The opening lines of 2.2.11 nicely summarize the proper attitude which should characterize fallen man:
I have always been exceedingly delighted with the words of Chrysostom, “The foundation of our philosophy is humility;” and still more with those of Augustine, “As the orator, The French is, “Demosthene orateur Grec;”—the Greek orator Demosthenes. when asked, What is the first precept in eloquence? answered, Delivery: What is the second? Delivery: What the third? Delivery: so, if you ask me in regard to the precepts of the Christian Religion, I will answer, first, second, and third, Humility.” By humility he means not when a man, with a consciousness of some virtue, refrains from pride, but when he truly feels that he has no refuge but in humility. This is clear from another passage, “Let no man,” says he, “flatter himself: of himself he is a devil: his happiness he owes entirely to God. What have you of your own but sin? Take your sin which is your own; for righteousness is of God.”
This reminds me of the saying of Martin Luther, that man’s only contribution to salvation is sin! All too often, however, man attempts to usurp the glory of God by trying to stake a claim to various forms of self-righteousness, while minimizing or denying altogether culpability for sin. I’m also reminded of Thomas Brooks’ quote of a Mr. Hooper, who said, “Lord, I am hell, but you are heaven!”
In the section just prior to this one above (2.2.10), Calvin leaves his reader in no doubt that, without humility, there is no salvation. After surveying several passages which expose man’s spiritually destitute and hopeless state apart from God (Jer. 17:5; Psa. 147:10-11; Isa. 40:29-31; James 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5; Prov. 3:34; Isa. 44:3; 55:1), he described the blessed state of the poor in spirit thusly:
These passages declare, that none are admitted to enjoy the blessings of God save those who are pining under a sense of their own poverty.
So to be full of one’s self, in the popular expression, is to be a son of perdition. Better by far to be emptied of self, and abide in Christ, which happens only by grace, and say: More of Him, and less of me. Or as John the Baptist put it: He must increase, but I must decrease.
Links to Reformation 21 blogs through the Institutes: