March 27, 2011
The Way Up Is Down
Pastor Philip De Courcy
Proverbs 16: 18-19

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Proverbs 16:18-19. On this Palm Sunday, when we remember the humility of the Lord Jesus Christ as He entered Jerusalem on a donkey with a fanfare of palm leaves, that we remind ourselves that in God’s Kingdom the way up is down. The way up is down. That God exalts the humble, and He humbles the exalted. Listen to Proverbs 16:18, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. Better to be of a humble spirit with the lowly than to divide the spoil with the proud.” Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.
When I was growing up in Northern Ireland, I heard a number of preachers tell the story of a young man in Scotland who aspired to be a pastor. The time came when he was given opportunity to preach at his home church. As he bounded up the steps to the pulpit that day, it was evident to all assembled that the young preacher was brimming with confidence. He was cocksure as he began to preach, but to his amusement, and to all assembled, his thoughts suddenly got all tangled up. His mouth became dry, and he began to choke on his words. In fact, the sermon itself came to a crashing halt only 15 minutes into it. 15 minutes short of the expected 30. As you can imagine, the young man was disappointed and devastated. In fact, he gathered his sermon notes together, he hung his head in shame, and he gingerly stepped back down the pulpit steps.
When the service was finished and most of the congregation had gone home, an old saintly woman had stopped and lingered till she caught the attention of the young man, and then she passed on this word of advice. She said, “Laddie, if you had have gone up the way you came down, you would’ve come down the way you went up.” Do you get her point? God will exalt the humble. He will humble the exalted.
This story illustrates a misled fact that in God’s Kingdom the way down is up, and the way up is down. 1 Peter 5:5-6 remind us that God resists the proud. He gives grace to the humble. That’s the lesson we need to learn this morning, that the unbowed and the unbroken go unblessed. That’s what wisdom gives us insight to. God hates the proud with His heart. He curses them with His might. He punishes them with His hand. That’s the teaching of God’s Word, and in a culture like ours that has fallen in love with itself, you and I need to remind ourselves that the chief end of man is not to glorify himself. That in God’s Kingdom the first will be last, the servant will be ruler, and the humble will be exalted. We need to alert ourselves to the danger of being self-confident, self-conscious, and self-conceded, because when we are any of those things, we are setting ourselves up for failure.
Proverbs says pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall. Proverbs 18:12, “Before destruction the heart of man is haughty, and before honor is humility.” You see, the book of Proverbs talks much about the folly and sin of pride. This is a book that has been written to us so that we might gain the favor of God and avoid harming ourselves unnecessarily. Go back to Proverbs 8:32. Proverbs 8:32, wisdom is speaking, “Now therefore, listen to me…” wisdom says, “… my children, for blessed are those who keep my ways, hear instruction and be wise and do not disdain it. Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching dearly at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors. For whoever finds me, finds life, and obtains favor from the Lord, but he who sins against me…” that is that he who doesn’t listen to what wisdom has to say, listen to these words, “… wrongs his own soul.” Your translation might have it like this, “does himself harm.”
The book of Proverbs was written by multiple authors, given to us by God, put into the canon of Scripture by the Holy Spirit, so that you and I, in obeying its instruction, in heeding its insight, would gain the fear of the Lord and do ourselves no harm. If that’s going to happen, you and I have got to be frightened of the pope of self. Martin Luther, the great Protestant reformer, said that he was more frightened of the pope of self than the popes of Rome, because he realized that pride goes before destruction, and the haughty spirit before a fall.
Now, before we get to looking at this theme out of the book of Proverbs, I want to look at what pride is not, so that we might understand what it is. What is pride, and what is it not? Well, let’s begin with what it is not. Let me say this, lest we misunderstand this subject or cause ourselves undue guilt. Pride is not healthy self-respect. There is nothing wrong with knowing who you are. Created in God’s image, united to Jesus Christ, gifted by the Holy Spirit, and therefore, by God’s grace, able and capable of doing certain things. Nothing wrong with acknowledging your giftedness. Nothing wrong with acknowledging, in a sense, the nobility of your nature as one created in God’s image and in union with Jesus Christ, because humility, which is the opposite of pride, humility is not self-humiliation.
Some people think that humility is putting yourself down. “Ah, shucks, don’t… That’s not me. I’m awful. I’m woeful. I can’t do a thing. I’m all thumbs and…” Come on, that’s self-humiliation. That’s not humility. It’s not the opposite of pride. In fact, it can be a form of pride. “Oh, shucks…” when it’s really drawing attention to yourself. You’re making a show of your humility, which is a false modesty.
No, humility does not deny natural ability, and it does not deny spiritual enabling. I like what Adrian Rogers said, “The grace of God exalts a person without inflating him, and debases him without humiliating him.” Pride is not healthy self-respect, and secondly, pride is not rejoicing in honor felt or given. There’s nothing wrong with feeling satisfied over a job well done. In fact, in Proverbs 13:19, we read these words, “A desire accomplished is sweet to the soul.” If you’re able to achieve something or accomplish something, there’s nothing wrong with feeling the satisfaction of a job well done. That’s not pride.
God has gifted us naturally, equipped us supernaturally to the end, that we might be creative within His creation, and there is nothing improper or imprudent about rejoicing over God’s work in your work. There’s nothing wrong with giving honor or receiving it. In fact, Peter says to husbands, “Live with your wife with understanding…” in chapter three and verse seven, “… and give her due honor.” Or give her the honor that’s due her. Praise her for her sweetness, for her service, for her submission. In fact, Proverbs 31:28, it tells us that the virtuous woman will find that her children rise up to give thanks for her, and her husband, when he meets with the guys at the gate and they’re talking shop or talking business, he’ll inject into the conversation this thought, “Hey guys, I want to tell you. I have the best wife in the world. I want to praise her. She’s honorable, virtuous. I thank God for her.”
There is nothing wrong with that. That’s not pride. Humility is not self-deprecation, and pride is not the receiving or the giving of due honor. I’ll tell you what pride is. Pride is a direct attack upon God, for it lifts our hearts up against Him and above Him. It is usurpation of God. It is the replacing and the displacing of God by self. That’s what pride is, and it stinks to high heaven. I think it was Jonathan Edwards who said that pride is the contending of the human spirit for supremacy with God. Isn’t that amazing?
That’s what drove Adam and Eve when they fell in the garden, when they fell to the lie, when God told them you cannot take the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but they did, because they thought that in the eating of it they could be, Genesis 3:5, like God. Pride was the first sin. Pride is the supreme sin. Pride caused Satan to fall and caused man to fall. It is a contending with the supremacy of God. It is a refusal to acknowledge one’s dependence upon Him. It is taking credit to one’s self for what God has done on your behalf. It is what one writer calls cosmic plagiarism. C.J Mahaney, in his wonderful little book, Humility, I recommend it to you, said that pride is cosmic plagiarism. If you’ve been following the news, we know that that case in London over the book, The DaVinci Code, had an issue of plagiarism attached to it, and Dan Brown was exonerated by the court.
Plagiarism is taking another person’s work, giving him no credit for it, and taking credit for another man’s work in your work. That’s what pride is. It’s cosmic plagiarism. It’s forgetting that God has done all things for us. That in Him we move and we have our being, but we give the impression to ourselves and our children and our wives and others, “You know what? I did this. This happened because of me. My wisdom, my wealth, my work.” Plagiarism, that’s taking credit for work that isn’t yours to take credit for. That’s what pride is. Pride is prayerlessness. Pride is thanklessness. Pride is a lack of repentance. Pride is not returning to the cross often. Pride shows up in contempt for others, in boasting and having an inflated opinion of one’s abilities. Pride is an attitude that credits ourselves with our successes and blames others for our failures, and ignores God.
