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(15 posts)

When God Kills

Erasmus feared that the teaching of a human will that is not free, even if true (which he denied), served no good purpose and would cause people to neglect their own responsibility to respond to the gospel. Luther responded: ‘What use or need is there, then, of publishing such things when so many harmful results seem likely to follow?’ I reply: It should be enough to say simply that God has willed their publication, and the reason of the Divine will is not to be sought, but simply to be adored, and the glory given to God, Who, since He alone is just and wise, wrongs none and can do nothing foolish or inconsiderate—however much it may seem otherwise to us. This answer will satisfy those who fear God. However (to say a little more than I need, since there is so much more that I can say), there are two considerations which require the preaching of these truths. The first is the humbling of our pride, and the comprehending of the grace of God; the second is the nature of Christian faith. For the first: God has surely promised His grace to the humbled: that is, to those who mourn over and despair of themselves. But a man cannot be thoroughly humbled till he realises that his salvation is utterly beyond his own powers, counsels, efforts, will and works, and depends absolutely on the will, counsel, pleasure and work of Another—God alone. As long as he is persuaded that he can make even the smallest contribution to his salvation, he remains self-confident and does not utterly despair of himself, and so is not humbled before God; but plans out for himself (or at least hopes and longs for) a position, an occasion, a work, which shall bring him final salvation. But he who is out of doubt that his destiny depends entirely on the will of God despairs entirely of himself, chooses nothing for himself, but waits for God to work in him; and such a man is very near to grace for his salvation. So these truths are published for the sake of the elect, that they may be humbled and brought down to nothing, and so saved. The rest of men resist this humiliation; indeed, they condemn the teaching of self-despair; they want a little something left that they can do for themselves. Secretly they continue proud, and enemies of the grace of God. This, I repeat, one reason—that those who fear God might in humility comprehend, claim and receive His gracious promise. The second reason is this: faith’s object is things not seen. That there may be room for faith, therefore, all that is believed must be hidden. Yet it is not hidden more deeply than under a contrary appearance of sight, sense and experience. Thus, when God quickens, He does so by killing; when He justifies, He does so by pronouncing guilty; when He carries up to heaven, He does so by bringing down to hell. As Scripture says in 1 Kings 2, ‘The Lord killeth and maketh alive; He bringeth down to the grave and bringeth up’ (1 Sam. 2.6). (This is no place for a fuller account of these things; but those who have read my books are well acquainted with them.) Thus God conceals His eternal mercy and loving kindness beneath eternal wrath, His righteousness beneath unrighteousness. Now, the highest degree of faith is to believe that He is merciful, though He saves so few and damns so many; to believe that He is just, though of His own will He makes us perforce proper subjects for damnation, and seems (in Erasmus’ words) ‘to delight in the torments of poor wretches and to be a fitter object for hate than for love.’ If I could by any means understand how this same God, who makes such a show of wrath and unrighteousness, can yet be merciful and just, there would be no need for faith. But as it is, the impossibility of understanding makes room for the exercise of faith when these things are preached and published; just as, when God kills, faith in life is exercised in death. —Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will (Revell, 1957) 100–101.

Christian Tolerance

Monday··2007·02·19 · 5 Comments
Once when I was visiting at a cousin’s house, I overheard a conversation between him and his father (my uncle). My cousin owns a service station/convenience store, and he had just hired someone whom his father judged to be of dubious character. My cousin commented, with a touch of irony, to this effect: “That’s true, but sometimes we have to accept the fact that everyone is not as wonderful as we are.” A few years ago I was visiting with a good friend of mine when the subject of a mutual acquaintance came up. I made a somewhat snide comment about a particular character flaw in this individual, to which my friend replied, “Yeah, I know. That’s something I’ve had to ignore in order to remain friends with him.” I present these two anecdotes as a lesson that has affected my thinking more than it should have. I say “more than it should have,” not because it is wrong, but because it is not particularly profound, and because I should already have been thinking along those lines. Instead, both of those occasions were epiphanies. Now perhaps you are thinking, “Man, you must have been a real jerk!” Well, yes, I was, and sometimes still am. It is not easy to tolerate faults in others, especially when they are so many. Verily, everyone is not as wonderful as I! Some people are irritating and downright stupid. Can anyone deny it? Yet, we must be forbearing. I’m not talking about overlooking blatant sin, or lowering our “standards” (assuming those standards are Biblical); but we ought to be understanding and tolerant, knowing that we are not without our own faults. Ephesians 4 exhorts us to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love” (vv. 1–2), and to “be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (v. 32). When my friend said, “Yeah, I know. That’s something I’ve had to ignore in order to remain friends with him,” I was instantly smitten with this thought: I wonder what he has had to overlook in order to remain friends with me?

