It is no great thing to be humble when you are brought low; but to be humble when you are praised is a great and rare achievement.
(Bernard of Clairvaux)
All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people who say, “Keep away; don’t come near me, for I am too scared for you!”
We speak of the holiness movement in our times and praise God for it. We hear a great deal of seekers after holiness and professors of holiness, of holiness teaching and holiness meetings. The blessed truths of holiness in Christ and holiness by faith are being emphasized as never before. The great test of whether the holiness we profess to seek or to attain is truth and life will be whether it is manifest in the increasing humility it produces. In the individual, humility is the one thing needed to allow God’s holiness to dwell in and shine through him or her. In Jesus – the Holy One of God, who makes us holy – divine humility was the secret of his life, his death, and his exaltation. The one infallible test of our holiness will be our humility before God and others. Humility is the bloom and the beauty of holiness.
The chief mark of counterfeit holiness is its lack of humility. Every seeker after holiness needs to be on his guard lest unconsciously what was begun in the spirit is perfected in the flesh, and pride creeps in where its presence is least expected. Two men went into the temple to pray: the one a Pharisee, the other a tax collector. There was no place or position so sacred that the Pharisee could not enter there. Pride can lift its head in the very temple of God and make his worship the scene of its self-exaltation. Since the time Christ so exposed his pride, the Pharisee has put on the garb of the tax collector. The confessor of deep sinfulness and the professor of highest holiness must both be on watch. Just when we are most anxious to have our heart to be the temple of God, we will find the two men coming to pray. And the tax collector will find that his danger is not from the Pharisee beside him, who despises him, but the Pharisee within, who commends and exalts himself. In God’s temple, when we think we are in the holy place, in the presence of his holiness, let us beware of pride. “One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them,” (Job 1:6).
“God, I thank you that I am not like other men, or even like this tax collector,” (Luke 18:11). It is in the thanksgiving that we render to God or the confession that God has done it all, that self finds cause for complacency. Yes, even when the language of penitence and trust in God’s mercy alone is heard, the Pharisee may take up the note of praise and in thanking God be congratulating himself. Pride can clothe itself in the garments of praise or of penitence. Even though the words, “I am not as other men,” are rejected and condemned, their spirit may too often be found in our feelings and language toward our fellow worshipers and fellowmen. If you wonder if this is so, listen to the way Christians speak of one another. How little of the meekness and gentleness of Jesus is seen. It is seldom remembered that deep humility must be the keynote of what we say of ourselves or of each other. There are countless assemblies of saints, mission conventions, societies, or committees, where the harmony has been disturbed and the work of God hindered because men who are counted saints are touchy and impatient, self-defensive and self-assertive to the point of sharp judgments and unkind words. They do not reckon others better than themselves, and their holiness has little meekness in it.
“‘Me’ is a most exacting person, requiring the best seat and the highest place for itself, and feeling grievously wounded if its claim is not recognized. Most of the quarrels among Christian workers arise from the clamoring of this gigantic ‘me.’ How few of us understand the true secret of taking our seats in the lowest rooms.” (Everyday Religion)
In their spiritual history, men may have had times of great humbling and brokenness, but what a different thing this is from being clothed with humility, from having a humble spirit, from having that lowliness of mind in which each counts himself the servant of others and so shows forth the mind that was in Jesus Christ.
Our text is a parody on holiness! Jesus the Holy One is the humble one: the holiest will always be the humblest. There is none holy but God: we have as much holiness as we have God. And according to what we have of God will be our real humility, because humility is nothing but the disappearance of self in the vision that God is all. The holiest will be the humblest. Though the barefaced boasting Jew of the days of Isaiah is not often to be found – our manners have taught us not to speak that way – how often his spirit is still seen, whether in the treatment of fellow Christians or of the children of the world. In the spirit in which opinions are given, work is undertaken, and faults are exposed, how often, though the garb be that of the tax collector, the voice is still that of the Pharisee: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men,” (Luke 18:11).
Is there such humility still to be found that men count themselves “less than the least of all saints,” the servants of all? “Love does not boast, it is not proud. It is not self-seeking,” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5). Where the spirit of love is shed abroad in the heart, where the divine nature comes to full birth, and where Christ the meek and lowly Lamb of God is truly formed within, there comes the power of a perfect love that forgets itself and finds its blessedness in blessing others. Where this love enters, God enters. And where God has come in his power and revealed himself, the vessel becomes nothing. This is the condition in which true humility can be displayed toward others. The presence of God is not dependent upon times and seasons, but upon a soul ready to do his will and forget itself.
Let all teachers of holiness, whether in the pulpit or on the platform, and all seekers after holiness, whether in the closet or the convention, take warning: There is no place so dangerous, so subtle and insidious, as the pride of holiness. It is not that a man ever says, or even thinks, “Stay away. I am too sacred for you!” The thought would be considered ludicrous. But unconsciously there can develop a private habit of soul that feels complacency in its attainments and cannot help but see how far it is ahead of others. It isn’t always seen in self-assertion or self-praise, but in the absence of self-denial and modesty that reveals a lack of the mark of the soul that has seen the glory of God, (Job 42:5-6; Isaiah 6:5). It is a tone, a way of speaking of oneself or others, in which those who have the gift of discernment cannot but recognize the power of self. Even the world with its keen eye notices it, and points to it as proof that the profession of a spiritual life does not always bear spiritual fruits. Beware, lest we make a profession of holiness, delighting in beautiful thoughts and feelings, in solemn acts of consecration and faith, while the mark of the presence of God – the disappearance of self – is obviously missing. Flee to Jesus and hide yourselves in him until you are clothed with his humility. That alone is holiness.