Thomas Charles, 1838
"Who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?" 1 Corinthians 4:7
In all the works of God—order, beauty, and proportion, are evidently to be seen—every particular part contributes to the beauty of the whole. This is remarkable in the human frame, as well as in every object which we behold. The different parts are beautifully ordered, connected, and proportioned.
The new man in Christ is no less perfect and beautiful. A Christian is not a monster in form—but all his component parts have their being and growth together; they are beautifully connected and proportioned. Like the different members of the same body, all the graces of the spirit are connected with the head, that is, Christ. All the graces receive their supplies from him; grow together; and gain strength in some degree. It is true, one grace may be called forth into exercise more than another, and thereby gain more strength; yet all the other graces are influenced by it, and grow in some proportion to it. No one grace grows alone.
For instance, the grace of knowledge cannot but influence our faith and love, our humility and repentance, our patience and meekness, etc. If it is the grace and fruit of the Spirit, all the other graces will be influenced by it, and bear some proportion in their growth.
In like manner, all those graces which more immediately act towards God—will be accompanied with those corresponding graces which influence our conduct towards mankind. As our love to God is—so is our love to man. If we are humble before God—then we are humble also in our outward conduct towards our fellow-creatures. If we are thoroughly sensible that we have nothing but what we daily receive—then our conduct towards those from whom God by superior gifts has distinguished us, will be suitable to this sense of our poverty. It is in vain to pretend, that we are duly humbled before God, and that we are sensible of our spiritual poverty—if our conduct towards man is proud and haughty!
This is the subject to be now particularly handled, that is: that true humility and a genuine sense of our poverty before God, will effectually influence our conduct towards all our fellow-creatures—and that the one, as it is the effect of the other, so it proves its truth and reality.
If we truly believe that we receive everything good from God—then we cannot boast as if we did not receive it. In proportion as we believe this, we cannot boast in ourselves in any respect—but in God alone, the giver of every good and perfect gift.
Have we grace? We have received it. Do we believe this? Then we cannot boast against those who have it not—but our conduct towards them will be full of modesty and humility, of pity and compassion.
Are we eminently distinguished by useful and ornamental gifts? Are those gifts and our labors abundantly blessed? All these are from God—but do we really believe this? If so, we shall not despise those who have them not—but we shall with all humility and industry employ them for the glory of God, and for the good of others. If we believe that we have received everything from God—then we shall not find it possible to take anything to ourselves, but shame; for there is nothing that we can call our own, but sin.
As to our understanding, all that is in it which is ours, is its darkness. As to our hearts, all that belongs to us, is their wickedness and deceitfulness. If our hands and tongues have done any good—then God has so employed them. All the light that is in our minds—is from the Father of lights. All that is good in our hearts, comes down from above. There is nothing which is our own, but sin and shame; and if we glory in ourselves, we must glory in our shame.
That we may better know ourselves, and know the spirit we are of, I shall endeavor to throw some light on the subject, by contrasting the different workings of pride and humility, as they show themselves in divine things. These two principles influence the mind to think differently, the tongue to speak differently, and the whole man to act differently. They are exactly opposite to each other in all their workings.
I. Pride and humility THINK differently.
Pride is apt to think poorly of others; but humility leads a man to think poorly of himself.
While pride is observing the defects of others, their coldness and deadness, their ignorance and weakness, and is ready to condemn them without mercy; humility has work enough at home; is most jealous of itself, and most suspicious of the deceit of the heart which it occupies. The humble man knows that in him dwells no good thing. He sees sin so prevalent, and has so much to do to watch against all its motions, that he cannot at the same time attend much to others. His complaints are against himself; and with sincere grief he laments his own coldness and deadness, his great unfruitfulness and slow progress in the divine life. He is ready to think others better than himself, and is willing to hope, that there is no one so barren and so devoid of love and gratitude as himself.
Humility makes a man to see the good of others—and the evil that is in himself; and while he aggravates his own sins and deficiencies—he sets forth what is good in others to the best advantage.
If duty calls the truly humble man to mark and reprove sin in any of his brethren, he does it with humility, and restores him who is overtaken in a fault in the spirit of meekness.
