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ence and humility, in those whom they behold at such an infinite distance from that great and holy God, in whose glorious presence they are? The reason why the highest attainments of the saints on earth appear so mean to them, is that they dwell in the light of God's glory, and see him as he is. And it is in this respect with the saints on earth, as it is with those in heaven, in proportion as they are more eminent in grace.
I would not be understood, that the saints on earth have, in all respects, the worst opinion of themselves, when they have most of the exercise of grace. In many respects it is otherwise. With respect to the positive exercises of corruption, they may appear to themselves freest and best when grace is most in exercise, and worst when the actings of grace are lowest. And when they compare themselves with themselves, at different times they may know, when grace is in lively exercise, that it is better with them than it was before, (though before, at the time, they did not see so much evil as they see now); and when afterwards they sink again in the frame of their minds, they may know that they sink, and have a new argument of their great remaining corruption, and a rational conviction of a greater vileness than they saw before; and may have a sense of guilt, and a legal sense of their sinfulness, far greater than when in the lively exercise of grace. But yet it is true, and demonstrable from the forementioned considerations, that the children of God never have such a sensible and spiritual conviction of their deformity, and so great, quick, and abasing sense of their present vileness and odiousness, as when they are highest in the exercise of true grace; and never are they so much disposed to set themselves low among Christians as then. And thus he that is the greatest in the kingdom, or most eminent in the church of Christ, is he that humbles himself, as the least infant among them; Matt. xviii. 4.
A true saint may know that he has some true grace and the more grace there is, the more easily is it known; as was observed and proved before. But yet it does not follow, that an eminent saint is easily sensible that he is an eminent saint, when compared with others. I will not deny that it is possible, that he who has much grace, and is an eminent saint, may know it. But he will not be apt to know it; it will not be obvious to him. That he is better than others, and has higher experiences and attainments, is not a foremost thought, nor does it readily offer itself. It is not in his way, but lies far out of sight; he must take pains to convince himself of it; there will be need of a great command of reason, and a high degree of strictness and care in arguing, to convince himself. And if he be rationally convinced, by a very strict consideration of his own experiences, compared with the great appearances of low degrees of grace in some other saints,
it will hardly seem real to him, that he has more grace than they. He will be apt even to lose the conviction he has by pains obtained; nor will it seem at all natural to him to act upon that supposition. And this may be laid down as an infallible thing. That the person who is apt to think that he, as compared with others, is a very eminent saint, much distinguished in Christian experience, in whom this is a first thought, that rises of itself, and naturally offers itself; he is certainly mistaken; he is no eminent saint; but under the great prevailings of a proud and self-righteous spirit. And if this be habitual with the man, and is statedly the prevailing temper of his mind, he is no saint at all; he has not the least degree of any true Christian experience; so surely as the word of God is true.
Experiences of that tendency, and found to have this effect, viz. to elevate the subject of them with a great conceit of those experiences, are certainly vain and delusive. Those supposed discoveries that naturally blow up the person with an admiration of the eminency of his discoveries, and fill him with conceit, that now he has seen, and knows more than most other Christians, have nothing of the nature of true spiritual light in them. All true spiritual knowledge is of that nature, that the more a person has of it, the more is he sensible of his own ignorance; 1 Cor. viii. 2. He that thinketh he knoweth any thing, knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know. Agur, when he had a great discovery of God, the wonderful height of his glory and his marvellous works, acknowledging his greatness and incomprehensibleness, had, at the same time, the deepest sense of his brutish ignorance. He looked upon himself as the most ignorant of all the saints; Prov. xxx. 2, 3, 4. Surely I am more brutish than any man, and have not the understanding of a man. I neither learned wisdom, nor have the knowledge of the holy. Who hath ascended up into heaven, or descended? who hath gathered the wind in his fists? who hath bound the waters in a garment? who hath established all the ends of the earth? what is his name, and what is his Son's name, if thou canst tell?
knowledge, is And therefore Be not wise in
For a man to be highly conceited of his spiritual for him to be wise in his own eyes, if any thing is. it comes under those prohibitions, Prov. iii. 7. thine own eyes: Rom. xii. 16. Be not wise in your own conceits : and brings men under that wo, Is. v. 21. Wo unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight. Those who are thus wise, are some of the least likely to get good of any in the world. Experience shews this truth, Prov. xxvi. 12. Seest thou a man wise in his own conceit? there is more hope of a fool than of him.
To this some may object, that the Psalmist, when we must suppose that he was in a holy frame, speaks of his knowledge as eminently great, and far greater than that of other saints, Psal. cxix. 99, 100. I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancients, because I keep thy precepts. To this I answer two things:
(1.) There is no restraint to be laid upon the Spirit of God, as to what he shall reveal to a prophet, for the benefit of his church, who is speaking or writing under immediate inspiration. The Spirit of God may reveal to such an one, and dictate to him to declare to others, secret things, that otherwise would be hard, yea impossible for him to find out. As he may reveal to him mysteries, which otherwise would be above his reason; or things in a distant place, that he cannot see; or future events, which it would be impossible for him to know and declare, if they were not extraordinarily revealed to him: so the Spirit of God might reveal to David this distinguishing benefit, which he had received by conversing much with God's testimonies; and use him as his instrument to record it for the benefit of others, to excite them to the like duty, and to use the same means to gain knowledge.Nothing can be gathered concerning the natural tendency of the ordinary gracious influences of the Spirit of God, from what David declares of his distinguishing knowledge under the extraordinary influences of God's Spirit, immediately dictating to him what he pleased for the benefit of his church; any more than we can reasonably argue, that it is the natural tendency of grace to incline men to wish the most dreadful misery to others, because David under inspiration, often prays that such misery may come upon them.