It’s a rotten sin, and it provokes God to defend His glory. That’s the danger of pride. That’s why pride comes before destruction, because when you and I get proud, when we have an inflated self-sense of our own significance and success, and we ignore God through prayerlessness and thanklessness, and we’re not repentant and humble and dependent, and finding ourselves often at the foot of the cross, God will rise up against us, because He will defend His glory, because He will not give his glory to another. He has His image stamped in us so that we will reflect Him in all that we do.
Folks, remember that apart from this, the pride-killing grace of God, this is a sin that we take to like a duck takes to water. Our father Adam bequeathed us this independent will that is proud and independent and ungrateful. Read Paul’s description of sin in Romans 3:10-11 and you’ll see that each of us bear the mark of Adam. Mark it down that apart from the mind of Christ, as Paul teaches us in Philippians 2:3 following, apart from the mind of Christ, you and I think too lowly of God, we think too slightly of others, and we think too highly of self.
If you visit my office upstairs here at the church, you’ll find that I have a quote by J.N. Darby, a Brethren writer and leader of a past generation. I have it framed and hanging on my wall. Here’s the quote, I took it from one of his books, quote, “All Irish men, whom grace has not total mastery over, have an amazing confidence in themselves.” I don’t think that’s a problem just for Irishmen, do you? What about Americans? What about Texans? The biggest blows on God’s earth. It’s not just Irishmen, it’s all men. Apart from the mind of Christ, apart from dependence upon God, without an awareness of God’s grace, you and I love to toot our trumpet. You and I like to turn the spotlight on self. This is a malady and a madness not particular to Irish men. It’s particular to all men who have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.
I have a problem with pride this morning. So have you. You and I need to think about how we deal with it, and how we foster and further the spirit of humility in each of our lives. I like the collection of children’s correspondence as they reflected on life and faith, and there was a little letter in one of these collections, written by a young boy by the name of Wayne, he was age 11. His correspondence said this, “Dear God, my father thinks he is You. Please straighten him out.”
Don’t we all need straightened out? Adam has us thinking that we can be like God, and we can act Godlike. We can demand, and we can deserve. There’s three things I want to say about pride, as time allows me. First of all, the evil of pride, the effects of pride, and the eradication of pride. We want to move through the first two as quickly as possible, but I want to talk to you about, first of all, the evil of pride. I think if you were listening, you’ll have already concluded that pride is an evil. It is a usurpation of God. It is seeking to elbow God out of the way. It is prayerlessness, it is thanklessness, it is arrogance and independence. It’s an evil, and it sticks to the walls of our heart like mud, and God hates it, and we must hate it. We must mortify it, as John Owen says.
Listen to Proverbs 6:17. You know there are some things that God hates? Not a very politically correct statement, but here’s the word of God, “These six things the Lord hates…” Proverbs 6:16, “… yes, seven are an abomination to Him.” Look at number one, a proud look. A proud look. Someone who looks down on others because they do not look up to God, which would humble them. This is someone who goes through life with their nose stuck up in the air. God hates it with a passion. In fact, over to Proverbs 16:5, just to reinforce this thought, Proverbs 16:5, “Everyone proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord.”
I hear a lot of Christians today talking about the abomination of homosexuality. What about the abomination of conceit and pride among Christians? Why don’t we get all worked up about that? Worked up about putting ourself on display in our worship and our service, all for the glory of God’s name? Come on. That’s an abomination. God hates it. He is set against it. This is an evil in the sight of God. Proverbs 8:13 says this, “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil, pride, and arrogance, and the evil way.” Pride is an evil. I’ll tell you why it’s an evil, on two fronts. Number one, because it causes us, when we display it, it causes us to break both sides of the tablet of the 10 Commandments. You ever looked at Decalogue, the 10 commandments? They break in half. Half of them are focused on God and half of them are focused on how we treat others.