With what humility and gentleness did our Savior reprove his disciples, when they showed such coldness towards him in his hour of distress? "What! could you not watch with me one hour? The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak"—making an apology for them, at the same time that he reproved them. In proportion as the mind which was in Christ is in us, our conduct will be the same. But as the heart is best known by the fruits it produces, let us therefore note:
II. Pride and humility TALK differently.
The language of pride is severe—but that of humility is compassionate.
The one is bitter—the other is mild and gentle.
The one is contemptuous—the other is loving.
Pride speaks of the sins of others—the enmity of some, the formality of others, and the delusions of the third; and speaks of them with bitterness and contempt, and it may be, with ridicule.
But humility speaks, if it must speak at all, with compassion and godly sorrow, and with fervent prayer for them—well knowing, that if there is any difference between him and the vilest sinner on earth—it was grace which made the difference. The truly humble person, in all that he says and does—clothes himself with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. He makes allowance for other's faults, and forgives anyone who offends him. As humility prevails, bitterness and wrath, anger and evil-speaking, along with all malice—will be rooted out; and the opposite graces of love, kindness and pity to all mankind, will govern the mind and guide the tongue.
Pride is apt to be revengeful and malicious—but true humility is the spirit of Christ, "who, when they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly." He conquered . . .
enmity with love,
pride with humility,
persecution with prayer, and
all contemptuous treatment with, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
It was the meekness of the lamb, and not the rage of the lion, that triumphed over all the rage and malice of men! The Apostles of the Lamb fought also with the same weapons. "Being reviled—we bless;" says Paul, "being defamed—we entreat; being persecuted—we suffer it". Intent on their Master's business, they passed by unnoticed, the injurious treatment they met with. By meekness and patient continuance in well-doing, their enemies were disarmed and vanquished; and the honor and interest of the gospel were greatly promoted.
Indeed nothing so highly adorns the gospel, and so effectually brings down God from Heaven in behalf of his people, as this spirit of meekness and patience under sufferings. When Aaron and Miriam, stirred up by envy, opposed Moses the servant of God; it is particularly observed of him at the time, that "he was meek above all men on the face of the earth"—doubtless because he then gave an eminent proof of his meekness; and God as eminently appeared in his vindication.
Christian fortitude does not consist in vehement passions and bitter invectives—but in maintaining steady calmness, meekness, and benevolence of mind, in the midst of all the rage and tumult of the world. It most eminently distinguishes itself in opposing and suppressing our spiritual and most dangerous enemies within, when occasions offer themselves from without, to stir up their natural fury, and give them some hopes of success.
Many a self-confident professor, under the influence of pride, may, without any fear, expose himself to the enmity of the world—for by thus losing the favor of the world, he knows that be will be more powerfully recommended to those of his own party and persuasion.
But Christian fortitude, guided by humility, operates universally against all difficulties—against the smiles of friends as well as against the frowns of enemies. A single eye to God guides him in all, regardless of consequences on the one hand and on the other. The contempt of friends is far more difficult to be borne, than the hatred of the bitterest enemies. And the duty which calls us to this trial of being neglected by our friends, of being despised and disregarded by our party—is a more convincing proof of our faithfulness to Christ, than our forwardness in exposing ourselves to the reproach of opposers.
When I have heard some talking of the persecutions they had met with, and the difficulties they had to pass through, with malignity of spirit and with contemptuous triumph—I have been often much grieved, and thought that such language ill suited the humble servants of a humble Master, and savored too much of Jehu's spirit, when he said, "Come with me, and see my zeal for the Lord!"
True Christian zeal is the most humble, mild, and benevolent temper, that can influence the hearts of men or angels. It is the fervor of Divine love—and "love is patient and kind—it is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged."
Bitterness and wrath against any persons, even against avowed enemies, are as different from Christian zeal, as darkness is from light. Love and humility enter into the very essence of Christian zeal; and the more any one is influenced by it—the more loving, mild, and benevolent he is both towards the evil and the good. The force of Christian zeal is directed, not against persons but things, not against sinners, but against sin dwelling in them. It opposes sin principally in the heart where it exists, and, in the next place, sin universally, wherever it is found.
The primitive Christians contended earnestly for the faith—but how? Not by the shedding of the blood of others—but by shedding their own blood. Those who bear all things with the greatest meekness and patience—contend most successfully for the faith, and make the noblest stand in time of persecution.
