Charity and Its Fruits - charity is an humble spirit, part 2

Charity and Its Fruits
Lecture VII, part two

(This week we continue our discussion of the Jonathan Edwards' classic, Charity and Its Fruits. We have just concluded reading the second part of Lecture Seven beginning with Roman Numeral Two. We will begin Lecture Eight next week, reading through Roman Numeral Two. The notes below follow Edwards' outline directly, with all direct quotes from the text in italics. My goal is to make each post edifying on its own, even for those who are not reading along with us. I will welcome your questions or comments in the form below.)

"Charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly." 1 Cor. 13:4,5
II. The spirit of charity is an humble spirit.

1. A spirit of charity, or divine love, implies and tends to humility.
  • First, It implies humility. Simply put, humility is part of what Christian love is. As we discussed last week, it is perfectly possible to acknowledge God, as God, and as all powerful, and yet not love Him. The devils and the damned are examples of this. It is when we see God in all His majesty as lovely, that we are humbled by His greatness and His beauty. The love that is inspired in us is a humble love. As Edwards puts it:
"All grace is wrought in the heart through the knowledge of God, or by the clear discovery of his perfections; and the knowledge of these perfections is the foundation of all grace. And it is the discovery or sense of God as lovely, and not only as lovely, but as infinitely above us in loveliness, that works humility in the heart. Merely having a sense of the fact that God is infinitely above us...will not work humility....and this is evident from the work of the law on the heart of the sinner, and from the experience of devils and damned spirits. Under the work of the law on the heart, persons may have a sense of the awful greatness of God, and yet have no humility, because they have no sense of his loveliness."
Again we see that the law can terrify us. It can awaken our sin and rebellion, but it cannot produce in us a love for God. We know from the testimony of the Old Testament, from the reaction of the Pharisees to Christ, and from those who have clearly seen God's righteousness and power - the devils and the souls the damned, that the law does not inspire love or humility:
"...though they shall so clearly and so terribly see that God is infinitely above them in greatness, yet they will have no humility. They will see themselves at an infinite distance from God, but their hearts will not comply with that distance, and feel as is answerable to it. Because they will not see God's loveliness, they will not know their infinite distance from him in this respect, and therefore will not be led to humility."
"...for love is but the disposition of the heart toward God as lovely...."
Edwards goes on to tell us "when God is truly loved, he is loved as an infinite superior. True love to God is not love to him as an equal." God is God, infinite and eternal. He is not our "buddy". He is Creator, Judge, and Ruler of all creation. When we recognize this we can then stand in humble awe that He, in the person of His Son, has stooped down, in love, to take on human flesh, to become the sacrifice for our wickedness, and the Mediator between us and the Almighty, reconciling us so that we can enjoy the honor of being called His "friends". Friends of the Almighty - humbling indeed!
"Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another." John 15:13-17
  • Secondly, It also tends to humility. Humility is not only a quality in divine love, but it is also an effect of it. Edwards gives a couple of ways in which love leans us toward humility. 1) When we love someone, we are willing to see what is great in their character as compared to our own, and desire to see them honored with all the honor due them. This is true of our love for God and our love for man. When we do not love someone the opposite is true. We do not see their value and hate to see them honored, whether it is God or man. 2) Our love for God causes us to hate to see Him sinned against. The more we love Him, the more we hate our sin and the more humble we are before Him.
2. How the gospel tends to draw forth such exercises of love as do especially imply and tend to it.
"A Christian spirit and a gospel spirit are the same."
    • First, Because the gospel leads us to love God as an infinitely condescending God. Edwards, writing in the 18th century, used the word "condescending" in a way which lacks all the negative baggage we've come to attach to it. His meaning would have been along these lines: "to put aside one's dignity or superiority voluntarily and assume equality with one regarded as inferior." By this definition we should be able to recognize that God's condescending to us sinful humans is a truly lovely thing - and it is at the heart of the gospel:
    "The gospel teaches how God...stooped so low as to take an infinitely gracious notice of poor vile worms of the dust, and to concern himself for their salvation, and so as to send his only-begotten Son to die for them, that they might be forgiven, and elevated, and honored, and brought into eternal fellowship with him, and to the perfect enjoyment of himself in heaven for ever."
    • Secondly, The gospel leads us to love Christ as an humble person. Christ, in His humanity, is the greatest example of humility that the world has ever seen. If we love Him, and see His humility as lovely, we will want to emulate it. And if He, our Lord, is humble, how much more ought we to be.
      "Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant,being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." Phil. 2:3-8
    "You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him." John 13:13-16
    • Thirdly, The gospel leads us to love Christ as a crucified Savior.
    "As our Savior and Lord, he suffered the greatest ignominy, and was put to the most ignominious death, though he was the Lord of glory. This may well kindle the humility of his followers, and lead them to an humble love to him. For by God sending his Son into the world to suffer such an ignominious death, he did, as it were, pour contempt on all the earthly glory that men are wont to be proud of."
    • Fourthly, The gospel still further tends to lead us to humble exercises of love, because it leads us to love Christ as one that was crucified for our sakes. In it we see the excellence of Christ and the love of Christ, and in it we see the vileness of our sin.