That’s why Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God and love your neighbor, because that covers both sides of the tablet, but pride breaks both sides of the tablet. Pride has us rising up in our hearts against God, seeking to displace Him, seeking to replace Him, seeking to ignore Him. Seeking to take to ourselves that which belongs to Him. Unto You, O Lord, unto You, O Lord, be the glory, said the psalmist. But we take the credit to ourselves. We polish our own medals, and therefore we put ourselves before God, which is a breaking of the first Commandment.
Pride is self-idolatry, and that’s why it’s an evil, and you know what? When we love self, we ignore God, and when we love self it makes us incapable of loving our neighbor. Why should we spend time helping someone in need when we have got such a big ego with so many needs that others need to serve? You see how grotesque and odious this sin is? It’s scarlet. It stinks to high heaven. It causes God to choke upon it as He smells it in His holy nostrils. It’s an evil sin, because it breaks both sides of the 10 Commandments. It has man taking glory to himself. In Romans 1:21, Paul catalogs the effects of our Adamic nature, in terms of how we view ourselves, view life, and view God. In Romans 1:21, here’s what we read, “Although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, and they were unthankful.”
They became ungrateful and independent from God. That is the mark of pride. Fundamentally, pride has a man forgetting God and forgetting himself before God. Pride, if you think about it, is blatant idolatry, it is treachery against heaven, it is moral madness. I’ll tell you another thing, it is satanic in its origin, because this is an evil, not because it only breaks both sides of the tablet of the 10 commandments, it has us looking more like the devil than the Lord Jesus Christ. I want to remind you, if you need to be reminded of how evil pride is, this was the sin that made the devil the devil. Do you realize that? This was the sin that caused a third of the angelic host to be ousted from heaven itself and cast down into hell. This is the original sin. This is the mother of all sins, because the devil was the original sinner, and this is the sin that marked him, and this was what gives it its hellish and demonic character. This is what provokes the wrath of God.
This is why the wise writers of Israel warned the emerging generation, look, pride comes before destruction, because God deals death to those that break His law. If you want an example, just look at Satan. You know Satan was an angel? Satan was once called Lucifer. He was the highest angel in the order of angelic hosts. According to Ezekiel, he was marked by splendor and beauty. He was wise. He was blameless in his ways until God found him one day, and here’s what we read in Ezekiel 28:15 and 17, describing the fall of Satan, “You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created until unrighteousness was found in you. Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty. You corrupted your wisdom by reason of your splendor.” Instead of reflecting God’s glory through his beauty and his splendor, he fell in love with himself and he exalted himself above God, and he dared to displace and replace God, because in Isaiah 14:13-14, here’s what we read.
This is Satan now, “I will ascend to heaven. I will rise my throne above the stars of God. I will sit on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds. I will make myself like the most High.” That’s what pride is. Remember Jonathan Edwards? It is a contending for supremacy with God. It’s moral insanity to think that you can be like God, but this madness ceased the heart of this beautiful creature and he was cast down, and he established a shadow empire based on the lie that apart from God, life is both possible and preferable. He sold that lie to Adam and Eve that they might be like God. This is an evil. Pride can turn angels into devils. It can turn men into gods, it can turn worship into idolatry. When you and I find ourselves conceited and confident, you and I are more like Satan at that moment than we are like the Lord Jesus. That’s the evil of pride. What about the effects of pride?
The effects of pride are devastating. It brought about Satan’s downfall, it brought about death to the human race. Proverbs 11:2, here’s what we read, “When pride comes, then comes shame, but with the humble is wisdom.” Proverbs 19:29, again reminding us of the effects of pride, “Judgements are prepared for scoffers…” mockers, the unbowed and the unbroken, “… and beatings for the backs of fools.” Proverbs 26:12, here’s what we read, “Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” Finally, Proverbs 29:23, “A man’s pride will bring him low, but the humble in spirit will retain honor.”
