Thomas Charles, 1838
"You shall be as gods, knowing good and evil." Genesis 3:5
The temptation by which Satan ruined our first parents, he too successfully applies daily to us, their wretched posterity. "God knows," said he, that in the day you eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened; and you shall be as gods, knowing good and evil." It seems as if this were verified in the event; for "the Lord God said: Behold, man is become as one of us, to know good and evil."
Before the fall man knew nothing, as to good, but the will of his Creator; and it was enough for him implicitly to follow that. But since that direful event, he has become independent of God, and chooses for himself; "He has become like one of us," says God, "to know good and evil." Instead of being a child, provided for by his Father, under his care and protection—he has become his own master, and his own physician, choosing good and rejecting evil, according to his own inclination. Thus he set up, as it were, for himself—a spirit of independence had taken possession of his soul.
This is the spirit which constitutes essentially the character of Satan himself. "Whence do you come?" said the Lord to him. His answer was, "From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it;" boldly intimating, that he acknowledged no superior, and was his own master, going where he would, and doing what he pleased—yes, even boasting as if the earth was his own, and that here none could control him, or at least had a right to do so.
We, as Satan's children, faithfully bearing his image, and exactly copying his example—are under the influence of the same independent spirit. And were the Lord to put the same question to us, our answer, if according to truth, must be similar—we go to and fro, live to ourselves, and do what we please, as independently of God as if there were no such Being. Thus we are like Satan. We are practical atheists, seeking for sufficiency and comfort in ourselves, and not in God—in the creature, and not in the Creator. No temper or frame of mind can be more opposite to God than this, or further from true godliness.
While this self-sufficiency influences the heart, there is an utter impossibility of any reconciliation between us and God. "God resists the proud." And hence our Savior says, "Except you are converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of Heaven." We must be "converted", and become what man was at his creation, "as little children"—that is, dependent on God, submissive to his will, seeking all our happiness in him alone, being contented, that he should forever be the source of all our happiness, and that he should communicate it in the time, way, and degree he pleases.
When thus converted, we, as the creatures of God, become humble in spirit, and, as forgiven sinners, we become contrite in heart. And in this frame we are to walk with God, and he will dwell in us: "for thus says the High and Lofty One, who inhabits eternity, whose name is holy, I dwell in the high and holy place; with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones." Here the religion of Christ begins—our progress in the divine life is always measured by our progress in humility. Humility is the strength and ornament of all other graces—it is the food that nourishes them; it is the soil in which they grow.
Though the whole scheme of gospel salvation in every view of it, and all the different providential dispensations of God towards us, are directly calculated to hide pride from man; yet so deeply rooted is this spirit of independence and self-sufficiency in our hearts, that nothing but the effectual operations of the Holy Spirit can bring us to possess the humility of creatures, and the contrition of sinners. As creatures, we would possess all-sufficiency for happiness in ourselves; and, as sinners, we would be even our own Saviors, sufficient to rescue ourselves from sin and guilt, from destruction and misery.
This seems to be intimated by the words, "Behold man has become as one of us, to know good and evil"—as one of us, in the plural number—as if the whole Trinity, in themselves essentially considered, and also in their various relations to us, as Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, were rejected, and man sought for sufficiency, relief, and happiness in himself only.
This seems farther intimated in the latter part of the verse, "And now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat and live forever; therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden to until the ground from whence he was taken." These words plainly set forth a total rejection of God and his will, and a strange and a willful propensity to seek a remedy for his misery, the consequence of his disobedience, in a way of his own finding out. He would still live, though he had sinned; and he thought he had sagacity sufficient to provide effectual means to prevent the execution of the threatening.
But how vain were his contrivances, and how miserably was he disappointed! Cherubim, and a flaming sword, which turned every way, were placed at the east of the garden of Eden, to keep the way of the tree of life.
Nothing, therefore but renouncing his own wisdom and strength, and submitting wholly to God, and embracing the way he is pleased to provide, can save him from the threatened ruin. He turned himself from God, to seek his comfort and his happiness in the creature—but behold, the whole earth, and all things in it, are cursed for man's sake—and its productions were to be thorns and thistles.
