What are we to make of those who make much of their Humility? (2)
In the previous article we looked at what Jonathan Edwards describes as the first infallible sign of spiritual pride in the human heart. We now turn our attention to the second. Continue reading . . .
In the previous article we looked at what Jonathan Edwards describes as the first infallible sign of spiritual pride in the human heart. We now turn our attention to the second.
(2) Second, another infallible sign of spiritual pride is when a person is inclined to think highly of his humility. False religious affections have the tendency, especially when they are raised high and are intense, to make a person think that his humility is great.
But truly spiritual affections have the opposite effect. They actually lead a person to regard his present humility as small and insignificant and his present pride as great and exceedingly abominable.
This is true because a person typically measures his/her own humility in the light of how much dignity they currently possess or the stature of their social standing. For example, if a powerful king should stoop to wash the feet of another powerful king who is his equal, he would regard it as an act of humility because of his own kingly stature. But if a poor slave should wash the feet of a great king, no one would take note of it or regard it as an act of humility. Says Edwards:
"And the matter is no less plain and certain when worthless, vile and loathsome worms of the dust are apt to put such a construction on their acts of abasement before God, and to think it a token of great humility in them that they, under their affections, can find themselves so willing to acknowledge themselves to be so and so mean and unworthy, and to behave themselves as those that are so inferior. The very reason why such outward acts, and such inward exercises, look like great abasement in such an one is because he has a high conceit of himself.”
On the other hand, if he thought more accurately of himself and considered his place in life he would be stunned by his pride and wonder why he was not brought even lower before God. If you ever find yourself saying, "This act of devotion or love or service is certainly characterized by great humility," you obviously are in the grip of great pride, for you have an unduly and sinfully exalted view of your place vis-a-vis God. He thinks himself high and looks at his action in comparison with it and thus regards it as truly humble that he should have performed such a service.
But in the truly humble soul, it is the opposite. He knows his lowliness and sinfulness and thus "when he is brought lowest of all, it does not appear to him that he is brought below his proper station, but that he is not come to it. He appears to himself yet vastly above it. He longs to get lower, that he may come to it, but appears at a great distance from it. And this distance he calls pride. And therefore his pride appears great to him, and not his humility. For although he is brought much lower than he used to be, yet it don't appear to him worthy of the name of humiliation, for him that is so infinitely mean and detestable, to come down to a place, which though it be lower than what he used to assume, is yet vastly higher than what is proper for him.”
In other words, the truly humble person will never consider an act to be beneath his dignity. Even if the act brings him lower than he has ever experienced before, he will always regard it as higher than he deserves.
The truly humble person never thinks his humility is great, because he has a proper grasp of the cause of his humility. Knowing the cause to be infinite, his abasement and lowliness can never be too great. "The cause why he should be abased appears so great, and the abasement of the frame of his heart so greatly short of it, that he takes much more notice of his pride than his humility.”
Or to put it yet another way, the person who is greatly under the conviction for sin is not inclined to think that he is greatly convicted. The truly humble person attributes his conviction to the greatness of the cause of his conviction, not to his own sensibility of sin. Says Edwards:
"That man is under great convictions whose conviction is great in proportion to his sin. But no man that is truly under great convictions thinks his conviction great in proportion to his sin. For if he does, 'tis a certain sign that he inwardly thinks his sins small. And if that be the case, that is a certain evidence that his conviction is small. And this, by the way, is the main reason that persons when under a work of humiliation are not sensible of it, in the time of it.”
The truly humble person never thinks his sensibility of his own lowliness and filthiness is great, because he has a grasp of the cause of why he should be sensible of his sin. Knowing the infinite nature of divine glory and grace, the humble person is less likely to be aware of his humility than anything else in his soul! The greatest sense he has is of his pride, that he does not experience a greater humility than he does. On the other hand, "the deluded hypocrite, that is under the power of spiritual pride, is so blind to nothing as his pride; and so quicksighted to nothing as the shows of humility that are in him.”
The humble believer is more apt to find fault with his own pride than with that of others. But the prideful man is quick to see the pride in others and not at all in himself.
The truly humble are not inclined to talk about it or to display it by means of eloquence or in any manner of living. True humility is not noisy, especially about itself. If you are inclined to say, "No one is as sinful and depraved as I am," be careful that you don't think yourself better than others on this very account. Be careful lest you develop a high opinion of your humility. In essence, if you find yourself thinking often of your humility, it is likely that you have little of it.
Edwards sums up in this way:
"All gracious affections, that are a sweet odor to Christ, and that fill the soul of a Christian with an heavenly sweetness and fragrancy, are brokenhearted affections. A truly Christian love, either to God or men, is a humble brokenhearted love. The desires of the saints, however earnest, are humble desires. Their hope is an humble hope, and their joy, even when it is unspeakable, and full of glory, is a humble, brokenhearted joy, and leaves the Christian more poor in spirit, and more like a little child, and more disposed to an universal lowliness of behavior.”