This evil has unholy and unhealthy side effects. In fact, I’ve noticed three of them. There are many more, but here’s three I want you to think about. We’re going to speed through this because I want to get to the last section, but first of all, pride promotes conflict. Pride promotes conflict. It brought about conflict in heaven, didn’t it? Between God and a third of the angelic host, and Satan. Proverbs 13:10, “By pride comes nothing but strife, but with the well-advised is wisdom.” Did you notice that? The implication of this verse is that every war was begun with pride as a major factor. Every church split has pride behind it somewhere. Every divorce occurs because pride is involved. There are two unyielding personalities that won’t surrender their wills to God for the good of God’s glory, for the benefit of marriage in a society, and for the good of the children that are about to be hurt. Pride brings nothing but conflict and strife. Friction and frustration.
That shouldn’t surprise us because a pride person is an egotistical spirit. A person who picks fight with others, rather than admit wrong, rather than welcome the wisdom that others have to teach. After all, they’re unteachable. Their proud. They’re conceited. They’re an island onto themselves. You see, the person ruled by pride is validated only when others agree with him or her. Disagreement is an affront that must be confronted, because of an inflated esteem. Adrian Roger said there are no problems too big to solve, only people too small who think they’re too big to solve them. [inaudible 00:27:35], in his commentary on Proverbs, says, and he’s on the money here, “You see the proud approach relationships with a closed mind and an open mouth. Two essential ingredients for a fight.” That’s the proud man. A closed mind. He’s a world unto himself, and he opens his mouth to boast. A recipe for a fight.
Pride promotes conflict. Pride produces covetousness. If you think about pride, the flip side of pride is envy, and according to Proverbs 27:4, who can stand against it? Pride and jealousy are sisters. Proud people, not surprisingly, are jealous people. Listen to James 3:16. James 3:16, and you read these words, “For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and everything are there.” Did you see the two things? Envy and self-ambition. Self-seeking pride. Envy and pride, when they’re together, every evil thing is present. You see how it works? Listen, pride inflates the ego. A proud person has overestimated their own measurement, but because they have an inflated ego, they think to themselves that they are better than they are, and since they are better, they deserve better. Since they are better, they can’t stand the fact that people they perceive to be less deserving than them have more than them, therefore they envy, they fight. I’ll tell you what envy is. Envy is pride wounded in competition.
Remember King Saul? Back in 1 Samuel 18, we read of David’s exploits against the Philistines. He comes back and some of the women of Israel are there to meet him, and they’re singing and dancing, and they say in 1 Samuel 18:7, “Saul has slain his thousands, but David his tens of thousands.” Then Saul was very angry, and the saying displeased him, and he said, “They have ascribed to David tens of thousands and to me they have ascribed only thousands. Now what more can we have but the kingdom? So Saul eyed David from that day forward.” That’s where you get the thought, the evil eye. The green-eyed monster. Saul eyed David. Saul had an inflated opinion of himself. He was better and David less deserving. He was envious of the fact that David had more than he had. Pride is envy. Pride is the ego wounded in competition.
Here’s the third thought, and we could say more about any one of these things. Here are the effects of pride. This is why you and I need to humble ourselves. We need to resist pride because God resists it, because it promotes conflict, it produces covetousness, and it provokes condemnation. Pride is a narrow ledge by a precipice, and sooner or later the proud will fall. God will see to it. Pride provokes the judgment of God and the scorn of heaven. Listen to Proverbs 11:2, “When pride comes, then comes shame.” Listen to Proverbs 15:25, this is a staggering verse. “The Lord will destroy the house of the proud.” Our text says pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. God has set Himself in opposition to the proud, because the pride has set himself in opposition to God, and God will resist him.
In fact, in 1 Peter 5:5 where we’re told that God opposes the proud, that is a active present tense verb, which means that God has constantly set Himself against the proud. Sometimes, if you and I feel that life is working against us, it may be God working against us, opposing our pride, our prayerlessness, our thanklessness, our ingratitude, our independence, our self-determination. Our using an abusing of His grace. This will provoke the condemnation of God. You and I may fall temporarily. God may humble us physically, financially, whatever, so that He might bring us to a point of repentance and dependence upon Him. Or should our neck go unbroken because it is stiffened by pride? We will not only fall temporarily, we will fall eternally, because God’s justice will be honored in our damnation. Because hell is the abode of the proud, the unrepentant, the unsubmissive. Those who said to God, “Not Your will, my will be done.”