Revenge is sweet and gratifying to the worldly man, and is the natural and immediate offspring of unmortified pride. But not to resist evil, not to avenge ourselves, but rather to give place to anger, and to commit ourselves cheerfully to God, the sovereign ruler of all things—only divine grace can teach us; and is always the inseparable effect of true humility, according to the degree in which it prevails in the heart.
The truly humble man, always suspicious of himself—improves even by the reproaches of his enemies. He seriously examines whether there is any foundation for any accusations against himsel—whether in a careless and slothful frame of mind, he has not been too remiss in watching against sin in all its motions. In everything, he who is poor in spirit and contrite in heart, trembling at God's word—seeks and finds ample cause for self-abasement, shame, and godly sorrow—well knowing, that he has all evil in himself to suspect, and to he ashamed of—and that he has nothing good but what he daily receives from God. How can he then glory, as if he had not received it?
But the spiritually proud man cannot learn wisdom. The reproofs of friends and the reproaches of enemies, have no good effect upon him. He grows more haughty and self-confident. Instead of suspecting himself of having done wrong—he is ever apt to run into greater lengths in those very things for which he is blamed. Being without a real conviction of the evil within him, he never suspects himself. Not practically believing that whatever good he possesses, he has received—he boasts, as if he had not received it.
III. Pride and humility ACT differently.In the whole of the outward conduct, there is an evident difference between spiritual pride and true gospel humility. This shall be instanced only in one particular.
Pride shows itself by a certain irreverent, self-confident boldness in approaching God, and also in the outward demeanor towards man.
Humility, on the contrary, shows godly fear and reverence towards the Almighty—and due deference and respect towards man.
Though we "have access with boldness to the throne of grace through the blood of sprinkling"— yet this free access ought to be, and always is, accompanied, in the truly humble, with holy reverence and godly fear. The ineffable glory of the Divine Majesty fills saints and angels in Heaven with profound awe and reverence. Though fully satisfied of his favor towards them, and of their love to him—yet the glory and majesty of his infinite and inconceivable perfections eternally fill them with such humility, adoration, and reverence, as bear some proportion to their infinite distance from him.
If these are the dispositions, and if this is the conduct of the holy inhabitants of Heaven—then it is evident that those who are vessels of mercy in the Lord's hands, preparing for the same place, must have something of the same spirit in them. Though "perfect love casts out fear"—the fear of coming to God as a reconciled Father in Christ, and of walking in communion with him as such—yet this love rather augments than destroys the holy fear of God's divine majesty. Not only the submission of a creature, but also the befitting humility of a pardoned sinner, even in Heaven—will bear proportion to all other graces in glorified saints.
There will be in this respect an eternal difference between saints and angels. Saints in Heaven never forget that they were once sinners, though the remembrance of this is entirely free from pain or fear; yes rather it will be accompanied with deep humility, which sweetly enlivens all their praise and joy. But while on earth, our fear of God cannot be such as if we were already perfect, and fully delivered from all the effects of sin—but it is such an apprehension of God's glorious majesty, as constrains us to be highly jealous of his glory, and humbly fearful of every indication of his displeasure, as in times past we have offended him—and lest in future we should offend him. It therefore befits the holiest man on earth, "to serve the Lord with fear, and to rejoice before him with trembling."
By frequent free access to God in Christ, this holy reverence is in danger of wearing off—and spiritual pride will creep in secretly, unless our hearts are, as it were, in our hands, and our eyes be continually upon them, watching all their motions. This may be, and is often the case with the true Christian himself; but this never fails to be the case with those who have the scheme of the gospel in their heads, unaccompanied with corresponding impressions on their hearts.
This wicked generation, having hearts unbroken, and spirits unhumbled, in general neither fear God nor honor man—to whom the caution of Solomon would at no time be unsuitable, "Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong. Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in Heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few."
If they saw the vast distance between God and them, the very thought of irreverence would make them tremble with horror and confusion. When we are taught to pray to God as our Father—we are at the same time taught to address him as our Father who is in Heaven—high above all, commanding reverence and humility, fear and obedience from the whole universe.
With this irreverence before God, is always connected a bold and haughty conduct towards man. Such men in every respect "boast as if they had not first received." A spirit, truly humbled before God, will infallibly show itself in a conduct towards man that is humble and meek.
