This is an experience common to every saved sinner. It is most futile to get people to "receive Christianity," "believe in Jesus," and "become a Christian" by some beautiful thought, reason, warm feeling, emotion, music, tears, or argument. The light of God, the light that God emanates through the Holy Spirit, is the first indispensable element. The basic need is that a sinner must see his own condition and see the glory of Jesus. Getting him to shed tears, repent, be fervent, confess, and have good feelings are all futile. Only seeing in the Holy Spirit can cause a sinner to truly believe and receive the Lord Jesus as Savior. This is because you can never believe in what you have not seen, and you can never receive what you do not see. Because you have seen from within, you believe. Only this kind of faith is unmovable. Only this will withstand trials.
The progress of the Christian life does not depend upon many exhortations, warnings, and teachings. It is not a matter of telling a believer to be fervent, to do his duty, to read more of the Bible, or to pray more. All these are secondary; they are not primary. The primary element is to see. Therefore, when Paul wrote the letter to the Ephesians, though he knew that they were very good in the Lord and were not like the Corinthians who were so fallen morally, the first thing which he prayed for them was that God might enlighten the eyes of their hearts through the Holy Spirit. The progress of the Christian life is due to receiving the light of God, which opens a Christian's eyes and causes him to know the riches of the glory of God, and the greatness of the power of God that is given to him through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If a Christian cannot see these things and does not know how rich these things are which he has received from God, then progress is an impossibility.
Anyone who is doing special work for God must be a person who has been shined upon by God. Only he who has been shined upon by God can judge his flesh. Only he who has judged his own flesh can be used by God. When the light of God comes, a believer is able to see how filthy he is because he has seen the holiness of God. He is able to know how unrighteous he is because he has seen the righteousness of God. He is able to know how corrupt he is because he has seen the glory of God. After a believer has known himself this way, he will be like one who is truly circumcised, not trusting in himself at all (not only not trusting, but deeply hating), but rather depending completely on the Spirit of God. Only this type of worker who is in the hands of God can be used by God. And only this type of worker can have the sight of God, seeing the plan of God and understanding the goal of God.
Because many people do not have the light of God, they consider themselves to be marvelous. Satan often cheats people by making them think that they have already obtained holiness and are sinless. Little do they realize that the reason they say this is because they do not have the light of God; hence, they do not know the corruption of the flesh. I am one who deeply believes in Christ being our life and that He can enable us to completely overcome sins. No Christian can excuse himself by saying that it is impossible for man to refrain from sin on this earth. But even if we are victorious, we cannot say that our flesh is not corrupted. There is a common error today: man either goes to one extreme or to the other. Some think that since they are corrupt, it is impossible for them not to sin. Others think that since they have received Christ to be their victory, sin is eradicated from within them, and therefore, they are no longer corrupt. Actually both of these are wrong. Truthfully, we are victorious in Christ, but we are corrupt in ourselves. A believer can have a life of complete victory over sin through Christ daily, and he can, at the same time, have the feeling every day that he is corrupt to the uttermost. The feeling of decadence and corruption cannot deter his victory because it is Christ overcoming in him and not himself. Likewise, his complete victory cannot remove from him the feeling of total corruption because the corruption of his flesh will not be changed in its nature by the deliverance of Christ.
Because so many have been deceived, thinking in their own small and dim light that they are so holy, sinless, and perfect in love, we need to see how many of the best and deepest saints in the Bible viewed themselves in the light of God.
Job was a righteous man. This was God's remark about him. During the time of his suffering, his three friends thought that he had sinned and had offended God. But he himself denied this and used great efforts to argue with them to prove that he was clean and righteous. We all know that when God revealed Himself to him, the Bible recorded it and said: "I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear; / but now mine eye seeth thee: / wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:5-6). When the light of God came, he realized how despicable he was. The words of man could not make him reprove himself, but the light of God caused him to be humble.
