Thursday, October 2, 2008

Edwards' Sixth Sign - Christian Humility

I was glad for the extra week to try to process this chapter. It was long, almost 30 thick, meaty pages. By about half-way through I was beginning to doubt my position in Christ, seeing my own pride described in every page. This is really an intensely realistic and practical look at the nature of true Christian humility, and at pride, and its deceitfulness in the human heart. This chapter holds a bright light and a mirror up to the soul. As I read further I was, thankfully, able to recognize signs of grace in my heart as well, and regained some assurance, and learned some things about spiritual pride, a legalistic spirit, and true humility I hope I never forget. I'm going to let Edwards do most of the talking here since I cannot improve upon him, I really dislike trying to condense his thought, but wouldn't dare post the whole chapter here. My hope is that the sample below get his very important point across, and hopefully will convince any and all to read this great classic for themselves.

First Edwards defines "evangelical humiliation" (as opposed to what he terms "legal humiliation") as: "as sense that a Christian has of his own utter insufficiency, despicableness, and odiousness, with an answerable frame of heart." He further describes it this way: "In legal humiliation men are brought to despair of helping themselves; in evangelical, they are brought voluntarily to deny and renounce themselves; in the former they are subdued and forced to the ground; in the latter, they are brought sweetly to yield, and freely and with delight to prostrate themselves at the feet of God....Men may be legally humbled and have no humility; as the wicked at the Day of Judgement will be thoroughly convinced that they have no righteousness, but are altogether sinful, and exceeding guilty, and justly exposed to eternal damnation, and be fully sensible of their own helplessness, without the least mortification of the pride of their hearts."

And, says Edwards, "This is a great and most essential thing in true religion. The whole frame of the gospel, and everything appertaining to the new Covenant, and all God's dispensation towards fallen man, are calculated to bring to pass this effect in the hearts of men. They that are destitute of this, have no true religion, whatever profession they may make, and how high soever their religious affections may be..." This is a hard saying, but it is backed up by a myriad of Scripture references.

He breaks down the Christian's "duty of self-denial" into to components:

"first, in a man's denying his worldly inclinations, and in forsaking and renouncing all worldly objects and enjoyments; and secondly, in denying his natural self-exaltation, and renouncing his own dignity and glory, and in being emptied of himself; so that he does freely anf from his very heart, as it were renounce himself, and annihilate himself." And, as he says, "natural men can come much nearer to the former than the latter....'Tis inexpressible, and almost inconceivable, how strong a self-righteous, self-exalting, disposition is naturally in man; and what he will not do and suffer, to feed and gratify it; and what lengths have been gone in a seeming self-denial to feed and gratify it; and what lengths have been gone in seeming self-denial in other respects...." (he mentions by way of example the Essenes, Pharisees, Papists, Mahometans, and others among the heathens who undergo degrees of "self-denial" "...all to do sacrifice to this Moloch of spiritual pride or self-righteousness; and that they may have something wherein to exalt themselves before God, and above their fellow creatures."

Edwards goes on to paint a picture of what this true, evangelical humility looks like, repeatedly contrasting it with images of the false. In his descriptions I was able to recognize in my own heart both truth and falsehood. To be able to see oneself in this way this is at once horrible and priceless.

"Tis true that many hypocrites make great pretences to humility, as well as other graces; and very often there is nothing whatsoever which they make a higher profession of." But, "...not with a heart that is broken, not with spiritual mourning, not with the tears of her that washed Jesus' feet with her tears....But with a light air, with smiles in the countenance, or with a pharisaical affectation; and we must believe that they are thus humble, and see themselves so vile, upon the credit of their say so, for there is nothing appears in 'em of any savor of humility, in the manner of their deportment and deeds that they do. There are many that are full of expressions of their own vileness, who yet expect to be lookedupon as eminent and bright saints by others as their due; and 'tis dangerous for any so much as to hint to the contrary, or to carry it towards them any otherwise, than as if we looked upon 'em some of the chief of Christians."

