Over the past few weeks, I’ve been preparing to preach on the Christian grace of humility from Philippians chapter 2. To prepare myself for that, I decided that in addition to my normal study materials for Philippians that I would re-read C. J. Mahaney’s excellent little book, Humility: True Greatness. Certainly studying humility is a humbling experience, and for that I praise God. In the course of my study I’ve been freshly confronted with the universal relevance and absolute necessity of the grace of humility. It is a pursuit which never ends in this life—a goal to which we never truly attain, and yet a goal for which never cease striving.
In an effort to share with you the blessing I received while reading, and to aid you in your own pursuit of humility, I thought I’d reproduce some of my favorite quotes from the book. I hope this serves and benefits you all.
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Jonathan Edwards: “The pleasures of humility are really the most refined, inward, and exquisite delights in the world” (21).
A definition of humility: “Humility is honestly assessing ourselves in the light of God’s holiness and our sinfulness” (22).
“Pride takes innumerable forms but has only one end: self-glorification. That’s the motive and ultimate purpose of pride—to rob God of legitimate glory and to pursue self-glorification, contending for supremacy with Him. The proud person seeks to glorify himself and not God, thereby attempting in effect to deprive God of something only He is worthy to receive” (32).
John Calvin: “God cannot bear with seeing his glory appropriated by the creature in even the smallest degree, so intolerable to him is the sacrilegious arrogance of those who, by praising themselves, obscure his glory as far as they can” (33; from his Commentary on Psalm 9:1–3).
Jonathan Edwards: Pride is “the worst viper that is in the heart” and “the greatest disturber of the soul’s peace and sweet communion with Christ.” It is “the most hidden, secret, and deceitful of all lusts” (34; from his Advice to Young Converts).
Charles Spurgeon: Pride is “a groundless thing” and “a brainless thing” and “the maddest thing that can exist” (39; from his sermon, “Pride and Humility”).
“As sinfully and culturally defined, pursuing greatness looks like this: Individuals motivated by self-interest, self-indulgence, and a false sense of self-sufficiency pursue selfish ambition for the purpose of self-glorification. Contrast that with the pursuit of true greatness as biblically defined: Serving others for the glory of God. This is the genuine expression of humility; this is true greatness as the Savior defined it” (44).
Donald English: “At the source of all Christian service in the world is the crucified and risen Lord who died to liberate us into such service” (48). In other words, we are saved to serve—freed to be slaves of all.
John Owen: “Fill your affections with the cross of Christ, that there may be no room for sin” (66).
Martyn Lloyd-Jones: “There is only one thing I know of that crushes me to the ground and humiliates me to the dust, and that is to look at the Son of God, and especially contemplate the cross. … Nothing else can do it. When I see that I am a sinner…that nothing but the Son of God on the cross can save me, I’m humbled to the dust. … Nothing but the cross can give us this spirit of humility” (66).
John Stott: “Every time we look at the cross Christ seems to be saying to us, ‘I am here because of you. It is your sin I am bearing, your curse I am suffering, your debt I am paying, your death I am dying.’ Nothing in history or in the universe cuts us down to size like the cross. All of us have inflated views of ourselves, especially in self-righteousness, until we have visited a place called Calvary. It is there, at the foot of the cross, that we shrink to our true size” (67; from his The Message of Galatians, 79.)
Carl F. H. Henry: “How can anyone be arrogant when he stands beside the cross?” (68).
Accepting the gift of sleep as a tool for humility: “Each night, as I confront my need again for sleep, I’m reminded that I’m a dependent creature. I am not self-sufficient. I am not the Creator. There is only One who ‘will neither slumber nor sleep’ (Psalm 121:4), and I am not that One” (84).
John Owen: “There are two things that are suited to humble the souls of men. … A due consideration of God, and then of ourselves. Of God, in his greatness, glory, holiness, power, majesty, and authority; of ourselves, in our mean, abject, and sinful condition” (92).
And what stuck out to me most during this study time was the importance of inviting correction. C. J. had some helpful words in this regard: “And don’t be put off when a friend’s observations may not be 100 percent accurate. I’ve found that there’s truth to be gleaned at times even from an enemy’s critique. Humility doesn’t demand mathematical precision from another’s input; humility postures itself to receive God’s grace from any avenue possible. So I encourage you to go to others and invite their gaze into your life” (134).
May God be gracious.