Before God sent Isaiah, He first manifested His own glory to him. In this glory the prophet of God could not but cry: "Woe is me, for I am finished! / For I am a man of unclean lips, / And in the midst of a people of unclean lips I dwell: / Yet I have seen the King, Jehovah of hosts, with my eyes" (Isa. 6:5). Before he saw this vision, Isaiah's lips were unclean, and he was already dwelling in the midst of a people of unclean lips. But he did not feel it, and he probably thought that he could be a prophet serving God. When the bright light of God came, he was able to see the real condition of the people surrounding him. He was also able to see his own real condition, how unclean his mouth was and how unworthy he was to be a mouthpiece for God. So he cried, "Woe is me, for I am finished!" Truly, the holiness of God will bring out our "woe." After he knew himself in this way, the seraphim cleansed his mouth with live coal. Here we see a very good sequence: first uncleanness, then the light of God, then the self-knowledge of uncleanness, then the possibility of being cleansed, and finally the readiness to be sent.
In the Bible there are two persons for whom there is no record of their sins. Daniel is one of them. From this, we know that before God he was pleasing to God. Yet the Bible tells us that when he saw the Lord and was shined upon by God, he said, "No strength was left in me, but my color turned deathly pale; and I retained no strength. Yet I heard the sound of His words; and when I heard the sound of His words, I fell into a deep sleep on my face, with my face to the ground" (Dan. 10:8-9). In the light of God, even the best saint cannot stand up. He had to bow to the ground.
When Habakkuk was shined upon by God, he also had the same experience. He said, "I heard and my body trembled; / My lips quivered at the sound. / Rottenness entered my bones, / And I tremble in my place" (Hab. 3:16).
We know that Peter was a self-approving and self-trusting man. But when God shined a little bit of light through the Lord Jesus, giving Peter a glimpse of himself, he could not help but confess his own uncleanness. We know the story of how the disciples labored the whole night without catching anything. Then the Lord commanded them to cast the net in the deep water. They obeyed and caught many fishes, even filling up two boats. In this way the Lord manifested a ray of His glory and caused Peter to fall down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, Lord" (Luke 5:8).
Paul was the one who fought the good fight, finished his course, and kept the faith. When he was close to departing from this world, he told us, "I am the foremost" of sinners. What we want to note here is that the word "am" in the original language is in the present tense. This tells us how he considered himself at the time close to his death. He considered that the Lord Jesus came into the world to save sinners and that among the sinners he was the chief. He had nothing to boast about. He had no achievements, he had nothing special. He was like the other sinners, saved by the grace of Christ. Not only so, he considered himself to be worse than the others; therefore, he needed the grace of the Lord even more than they. Who has received more of the light of God than Paul? Because the light he received was more than that of the others, his self-knowledge was clearer than that of the others, and his self-judgment was more severe than that of the others. Only those without self-knowledge will consider themselves to be so holy, advanced, and special. The reason that they do not know themselves is because they have not received the light of God.
This disciple whom the Lord loved was closer to the Lord than the others during the time when the Lord hid His glory in His flesh. Recall that he was the disciple who leaned on the Lord's breast. After the Lord's resurrection, he did good works for the Lord for several decades, and the Lord especially used him to write an epistle which specifically talks about fellowship and particularly about the love of God and the light of God. Humanly speaking then, if this disciple saw the light of God, he should not have been so fearful as many others. Yet recall that on the island of Patmos he described the Lord Jesus revealing His glory with the words, "His face shone as the sun shines in its power" (Rev. 1:16); and when he saw Him, he "fell at His feet as dead" (v. 17). There is no one who has seen the light of God who will not fall to the ground.
Not only do we see in the Scriptures how biblical men humbled themselves, confessed their sins, and obtained self-knowledge through seeing the light of God; even from church history, we see that many of the truly holy saints discovered their own weaknesses and corruption because of their closeness to God's light. Of the persons that we are about to cite, who can deny that they are the most outstanding people in the church? Yet how humble is the view they had of themselves. This is due to no other reason than that the closer we come to God, the more we discover our weaknesses. The more we receive the light of God, the more we realize our corruption. Those who are proud and self-approving are that way because they have not seen the light of God.
When he was locked up in prison, he wrote a letter to one who was very powerful in the Roman church, saying, "Probably you may think that I am powerless now. The emperor can easily prohibit the petition of a pitiable monk such as I. However, you have to know that I will surely fulfill the responsibility which the love of Christ has placed upon me. I am not the least afraid of the power of Hades, let alone the Pope and his bishops." But when he saw himself in the light of God, this bravest of all reformers could not help but cry: "I am more afraid of my own heart than of the Pope and all his bishops. Within me there lies the biggest Popethe self!"