If therefore our pretensions to humility before God are unaccompanied with a suitable behavior towards one another—they are wholly vain. If we are still stubborn inferiors, haughty superiors, and self-willed equals—then it is evident that our proud hearts have never been truly humbled, and that all our religion is of no value.
True humility is known by its fruits. A true servant of Christ, however highly distinguished by gifts and graces, thinks very humbly of himself, and deeply feels what he expresses, when he says, "I am nothing." And when a man truly says this, he will naturally esteem others better than himself, and consequently will not despise a weak brother. He is one who does not boast, but is apt to prefer others in honor.
See how humble Abraham honored the children of Heth, whom he yet knew to be far from God and accursed, "Abraham stood up, and bowed to the people of the land". See how humble Jacob, in a heavenly frame of mind, honored profane Esau, a false and persecuting brother, "Jacob bowed himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother." He called him lord, and commanded his whole family to honor him in the same manner.
"Lord", said David, "my heart is not haughty, nor my eyes lofty; neither do I exercise myself in matters too high for me." Is not true humility still the same? Is not an high look, and a proud heart—as great a sin now, as in former days? Did Christ humble himself—to make us proud? Or are we not rather to learn of him, who was meek and lowly?
But see spiritual pride in its effects: Haughty and bold, it little regards any honor, or deference, due to superiors in rank, fortune, natural gifts, or spiritual attainments. That amiable fear and modesty in inferiors towards superiors, is wholly laid aside. The Scripture rule is, "that others should behold our chaste conduct, coupled with fear." And there sober and humble thoughts of ourselves, and modesty, are particularly recommended. In everything, and towards all, our deportment ought to be that of the humble disciples of a humble master.
But the young in years, and younger in grace, influenced by spiritual pride, will be forward and haughty; opening wide the mouth in every matter, without fear; and often giving ready decisions on points on which those who have three times their knowledge and humility, perhaps very justly and modestly entertain doubts. Always forward and haughty, they speak with decisive authority, treat the sober judgment of others with contempt, and expect that their determinations should be implicitly received and acquiesced in. While the truly humble looks to everyone for assistance—the spiritually proud, instead of showing the humble deportment of a disciple who wants instruction, is swift to speak, and slow to hear, as if everybody needed his teaching. Whatever deference is paid to him, he looks upon all as his undoubted right. Those who do not acknowledge his merits—he treats as weak and ignorant fools. I cannot forbear inserting here an excellent passage on the matter in hand from the pious Richard Baxter:
"Are you a man of worth in your own eyes, and very tender of your esteem with others? Are you one who much values the applause of the people, and feels your heart tickled with delight when others esteem you? Are you dejected when you hear men slight you? Do you love those best, who most highly honor you, and does your heart bear a grudge at those who undervalue you, and entertain low thoughts of you, though they be otherwise men of godliness and honesty? Are you one who needs have your judgment to be the rule of others, and your word a law to all about you? Are you ready to quarrel with every man that lets fall a word in derogation from your honor? Are your passions kindled, if your word or will is crossed? Are you ready to judge humility to be sordid baseness, who knows not how to submit, and will not be brought to shame yourself by humble confession, when you have sinned against God, or injured your brother? Are you one that honor the godly that are rich, and think yourself somebody, if they value and own you, but look strangely at the godly poor, and are almost ashamed to be their companion? Are you one who cannot serve God in a low place—as well as in a high place, and think yourself fittest for offices and honors, and love God's service when it stands with your preferment? Do you have your eye and your speech much on your own deservings, and are you boasting in your abilities?
Do you delight in opportunities of setting forth your abilities, and love to have your name made public to the world, and would gladly leave some monument of your worth, that posterity may admire you, when you are dead and gone? Have you witty ways to commend yourself, while you seem to debase yourself? Do you desire to have all men's eyes upon you, saying, "This is the man!" Is the end of your studies and learning, of your labors and duties, of seeking degrees, titles, and positions—that you may be taken for somebody in the world?
"Are you unacquainted with the deceitfulness and wickedness of your heart—or know yourself to be vile only by reading and by hearsay, and not by experience and feeling of your vileness? Are you readier to defend yourself, and maintain your own innocence—than to accuse yourself, and confess your faults? Can you hardly bear a reproof, and receive plain dealings with difficulty and distaste? Are you readier in your discourse to teach, rather than to learn; to dictate to others, than to hearken to their instructions? Are you bold and confident of your own opinions, and slight the judgment of all who differ from you?