(2.) It is not certain that the knowledge David here speaks of, is spiritual knowledge, wherein holiness fundamentally consists. But it may be that greater revelation which God made to him of the Messiah and his future kingdom, and the far more clear and extensive knowledge of the mysteries and doctrines of the gospel, than others; as a reward for his keeping God's testimonies. In this, it is apparent by the book of Psalms, that David far exceeded all who had gone before him.
Secondly, Another infallible sign of spiritual pride, is persons being apt to think highly of their humility. False experiences are commonly attended with a counterfeit humility. And it is the very nature of a counterfeit humility, to be highly conceited of itself. False religious affections have generally a tendency, especially when raised to a great height, to make persons think that their humility is great, and accordingly to take much notice of their great attainments in this respect, and admire them. But
eminently gracious affections (I scruple not to say it) are evermore of a contrary tendency, and have universally a contrary effect. They indeed make their possessors very sensible that they should be deeply humbled, and cause them earnestly to thirst and long after it; but they make their present humility, or that which they have already attained, to appear small, and their remaining pride great, and exceedingly abominable.
The reason why a proud person is apt to think his humility great, and a very humble person his humility small, may be easily seen, if it be considered, that it is natural for persons, in judging of the degree of their own humiliation, to take their measure from that which they esteem their proper height, or the dignity wherein they properly stand. That may be great humiliation in one, which is no humiliation at all in another; because the degree of honourableness or considerableness, wherein each properly stands is very different. For some great man to stoop to loose the latchet of the shoes of another great man, his equal, or to wash his feet, would be taken notice of as an act of great abasement in him; and he being sensible of his own dignity, would look upon it so himself. But if a poor slave is seen stooping to unloose the shoes of a great prince, nobody will take notice of this, as an act of humiliation in him, or token of any great degree of humility; nor would the slave himself, unless he be horribly proud, and ridiculously conceited: and if after he had done it, he should, in his talk and behaviour, shew that he thought his abasement great in it, and had his mind much upon it, as an evidence of his being very humble, would not every body cry out, "Who do you think yourself to be, that you should think this a mark of deep humiliation?" This would make it plain to a demonstration, that the slave was swollen with a high degree of pride and vanity of mind, as much as if he declared in plain terms, I think myself to be some great one. And the matter is no less plain and certain, when worthless, vile, and loathsome worms of the dust, are apt to put such a construction on their acts of abasement before God, and to think it a token of great humility in them, that they acknowledge themselves to be mean and unworthy, and behave themselves as those who are so inferior.The very reason why such outward acts, and such inward exercises, look like great abasement in such a person is, that he has a high conceit of himself. Whereas if he thought of himself more justly, these things would appear nothing to him, and his humility in them worthy of no regard; but he would rather be astonished at his pride, that one so infinitely despicable and vile, is brought no lower before God. When he says in his heart, "This is a great act of humiliation; it is certainly a sign of great
humility in me, that I should feel thus, and do so:" his meaning is, "This is great humility for me, for such a one as I, who am so considerable and worthy." He considers how low he is now brought, and compares this with the height of dignity, on which he thinks he stands, and the distance appears very great; he calls it humility, and as such admires it. Whereas, in him who is truly humble, and really sees his own vileness and loathsomeness before God, the distance appears the other way. When he is brought lowest of all, it does not appear to him that he is brought below his proper station, but that he is not come to it; he appears to himself, yet vastly above it; he longs to get lower, that he may come to it; but appears at a great distance from it. And this distance he calls pride. And therefore his pride appears great to him, and not his humility. For although he is brought much lower than he used to be, yet it does not appear to him worthy of the name of humiliation, for him that is so infinitely mean and detestable, to come down to a place, which though it be lower than what he used to assume, is yet vastly higher than what is proper for him. Men would hardly count it worthy of the name of humility, in a contemptible slave, that formerly affected to be a prince, to have his spirit so far brought down, as to take the place of a nobleman, when this is still so far above his proper
All men, in judging of the degree of their own and others' humility, as appearing in any act of theirs, consider two things; viz. the real degree of diguity they stand in; and the degree of abasement, with the relation it bears to that real dignity. Thus, what may be an evidence of great humility in one, evidences but little or no humility in another. But truly humble Christians have so mean an opinion of their own real dignity, that all their selfabasement, when considered with relation to, and compared with that, appears very small to them. It does not seem to them to be any great humility, for such poor, vile, abject creatures as they are, to lie at the foot of God,
The degree of humility is to be judged of by the degree of abasement, and the degree of the cause for abasement; but he that is truly and eminently humble, never thinks his humility great. The cause why he should be abased appears so great, and the abasement of the frame of his heart so greatly short of it, that he takes much more notice of his pride than his humility.
Every one that has been conversant with souls under convictions of sin, knows that they are not apt to think themselves greatly convinced. And the reason is, men judge of the degree of their own convictions by two things jointly considered; viz. the degree of sense which they have of guilt and pollution, and the degree of cause they have for such a sense, in the degree of their