Hold Your Tongue

Monday··2007·06·04 · 6 Comments
From my Scripture reading this morning: Oh, that you would hold your tongue, that it might be imputed to you for wisdom! —Job 13:5 Scripture always speaks to me. Sometimes it gets personal.

“Humble under a sense of much forgiveness”

Thursday··2007·08·23 · 1 Comments
If we find it difficult to forgive, it is surely a sign that we don’t understand the wretched state from which we have been saved. John Piper writes: When [John Newton] wrote his Narrative in the early 1760s he said, “I know not that I have ever since met so daring a blasphemer.” The hymn we know as “Amazing Grace” was written to accompany a New Year’s sermon based on 1 Chronicles 17:16, “Then King David went in and sat before the Lord, and said, “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far?’” Amazing grace!—how sweet the sound— That saved a wretch like me, I once was lost, but now am found, Was blind but now I see. The effect of this amazement is tenderness toward others. “[The ‘wretch’ who has been saved by grace] believes and feels his own weakness and unworthiness, and lives upon the grace and pardoning love of his Lord. This gives him an habitual tenderness and gentleness of spirit. Humble under a sense of much forgiveness to himself, he finds it easy to forgive others.” He puts it in a picture: A company of travelers fall in to a pit: one of them gets a passenger to draw him out. Now he should not be angry with the rest for falling in; nor because they are not yet out, as he is. He did not pull himself out: instead, therefore, of reproaching them, he should show them pity. . . . A man, truly illuminated, will no more despise others, than Bartimaeus, after his own eyes were opened, would take a stick, and beat every blind man he met. Glad-hearted, grateful lowliness and brokenness as a saved “wretch” was probably the most prominent root of Newton’s habitual tenderness with people. —John Piper, The Roots of Endurance (Crossway, 2002), 72–73.

The Humility of John Owen

Wednesday··2007·09·05 · 1 Comments
John Piper on the humility of John Owen: Though he was one of the most influential and well-known men of his day, his own view of his place on God’s economy was somber and humble. Two days before he died he wrote in a letter to Charles Fleetwood, “I am leaving the ship of the church in a storm, but while the great Pilot is in it the loss of a poor underrower will be inconsiderable.” Packer says that “Owen, [though] a proud man by nature, had been brought low in and by his conversion, and thereafter he kept himself low by recurring contemplation of his inbred sinfulness.” Owen illustrates this: To keep our soul in a constant state of mourning and self-abasement is the most necessary part of our wisdom . . . and it is so far from having any inconsistency with those consolations and joys, which the gospel tenders unto us in believing, as that it is the only way to let them into the soul in a due manner. With regard to his immense learning and the tremendous insight he had into the things of God he seems to have a humbler attitude toward his achievement because he had climbed high enough to see over the first ridge of revolution into the endless mysteries of God. I make no pretence of searching into the bottom or depth of any part of this “great mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh.” They are altogether unreachable, unto the [limit] of the most enlightened minds, in this life, what we shall farther comprehend of them in the other world, God only knows. This humility opened Owens’s soul to the greatest visions of Christ in the Scriptures. And he believed with all his heart the truth of 2 Corinthians 3:18, that by contemplating the glory of Christ “we may be gradually transformed into the same glory.” And that is nothing other than holiness. —John Piper, Contending for Our All, (Crossway, 2006), 103–104.

