Identification of the Godly
"For this is what the high and lofty One says—He who lives forever, whose name is holy: I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is of a contrite and humble spirit." Isaiah 57:15
Here we have a distinct, though brief, description of those whom the high and lofty One inhabits. Contrition and humility are the identifying marks of the particular characters in whom the Holy One dwells.
That description applies to and is common to all the regenerate. "Him who is of a contrite and humble spirit" is not a delineation of a few exceptionally eminent saints who constitute a special class all to themselves—but depicts all who are truly saved. So far from those marks belonging only to certain highly favored souls that have far out-stripped their fellows in spiritual attainments, they are found in every one who has been born again. That is clear from Romans 8:9-11: God indwells all the regenerate, for "if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ—he does not belong to Him"; and compare Galatians 2:20, Ephesians 2:22.
Now if the reader will carefully and honestly examine himself in the mirror of the Word, he should have no difficulty in discovering whether or not those two features are stamped upon him. The Hebrew word for "contrite" means "bruised" or "beaten," as an object that comes under the pestle or hammer. That at once reminds us of Jeremiah 23:29: "Is not my word like as a fire? says the Lord; and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?" Fire in the conscience (Deu 32:22), and a hammer on the heart. When God's Word is applied in power, it convicts the sinner of his awful sinfulness; and when a crucified Christ is revealed to him, he mourns for his sins as one mourns for his only son (Zec 12:10). Contrition then is a feeling sense of the heinousness and loathsomeness of sin. It causes us to grieve over it with godly sorrow.
If sin is hateful to you, if the plague of your heart is your sorest grief, if you mourn over your corruptions—then you have a "contrite" spirit.
But it is rather upon the second of those marks we wish to dwell, for many of God's little ones deprive themselves of legitimate assurance because of ignorance on this subject. A humble spirit or heart is an infallible sign of regeneration, for the unregenerate are proud, self-satisfied, self-righteous. Yet the very mention of the word "humility" seems to cut off many Christians. As they examine themselves, they discover so much pride at work within, that they are quite unable to persuade themselves that they have a humble heart. It seems to them that humility is one thing they most evidently lack. Now it will no doubt be a startling statement—but we unhesitatingly affirm that the great majority of God's people are not less—but far more humble than they suppose. That is a fact, and we propose to now furnish clear and full proof of the same, and in language which we trust the simplest will be able to grasp. Attend closely then to what follows.
FIRST, that the Christian reader possesses a humble heart is plain from the fact that he confesses himself to be a Hell-deserving sinner. We do not have in mind what you think or say of yourself when in the company of your fellows—but rather what you feel and say of yourself when alone with God. Whatever pretenses you are guilty of before men—and none of us can plead guiltless there, for we naturally want people to think well of us and are hurt if they do not—when in the presence of the Omniscient One, you are real, sincere, and genuine. Now, dear reader, be honest with yourself: When on your knees before the Throne of Grace, do you freely and frankly acknowledge that if you received your lawful due, you would even now—be suffering the dreadful fires of Hell? If so, a miracle of grace must have been wrought within you. No unregenerate person will or can honestly make such a confession to God, for he does not feel he has done anything deserving of eternal punishment!
SECOND, if you own that "all your righteous acts are like filthy rags," that is proof you possess a humble heart. Of course, we mean much more than your merely uttering those words as a parrot might, or even singing then during some religious service. We mean that when you are in the presence of the Lord—which is always the surest test—you personally realize that you have nothing whatever of your own to commend you to His favorable regard, that there is not a single meritorious deed standing to your credit before Him.
We mean that, when bowed in His presence, in the calmness and quietness of your prayer-closet, you own without any qualification that your best performances are defiled by sin—and that in yourself, you are a filthy pauper!
If that is indeed your language before God—it most certainly issues from a humble heart. The heart of the natural man thinks and feels the very opposite, and can no more loathe himself—than transform himself into a holy angel.
THIRD, if you receive everything in the Scriptures as a little child—that is another proof that a miracle of grace has been wrought within you and that you now possess a humble heart. By nature, we are "wise and prudent" in our own esteem.
The enmity of the proud carnal mind rises up against the sovereignty of God, making one vessel to honor and another to dishonor; against the spirituality and strictness of the Divine Law, which curses all who deviate the slightest from its holy demands; against the endless punishment of all dying out of Christ. But the regenerate, though there is much they do not understand, accept without murmur or question—all that is revealed in the Word. If you do, that is proof that your pride has been abased before God.
FOURTH, if you mourn over the wretched returns you make unto God, that is further evidence of a humble heart. Nor is this a point difficult to determine. There is no need for you to make a mystery out of it. You know whether you do or do not sorrow over the response you make unto God, for all His goodness unto you. You know whether or not you feel you have ill requited Him, for the multitude of His favors and mercies. You know whether you do or do not grieve over the coldness of your heart, in answer to His loving-kindness; the weakness of your faith, in view of His promises; the feebleness and perhaps the absence of your praise and thanksgiving, for His long-sufferance and faithfulness. If you do make conscience of these things, mourn over them and confess them—though not as feelingly as you ought—that is another proof of a humble heart. As it is faith, and not the strength of it, which saves; so it is such mourning, and not the depth of it, which evidences its spirituality.
FIFTH, if you frankly ascribe to God all the good that is in you—then you have a humble heart. If you freely own that all your springs are in Him, that He has wrought all your works in you (Isaiah 26:12), if you honestly disclaim any credit to yourself for any good thing—then your pride has been slain before God—and that is what most matters! If the language of your heart really is, "by the grace of God, I am what I am" (1 Corinthians 15:10), my "sufficiency is of God" (2 Corinthians 3:5), that He has worked in me both to will and to do of His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13)—then most assuredly, your pride has been subdued. In such case, you will gladly unite in declaring, "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us—but unto your name give glory!" (Psalm 115:1). You will take no credit for—nor should you deny the existence of—a humble heart—but will unhesitatingly give God all the honor and praise for it.
How thankful we should be that Scripture does not say, God dwells only in those who have complete victory over sin, or those who enjoy unbroken and unclouded communion with Him. Had those been the distinguishing features named—then everyone of us might well despair—most certainly, they had excluded or "cut off" this writer. But we say again, a contrite and humble spirit takes in every regenerate soul. And if you, my reader, measuring yourself by what has been pointed out above, can discern such fruits and evidences of contrition and humility—then so far from its being presumptuous for you to look upon yourself as one saved and indwelt by God, it would be most wicked presumption for you to do otherwise.