Folks, those who stagger down the road of self-promotion eventually meet the roadblock of God’s opposition. God will reward the arrogant with what they fear most, humiliation and disgrace. Let me illustrate this and we’ll get to the last thought. It is said that on the eve of the battle of Waterloo, which brought Napoleon’s reign and empire to a crashing halt, Napoleon was asked by one of his commanders whose side God was on, France or England? To which Napoleon said, “God is on the side of those who have the biggest artillery.” He was humbled on the battlefield the next day by the Duke of Wellington and the English forces on the fields of Waterloo. It was the beginning of the end for him, and it has said that while he was an exile on the island of St. Helena, that he was brought to a place of humility, and he said that man proposes, but God disposes. Pride goes before destruction, in a haughty spirit before a fall.
Which brings me to look, finally, with you this morning at the eradication of pride. Considering its deadly and devastating and damning effects, you and I need to work hard at what John Owen calls the mortification of pride, the putting to death of self, because the way up is down, and the way down is up. You and I need to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God if He is ever to exalt us, rather than crush us. We need to take our rightful places before God as supplicants for His mercy, and servants to His will. We need to eradicate the pride of face and race and grace and place, says Spurgeon. John Bunyan, the English Baptist, famous for his book, Pilgrim’s Progress, once said this, “He that is down need fear no fall.” I don’t want to fall, do you? Temporarily or eternally. I want to humble myself under the mighty hand of God. I want to know His favor. I don’t want to harm myself or harm those I love because I’m proud and outside the reach of God’s blessing. I want to get low, because when you’re low you can’t fall.
Now, how can I promote humility in my life? How can you and I cultivate a spirit of lowliness before God? Well, it’s all rooted in the fear of God. That’s where wisdom always begins. How we understand God, how we see ourselves in the light of who He is, how we come to understand what He has done for us in Jesus Christ. Three things quickly, if you and I are going to humble ourselves and work at eradicating pride in our life, first of all, we need to focus on the majesty of God. We need to focus on the majesty of God. You and I will never have a humble heart until we have a high view of God. Listen to Proverbs 9:10. Proverbs 9:10, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Folks, a true estimation of ourself, our guardian against inflation, a true estimation of self begins not with contemplating our navel, but with looking into the fierce, and holy and majestic face of God.
Isn’t this what happened to Isaiah when his self-image was shattered in the face of a holy God who was high and lifted up, whose glory filled the temple as a wedding train? A God who was worshiped by adoring angels who covered their faces as they sat upon the hills of heaven. Isaiah, realizing who God was, came to see who he was. Woe. Woe is me. I am a man of unclean lips. I am undone. I’m shattered, broken, I am nothing. I am powder dust before this great God. In fact, that’s how Abraham saw himself, to give you one other example of what we’re talking about. Back in Genesis 18:27, as Abraham approached God, here’s how he saw himself in the light of the God he was about to approach. In Genesis 18:27, “Indeed now, I who I am but dust and ashes have taken it upon myself to speak to God.” Have we not lost that spirit in our prayer meetings, in our worship?
Who are we, apart from Jesus Christ, to speak to God? We’re nobody. We’re nothing. We are those who have committed travesty and treachery against high heaven, in that we have desired on many occasions in our life to act apart from God, to be like our own god. It’s only as we see God will we truly see ourselves. John Calvin said this, “It is evident that man never attains to a true self-knowledge until he has previously contemplated the face of God, and come down after such contemplation to look to himself.” We got to stop looking in and then looking up. We got to start looking up and then looking in, because if we look in and look up, we will create God in our own image. Our own perception. Or like those mirrors you get at the carnivals, where you get all bent out of shape and you’re fatter than you are, and you… You know? You feel good, actually, after you’ve been in and looked at that and you go out, “Hey, give me another ice cream.”
