Seven ways true humility shows itself
William Guthrie (1620–1665) was minister of Fenwick in Ayrshire who is best known for his valuable book on salvation and assurance The Christian’s Great Interest.
15 Jun, 2023

When one woman came to Jesus asking for His help, He apparently tried to send her away unanswered. But that woman was as humble as she was trusting, and humility prompted her both to accept what Jesus had against her and to persist in waiting for Him to bless her. In his sermon on this incident, William Guthrie explores the features of true humility, like this woman had, which distinguish it from the false kind. As the following updated extract shows, he identifies seven ways in which true humility manifests itself.

True humility accepts what God says about sin

True humility complies with God in all His accusations of sin. Let God charge you with whatever He wills, true humility accepts it all. If the Lord calls us a dog, we respond, “It is true, Lord; we are justly called this, for we come of a bad kind, and we ourselves are far worse, and likely to grow no better. We are guilty of all these things.” In this way true humility grants everything, and yet is never a bit the further from obtaining its goal [of receiving blessing from the Lord]. Comply with Him therefore today in what He says about sin. If there is anything in your way when approaching to Him at His table, and you cannot tell whether it is a sin or not, treat it as a sin, and be ready to let go of it.

True humility accepts what God says about corruption

True humility complies with God in all the charges He brings of corruption.

God says, “You have an evil heart.”

“I know it very well,” you say in humility, “that’s true.”

“You are not likely to amend, for all the work I’ve done with you.”

“I agree, Lord, I have made such little progress.”

“Your heart is as ready to do evil as it ever was.”

“That is certainly true.”

“I think there was never something bad that came from any of your people, but probably it came from you.”

“True, Lord.”

“Your heart is inclining to some bad way right now.”

“That’s as true as the rest.”

This is how true humility accepts all the charges of corruption that are brought against the soul.

True humility accepts God’s remedy for sin and corruption

But true humility also complies with God as to the remedy both for the pardon of sin and for the power of sin. True humility is not too proud to submit to the righteousness of God.

True humility grants that it is a slave to many a lust, but it will grant more than that — it will grant that Christ is “made wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and complete redemption.”

“My heart faints and fails,” it is true, indeed, “But God is the strength of my heart, and portion for ever.” That is true too.

If God says, “There is life in my Son,” true humility is just as ready to say, “That is true; I shall get life.”

If God says, “There is no way to destroy corruption but by abiding in Christ,” then humility replies, “Well then, I will cling to Him just as the branches abide in the vine.”

If God says, “There is a fountain opened to the house of David for sin, and for uncleanness,” then true humility says, “That’s true,” and it complies with this as the only remedy for corruption to be purged away.

True humility grasps God’s gospel

True humility complies with God by continuing to wait on Him, and that in spite of much boasting, and many difficulties. It does not give the Lord short shrift on first appearances, so to speak. Humility says, in other words, “Even if God will not give this thing, at this time, let Him do as He pleases.” It is simply pride to leave God when His first appearances seem to turn you away. This woman is a pattern of true humility for us to copy.

“Thou art a dog,” was what Jesus said at first.

“I grant,” says she, “I am a filthy one.”

“Thou art none of mine,” is what He says next.

“I grant,” says she, “I was never worthy to be called one of thine. That is true, Lord, but we must not part like this. I will wait until I reach God’s real purpose,” which was to save sinners.

All His hard sayings were never intended to put away a poor sinner, but rather to stir up their desires into more life, and to bring them nearer to Himself.

True humility will grieve that it gets no more, but yet it still takes what it can have.

Take good heed: this aspect of true humility consists primarily in these two things:—

1. It is thankful for Christ. It takes the essentials of life and peace, i.e., Christ Himself, and although it still complains of the lack of those precious things which He usually distributes to His people, yet it will solace itself in effectual grace. It sees Christ the essential treasure, worth everything in the world. It accepts Him thankfully. With awe of God on the heart, those who have humility will be conscientious about their way of life, but still there will be much sorrow at their hearts that they cannot get the love of God more abundantly shed abroad in their hearts, or the awareness of His presence and access in prayer. Sure, but these things are not food. They are beautiful rings and jewels, but you cannot eat them. They are good and delightsome; but you cannot be kept alive by them. It is Himself that fills the humble, and is all in all to them.

