Two ways we argue with God
The welcoming Saviour occasionally seemed to push people away. This was what appeared to happen to the woman who came to ask for His help in Matthew 15. He made a seemingly dismissive comment counting her as one of the dogs instead of one of the children belonging to the family. Amazingly the woman didn’t take His words at face value but perceived the welcome disguised behind them. In humility she actually turned His words to her own favour, pointing out that even the dogs would eat the crumbs that fell from the meal table. She perceived that a crumb of grace was as good as a whole loaf. In the following updated sermon, William Guthrie takes a closer look at humility. Unlike this woman whose faith and humility were genuine, we can sometimes say apparently humble things which in reality expose our lack of faith and indeed our pride.
True humility does not argue with Christ Jesus, but sweetly complies with Him. But let me show you what way false humility works. False humility is always at one of two extremes. It is either lower than God would have it, or it is higher than God can tolerate.
1. False humility goes lower than God wants
Leaving our responsibility to God
For example, there are many of you who will leave it to God whether to save or damn you. That is false humility, because He has declared His mind peremptorily to the contrary. People are to keep pressing to get into heaven, until they are actually cast into hell. They will get no thanks from God for that kind of humility.
Giving a latitude to God where He takes none
False humility leaves it up to God to save you whether you believe or not. “We know,” say some, “that people should believe; but He may save us in any way. He may bring folk to heaven equally well without faith as with it.” Do you imagine that God will bring people to heaven if they do not believe? You are making a great mistake. “He that believeth not shall not see life. Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.”
Putting you lower than the reach of free grace
When a man takes such a look of his guilt that he thinks himself below the free grace of God, it is false humility. Though he does not want to say that he has sinned the sin against the Holy Ghost, yet he thinks God cannot pardon him. But it is a sin to think like this, when God has said, “All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven.” In this way false humility justles out the whole of God’s arrangements in the covenant of free grace.
Taking more care of the glory of God than He does Himself
It is a strange sort of humility when someone stands up and says, “I think it would be an encroachment on the holiness of God to show mercy to me. He may show mercy to whoever He pleases, but He cannot pardon me.” That is a strange thing. You do not need to worry about encroachments on His holiness, when He has declared that He has found a ransom. Will you be wiser than God? He will never regard that as humility! It is enough to us that He has made a declaration through the world, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear you Him.” As if to say, “I shall satisfy myself in myself. Don’t trouble your heads about that. I am satisfied.”
Thinking it is a mistake to take little problems to God
False humility goes lower than God allows when it treats it as a faux pas to put little things into God’s hand. Many think it would be injudicious for them at such a time as this to ask God to heal their sore head which incapacitates them from hearing the preaching, or to help their faint heart that hinders them from profiting by the Word. But this is the devil’s humility, for the Lord counts all the hairs of your head. Some think it would be some sort of gaffe to ask for a bag of meal from God, and a coat to put on their back at such a time as this – but He has commanded you to put all your needs onto Him, from your salvation to your shoe-latchet.
Thinking it a mistake to come to God often about the same thing
This humility justles with the majesty of God. This is the case with many of us. You have told God often what you are. You have frequented many communions, and yet you are not the better. You have come often with one and the same thing, and now you blush to come to Him again.
But in this you are humble overmuch. Really you should be ashamed that you have not come again and again about one and the same thing! Never account it a mistake to come to Him repeatedly (though the world would think it was), while He has told the brother to forgive the brother seventy times seven in a day. How much more will the great God of heaven forgive us in one day!
2. False humility rises higher than ever God allowed it
“I’m not good enough to be saved by Christ”
False humility goes higher than can be tolerated, in refusing to go into debt to God. This is when people are still seeking for some qualification before they dare approach Christ in believing. They say they would not hesitate to go to Him if they could only get their hearts so and so broken—that is, if they could endure some penance for their sins. But this is to justle with God, for He sings this one note, “Come without money, and without price.” Many are playing upon this string, “If only I had such and such a measure of sorrow for my transgressions”—i.e., “I’m not willing to venture on Him absolutely.” But you won’t get anything but God’s curse or displeasure if you don’t change your tune. If you stick out over any qualification, you spoil the market of free grace wholly.