    "...Christ's being crucified for our sakes is the greatest testimony of God against our sins that was ever given. It shows more of God's abhorrence of our sins than any other act or event that God has ever directed or permitted.  The measure of God's abhorrence of our sins is shewn by his having them so terribly punished, and his wrath so executed against them, even when imputed to his own Son."

    1. When we apply this teaching we will see "the excellency of a Christian spirit". Much of the excellence of a true Christian is seen "in his meek and lowly spirit, which makes him so like his Savior."
    2. In light of this teaching we ought "to examine ourselves and see if we are indeed of an humble is not every show and appearance of humility that will stand the test of the gospel. There are various imitations of it that fall short of the reality. Edwards lists several traits which can mimic humility, but are not true Christian humility:
    • affected humility
    • natural low-spiritedness
    • melancholy or despondency (we would call it depression)
    • convictions of conscience (what we would call guilt)
    • counterfeit...humility, wrought by the delusions of Satan
    To understand this last point "counterfeit humility" I found it helpful to look to another work of Edwards, Religious Affections:
    "False [religious] 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....The...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. Whereas if he thought of himself more justly, these things would appear nothing to him, and his humility in them worthy of no regard; but would rather be astonished at his pride, that one so infinitely despicable and vile, is brought no lower before God. When he says in his heart, 'This is a great act of humiliation; it is certainly a sign of great humility in me, that I should feel thus, and do so'; his meaning is, 'This is a great humility for me, for such a one as I, that am so considerable and worthy.' He considers how low he is now brought, and compares this with the height of dignity on which he in his heart thinks he properly stands, and the distance appears very great, and he calls it all mere humility, and as such admires it."
    True humility, on the other hand, is quite unselfconscious. In fact, a truly humble person will be keenly aware of the pride he still possesses. "...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." (from Religious Affections)

    3. This teaching exhorts those who do not know God's grace to seek it. If you find through this study that all your "humility" is indeed counterfeit, that your personality and actions are characterized by the attitudes and behaviors of pride, then you have little reason to believe that the grace of God is at work in you. You need a new heart, a humble heart, which only Christ can give. If you see the beauty of His humility, run to Him. He will clothe you in grace and give you a humble heart of love.

    4. This teaching exhorts us all to earnestly seek a humble spirit and "to endeavor to be humble in all their behavior toward God and men. - Seek for a deep and abiding sense of your comparative meanness before God and man. Know God....."
    "Humility is a most essential and distinguishing trait in all true piety. It is the attendant of every grace, and in a peculiar manner tends to the purity of Christian feeling. It is the ornament of the spirit; the source of some of the sweetest exercises of Christian experience; the most acceptable sacrifice we can offer to God; the subject of the richest of his promises; the spirit with which he will dwell on earth, and which he will crown with glory in heaven hereafter. Earnestly seek, then, and diligently and prayerfully cherish so humble a spirit, and God shall walk with you here below; and when a few more days shall have passed, he will receive you to the honors bestowed on the people at Christ's right hand."
    If you are a Christian and are experiencing God's grace in your life, you are still no doubt struggling with the lingering effects of pride. Run to Christ. He is the source of all true humility and righteousness.


    That's Life said…
    At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask! What shall I give you?” 1 Kings 3:5

    After reading your entry, Laurie, I am asking for grace and the Holy Spirit's convicting work to identify and to keep on rooting out my own personal pride for which my Jesus and Friend gave His life. And to keep on going after Jesus' new commandment to love like He does. Thanks for another blessed post and that so many of us may share together!
    Laurie M. said…
    Estelle! I've missed you!
    Lisa notes... said…
    I thought this was a very good chapter. I've found there's not a whole lot of good material out there on humility.

    Still enjoying your summaries...
    Karin said…
    Thanks so much for all this excellent work. Lots to think on!!

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