To prevent death, man would eat of the tree of life—but behold, the cherubim and a flaming sword stop his way. What then can he do, but miserably perish, except his willful and independent spirit be broken down, his pride humbled, and he be brought to lie at the foot of divine mercy?
Here is the difficulty: man's whole nature as corrupted, is wholly bent on seeking happiness for and in himself, separate from God. He knows not how to deny his own will, or discard his own wisdom and his own strength, or oppose his worldly lusts, which wholly lead him from God—besides, the way which God has provided for his happiness and salvation in Christ, is so extremely humiliating, that nothing but a total renunciation of himself in every view can ever enable him to embrace it. How can the pride and independent spirit of man stoop to this?
Here is the main controversy between man and God. Man would still be as God, knowing good and evil; and God cannot but unchangeably determine to bring down this idol, that He may be all in all. And if God saves man at all, it is inconsistent with his very nature, and opposite to all his holy perfections, to save him, but in a way, which effectually hides pride from man. He must cast down every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bring very thought captive to the obedience of Christ; so that he who glories, shall glory only in the Lord. We see this independent spirit working in various and opposite ways, but all leading further from God, and directly calculated to set up this idol, man.
I. We see the great body of mankind with their faces universally set towards the world, and their vigor exerted in one general race after the things of the world.
And what is this strong principle, which universally prevails, and actuates the whole mass? Every one seems as if he would have the whole world to himself—and were the whole in his possession, it would be too little to satisfy his insatiable desires. To what purpose is this bustle and striving? Why all these contentions and jarrings? Is it not, because man would have something to depend on, and to support himself by, independently of God? He would be as God—able to supply himself with the means of comfort and happiness. He will not depend on God; but he would prove for himself good and evil.
That this is the principle, which so vigorously operates within, must appear abundantly evident to us, if we for a moment consider: Why it is that we desire so earnestly to have our comforts and safety in our own hands. Is it not, because we think them not so sure, or so satisfactorily placed as we wish they should be, in the hands of God? What would the carnally-minded give, could he but have his life and health at his own disposal, to keep and enjoy them at his own pleasure? When he is sick or poor, how far preferable does it appear to him, to be able to be his own physician, or to supply his own needs, than to receive both from the Almighty. But why does he think so? Is it not, because he likes not to depend on God? Is it not, because he would be independent of Him? And as worldly things are the means, which bid fairest to help him in his ungodly pursuits—he thinks that he never can have enough.
But, alas! all is insufficient. He is still disappointed; and therefore he is full of impatience, murmurings, and complaints. The support that he seeks, independently of God, is still lacking—and pride being disappointed, impatience corrodes his vitals, of which murmurings and complaints are the natural expressions and effects. We would be as gods, possessing all fullness and sufficiency in ourselves—and when we cannot be what we would—not so rich, not so great, not such gods as we wish and attempt to be, then our pride bursts forth in impatience, discontent, rage and misery!
But when God brings us to himself, he effectually teaches us to deny this ungodliness. and our worldly lusts. He crucifies us to the world, and brings us to forsake all that we have, in which we put confidence, and from which we seek any happiness. What He will take away, He will again restore suddenly and unexpectedly, and thereby convince us that we have all every moment from Him. He will embitter every blessing, and make us know and feel the misery of departing from Him. He will convince us, that there is no happiness to be found but in himself only. And when He gives us all things richly to enjoy, he will teach us at the same time to use all, not for ourselves, but for Him, "for whom, through whom, and to whom are all things."
In short, He will be our God, and will act in everything as such towards us, and will bring us to live upon him, and to him; and not upon the creature, and to ourselves. And when we become possessed of the humble frame and temper of dependent creatures—then murmurings and complaints, impatience and disquietude, will all be banished—and we shall receive all good and evil things with holy submission and humble thankfulness, being abundantly satisfied, that the Lord is our God.
II. The same spirit that exerts itself in opposition to God's providential dispensations as to our state and circumstances in this world, is found quarreling also with God's gracious dealings with our souls, especially in young converts.