Humble and Holy

On the benefits of awareness of sin: However uncomfortable it makes us feel, it is healthy for us to realize that our every moment is lived before the face of God. Knowing this will rescue us from the folly of thinking that sin can be cultivated unawares. We are all more tempted to sin when we think no one will ever know. Therefore, the knowledge that our every deed is recorded in heaven should preserve us from temptation and stiffen our resolve it live in obedience to God’s law. Knowledge of our sin has other benefits. It helps cultivate a tight humility. The apostle Paul’s spiritual progress was paralleled by an increasing awareness of his sin. In one of his earliest letters, he describes himself as the “the least of all apostles” (1 Cor. 15:9). A little later, he calls himself “the very least of all the saints” (Eph. 3:8). By the end of his ministry, he says, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Tim. 1:15). Our spiritual maturation will likewise progress as we see more clearly the true depth of our sin, the true holiness of God, and the great gulf between us—and thus also see the true greatness of His love for us that moved Him to give His Son to save sinners so infinitely below Him. This is why the humbles Christians are the happiest Christians, and why humble and happy Christians tend to be holy Christians, as well. All of these benefits stem from an awareness of our sin. —Richard D. Phillips, Jesus the Evangelist (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2007), 135–136.
I want to know God. I want to know his nature and his thoughts. It is this desire that drives me to read his Word and books about him by writers who know his Word far better than I. What could possibly be more wonderful, as wonderful, or even remotely wonderful compared to the knowledge of the eternal, infinite, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God who is the source of all things, the epitome of holiness, righteousness, and justice? The answer is obvious: nothing compares. The greatest creations of the human imagination fade into utter insignificance in the glorious light of the ineffable perfections of almighty God. Why is it, then, that reading God’s Word becomes, at times, a chore to be done rather than a pleasure to be savored? I’m sure I can’t answer that question exhaustively, but I think I know at least part of the answer, and probably the greatest, most insidious part. Many would put the blame on Satan. Of course, the prince of darkness does not want me exposed to the light. Of course he wants to deceive me, and will do all he can to keep me from God and his Word. But I cannot shift the blame, not even to the father of lies. If God had destroyed Satan immediately after he deceived Adam, my worst enemy would still be right here with me. That enemy is me. I want to know God, I say again. I want to know him in all his glory. Yet there is a part of me that most definitely does not want to know him: my flesh. My flesh assiduously avoids all knowledge of God. Why? Because knowledge makes demands. My flesh does not like demands. Oh, it likes to make demands. It makes demands on people, on things, on circumstances, and even on God, but it hates demands made on me. What demands does the knowledge of God make? Knowledge of his holiness demands that I be holy. Knowledge of his sovereign lordship, of his ownership of all creation, including me, demands that I submit to his commands. Knowledge of his love demands that I love him and all that he loves. The knowledge of God does more than make demands. Just as a light shining into a dark corner reveals the dirt left unseen in the darkness, the light of God’s holiness exposes the filth in my heart. It discloses my unholiness, my intractability, my unloving selfishness. The knowledge of God leads to knowledge of self-knowledge I would rather ignore. So now, in addition to knowledge of God, I have knowledge of self. This is not a pleasant combination. Knowledge of God brings demands. Knowledge of self, of who I really am, crushes any hope that I can meet those demands. This brings with it yet another demand—that I be humble. But I am not humble. I am proud and independent. If I was humble, the logical thing to do at this point would be to acknowledge my helplessness, rest on God’s promises, and pray for grace. But very often, my reaction is anything but humble. Rather than praying, I resolve to do better. I will try harder. Can you believe it? I retreat to my own self-sufficiency! The very self-sufficiency that has already been destroyed! And that is exactly where I would be left, if not for the gracious, electing work of God; if not for the sacrificial redeeming work of Christ; if not for the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. God takes a man who is unholy, unrighteous, unloving, whose knowledge of myself causes me to cringe from the knowledge of God, and gently, lovingly, draws me back into a place where I can say, with all my heart, I want to know God.