"There is no man living that is lifted up with a conceit of his own experiences and discoveries, and upon the account of them glisters in his own eyes, but what trusts in his experiences, and makes a righteousness of 'em; however he may use humble terms, and speak of his experiences as of the great things God has done for him, and it may be calls upon others to glorify God for them; yet he that is proud of his experiences, arrogates something to himself, as though his experiences were some dignity of his. And if he looks on them as his own dignity, he necessarily thinks that God looks on them as he does; and so unavoidably imagines that God looks on his experiences as a dignity in him, as he looks on 'em himself; and that he glisters as much in God's eyes, as he does in his own. And thus he trusts in what is inherent in him, to make him shine in God's sight, and recommend him to God; and with this encouragement he goes before God in prayer; and this makes him expect much from God; and this makes him think that Christ loves him, and that he is willing to clothe him with his righteousness; because he supposes that he is taken with his experiences and graces. And this is a high degree of living on his own righteousness; and such persons are in the high road to hell. Poor deluded wretches, who think they look so glistering in God's eyes, when they are a smoke in his nose, and are many of 'em more odious to him than the most impure beast in Sodom, that makes no pretense to religion."

"And some who think themselves quite emptied of themselves, and are confident that they are abased in the dust, are full as they can hold with the glory of their own humility, and lifted up to heaven with an high opinion of their abasement. Their humility is a swelling , self-conceited, confident, showy, noisy, assuming humility. It seems to be the nature of spiritual pride to make men conceited and ostentatious of their humility."

Edwards then gives us two ways to discover spiritual pride: ( I think there were two. He started with a "1." and did not follow it up with a "2." Instead, ten pages later, and after I'd long forgotten there was supposed a sequence, he started a paragraph with the word "Secondly", at which point I scrambled to try and remember when and where the "firstly" was. And to confuse it further, it was the second paragraph in a row to begin with the word "secondly". The previous "secondly" clearly referred to a different "firstly".)

Firstly: someone suffering from spiritual pride "is apt to think highly of his attainments in religion, as comparing himself with others. 'Tis natural for him to fall into that thought of himself, that he is an eminent saint, that he is very high amongst the saints, and has distinguishably good and great experiences. That is the secret language of his heart. 'God I thank thee, that I am not as other men.' (Luke 18:11)...Hence such are apt to put themselves forward among God's people, and as it were to take a high seat among them, as if there was no doubt it belonged to them...they are confident that they are guides to the blind, a light of them which are in darkness, instructors of the foolish, teachers of babes (Rom. 2: 19-20)....The persons that talk thus about their experiences, when they give an account of them, expect that others should admire them. "

By contrast, "If they were under the influence of an humble spirit, their attainments in religion would not be so apt to shine in their own eyes, nor would they be so much in admiring their own beauty. The Christians that are really the most eminent saints, and therefore have the most excellent experiences, and are greatest in the kingdom of heaven, humble themselves as a little child (Mt.18:4). Because they look on themselves as but a little children in grace, and their attainments to be but the attainments of babes in Christ, and are astonished at, and ashamed of the low degrees of their love, and their thankfulness, and their little knowledge of God."

The true Christian, a humble saint, is "much more likely to think that every saint's attainments and experiences are higher than his...." He ponders the amazing love and grace of God toward sinners and is amazed at himself, at "how little he does love...that one that is really a child of God, and that has actually received the saving benefits of that unspeakable love of Christ, should love no more; and he is apt to look upon it as a thing peculiar to himself, a strange and exempt instance; for he sees only the outside of other Christians, but he sees his own inside."

As to the spirtually proud professor of religion, Edwards has this to say: "The nature of many high religious affections, and great discoveries (as they are called) in many persons that I have been acquainted with, is to hide and cover over the corruption of their hearts, and to make it seem to them as if all their sin was gone, and to leave them without complaints of any hateful evil left in them (though it may be they cry out much of their past unworthiness); a sure and certain evidence that thier discoveries (as they call them) are darkenss and not light. 'Tis darkness that hids men's pollution and deformity; but light let into the heart discovers it, searches it out in its secret corners, and makes it plainly to appear; especially that penetrating , all-searching light of God's holiness and glory."

