Tag Archives: False Humility

Week 26 of 50 in the Institutes: A Pernicious Hypocrisy

This week’s assignment begins with 3.12.6 where we encounter Calvin’s description of what humility before God looks like.  Both the Beveridge and Battles translations aligned in their rendering of the Latin here in describing any attempt to hold onto any notion of humility and self-righteousness simultaneously as a “pernicious hypocrisy”:

But what means is there of humbling us if we do not make way for the mercy of God by our utter indigence and destitution? For I call it not humility, so long as we think there is any good remaining in us. Those who have joined together the two things, to think humbly of ourselves before God and yet hold our own righteousness in some estimation, have hitherto taught a pernicious hypocrisy.

Instead of “make way for the mercy of God” as we read in the above by Beveridge, Battles translated as “yield to God’s mercy.”  These two phrases may serve us well for meditation on the truths Calvin sets before his reader with regard to the poor in spirit (humble) being the inheritors of the kingdom of God.

Calvin didn’t refer to the parable of the wedding feast here, and his commentary on Mt. 22:1-14 doesn’t share the following interpretation, but that parable came to my mind as a perfect illustration.  When the king asked the guest who had no wedding garment how it came to be that he gained entry to the feast, the man was speechless.  The reason he was speechless was because he had, in all likelihood, refused to wear one of the wedding garments provided by the host.  So the guest’s “pernicious hypocrisy” was his very undoing.  And so it will be for everyone who presumes to stand before the thrice holy God on the basis of his own righteousness, instead of accepting the righteousness of the Son.

Such “pernicious hypocrisy” runs rampant because, as Calvin noted early on in the Institutes (1.11.8), man’s heart is a perpetual idol factory.  No one in Adam’s fallen race voluntarily surrenders the idols of the heart.  They have to be forcibly removed by a gracious work of the Spirit.  And since man’s heart is a perpetual idol factory, idols must be continuously removed from the heart (Romans 8:13).

The products of this idol factory manifest themselves in a myriad of forms.  We laugh at some of them, such as the stereotypical male who, out of pride, never wants to ask for directions.  We root and cheer for others (e.g., any number of sporting events and spectacles). We also devote ourselves relentlessly in pursuit of what the Puritans described as the carnal trinity:  possessions, pleasure, and power.  Thousands of corporate logos may be associated with those objectives, partially or entirely.  All such pursuits ultimately end in destruction, as the prophet Hosea warned:

“They made kings, but not through me.  They set up princes, but I knew it not. With their silver and gold they made idols for their own destruction.”  (Hos. 8:4, ESV)

Since all idolatry and pernicious hypocrisy end in complete destruction, it behooves us to consider carefully the definition of “hate-speech” today.  If a bridge over a wide and raging river is out, and a bystander seeing cars whizzing by at 55 mph waves every car on saying, “Keep going, no problems ahead”, would that be “love-speech” or “hate-speech”?  Obviously “love-speech” and loving behavior in that instance would consist of waving off and shouting as loudly as possible: “Stop!  Danger!  Bridge out ahead!”

This comparison is not hypothetical.  Paul used similar imagery but he replaced water with fire and connected two things we don’t often associate: obedience and the gospel, in 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10.  This brings us back to Calvin’s notion of either yielding to God’s wonderful mercy, or perishing eternally:

5This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— 6since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you,7and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.  (2 Th. 1:5-10, ESV)

Links to Reformation 21 blogs through the Institutes:

June 29: 3.12.6 – 3.13.3

June 30: 3.13.4 – 3.14.5

July 1: 3.14.6 – 3.14.11

July 2: 3.14.12 – 3.14.18


Leave a comment

Filed under Calvin's Institutes

Week 9 of 50 in the Institutes: Humility, Humility, Humility

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:

 Mar. 2:  2.1.5 – 2.1.8

Mar. 3:  2.1.9 – 2.2.3

Mar. 4:  2.2.4 – 2.2.7

Mar. 5: 2.2.8 – 2.2.11

Mar. 6: 2.2.12 – 2.2.17

Leave a comment

Filed under Calvin's Institutes

Week 4 of 8 in Bunyan: Unveiling One of Satan’s Devices

By the time I came to this week’s reading assignment in Grace Abounding (paragraphs 128-168), I found myself wanting to speak a word of encouragement in Bunyan’s ear, exhorting him to look to Christ, dear brother!