Book Review: Wrestling with an Angel

Read my previous comments on Wrestling with an Angel here. Wrestling with an Angel, at little over 100 small pages, is a book that anyone ought to be able to read in one sitting, but I took three sittings over three days to get through it. The emotional impact was just too much to take it in all at once. This is not because the author employs any emotionally manipulative prose; on the contrary, the style is tersely straightforward, a simple, honest account of the Lucas family’s struggles—physical, emotional, and spiritual—with their developmentally disabled son, Jake. Here is just a sample of a daily routine that taxes both body and soul beyond what we on the outside can imagine: Many times while cleaning and changing Jake, I have been kicked in the face, bitten, smacked, clawed, spit on, or hit with flying objects. It is not too unusual to come away from one of these cleanups with a bloody lip or a new scratch. Every attempt to prepare him for the day becomes a violent struggle played out on several levels, my best intentions pitted against his greatest resistance. Many mornings I leave Jake’s room dejected, hurt, and emotionally drained. Many evenings, in desperation, I find myself restraining his struggles by wrapping him in my arms against his will and gently whispering, “I love you. I love you. I love you—no matter what.” —Greg Lucas, Wrestling with an Angel: A Story of Love, Disability and the Lessons of Grace (Cruciform Press, 2010), 22. (The relevance of that brief vignette will be elucidated below.) Who is this book for? It’s for me, and most of you, the parents of “perfect” children. Do we know, or have we ever known, a family with a special needs child, a child that often if not always, causes disturbances in church, restaurants, etc? Have we ever wished they would just stay home? This book will shame us. It’s for you, the family of a difficult, not-like-everyone-else child, a message of hope from a father who knows what your life is like. This book will point you to your only source of strength and relief. It’s for everyone, really, because the gospel appears on every page. It’s not the gospel of a better life for people who are mostly okay; it’s the full gospel of grace to the desperate and helpless. On the daily battle for personal hygiene, a small part of which was described above, Lucas explains, “It’s not that Jake likes being dirty. He just hates being cleaned.” And that is the story of each of us, isn’t it? Lucas makes it personal: Much like my son, I have been disabled all my life. My disability affects everything I am and everything I do. Scripture diagnoses this disability as sin. Not individual acts of sin, but a sin nature, sin residing within my heart. It causes me to reject love and embrace fear. It plagues me with a slumber that makes me strangely satisfied to lie in my own filth and not be disturbed. It’s not that I like being dirty. I just hate being cleaned. But God is patient, kind, and full of grace. He knows how I am made, but He does not excuse it. He refuses to permit my life to take its natural course. He has sacrificed much to make me His son, and He will not stand by when I am in need—even when I resist His compassion and care. In my son I see a picture of my own relationship with God. In Jake’s defiant refusal to be loved, cared for, and washed, I am reminded of the cross. There, the violence of divine love overpowered my rebellion and forced upon me a process of cleansing redemption that I did not want to undergo. In some ways the process is still ongoing, and most days, I still resist. In my persistent disability I fight against the transformation being worked in me. But I face a power greater than my own and a love stronger than my rebellion. It is as if a bloody, beaten, crucified Savior wraps me in His arms, subdues me with His affection and whispers in my ear, “I love you. I love you. I love you—no matter what.” —Ibid., 23–24. The phrase “changed my life” is often tossed about frivolously, but I think I can fairly say that this book is likely to change you. If it devastates you emotionally, well, I think it should. But if that’s all it does, if you are not spiritually crushed, if it does not cause you to decrease so that Christ may increase, you will have missed the point entirely. Wrestling with an Angel is the second book published by Cruciform Press. Cruciform Press publishes one new book each month, and offers subscriptions in print or ebook formats for a very reasonable price. Books may also be purchased individually. For more information, visit

Lord’s Day 15, 2014

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. —Matthew 5:3 Need of Grace O Lord, Thou knowest my great unfitness for service, my present deadness, my inability to do anything for thy glory, my distressing coldness of heart. I am weak, ignorant, unprofitable, and loathe and abhor myself. I am at a loss to know what thou wouldest have me do, for I feel amazingly deserted by thee, and sense thy presence so little; Thou makest me possess the sins of my youth, and the dreadful sin of my nature, so that I feel all sin, I cannot think or act but every motion is sin. Return again with showers of converting grace to a poor gospel-abusing sinner. Help my soul to breathe after holiness, after a constant devotedness to thee, after growth in grace more abundantly every day. O Lord, I am lost in the pursuit of this blessedness, And am ready to sink because I fall short of my desire; Help me to hold out a little longer, until the happy hour of deliverance comes, for I cannot lift my soul to thee if thou of thy goodness bring me not nigh. Help me to be diffident, watchful, tender, lest I offend my blessed Friend in thought and behaviour; I confide in thee and lean upon thee, and need thee at all times to assist and lead me. O that all my distresses and apprehensions might prove but Christ’s school to make me fit for greater service by teaching me the great lesson of humility. —The Valley of Vision, Arthur Bennett, editor (Banner of Truth Trust, 2002). Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Please don’t miss worshiping with your local congregation if you can possibly help it. But if you’re in need of a good sermon, try these. Tweets about "sermon from:thethirstytheo" !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+"://";fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,"script","twitter-wjs");

