Be not angry that you cannot make others as you wish them to be, since you cannot make yourself as you wish yourself to be.
(Thomas à Kempis)
How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?
In an address I heard recently, the speaker said that the blessings of the higher Christian life were often like the objects displayed in a shop window: one could see them clearly and yet could not reach them. If told to reach out and help himself, a man would answer, “I can’t; there’s a thick pane of plate glass between me and them.” In the same way, Christians may see clearly the blessed promises of perfect peace and rest, overflowing love and joy, abiding communion and fruitfulness, and yet feel that there is something hindering their possession. What is it that hinders? The promises made to faith are free and sure; the invitation and encouragement strong; the mighty power of God close at hand and free. All that hinders the blessing being ours is pride or a lack of faith. In our text, Jesus reveals to us that it is indeed pride that makes faith impossible: “How can you believe if you accept praise from one another?” As we see how in their very nature pride and faith are irreconcilably at odds, we learn that faith and humility are at their root one, and that we can never have more of true faith than we have of true humility. It is possible to have strong intellectual convictions and assurance of the truth while pride is still in the heart, but it makes living faith, which has power with God, impossible.
We have only to think for a moment what faith is. Is it not a confession of helplessness, the surrender to God that waits to let him work? Is it not in itself the most humbling thing there can be – the acceptance of our place as dependents who can claim, or get, or do nothing but what grace bestows? Humility is simply the disposition that prepares the soul for living in trust. Even the most secret breath of pride, in self-seeking, self-will, self-confidence, or self-exaltation, is only the strengthening of that self that cannot enter the kingdom or possess the things of the kingdom because it refuses to allow God to be who he is.
Faith is the means by which we perceive and apprehend the Heavenly world and its blessings. Faith seeks the glory that comes when God is all. As long as we take glory from one another, as long as we seek and love and jealously guard the glory of this life, the honor and reputation that comes from men, we do not seek and cannot receive the glory that comes from God. Pride renders faith impossible. Salvation comes through the cross and the crucified Christ. Salvation is the fellowship with the crucified Christ in the Spirit of his cross. Salvation is union with and delight in, even participation in, the humility of Jesus. Is it any wonder that our faith is weak when pride still reigns and we have hardly learned to long or pray for humility as the most necessary and blessed part of salvation?
Humility and faith are more nearly allied in scripture than many realize. See it in the life of Christ. There are two cases in which he spoke of great faith. He marveled at the faith of the centurion, saying, “I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.” The centurion had said, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof,” (Matthew 8:5-13). And the mother to whom he said, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs,” replied, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs.” To her, he replied, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted,” (Matthew 15:22-28). It is humility that brings a soul to be nothing before God and that also removes every hindrance to faith and makes it only fear lest it dishonor him by not trusting him completely.
If there is failure in the pursuit of holiness, it most surely has pride and self at its root. We have no idea to what extent pride and self secretly work within us, or how God alone by his indwelling power can cast them out. Nothing but the new and divine nature taking the place of the old self can make us truly humble. Absolute, unceasing humility must be the core disposition of every prayer and approach to God as well as every relationship with our fellowmen.
We go to such lengths to believe, while the old self in its pride seeks to avail itself of God’s blessing and riches. No wonder we can’t believe. We need to change our course. We need to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God: he will exalt us. The cross, death, and the grave, into which Jesus humbled himself, were his path to the glory of God. And they are our path too. Let humility be our one desire and our fervent prayer. Let us gladly accept whatever humbles us before God or men – this alone is the path to the glory of God.
I have spoken of some who have blessed experiences or are the means of bringing blessing to others and yet are lacking in humility. You may ask whether these do not prove that they have true, even strong, faith, though they show all too clearly that they still seek the honor that comes from men. There is more than one answer to this. But the principal answer in our present connection is this: they have a measure of faith in proportion to the blessing they bring to others. But the real work of their faith is hindered through their lack of humility. The blessing is often superficial or transitory because they, by their failure to be “nothing,” block the way for God to be all. A deeper humility would bring a deeper and fuller blessing. The Holy Spirit, working in them not only as a Spirit of power but also dwelling in them in the fullness of his grace, and especially that of humility, would through them communicate himself to others a life of power and holiness and steadfastness as yet unseen.
“How can you believe if you accept praise from one another?” Nothing can cure you of the desire to receive glory from men or of the sensitiveness and pain and anger that come when it is not given, but seeking alone the glory that comes from God. Let the glory of the all-glorious God be everything to you. You will be freed from the glory of men and of self and be content and glad to be nothing. Out of this nothingness you will grow strong in faith, giving glory to God, and you will find that the deeper you sink in humility before him, the nearer he is to fulfill every desire of your faith.