Sensibly feeling the heavy load of guilt on their consciences, they become impatient in their distress, and cannot bear the yoke which the Lord has put upon them; but as Rachel said, "give me children, or I die!" so they cry, 'give us peace, or we perish!' They being in a degree unhumbled, a secret but a stubborn rising of self-righteous pride will manifest itself in various ways—such as secret anger at heart, because they are thus and thus—a sullenness, like a person disappointed, because they cannot be as they would—a desperate willfulness in complaining and in refusing comfort—and an aptness to fly in the face of God, and say, 'why has he thus dealt, or why does he thus deal with us?'
And with these peevish and violent workings of pride, the devil joins at the same time with all his force, setting forth everything in the most discouraging light, and insinuating, that there is little or no prospect of things being better.
In the mean time, unbelief is also raging; deliverance seems hardly possible; all the means of it seem insufficient; so many things stand in the way—such corruptions within, such difficulties without, and such guilt remaining. The soul is ready to sink under the burden, being almost determined to give up all for lost.
In such inward workings of our minds, there is more of pride, and of an unhumbled spirit, dissatisfied with the sovereign pleasure of God respecting our condition, than we are apt to imagine! Being in such a spirit, do we not seek, and as it were, demand peace and comfort, as if they were our right—rather than the free and undeserved gifts of God? If not, why are we fretful and uneasy under delays? why do we presumptuously expostulate, 'Why is he so long in coming?' If we narrowly examine our deceitful hearts, I doubt not, but that we shall find unhumbled pride at the bottom of all this impatience.
In proportion as this spirit prevails—is our utter unfitness to receive any gospel-blessing or comfort from the Lord. God never bestows His blessings, until He has brought us into a suitable frame to receive them. "God gives grace to the humble"—to those whom He has emptied of their pride and self-sufficiency. When effectually humbled, they are easily satisfied with His dealings with them. Then every mercy bestowed appears, as truly it is, great and undeserved—and the language of the soul is, "I deserve less than the least of all your mercies."
We would be as gods; but the Lord will make us know,
that He is the Being to whom absolute sovereignty belongs;
that He cannot be limited, nor have His ways prescribed to Him. He will have us to exercise absolute submission and acquiescence in all His dealings and dispensations towards us.
"O Lord," said David, "you are my God; my times are in your hands"—his times of trouble and of peace, of darkness and of light, he acknowledged, with acquiescence and thankfulness, to be in the hand and at the disposal of God, and that it was his place humbly to wait the Lord's time and season for the enjoyment of his comforts and for the light of his countenance.
Nothing indeed can be well with us, until we are brought to this frame of mind—until we are satisfied that the Lord should carve for us both in temporal and spiritual things, until we are willing to bear his chastisements and thankfully to receive his comforts—when, and however he is pleased to send either the one or the other.
But when we are made willing, that the Lord should in every thing be God to us—we cannot but succeed in the end; and though we may have to wait for the vision—yet it will assuredly come, and will not tarry, and will fully answer our largest expectations. "Sorrow may endure for a night; but joy comes in the morning." "You have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord, that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy."
Hence we see, how this spirit of pride and independence operates, with respect to spiritual as well as earthly things—and that it can feed on one as well as on the other. It is indeed changed in its form, and pursues its end in a different course; but it is the old man still, setting up for himself, though he wears the appearance of the new man in Christ. It is still Satan, though he is transformed into an angel of light.
III. Often when this spirit ceases to seek worldly riches, it tries to be supported, if possible, by religious wealth—and the man, if he cannot be a God to himself, will at least be his own Savior.
The young man in the gospel who went away from Christ very sorrowful, because he was very rich—and the Pharisee in the parable—were influenced by the same spirit, equally opposite to and distant from God. The one was rich in temporal things, and the other, as he thought, in spiritual things; each being a god to himself, possessing in himself all fullness and sufficiency. "I thank you that I am not as other men," are the words of the Pharisee's lips; and, "I am rich and increased with goods, and have need of nothing," is the language of his heart. Well might the Lord say, "Behold man has become as one of us"—for who but God has such a fullness and sufficiency in himself, as to have need of nothing. But here, in religion, this spirit is of all things the most detestably odious in the sight of God. There is no creature in the universe so abominable to him—as the one who tries to support his own pride and independence, by a mask of religion and a form of godliness.