Now, at this point we come to the place of Edwards' own emphasis, one of the rare places in the text where italics are used: "And this may be laid down as an infallible thing, that the person who is apt to think that he, as compared with others, is a very eminent saint, much distinguished in Christian experience, in whom this is a first thought, that rises of itself, and naturally offers itself; he is certainly mistaken; he is no eminent saint; but under the great prevailings of a proud and self-righteous spirit. And if this be habitual with the man, and is statedly the prevailing temper of his mind, he is no saint at all; he has not the least degree of any true Christian experience; so surely as the Word of God is true."

These are hard words - words I sorely needed to hear - words the modern church needs sorely to hear. A sister in Christ, a new friend, told me a couple of days ago that in all the years she'd been going to church she'd never heard anyone use the expression "true Christian" until joining our reformed fellowship. I knew exactly what she meant. If we don't have a category for this, we will not examine ourselves, and will deceive ourselves and be deceived by others.

Now we come to "Secondly": another thing that is an infallible sign of spiritual pride is persons being apt to think highly of their humility. False experiences are commonly attended with a counterfeit humility. And it is the very nature of a counterfeit humility, to be highly conceited of itself. False religious affections have generally that tendency, especially when raised to a great height, to make persons think that their humility is great, and accordingly to take much notice of their great attainments in this respect, and admire them. But eminently gracious affections (I scruple not to say it) are evermore of a contrary tendency, and have universally a contrary effect, in those that have them. They indeed make them very sensible what reason there is that they should be deeply humbled, and cause 'em earnestly to thirst and long after it; but they make their present humility, or that which they have already attained to, to appear small; and their remaining pride great, and exceedingly abominable...he that is truly and eminently humble, never thinks his humility great, considering the cause. 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."

I'm finding it very difficult to condense this chapter. I'd prefer to have everyone read it in it's entirety. But I will end here with one more rich and lengthy quote:

"An eminent saint is not apt to think himself eminent in any thing; all his graces and experiences are ready to appear to him to be comparatively small; but expecially his humility. There is nothing that appertains to Christian experience, and true piety, that is so much out of his sight as his humility. He is a thousand times more quick-sighted to discern his pride, than his humility; that he easily discerns, and is apt to take much notice of, but hardly discerns his humility. On the contrary, the deluded hypocrite, that is under the power of spiritual pride, is so blind to nothing as his pride; and so quick-sighted to nothing, as the shews of humility that are in him.

"The humble Christian is more apt to find fault with his own pride than with other men's. He is apt to put the best construction on others' words and behavior, and to think that none are so proud as himself. But the proud hypocrite is quick to discern the mote in he brother's eye, in this respect; while he sees nothing of the beam in his own. He is very often much in crying out of others' pride, finding fault with others' apparel and way of living; and is affected ten times as much with his neighbor's ring or ribband, as with all the filthiness of his own heart."

Make that two quotes:

The "truly humble not stiff and self-willed; he is patient with hard fare; he expects no other than to be despised, and takes it patiently; he don't take it heinously that he is overlooked and but little regarded; he is prepared to be in low place; he readily honors his superiors; he takes reproofs quietly; he readily honors others as above him; he easily yields to be taught, and don't claim much to his understanding and judgement; he is not overnice or humorsome, and has his spirit subdued to hard things; he is not assuming, nor apt to take much upon him, but 'tis natural for him to be subject to others. Thus is is with the humble Christian....he is humble and modest in his behavior amongst men. 'Tis in vane for any to pretend that they are humble, and as little children before God, when they are haughty, assuming and impudent in their behavior amongst men. The Apostle informs us that the design of the gospel is to cut off all glorying, not only before God, but also before men (Rom. 4: 1-2)."

All emphasis in bold type is mine.

(This is my latest addition to the Reading the Classics online reading group over at We are currently reading Jonathan Edwards' work, Religious Affection.)

1 comment:

Lynn Cross said...

I too am reading Edwards with Tim. I have read your blog posts and have enjoyed them as well. I could read and re-read this section on humility. Thanks Lynn Cross