2. It is conscious of what it lacks. True humility will be taking what is essential, and yet it will know itself to lack many things. It will be constantly grieving or complaining for lack of other essentials. True humility will be blessing God, and yet loathing itself for what it has done. It will be very low because it cannot get heart-breaking contrition, self-loathing, and self-judging for sin. It loathes itself because it cannot love and take thankfully from God’s hand anything that in love He bestows. It would gladly have more love. Although the humble person’s heart is not what he would like it to be and not what it ought to be, yet he will take it thankfully from God’s hand that He has brought him at least to offer up his heart to Him, and also to His whole law. But still it breaks that person’s heart that he cannot attain to practical obedience to all God’s commands. Yet since God has said it is an evidence of love to have some respect to all His commands — “Then shall I not be ashamed when I have respect to all thy commandments” — the humble person will bless the Lord for all He has given him until he gets more. Some will get permission to stand at the King’s table, and some to share the same bowl as Him, while others are placed at a side table with a piece of dry bread, and yet all are fed with the same substantial food — the one who gets the crumbs as well as the one who sits at the table.

True humility leaves God to sort things out

True humility takes the things in the bare promise, and leaves the performance of them to God’s own time. Give true humility a promise, and it will rest satisfied.

It gives much glory to God, and is well pleasing in His sight, that we should hang everything on the promise. It is what God has designed, that we should all hang on His word. True humility says, “If He will give me a word, that will save me. Let Him do with me as seemeth Him good.” True humility prays, “Give me the promise that Thou wilt break the dominion of such and such a lust, or idol; then I will leave it to Thee to do it when Thou wilt. Though I am impatient of how this sin rules in me, yet I will not be so peremptory as to say that I must have it done at this communion or else never look for it any more.”

You must not limit Him to such and such a time. You must not limit the Holy One of Israel. He has said, “It shall be well with the righteous.” And, “The foot of the wicked shall slide in due time.” Then wait for it. It shall be accomplished, since He has said that He will do it.

True humility turns to God for help

True humility does not dare to help to bring about the performance of the promise in any way, except in the way that God has allowed. If the Lord commands a duty, humility doesn’t dare to dispute with God about the outcome, whatever cross or difficulty may follow from it. Humility is more interested in getting Christ to remove wrath by the cross than the stroke in the cross. It embraces Him as the only remedy, whereas false humility would shake off the cross and take some nearer way. True humility will wait on a while, for it continues to expect good at God’s hand.

If He commands me to go to a particular communion, then even if I lack the proper frame for it, I must go there. And then I am to grasp Himself, and exercise the faith of holding on to Him, till I get more. Even if I am not in a good frame, I am not to stay away from the communion; for where is a good frame to be had if not in His way? True humility does not dare take any sinful way to bring about God’s promise, neither does it dare venture on anything not commanded by God.

True humility takes God’s side

True humility takes more liberties with its own things than with the matters of God. Hence, when my own interest and God’s interest come in competition, humility stands up for God’s side and lets its own interests slide.

For example, there may be a thing which it would be sinful for me to do, but if I don’t do it, I shall be made to suffer. “Well,” says the humble one, “but I will rather suffer before I sin. For on the one hand there is only suffering, but on the other hand there is sinning.”

“Ay,” the false replies, “but there may be sin in suffering consequently.” Yet that is only a maybe. The one may or may not be, but the other is clearly and manifestly sin. Even if my suffering comes to be sin consequently, yet I am not called to venture on what is manifestly guilt, just because my suffering may be sin consequently.

True humility will take more risks with the body than with the soul, and in this it complies with God, for God regards the soul more highly. Take this example for a proof: God cut down Job’s children and all his worldly substance, and actually, all he had, just so that Job might get a little more grace. Oh, but God will squeeze a man strongly in his body, interests, and goods, to increase his grace.


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