If You Think Your Job Stinks

Fellow North Dakotan Julie Neidlinger has something to tell you about cleaning toilets. It’s something you need to know, especially if you are one of [ahem] my teenage children. And it reminded me of a story . . . January, nineteen hundred and ninety-something. There I was, piling wood in the stove at six a.m. in my underwear. By underwear, I mean two pairs of socks, long johns and heavy-weight sweat pants, t-shirt and two sweatshirts (one hooded). While the family snoozed peacefully in their warm beds, I stepped into jeans and a quilted flannel shirt. Over that, I put on a Carhartt quilted vest and insulated coveralls with a snap-on hood. As I laced up my Sorels, my partner pulled up and blew the horn. I pulled on my Carhartt Thinsulated cap (earflaps down), slipped into Thinsulated gloves, grabbed my lunchbox, headed out the door looking like a portly duck hunter. It was cold. I don’t remember how cold, but it was one of those days when the snow squeaks under your feet, and walking to the mailbox feels like a Jack London adventure. I remember reminding myself that “at least I’m not in Grand Forks.” So we headed down the road in our work van, drinking gas station coffee from insulated mugs, simultaneously glad we had work and wishing we were laid off, and generally dreading the day. The owners of the largest house we would ever build were anxious to get the siding on the dormers finished, and for the last week it had been too windy, even for hardy North Dakotans, to stand up on that roof. Finally, the wind had abated enough that, with an adequate load of nails in our toolbelts, we could hope to remain planted, and the boss said no more putting it off. So we went. We climbed up on that roof, and did the slow work of trimming and siding small structures that are all angles, taking our gloves off to handle the short nails, pulling them back on to avoid frostbite, and generally feeling miserable. Oh, yes, and complaining. Lots of complaining. Could there be a more odious job? No; never. Then it happened: a truck with a tank and a pump in the back pulled onto the lot and backed up to the porta-john behind the house. The driver, in garb similar to ours but not so clean, climbed out. He trudged to the rear of the truck, uncoiled a hose, and opened the fiberglass door (here I had a vision of a hillbilly fireman saving the outhouse). We watched. We listened. We heard the lid slap the back wall as Hillbilly Fireman flung it open. Then we heard an exclamation that was both vulgar and ironically appropriate. The hose was recoiled, and Hillbilly Fireman went back to the cab and, from behind the seat, retrieved—No way, he’s not going to . . . oh, yes, he is—a hatchet. Grabbing a handy concrete block, he propped the door open, squared his shoulders, and went to work. Whack . . . whack . . . whack [more ironically appropriate commentary] whack-whack-whack-whack . . . We heard some shuffling around, and what we saw next is indelibly imprinted on my memory. Flying through that porta-john door and landing with a loud BANG! in the box of that unfortunate truck was the darkest chunk of ice I had ever seen. My workmate and I stood speechless for a moment, and then in unison, murmured . . . well, you can guess. The scene was repeated several times until Hillbilly Fireman emerged, tossed the hatchet—and his gloves—in the bed of the truck, climbed into the cab, and drove away. I vowed that day never to complain about my job again.