This Scot, for the sake of Christ, was a teacher, evangelist, prisoner, slave, wanderer, reformer, and statesman; at the same time, he was a saint of the rarest kind. In his very last prayer, he said: "This prayer is what I, John Knox, with my dying tongue and my whole mind, request of my God." In this prayer, there are the following sentences:
O Lord, have mercy on me, do not judge my innumerable sins; amongst them, may you forgive especially those sins which the world cannot reprove. In my youth, my middle age, and until now, how much conflict have I passed through. I have discovered that within me there is nothing besides falsehood and corruption. O Lord, only You are the Lord who knows the secrets of man's heart. Please remember that of all the sins which I mentioned, not one of them is pleasing to me. I often grieve over them: they are deeply hated by my inner man. Now I weep sorrowfully for my corruption. I can only rest simply in Your mercy.
This is the prayer of a man who has been shined upon by God.
John Bunyan was put in prison for thirteen years because he wanted to preach the gospel. In prison he wrote the well- known book, Pilgrim's Progress. Except for the Bible, Pilgrim's Progress may have the most translations in the world. Spurgeon said of him, "In my view, the style of John Bunyan most resembles the style of the Lord Jesus; no man can come close to him." But when Bunyan wrote about himself, he said,
After my previous repentance, there is again one thing which makes me sad; that is, if I most severely examine the best thing I am now doing, in it I discover sins, new sins mingled in the best thing I do. Therefore now, I cannot help but conclude that no matter how proud of myself and how idealistic I was concerning myself and my work, and even if my former living were without blemish, yet the sins that I commit in a day are enough to send me to hell.
In such a deep feeling of sins, he cried out: "Unless He is such a great Savior, He surely cannot save such a great sinner as I."
This extraordinary evangelist, who is as famous as John Wesley, when he was dying, said:
Oh, may I be able to lie down and die in the labor of my Lord, for I consider it worthwhile to die for this. If I have a thousand bodies, every one of these bodies will be a wandering evangelist for Jesus.
The last time he retired to rest, holding a candle, there was a big flock of people surrounding his doorway, asking him to preach to them once more. He knew that he was dying that day, yet he preached to them until the candle burned out, and then he went upstairs to die. When this man talked about himself, he said:
In the fulfilling of all our responsibilities there is always corruption mixed within it; therefore, after our repentance, if Jesus Christ would only receive us according to our deeds; then our deeds would surely condemn us because we cannot offer a prayer which is as perfect as that required by the moral law of God. I do not know how you might think; but I can say that I cannot pray, I can only sin; I cannot preach to you or to others, I can only sin; I can only say this: even my repentance needs repenting again; even my tears need to be washed in the precious blood of my Redeemer. The best deeds we have are but sins with spectacles.
This very godly person, when he counted his sins, considered that every second he committed at least one sin. That is to say that in ten years, there were more than three hundred million sins. Therefore, he wrote that glorious hymn which caused millions of people, who were tired and oppressed by sin, to find rest"Rock of Ages, cleft for me, / Let me hide myself in Thee"! He wrote:
Oh, is there one as pitiable as I in this world! Besides weakness and sin I have nothing. In my flesh there is no good thing, and how surprising that I could be tempted to view myself so high. The best work I have done in my life only qualifies me to be condemned.
But when he was dying of tuberculosis in London, he leaned his sinful head on the breast of the Savior and said, "I am the happiest man in this world."
He was a very spiritual man who was greatly used by the Lord. Whenever he preached, countless people wept for their sins, as if pricked in their hearts, and asked forgiveness of the Savior. He was a most honest man, so he wrote the following very humbly:
I often feel most deeply how I myself am filled with sins and filth; very often because this feeling is too strong, I cannot help but cry aloud. Sometimes I cry for so long, so that I have no alternative but to lock myself up often. Now I feel very deeply the wickedness of myself and the corruption of my heart, even more severely than before my conversion. Speaking of myself, I have long felt that my wickedness is completely incurable; it fills my thoughts and imaginations. Yet at the same time I feel that my sensitivity toward sins is too little and too slight; I am surprised that I actually cannot have more sensitivity toward sins. What I most hope for now is to be able to have a contrite heart and to most humbly prostrate myself before God."