But alas! this is the sum and substance of the religion of many showy professors. Influenced by this principle, they will go about, for many years, seeking, with no small labor and pain, to establish their own righteousness, unwilling through the pride of their hearts to submit to the righteousness of God provided by Christ Jesus. "They have not submitted", says the apostle, "to the righteousness of God." They were religious, yes, eminently zealous in religion; but they had not, and they would not, submit to the humbling scheme of the gospel.
Such are, through the pride of their hearts, unwilling to be convinced that they are altogether unprofitable, and wholly destitute of all strength to do any part of God's will—this being so totally and so directly opposite to the principle of pride and independence within them. But if they imagine that they can be saved by establishing a righteousness of their own, and live independently of God, without being indebted to his mercy—this persuasion sets at once all the springs of the soul in motion; and this flattering but vain hope drives them about in an endless round of religious performances, to establish their own righteousness. To submit to a righteousness purely outside of them, on the mere testimony of God—they know not how; a proud heart is unwilling, and savors it not. But to establish their own righteousness, is a way of being saved, which appears highly rational, requires no great degree of self-denial, and is consistent with the utmost vanity of their hearts—they may thus still be as gods, knowing and possessing good in and for themselves. And thus, while in the midst of the utmost poverty and misery, they would imagine themselves rich and increased with goods, and live, as to any dependence of heart upon God for spiritual blessings, "without God in the world".
IV. Even in those who have submitted to the righteousness of God, and put on Christ in sincerity, this spirit of pride and independence will still exert itself.
It will strive in various ways to keep them from simply relying, as altogether guilty, on him, who is made of God unto us righteousness—and it is not without the greatest difficulty that they are brought, in the face of sin and guilt, to rejoice wholly in the Lord their righteousness. When led to see their own righteousness as filthy rags, and driven from placing any confidence in the flesh—in their own doings—they are still anxious to possess something in themselves, on which to depend and build their hopes of acceptance with God. They will be tempted to look to the work of the Spirit in the heart, and make it the foundation—which can never be anything but the superstructure.
Christ, in his obedience and death, is the only sure foundation for sinners, as to pardon and acceptance with God. "Other foundation can no man lay, than that which is laid, which is Christ Jesus." The holiest saint stands in equal need of it, with the most profligate sinner; and to eternity it must be the sole stay and support of the spirits of just men made perfect. The building on this foundation is holiness and obedience. But if care is not taken, the natural pride of man will place the superstructure in the place of the foundation, or at least will attempt to put partly as the foundation some of those materials are fit only for the construction of the building.
Thus holiness is apt to degenerate into self-righteousness; and what God gives for sanctification, we are in danger of applying for justification. We are such Pharisees by nature, that we know not how to feel grace, and at the same time, believe, as if we had none—to rest simply on Christ's righteousness, without the addition of anything in us, either of outward performances or of inward grace. But we are still found mixing something of our own with the foundation—it must be with some cement of our own graces, duties or endeavors.
But the attempt is utterly fruitless. These things are wholly distinct in themselves, and must be distinctly managed by the soul in its dealings with God. The confounding of them by pride will only dishonor the grace of God, disturb our peace, and weaken our strength for obedience—as well as keep us from that humble posture which at all times befits us as sinners. This principle of self-righteousness must be mortified, before we can walk humbly with God, and before we can be brought from everything without or within us—to rest simply for favor and acceptance with God, on Him in whom the Father is well pleased.
Not only is the foundation laid in mere grace, but the top-stone will be brought forth with shouting, "Grace, grace!" The Lord alone must and shall be exalted; and we shall be brought to count all things but loss and dung for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ. Not only shall nothing be exalted for our justification before God besides Him; but nothing shall be exalted with Him; for "the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day."
To correct this self-righteous spirit, the Lord often plunges his own people into the ditch, and causes their own clothes to abhor them—when, it may be, they have washed themselves in snow-water, and thought their hands clean. He takes off the restraint from some one or another of their corruptions—allows the world and the devil, with their temptations to assail them, until feeling still more their sinfulness and misery, they abhor themselves and repent in dust and ashes, and are more frequent and earnest in their applications to his blood which cleanses from all sin, and are brought to exalt "the Lord alone" in their hearts, and to rejoice in "the Lord their righteousness."