“I’m too much of a sinner for Christ to save me”
A false humility is unwilling to be absolutely in Christ’s debt. Those who have it resolve to be only a very little in His debt, even though they realise they must be in His debt to some extent. “For,” they say, “He may show mercy to any other sinner, but not to such a sinner as I am. I know He can pardon sinners, but I don’t want to assume that He will pardon the kind of sinner I am.”
But remember what distance is between you, the creature, and God; and between sin and free grace. The difficulty here is, to make God stoop to man, when there is such an infinite distance between God and the creature. But there is no comparable disproportion between your sin, and the sin of anyone else. Has free grace stooped to pardon the sin of any? Then the hazard is past. So your humility is proud humility, because you don’t want to be absolutely in His debt. You would dare to venture the pardon of one sin on Him, as long as it was only a bad thought, or suchlike, but you dare not venture the pardon of a great sin. That is strange ignorance! Since free grace has stooped to pardon any sin, then if you have the heart to venture the pardon of one idle word on Him, then you may also venture on Him the pardon of drunkenness, covenant-breaking, and indeed, every sin. No sin can stand in the way, because the disproportion is between sin and grace, and not between grace and a particular sin.
“I can’t go to God until I’ve got a broken heart”
False humility also justles with God about sin after conversion. Many, when they come first to close with Christ, realise they must resolve to take Him on His own terms, and to be absolutely in His debt. But afterwards they think they cannot come if they don’t have such and such a stock of grace. “Am I supposed to go to God,” they say, “in such a frame as this, before I get my heart humbled?”
But don’t you agree that all your exercises of faith, repentance, etc., are from God, and absolutely from God? Then you have to be in His debt for repentance and a broken heart, as well as for the pardon of sin. This is not the time to be haggling with Him. You must be absolutely in His debt now after conversion, just as much as when you first closed with Him. It is true you ought to be in a better frame, yet you must be always in His debt. Since you lack a better frame, and cannot get it, you must always be in His debt – for new debt, as well as for the old. I grant it is your duty to seek for a good frame of spirit, but if you cannot get it, you are to cast all on Himself together, for He cares for you.
“All my experiences are worthless”
False humility will not acknowledge crumbs to be real and true bread. Because people don’t have the special experiences that others report – because there is something they’ve never had, because they never knew a remarkable answer to prayer or a wonderful sense of God’s presence – therefore they despise everything they have experienced. Truly that is very proud. You think nothing of heart conviction – but someone may have something worse than that. You think it nothing that you see Christ to be a precious jewel; you think it nothing that your desire runs towards Him. But indeed I think very much of it. You think nothing of it that you account all His commands to be right, and that you have a respect to both small and great of them. But that is a miserable humility, since the Scripture has said, “They shall never be ashamed who have respect to all his commandments.” The crumbs are really bread just as much as big loaves. The woman in Matthew 15 was prudent; she could make do with little crumbs until she got more.
“I’ll make do without the things that God can give me”
This high-handed humility says it won’t hold God to some promise, on condition that He will perform other promises. Some would not ask God for bodily health, or the life of their wives or children, provided He would save their souls and keep them from the troubles of this time.
But is it fair, do you think, to set such limits to the free bounty and holy majesty of God, so that you do not deal liberally with Him according to His own Word? Does He hold back anything from you? He is of a liberal heart, and allows His people to devise liberal things at His hand. Is He going to be in your debt, so to speak, if you let Him off from performing one promise as long as He makes good another one? Absolutely not, and in fact He allows you to seek your salvation and your health, and the health of your children, with food and raiment to you and them, and every other thing that may be for your good. I grant that if the Lord calls you to give up these things, you are to submit them all to Him, but when He is not expressly calling you to that, then you are not to do it, but to hold Him to His promise.
Has He not promised, “Thou shalt have bread, and thy water shall be sure”? Then you may seek it from Him, for He can well spare it. He will never thank you for not asking a temporal benefit, even if it was just the cure of a sore head, or sickly body. I say, Seek health, food, and raiment, and as much means as may carry you through the world without being burdensome to others. He hates the manner of a churl. “The liberal man deviseth liberal things, and by liberal things he shall stand.”
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