Francis Turretin’s famous remark is often paraphrased and C.J. Mahaney’s Humility: True Greatness caused me to reflect upon it yet again. In his Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Turretin wrote (and I paraphrase):
Theology is partly theoretical and partly practical, but at the end of the day, it is more practical than theoretical.
Now those who have read Turretin know that he does not hereby minimize the importance of careful and thoughtful theological reflection. His writing is driven to treat in a systematic and academic way the theological assertions made by the Roman Catholic Church and other opponents of Reformed Theology .
And yet Turretin emphasizes the fact that our theology is not just a thought experiment; it is not aloof to the ebb and flow of this pilgrim life. C.J. Mahaney gives one example of this in chapter 7 of his book.
In a further suggestion for cultivating humility and weakening pride, Mahaney suggests that we spend extra time studying theology. But three loci of theology are especially good at reminding us to not think more highly of ourselves than we ought.
1. Study the attributes of God. (Particularly the incommunicable attributes.)
As we investigate such attributes, we become increasingly aware of the indescribably vast distance between ourselves and God. Ironically, this distance from God will be even more real to us when we get “closer” to God in heaven, as Jonathan Edwards reminds us: “The saints in glory are so much employed in praise, because they are perfect in humility, and have so great a sense of the infinite distance between them and God.”
Even now, the more you’re aware of this distance and this difference between you and God, the more you will experience and express humility.
2. Study the doctrines of grace.
Study the doctrines of election, calling, justification, perseverance – and the effect will be humility. Why? Because the doctrines of grace leave no room for self-congratulation, no room for self-glorification.
Our salvation, from first to last, is truly all of grace – and the effect of this grace understood is humility.
3. Study the doctrine of sin.
We need to study sin and become more aware of its ways, because so often we’re simply imperceptive of sin’s presence. Why is that? Hebrews 3:13 tells us to guard against being “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” It’s the very nature of sin to be deceitful. Sin is subtle and difficult to discern, especially the sin of pride. And it has a gradual hardening effect on the soul.
The ultimate effect from such hardening by sin is that grace, for the Christian, is no longer amazing. That’s why we need to stay close to the doctrine of sin – because it helps us see the presence of pride and protects us fro those hardening effects.
How tempting it is to forget the great distance between the creator and the creature, to think more highly of our contribution to our salvation than we ought, and to minimize how vile is our sin in the eyes of he who is perfect in holiness! May God continue to cultivate humility in us as we reflect upon his greatness, our sinfulness, and his abundant mercy to us!
Christ Reformed Church (Anaheim, CA)