Essay / Theology

All Three Reasons to Be Humble

“There are three great motives that urge us to humility,” says Andrew Murray in the Preface to his book Humility. The first is that we are creatures, the second is that we are fallen, and the third is that we are redeemed.

First: Creatures have reason to be humble because they can compare themselves to their creator and observe the infinite contrast. God is great: immense, eternal, uncircumscribable, incomprehensibly majestic. In relation to God, every creature is tiny. In fact, the entire cosmos is little, limited, and absolutely dependent. So be humble, creature.

Second: Sinners have reason to be humble because they are in the wrong. They are guilty of transgression, and the shame of their wrongdoing makes contrition the only reasonable response in the face of God’s holiness.

Third: The redeemed have the most profound reason to be humble, because they have seen a revelation of God’s holiness and human sinfulness that outstrips anything knowable to mere creatures or sinners. And they know their ultimate end is to be in God’s presence, worshiping in the absolute humility of heaven itself.

As Murray says, humility “becomes me as a creature, as a sinner, as a saint.”

And then he goes on with a truly incisive observation: “In our ordinary religious teaching, the second aspect has been too exclusively put in the foreground, so that some have even gone to the extreme of saying that we must keep sinning if we are indeed to keep humble. Others again have thought that the strength of self-condemnation is the secret of humility.” Notice how careful Murray is to keep the whole truth in view at all times, and to keep its elements in proper proportion. If “humility” only makes you think of your sinfulness, you are not seeing the big picture. The humility of sinners has to be sketched against the background of the humility appropriate to creatures:

And the Christian life has suffered loss, where believers have not been distinctly guided to see that, even in our relation as creatures, nothing is more natural and beautiful and blessed than to be nothing, that God may be all; or where it has not been made clear that it is not sin that humbles most, but grace, and that it is the soul, led through its sinfulness to be occupied with God in His wonderful glory as God, as Creator and Redeemer, that will truly take the lowest place before Him.

Humility is not just a kind of therapy that we sinners need until we get over our sin problem. Humility is the proper posture of our creatureliness, and the state we are being restored to by Christ. Humility isn’t just the medicine to heal us; it is the food to keep us alive, the food we would be nourished on even if there had never been sin or redemption.

His understanding of primal, creaturely humility is what makes Murray’s book Humility unique. “In these meditations I have, for more than one reason, almost exclusively directed attention to the humility that becomes us as creatures. It is not only that the connection between humility and sin is so abundantly set forth in all our religious teaching, but because I believe that for the fullness of the Christian life it is indispensable that prominence be given to the other aspect. If Jesus is indeed to be our example in His lowliness, we need to understand the principles in which it was rooted, and in which we find the common ground on which we stand with Him, and in which our likeness to Him is to be attained.”

As sinners, we are in a desperate condition and need the cure of knowing our sinfulness, confessing it, and being abased before God because of it. But we also need the big picture, stretching from creaturely humility to redeemed humility as the image of God.

If we are indeed to be humble, not only before God but towards men, if humility is to be our joy, we must see that it is not only the mark of shame, because of sin, but, apart from all sin, a being clothed upon with the very beauty and blessedness of heaven and of Jesus. We shall see that just as Jesus found His glory in taking the form of a servant, so when He said to us, “Whosoever would be first among you, shall be your servant,” He simply taught us the blessed truth that there is nothing so divine and heavenly as being the servant and helper of all. The faithful servant, who recognizes his position, finds a real pleasure in supplying the wants of the master or his guests. When we see that humility is something infinitely deeper than contrition, and accept it as our participation in the life of Jesus, we shall begin to learn that it is our true nobility, and that to prove it in being servants of all is the highest fulfillment of our destiny, as men created in the image of God.

There are three reasons to be humble, and we need to be humble for all three reasons at once.

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