All jokes aside, that’s what our perception is like. It’s warped. We diminish God, we inflate self, and if we look in and then look up, we will never fully understand who God is, and we will miss who we are. But if we look up through the mirror of Scripture, with the eyes of the Holy Spirit, and see God for all that He is, we will see ourselves for the rotting mass of pride that we are. We will humble ourselves, and Jesus will become more precious, and the blood more valuable, and our union with Him more wonderful, because He gives to us our righteousness which we do not have and do not deserve.
I like what Phillips Brooks says, “The true way to be humble is not to stoop until you are smaller than yourself, but to stand at your real height against some higher nature that will show you what the real smallness of your greatness is.” You and I don’t need to make ourselves feel small by some act of the self-will. Just look at God in all His grandeur, and you’ll soon see the smallness of your greatness.
Do what C.J. Mahaney and his little book on humility encourages us to do. Look at the incommunicable attributes of God. The incommunicable attributes of God are those things about God that He did not share with us. We have been made in His image, and we do reflect aspects of His nature. That’s the communicable attributes of God. We are like God in some ways, even as human beings, but there are things about God we are not like. These are the incommunicable attributes of God. These are the things that set Him apart from us. He is infinite. He is not limited by time or space. He will not die. He is from everlasting to everlasting, God. He is omnipresent. He is everywhere, equally present. He is absolutely self-existent. I cannot live apart from Him, but He can live apart from me.
Think about those attributes of God, His greatness. As Matthew Henry expressed it, “The greatness of the best man in the world must say, ‘By the grace of God, I am what I am,’ but God says of Himself, ‘I am what I am.'” God has to make us something if we’re ever to be something. God is it all, in and of Himself, and if I focus on His majesty it’s not hard to be humbled. Secondly, I need to focus on the malignancy of sin. Pride is based upon a perceived quality of excellence. It sets oneself apart and above the crowd. There’s one way to crush such self-confidence and such self-conceit. It’s by focusing on the doctrine of sin. The doctrine of sin, the weight of our fallen nature crushes that conceit and tramples that pretense. We need to see ourselves as God sees us, and as God looks down upon us. Made in sin, shapen in iniquity. We are moral lepers from head to toe.
We do not have the blotches on our skin, but our hearts are the factory of idols. Our will is a slave to sin. Our minds are shrouded in darkness. According to Romans 3:12, we have become all together unprofitable. You want to know what your worth is to God apart from Jesus Christ? Nothing. Because of sin, you and I have become unprofitable. We do not think thoughts after God. We do not love God with our hearts. Our will is enslaved to that which opposes God, and unless God changes that in our coming to faith through Jesus Christ, we are before Him unprofitable. There’s nothing to be proud of. In fact, Paul says in Romans 7:18 that no good thing dwells in him. No good thing. You’re not good. You’re rotten, like me. We have all sinned, and we have fallen way short of God’s glory and what He created us to be. Like our father Abraham, we in fact rise up to oppose Him.
We do not joyfully obey Him. We do not readily worship him. We take credit to ourselves that belongs to Him. We provoke God to defend His own glory. We have nothing to be proud of. All we can do before God is to simply repent of our pride. Listen to these words from the Puritan, Richard Mayo, “Should that man be proud that has sinned as thou has sinned, and lived as thou has lived, and wasted so much time, and abused so much mercy, and admitted so many [inaudible 00:44:19], and neglected so great a means? Thou hath so grieved the spirit of God, so violated the law of God, so dishonored the name of God. Should that man be proud who hath such a heart as thou hast?” Friends, when we understand our hearts and we understand ourselves before a holy and impeccable God, we have nothing to be proud of.