Clothed with Humility

You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. —1 Peter 5:5–6 Here Peter admonishes his readers not only to wear the garment of the righteousness of Christ but also to be clothed in humility: Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (v. 5). Our entire being is to be covered with the virtue of humility because “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” There is an antithetical parallelism in that quotation. The humble are given grace, which stands in stark contrast to the proud, who meet with the fierce resistance of God. Who can stand against that resistance? Yet when we approach God in a spirit of humility, He does not resist us but adds grace upon grace. Peter goes on to say, Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time (v. 6). Another metaphor, so rich throughout Scripture, is the hand or arm of the Lord, which signifies His strength. Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. . . . He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly” (Luke 1:46–52). In the Old Testament, when the Israelites were tired of eating manna, Moses interceded for the people. They cried, “Who will give us meat to eat?” (Num. 11:4). Moses wept before the Lord and begged Him to provide meat for the people to eat, and God said, “You shall eat, not one day, nor two days, nor five days, nor ten days, nor twenty days, but for a whole month, until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have despised the Lord who is among you” (vv. 19–20). Moses was scared and said, “The people whom I am among are six hundred thousand men on foot; yet You have said, ‘I will give them meat, that they may eat for a whole month.’ Shall flocks and herds be slaughtered for them, to provide enough for them? Or shall all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them, to provide enough for them?” (vv. 21–22). God said to Moses, “Has the Lord’s arm been shortened? Now you shall see whether what I say will happen to you or not” (v. 23). “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God”—in that simple phrase we have a microcosm of the entire Christian life. Obedience means submitting to the arm of the Lord, acknowledging Him as Lord and acknowledging His eternal and everlasting authority to require of us whatsoever is pleasing to Him. When we do so, He will exalt us in due time. The exaltation will come at the hour that God has appointed. We are told repeatedly in Scripture that God indeed has appointed a time when He will judge the world by His Son, a time when He will vindicate His people, a time when He will share the glory of His Son with those who have embraced His Son. —R. C. Sproul, 1–2 Peter: Be All the More Diligent to Make Your Calling and Election Sure (Crossway, 2011), 186–187.
To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ —Ephesians 3:8 If any New Testament writer had cause to boast, surely it was the Apostle Paul. The great apostle to the gentiles, founder of many churches, and author of thirteen New Testament books is undeniably the greatest theologian the church has ever known (granted, he had the unfair advantage of divine inspiration). Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John brought us the gospel; Paul explained it. We revere Paul as being among the greatest disciples of Christ, and rightly so. But he didn’t see himself that way. Let us notice what St. Paul says of himself. The language he uses is singularly strong. The founder of famous Churches, the writer of fourteen inspired epistles, the man who was ‘not behind the very chiefest apostles,’ ‘in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft,’—the man who ‘spent and was spent’ for souls, and ‘counted all things but loss for Christ,’—the man who could truly say, ‘To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain,’—what do we find him saying of himself? He employs an emphatic comparative and superlative. He says, ‘I am less than the least of all saints.’ [KJV] What a poor creature is the least saint! Yet St. Paul says, ‘I am less than that man.’ Such language as this, I suspect, is almost unintelligible to many who profess and call themselves Christians. Ignorant alike of the Bible and their own hearts, they cannot understand what a saint means when he speaks so humbly of himself and his attainments. . . . But we may rest assured that what St. Paul wrote with his pen, he testily felt in his heart. The language of our text does not stand alone. It is even exceeded in other places. To the Philippians he says, ‘I have not attained, nor am I already perfect: I follow after.’ To the Corinthians he says, ‘I am the least of the apostles, which am not meet to be called an apostle.’ To Timothy he says, ‘I am chief of sinners.’ To the Romans he cries, ‘Wretched man that I am I who shall deliver me from the body of this death?’ (Phil. 3:12; 1 Cor. 15:9; 1 Tim. 1:15; Rom. 7:24.) The plain truth is that St. Paul saw in his own heart of hearts far more defects and infirmities than he saw in anyone else. The eyes of his understanding were so fully opened by the Holy Spirit of God that he detected a hundred things wrong in himself which the dull eyes of other men never observed at all. In short, possessing great spiritual light, he had great insight into his own natural corruption, and was clothed from head to foot with humility, (1 Peter 5:5.) Now let us clearly understand that humility like St. Paul’s was not a peculiar characteristic of the great apostle of the Gentiles. On the contrary, it is one leading mark of all the most eminent saints of God in every age. The more real grace men have in their hearts, the deeper is their sense of sin. The more light the Holy Ghost pours into their souls, the more do they discern their own infirmities, defilements, and darkness. The dead soul feels and sees nothing; with life comes clear vision, a tender conscience and spiritual sensibility. . . . The great saints, in every era of Church history, from St. Paul down to this day, have always been ‘clothed with humility.’ He that desires to be saved . . . let him know this day that the first steps towards heaven are a deep sense of sin and a lowly estimate of ourselves. Let him cast away that weak and silly tradition that the beginning of religion is to feel ourselves ‘good’ Let him rather grasp that grand Scriptural principle, that we must begin by feeling ‘bad’; and that until we really feel ‘bad’ we know nothing of true goodness or saving Christianity. Happy is he who has learned to draw near to God with the prayer of the publican, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner.’ (Luke 18:13.) —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 376–378.

