Arie den Hartog is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Randolph, Wisconsin.
Sincere and godly humility is certainly among the chief traits of godliness. There are few exhortations that we find more often in Scripture than exhortations to humility. The inspired apostle Peter exhorts us: “Be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty h and of God, that he may exalt you in due time (I Pet. 5:5-6).
Pride is the chief of all sins. Pride has its origin with the devil himself. It is, of course, true that all sin has its origin with the devil. Pride is mentioned in particular in Scripture as a devilish sin. It was the devil who first exalted himself against God, wickedly and foolishly seeking to be greater than and independent from God. He brought down the whole world into the awful sin of pride with the lie: “ye shall be as gods knowing good and evil” (ref.). That the whole world is given over to the great evil of pride is evident on every hand. Man is vain in his own imagination. He imagines himself to be wise, but he is in fact the greatest of fools. He rejects the one only true God, the Lord of heaven and earth, and fashions idol gods after his own imagination. In wicked pride man imagines that he is the lord and master of his own soul. He imagines that he can determine for himself what is good and what is evil. He goes about calling the good evil and the evil good. He has filled the world with violence and wickedness and yet boasts of his own wisdom and greatness. He mocks at the idea of the judgment of God. He does everything in his power to exclude all remembrance of God and of His holy law from his own life and from the world in which he lives. He praises those who will join him in his great wickedness, and in anger opposes those who have the audacity to challenge his opinions and judge his life-style. Every day the media reveals more shocking instances of the wicked pride of modern man. With great human philosophy he has sought to reason away all ideas of God. He boasts of the greatness and goodness of man.. He glories in the great achievements of modern science and technology, and refuses to give praise to God, Who made the world and all that is in it. Scripture is full of severe warnings of the coming judgment of the holy God on all the proud wickedness of men. God will come utterly to debase and humiliate wicked man. He will come to turn all his boasted glory into shame. Already at the time of the death of proud man, God comes to turn him to the dust and to declare his nothingness in His sight. But God will come with a far more dreadful judgment upon the proud ungodly world in the great day of His glorious appearance.
That the modern day church is no different and no better than the wicked world is obvious. Modern theology and modern day Christianity is characterized by proud wickedness. It is the outgrowth of the proud heresies of Pelagianism and Arminianism. It rejects the great truths of the sovereignty and holiness of God. It boasts of the great goodness of the natural man. It glories in its own great achievements, its super-churches and world-wide evangelistic campaigns. It tolerates in her midst some of the grossest wickedness. It refuses to separate itself from the world for fear of ridicule and mockery from the world. It would rather be “wise” with the wisdom of the world, the wisdom of modern day philosophy and psychology, rather than the wisdom of the truth and righteousness of God. Therefore, much of it is an abomination before the Lord.
The writer of Proverbs states that the “proud look” is the first of the seven things which God hates, and which are an abomination unto Him. (See Prov. 6.) Those who are proud are the enemies of the all-glorious, absolutely sovereign, and infinitely great Lord of heaven and earth. To be proud is to oppose and deny God. It is to ascribe the glory that belongs alone to God to wicked and sinful man.
Humility has to do with our relationship to God. All true virtue involves the attitude and stance which man takes in relationship to God. There is a boasted human humility. This is a humility that man glories in and exalts. But when wicked man rejects God, he cannot be and is not truly humble.
To be truly humble, we must first of all have a right attitude towards God. Modern day Christianity in rejecting the great truths concerning the nature and being of God can only be proud and wicked. True humility comes from a profound knowledge and sense of the infinite greatness, absolute sovereignty, and perfect holiness of God. True godly humility is a virtue that is born out of fear and reverence for God. The truly humble man stands in awe of the greatness and holiness of God. He is conscious of his own smallness and nothingness in the sight of God. True godly humility involves the knowledge of our complete and absolute dependence upon God. The humble man realizes that it is indeed true that without God he can do nothing at all. He does not boast of his own free will and good works. He knows that even his very life and breath and all things are from God. Without God he cannot even so much as move.
Godly humility is born out of a right knowledge of what man is in God’s sight. It is impossible to be truly humble before God if one refuses to acknowledge the truth of man’s total depravity. The saints of God who in the history of the church displayed true godly humility were those who knew themselves as miserable wretched sinners in God’s sight. They confessed that they were vile in their nature and abhorent in God’s sight. The Heidelberg Catechism teaches true godly humility when it emphasizes that the very first thing which the Christian must know is how great his sin and misery is. Modern day catechisms which are used to instruct children and new converts in the church no longer begin that way. Rather, chapter one in modern day catechisms speak of the basic goodness of man and how worthy he is in the sight of God. Chapter two speaks of the great things that the modern day Christian can do “for God.” That is a proud theology that can only bring forth a generation of proud Christians.
Godly humility is born out of the true knowledge of our salvation. The humble child of God acknowledges that salvation is of the sovereign grace of God. The great doctrines of predestination and of justification and salvation by grace alone are the only doctrines that will make a man truly humble before God. Knowing these truths gives man abundant reason for humility. Knowing these truths spiritually and sincerely will cause the child of God humbly to render all praise and adoration to God.
God has given the truth of His Word that alone will make us humble. We as Reformed Christians ought above all to be humble. If we do not walk in true godly humility, then we deny the very heart of the doctrine we confess.
But humility of course is not merely a matter of knowing the truth formally. It is possible for a man to know the truth and to be very proud. First of all God Himself must humble us by the work of His grace. All the traits of true godliness are those which God Himself must work in the hearts of His born again children as He fashions them by the operation of His Holy Spirit according to His own image.
Pride takes on many different forms. It can rear its ugly head again and again, also in the lives of Christians. It is possible to be proud that we are the elect people of God, and imagine that because we are elect, therefore we are better than others in the world. This is a most dreadful perversion of the truth of election, because election exactly teaches the opposite. It teaches us that God chose His people from before the foundations of the world without any regard for any good that we have done. It teaches us that God loves us though we ourselves are totally unworthy of the love of God. True humility means that the child of God with the great apostle Paul confesses himself to be the chief of all sinners and the least of all saints of God.
It is possible that we can be proud about the truth. Again that involves a most dreadful contradiction. Nevertheless, the sin of pride is such that it can manifest itself in this form. We can easily become proud that we have the truth. But then we entirely forget that all the truth we have is from God. By the grace of God alone we are what we are. It is not because of our own wisdom that we know the truth of God. All that we know is only because of the Spirit of wisdom which God has given us. And we still know so little. We have so much to learn. God still must teach us so many things. We have so little understanding and often we are so very foolish. We are still so very much dependent upon God to be taught the way of wisdom and truth.
We must manifest a practical godly humility as we live in this proud and wicked world. Our whole conversation and life must display our humble dependence upon God. When we present the truth of God, we must always do that with meekness and fear, always on guard lest tones of pride and self confidence spoil our testimony. We must always be steadfast in the truth. But we must not imagine that we are always right, and be ready to humbly acknowledge when we are wrong. We always have to be so very careful when we speak of ourselves. It is so easy for us to boast and to glory in ourselves both when we speak of things natural and things spiritual with respect to ourselves. The truly humble man is the one who always gives glory and praise to God alone. How often we fail in our lives to do that. True humility means that we will often be on our knees confessing our own great sin and weakness. True humility means that we count ourselves as nothing. Therefore we are not easily offended when we are judged and accused by the world. We know that we are sinners, and that we have nothing to glory in ourselves.
Humility must characterize the whole of our attitude and dealings with our fellow man. Much more, of course, could be written about this. “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves” (Phil. 2:3). What a great exhortation that is!