"Is your spirit more disposed to command and govern, than to obey and be ruled by others? Are you ready to censure the doctrines of teachers, the actions of your rulers, and the persons of your brethren; and to think, that if you were a judge, you would be more just; or if you were a minister, you would be more faithful in doctrine, and more faithful in overseeing; or if you had had the management of other men's business, you would have done it more wisely and honestly?
"If these symptoms are undeniably in your heart, then beyond doubt you are a proud person! Pride has seized on your heart, which is the principal fort. There is too much of Hell abiding in you, for you to have any acquaintance with Heaven—your soul is too much like the Devil, for you to have any familiarity with God."
I shall now conclude, with a caution to those whose situation lays them open more particularly to Satan's temptation, and the workings of corruption in this way—I mean, those who by their gifts and usefulness have the preeminence in the church of God.
It is not easy to have the preeminence—and at the same time not to be like Diotrephes, who loved to have the preeminence. It is right and proper that they should have the preeminence, whose qualifications entitle them to it—but for them to love to have it, is sinful and abominable in the sight of a jealous God! However justly they may be exalted and highly esteemed—yet what they should love, is to be the servants of all, because they are better qualified to minister, than those who have not their gifts. Whatever qualifications, by gifts and endowments, God bestows on any—they are all those of servants; that is, they ought, as servants, to serve with him.
But how difficult it is for those who carry within a proud and devilish nature, to keep their place in this respect. The carnal man will be ever showing off his abilities—he would willingly borrow plumes from Heaven to gratify his pride. "Dathan and Abiram were famous in the congregation"—they were men of eminence for their gifts and usefulness; but they loved to have the preeminence, strove against Moses and Aaron—yes, says the word, "they strove against the Lord." They boasted, as if they had not received; and their pride hurled them down into Hell!
What shall we say of Moses himself? That eminent servant of God, meek above all men on the face of the earth, fell by this very sin at Meribah, and was excluded on account of it, from the promised land. He had zeal for God—but his own passions were mingled with his zeal, and he spoke unadvisedly with his lips. "Hear now you rebels!" said he. It is true, they were rebels; but his words breathe strongly of bitterness and impatience. He assumed also to himself too much, "Must we fetch water out of this rock?" We!—what! is the Lord laid aside? Is He not needed? Was it you, or the Lord, who divided the sea, and opened the rock on a former occasion? It seems at least to me, that his eye was not so directly to the Lord, as in his former difficulties. He considered their rebellion before, as principally against the Lord; but here self seems to creep in, both in his reproof, and in performing the miracle. Let the punishment of Moses make us tremble, lest we fall into a similar provoking sin. Moses, so holy, so humble, so meek, fell by it.
"Let him therefore who thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall!" Should we not tremble, when we hear that God punished his faithful servant Moses, with whom he spoke face to face, and to whom he had in a peculiar manner revealed his glory? His temptations to this sin were in various ways strong; his provocation at the time was by no means small—and yet this did not excuse him. God is above all things, jealous of his glory.
When all opposition and every other temptation fail, the Devil is in this often successful against the servants of God. Satan never bid fairer for victory over Barnabas and Paul, than when, after their very successful preaching of the gospel, and confirming it by signs and wonders—he stirred up the people at Lystra to worship them as gods. It was perhaps the boldest attack that Satan ever made on the apostles.
The temptation had everything in its favor. There was all the food to nourish pride which it could desire. Paul had but just before cured, by one word, a lame man, and had for some time past been eminently successful in converting many, both Jews and Gentiles. Satan also might easily transform himself into an angel of light, and persuade them, that this good opinion, which the people entertained of them, if promoted, might be exceedingly useful in gaining converts to their doctrine. But the Lord signally kept them in the hour of temptation, and made them more than conquerors over this enemy. "We are men of like passions with yourselves!" Thus is the triumph proclaimed.
To conclude—he who judges rightly of himself, measures his religion by his humility, and measures his humility by the degree of influence it has on the mind, in enduing it with those mild, benevolent, and heavenly tempers, which suit a miserable sinner, who lives by the patience and mercy of God; and in adorning the whole outward man with that amiable, humble, and courteous deportment, which befits one who can boast in no good thing, as if he had not received it.
May the Lord make and keep us humble.