V. Are we not become as gods to ourselves, when in our own strength we address ourselves to our work, face difficulties, and encounter temptations?
Is it not natural to us thus to act independently of the Almighty? Do we not, even the best of us, find ourselves every day, almost in everything—acting as if we had an all-sufficiency of might and power in ourselves, and as if our own arms were to bring us salvation? And in this case may not the Lord well say, "Behold man has become as one of us?" We are in a manner become insensible, that "in Him we live, move, and have our being," but act as if we had everything in ourselves.
In Him alone, we can live comfortably and usefully. Whatever we do in life that is great and is profitable to ourselves or others, we have all our strength and abilities for it, in every view—from Him. If we resist the devil, overcome the world, subdue the flesh, or live to God—we live in every sense in Him. In Him also we move—all the motions of the soul and body are from Him entirely every moment. Not one motion of any single part of the body can we for an instant command without his permission—without his aid. Nor can there be in our minds, in the least degree, any spiritual motions of our thoughts, or any holy workings of our affections towards God—but what proceed every moment, in every degree, from Him. In Him we live, move, and have our being—both temporally and spiritually.
But in what heart dwells the practical belief of this? Are we not living, in this sense also, without God in the world? Where are those who are practically sensible, that, without continued influences and aids from above—we have, the best of us, wisdom for no work, no strength for no duty, no success under no trial, and no victory over no enemy? Are we not found making weak attempts for duties, fruitless struggles against temptations, until almost overcome; before we are made truly sensible of our own weakness, and apply to the Lord for strength?
What wonder is it, if in this case we hear people complaining, that they cannot do this work, or overcome that temptation. If they could, would they not set up the idol, man, and "sacrifice to their own net?" God is determined in every thing to bring man out of himself. So far therefore as we depend on ourselves—so far we are sure to be disappointed.
It is our pride and self-sufficiency, and not our weakness—which gives any inward or outward enemy the victory over us. In proportion as we are truly humble—God gives effectual grace to help us in every time of need.
If denying ourselves, our own schemes, contrivances, and our own strength—we steadfastly look to Him for deliverance under trials, difficulties, and temptations—then we shall infallibly obtain effectual relief, and experience his grace alone to be sufficient for us. But if, on the contrary, we forsake the Lord, and confidently rely on ourselves—what wonder is it, if, falling like Peter, when in a similar frame of mind, we be woefully taught how weak we are.
"I am ready," said Peter, "to follow you, not only to prison, but to death! Though all should forsake you—yet I will not!" This was talking at a very high rate indeed; and it was a language very unsuitable in the mouth of one who had been told, a little time before, that without Christ he "could do nothing." He was ready, it seems, and had everything necessary in himself, to endure trials, enter dungeons, and face death in its most terrible forms. Yes, he had more strength than all the rest, "Though all should forsake you—yet I will not!" Surely he had forgotten what and who he was!
Peter doubtless had, on many former occasions, stood up boldly in the face of Christ's enemies, preached the Gospel in his name with success wherever his Master had sent him. What—he fall, who had stood so long and done so much? He deny Christ—who had so often owned and confessed him before man—before enemies! But he forgot the hand that supported him, and the grace that strengthened him, otherwise he would have said, as on a former occasion, "Lord, save me—or I perish." Pride blinded his eyes, so that he saw not the invisible hand which had hitherto kept him from falling. Secretly puffed up, he thought that there was no doubt of his courage. But in proportion to his dependence on himself, was his dreadful fall—for in this case, as he would seek none, so he could receive no help from above to keep him from falling.
Whoever, like Peter, thinks he stands—let him, above all others, take heed lest he fall.
The everlasting arms being in this case neglected, and he confiding in a bruised reed—a fall is the sure consequence. "Cursed be the man who trusts in man"—in himself or in any other creature—"and makes flesh his arm; and whose heart departs from the Lord."
The outcome of things will assuredly prove him to be cursed, and awfully convince him, that in departing from the Lord—he forsakes his own safety, exposes himself to every evil, and becomes a prey to every enemy. God is determined in everything, to bring man out of himself. As he is not to live to himself, neither is he to live upon himself; but to live to and upon God—that the comfort may be ours, and the glory entirely the Lord's!