That’s why the psalmist said that he blushed even to look up to God. Which brings me to the last thought. We have diagnosed the illness, now we’re going to talk about the medicine. My friend, if I’m going to humble myself, if I’m going to avoid being brought down by God because pride goes before destruction, I need to focus on the majesty of God, and I need to focus on the malignancy of my sin nature, and then I need to focus on the marvel of His grace, and what I have become, free of charge, in an unmerited way, through union with my blessed Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Folks, we are unable to save of ourselves. We have nothing, absolutely zilch, to commend ourselves to God. We have become altogether unprofitable. There is no fear of God in our eyes. In fact, the only thing we contribute to salvation is the thing that made it necessary, sin. We need to remind ourselves of that fact often, that we are wholly saved by grace alone, through Christ alone.
In fact, I would suggest to you that if you want to cultivate humility and loneliness of heart in your life, contemplate the doctrine or the doctrines of grace. Whatever way you want to put it. You ever think about this? God has so designed salvation that there’s no room for human congratulations and boasting. Listen to what we read in 1 Corinthians 1:27, “But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put the shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things that are mighty, and the base things of the world and the things that are despised, God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence.”
Why did God choose you? Just you? I’m nobody. No wealth, no fame. Why? Because He wants to get glory, so you don’t boast. Remind yourself that if you’re saved this morning, God did it. God broke you. God made Jesus lovely to you. God brought you to a place where you just simply, by faith, took the hand, the wounded hand of His Son. You have nothing to boast about. You need to join the line with John Newton. Amazing grace how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. You’re not better than someone this morning that’s sleeping in with a hangover, or slept with their girlfriend. You’re here, I hope, because God’s grace has drawn you here, and you’ve come to worship Him in lowliness and humility, because you don’t deserve the marvel of this relationship that you and I enjoy.
Paul said, “For by grace are we saved through faith. That not of ourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.” It has to be by grace, because if there was any modicum of contribution on our part, we would tell God about it, and we would remind others of it. Folks, I don’t want to be controversial, but you want to know why I’m a Calvinist this morning? Because when I understand that doctrines of grace, that God chose me, I didn’t choose Him, that God loved me before I loved Him, that God wrestled me to the ground on the 20th of January 1978 as a proud young man in Belfast and brought me to faith and repentance in Jesus Christ. When I understand that, that He elected me, that He chose me, that He loved me because He chose to love me, I’m humbled, and I worship Him all the more fervently, and I serve Him all the more joyfully, because there’s no room for boasting.
I don’t believe in a theology that says God looked down the tunnel of time and said, “Hey, you know what? Philip’s smart enough to trust Me. Let’s give him salvation. He’s wise enough to see what his neighbors have missed. He’s smarter than his classroom is.” That’s not my theology friend. I believe that God chose me before the foundation of the world, because He just decided to choose me. There is no reason other than that reason, because there’s nothing in me, and I’m not better than the next guy that isn’t saved.
My salvation is not based on human choice. It is not based on human performance. It was not received by human wisdom, and I’m thankful it’s not forfeited by human failure, and it is not kept by human strength. It’s just grace. When we grasp that our salvation from beginning to end is a gift of God’s unrequited and unrequired, unobligated, self-determined grace, we are humbled and brought to a place of wonder, love and praise.
Let me finish with this story. Alex Haley, who wrote Roots, that magnificent miniseries on the plight of the African American slave. It is said that he had a picture in his office of a turtle on the top of a fence post, and when the curious asked him what was the purpose of the picture, he said, “Well, you know what? I needed to remind myself that I am where I am because of the goodness of others, and so I have that picture because when you see a turtle on a post, you can conclude that that turtle didn’t get there by itself. Somebody helped it get to the top of the post.”
My friend, if I’m going to slay my tendency to take glory to myself, I’m going to look at a post. It’s a tree, and on it is the incarnate God, crucified for me. Dying for me. Achieving my salvation, and making me part of His family because He chose that for me. The cross slays my pride. When I survey it, and the one who hangs on it, I pour contempt and all my pride. Forgive me Lord. Forgive us Lord, that we should boast. Save in the cross of Christ, our Lord.