More Humility

How humble should we be? More than we are, that’s for sure. Let us all seek more humility, if we know anything of it now. The more we have of it, the more Christlike we shall be. It is written of our blessed Master (though in Him there was no sin) that ‘being in the form of God He thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross’ (Phil. 2:6–8). And let us remember the words which precede that passage ‘Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.’ Depend on it, the nearer men draw to heaven, the more humble do they become. In the hour of death, with one foot in the grave, with something of the light of heaven shining down upon them, hundreds of great saints and Church dignitaries . . . have left on record their confession, that never till that hour did they see their sins so clearly and feel so deeply their debt to mercy and grace. Heaven alone, I suppose, will fully teach us how humble we ought to be. Then only, when we stand within the veil, and look back on all the way of life by which we were led, then only shall we completely understand the need and beauty of humility. Strong language like St. Paul’s [“the very least of all saints” (Ephesians 3:8)] will not appear to us too strong in that day. No: indeed! We shall cast our crowns before the throne, and realize what a great divine meant when he said, ‘The anthem in heaven will be, What hath God wrought.’ —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 378–379.

Faith Is Humble

A believing heart is a humble heart. Faith lays the soul low, in sense of its own vileness, emptiness, impotency; in sense of former sinfulness, present unworthiness; in sense of its many wants, weaknesses, distempers, corruption. As nothing more exalteth Christ, so nothing more debaseth man. As it advances man high in the account of God, so it lays him low in his own eyes. The Lord, having a design to display the riches of his grace, made choice of faith as the fittest instrument, as that which gives all to God, and nothing to man. It is the soul’s going out of himself, as having nothing but sin and misery, unto Christ for all. It has a double aspect: one to himself, there it sees nothing but guilt, weakness, emptiness; another to Christ, and there it sees righteousness, strength, all-sufficiency. Faith empties a man of himself, self-conceit, self-sufficiency, self-confidence, makes him seem nothing, that Christ may be all in all. Where the strongest faith, the greatest humility, Mat. viii. 7–10; judges himself unworthy of the least favour, counts himself the greatest of sinners, less than the least of all mercies, thinks better of others than of himself, patient of reproofs, and ready to stoop to the meanest service that Christ shall call him to; ascribes all he has to Christ and grace. —David Clarkson, Of Faith, Works (Banner of Truth, 1988), 1:108–109.

The Humility of Christ

British Prime Minister Clement Atlee was once described (possibly by Winston Churchill) as “a modest man who has a great deal to be modest about.” Whether or not Churchill is the originator of the quip, it is certainly true of all of us. Though we all harbor a great propensity for pride, we all have great cause for humility. Conversely, there is one in whom no reason for humility can be found, yet who embodies the virtue in everything he has done. “I seek not mine own glory” (John viii. 56). In this humility lies the foundation of Christ’s moral excellence. The humility of Jesus found expression in a constant renunciation of His own honour. It shows that He lived in another element and before another public than that of human opinion, which attaches weight only to that which is ostentatious, or comes recommended by success or marked superiority in the race of life. His public before which He acted was not human opinion, but the eye of His Father, before whose perfections all the distinctions of man, as well as all their praise and honour, are little and puny indeed. He did not wish to rise, but to abase Himself: “I am among you as one that serveth.” Though so exalted and excellent, He was more humble than any creature in the universe. —George Smeaton, Christ’s Doctrine of the Atonement (Banner of Truth, 2009), 164–165.


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