VI. Are we not become as gods, when we take and keep to ourselves, the praise and glory due to God only?
Everything that is good, done in us or by us—every good thought, desire, word, or work—proceeds immediately from God; and to Him all the glory is due. But are our hearts freely disposed to render to God the things that are God's? Or are we not secretly prone to value and commend ourselves, as if we had done something? "They sacrifice to their own net," says the Prophet, "and burn incense to their dragnet." Instead of seeing the hand of God in them—they ascribe their successes, victories, and prosperity to their own schemes and contrivances—to their own diligence and power.
But see the contrary spirit of sincere humility, conspicuously shining in the whole of Paul's conduct. Whatever good was found in him, or done by him, he ascribes the glory and praise of all to God, "the giver of every good and perfect gift." He styles himself "less than the least of all saints," and "the chief of sinners"—no doubt feeling inwardly at the same time, what he expressed. Though his whole life was one continued exertion in the Lord's service—and though he labored more abundantly than all the rest of the Apostles—yet the genuine language of his heart at all times was, "By the grace of God, I am what I am"—"not I, but the grace of God which was with me." Here we see him where he ought to be, as a creature and as a sinner—he is nothing—and God is all in all, and must have all the glory.
To say of the Apostle's expressions is easy, but it is not so easy to feel what he felt, and to lie down in the same dust and ashes in which he lay. Often a great show of humility in speech and behavior, covers the rankest and most diabolical pride in the heart—but the veil is so thin, that its motions are easily seen by those who have their senses exercised to discern between good and evil. But how many deceive themselves in this matter, being unable or unwilling to distinguish between the shadow and the substance! Many think themselves most humble, when at the same time they are wholly devoid of the humble air and deportment of those who are guided and led to a behavior befitting humility, by the vigor of a lowly spirit within; but are filled, it may be, with the glory of their own humility, and exalted to Heaven with the high opinion of their self-abasement. Their humility is without one spark of gratitude to God, or any disposition to give Him the glory.
The deceitfulness of the heart, and the subtlety of Satan, in no one thing appears so great, as in the workings of pride. Nor have we in anything, more cause for continual watchfulness, than pride. Nothing is so subtle, so secret, so insinuating—as pride! It often surprises us at an unexpected hour—and is in actual possession of us, before we are aware of its approach. It will feed on the ashes of other sins, and gain strength by the exercise of real grace and of true humility. And though nothing so effectually tends to mortify pride and bring us to our proper place, as creatures and as sinners, as a great degree of the Divine presence, and much communion with God—yet great temptations to pride do also hence arise.
Though the experience of such favors effectually mortifies pride in one way—yet it affords an occasion to it in another. We are in danger of worshiping ourselves as saints—when we have denied ourselves as sinners—so apt are we to forget ourselves, and overlook our unworthiness, through the enjoyment of distinguishing blessings!
The circumstances and situation of the angels who fell, most directly tended to suppress pride in every shape—yet, though they had no principle of pride in them, their high honors and privileges wholly overset and eternally ruined them by this temptation.
The Apostle Paul also, though, as we have seen, so eminent for humility, was not without great danger from this spiritual enemy. After his admission into the third Heaven, where doubtless he had such glorious discoveries of the Divine majesty, as tended most effectually to make and keep him humble—yet even then he needed a "thorn in the flesh, lest through the abundance of revelations he should be exalted above measure."
Reflecting upon, and talking about, former experiences, without the grace of those experiences in exercise—is what pride would be continually engaged in, and is often the beginning of our ruin, and the first step towards our downfall. In this case God himself is out of sight; and the effects of his presence and power are only contemplated—and thus we are effectually turned from the Creator to the creature, and are as great idolaters, as if we worshiped stocks and stones!
It is no greater idolatry to worship the Devil, than it is to worship an angel; nay, to be as gods to ourselves, when renewed by grace, is more abominable and detestably odious in the sight of God, than it was in our natural state of blindness and alienation from him; because our motives to humility must be clearer, more powerful and more numerous, and because we are returning to the place from whence we were taken—in opposition to all the light, knowledge, undeserved goodness and mercy, which have been bestowed upon us.