Perhaps this response on my part stemmed from the insights gleaned from an earlier reading selection of ours: Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, by Thomas Brooks which was first published in 1652, fourteen years before Bunyan wrote Grace Abounding.  Before reading Brooks I thought Satan never bothered with me very much, because I had my hands full contending with my own fallen nature, the flesh.  Brooks changed my mind on that entirely.  So if you haven’t read that wonderful book, I urge you to take up and read it as soon as possible!

In the fallout of Bunyan’s fleeting, momentary thought in which he yielded to the temptation to “sell Christ,” he seems to have encountered a common device Satan uses to keep Christians in the pitiful condition he so movingly described.  Thomas Brooks identified eight devices Satan uses to keep Christians in such sad, doubting, questioning, and uncomfortable conditions, and the first one he mentioned is the one John Bunyan encountered: 

Device #1: By causing them to be still poring and musing upon sin, to mind their sins more than their Savior; yea, so to mind their sins as to forget, yea, to neglect their Savior.

Remedy (1) To consider, That though Jesus Christ hath not freed [believers] from the presence of sin, yet he hath freed them from the damnatory power of win.

Remedy (2) To consider, That though Jesus Christ hath not freed you from the molesting and vexing power of sin, yet he hath freed you from the reign and dominion of sin.

Remedy (3) Constantly to keep one eye upon the promises of remission of sin, as well as the other eye upon the inward operations of sin.

Remedy (4) To look upon all your sins as charged upon the account of Christ, as debts which the Lord Jesus hath fully satisfied; and indeed, were there but one farthing of that debt unpaid that Christ was engaged to satisfy, it would not have come into heaven and sit down at his own right hand.

Remedy (5) Solemnly to consider, Of the reasons why the Lord is pleased to have his people exercised, troubled, and vexed with the operations of sinful corruptions; and they are these: partly to keep them humble and low in their own eyes; and partly to put them upon the use of all divine helps, whereby sin may be subdued and mortified; and partly, that they may live upon Christ for the perfecting the work of sanctification; and partly, to wean them from things below, and to make them heartsick of their absence from Christ, and to maintain in them bowels of compassion towards others that are subject to the same infirmities with them; and that they may distinguish between a state of grace and a state of glory, and that heaven may be more sweet to them in the close.

Remedy (6) To consider, That believers must repent for their being discouraged by their sins.  Their being discouraged by their sins will cost them many a prayer, many a tear, and many a groan; and that because their discouragements under sin flow from ignorance and unbelief.


Writing long after Bunyan’s day in 1847, Octavius Winslow had this to say about doubting the sufficiency of God’s grace, in Personal Declension and Revival of Religion in the Soul

The moment a believer looks at his unworthiness more than at the righteousness of Christ, – supposes that there is not a sufficiency of merit in Jesus to supply the absence of all merit in himself before God, what is it but a setting up his sinfulness and unworthiness above the infinite worth, fullness, and sufficiency of Christ’s atonement and righteousness.  There is much spurious humility among many of the dear saints of God.  It is thought by some, that to be always doubting one’s pardon and acceptance, is the evidence of a lowly spirit.  It is, allow us to say, the mark of the very opposite of a lowly and humble mind. That is true humility that credits the testimony of God, – that believes because he has spoken it, – that rests in the blood, and righteousness, and all-sufficiency of Jesus, because he has declared that ‘whoever believes in him shall be saved.’  This is genuine lowliness, – the blessed product of the Eternal Spirit.  To go to Jesus just as I am, a poor, lost, helpless sinner, – to go without previous preparation, – to go glorying in my weakness, infirmity, and poverty, that the free grace and sovereign pleasure, and infinite merit of Christ, may be seen in my full pardon, justification, and eternal glory.  There is more of unmortified pride, of self-righteousness, of that principle that would make God a debtor to the creature, in the refusal of a soul fully to accept of Jesus, than is suspected.

 The urgent appeal of Isaiah 45:22 is as powerful as ever until the end of this age:

 Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else. (KJV)

Leave a comment

Filed under Brooks - Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices, Bunyan - Grace Abounding