To talk much about ourselves, of our own experiences and discoveries, though under pretense of giving glory to God—is a sure proof that we are as gods to ourselves, and that we would have others filled with admiration of the distinguishing favors we enjoy, and have them know what eminent saints we are. This was the very spirit of the Pharisee in the parable. In words he gave glory to God, for making him to differ, "God, I thank you, that I am not as other men." He was not as other men—he was distinguished with divine favors, and was far more eminent in holiness and piety than all others. It is true, he acknowledges that God made him to differ; but then his mind dwells on the difference itself, until he is swollen bigger than all mankind put together! To ascribe all in words to the grace of God in Christ—in no degree prevents our thinking highly of our attainments and holiness; nor is it any proof that we are emptied of the pride and vanity of our natural minds.
Were we under the continual influence of a humble spirit, our attainments in religion would not be so apt to glitter in our own eyes—nor would we be so forward in admiring and talking about our own loveliness and beauty—but we would be more apt to consider ourselves as little children in grace, and our attainments to be those of babes in Christ. We should be daily ashamed of, and sorely lament, our great blindness and ignorance of God, our astonishing ingratitude, and the coldness of our love to him. Until we are brought to this state of true humility, taking shame to ourselves, and giving glory to God in and for everything—we cannot possibly enjoy communion with God, and growth in grace cannot possibly take place. Real humility takes nothing to itself, but sin and shame. Real humility gives all the glory to God, who is the Giver of every good and perfect gift.
From what has been said, it appears that the spirit of pride and independence is eminently the work of the devil within our souls. It enters into the very essence of every other corruption, and is the life and soul of every other sin; and, until this is brought down and mortified, no work of God can be going on within, nor can any grace grow and thrive. In every single thought, desire, or action, which is not agreeable to God's mind and will—we are setting ourselves in opposition to and above God, as being gods to ourselves.
To destroy this spirit, is eminently the work of Christ, who came to destroy the works of the devil. Until this spirit be pulled down, the strong man armed is in his stronghold; and we are in open rebellion against Heaven. The destruction of this, is the life and strength of submission and obedience to God, of dependence on Him, and resignation to his will—and without its being destroyed, there can be neither obedience to the Law, nor submission to the Gospel; God can have no place in our hearts, nor will his ways meet with our approbation.
To bring us to live on God, and to him, as his creatures, and to make us willing to be saved by him as sinners—are things that are indispensable—and we are no further living to God or saved, than we are thus truly humbled.
Accordingly every dispensation of God towards us, both of providence and grace, has an immediate and direct tendency to bring man, in every view, out of himself, and to lay him in the dust. When we are froward and willful, determined to have our own wills and our own ways—God has a thousand ways to make us know ourselves, and to convince us that he alone is God. He will cause troubles, crosses, and disappointments, to meet us everywhere, and in everything. If one light cross will not teach us to deny ourselves—then he will double it in number and quantity, and will continue to chastise us, until we submit and acknowledge that he is God. And if the dispensations of providence have not this beneficial influence over us, that is, to bring us out of ourselves, to God—then they are worse than unprofitable and useless, they are a curse and not a blessing.
God's gracious dealings with us, by his Spirit, have also the same effectual tendency and influence—to bring us down, to convert us, and to make us as little children. "The weapons of our warfare", says the apostle, "are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling-down of strongholds, casting down imaginations and every high thought that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ."
God by his providential dealings, brings us as creatures—to live on his fullness and all-sufficiency as our Creator. By the influence of his Spirit, by the way of grace—he brings us as sinners to receive and live on the Savior and the salvation he has provided. There is not one single blessing of the gospel that can be received, but by a humble spirit. Nor can we be partakers of the consolations of Christ, but in proportion as this humble spirit prevails.
That we may receive strong consolation, and that Christ may be to us all in all—"every high" thing must be cast down, and every thought must be brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. And when the gospel is made to us the power of God unto salvation—herein does its power most eminently show itself, to the everlasting glory of the Savior, and to our own growth in true holiness, peace and joy!