Critical Calvinists and Pride (Hughes, Bridges)

Preaching the Word: Sermon on the Mount—The Message of the Kingdom  One thing I’ve noticed over the years is the fact that some Calvinists are also very critical of others.  I know that some people in general are critical by nature, but to me it seems worse when someone who holds to the doctrines of grace is always super critical about others.  Maybe you’ve seen it: these people are always pointing out the flaws in someone’s theology, they’re quick to find fault in someone’s beliefs, they generally don’t give others the benefit of the doubt, and you won’t hear this type of person speak loving or kind words to those with whom they disagree.  To be honest, I sometimes struggle with a critical spirit, so I’m not claiming the higher moral ground here!  My point is that a critical spirit is not a Christian attitude or mentality.  And further, the more we understand the truths of the doctrines of grace, the more our critical spirit should decrease and decline.  Why?  Because the doctrines of grace kill pride and produce humility.

I appreciate how Kent Hughes describes this as he comments on Matthew 7:1-5:

A critical spirit, a judgmental, condemning spirit, is endemic to the human situation. The media, our social relationships, our schooling, and our work situations are immersed in it. And though we often joke about it, experiencing it is most unpleasant. Few things are more exhausting and debilitating than harsh, unloving criticism.

Even sadder, the church of Jesus Christ is itself full of those who make a habit of criticism and condemnation. Some seem to think their critical spirit is a spiritual gift. But the Lord does not agree. In the opening verses of Matthew 7 (the final chapter of the Sermon on the Mount), our Lord sets the record straight in no uncertain terms. He tells us how we should relate to our brothers and sisters in this matter of judgmentalism, especially in respect to the fact that we will all undergo a final judgment.

…When a critic discovers faults in another, he feels a malignant satisfaction and always sees the worst possible motives in the other’s actions. The critical spirit is like the carrion fly that buzzes with a sickening hum of satisfaction over sores, preferring corruption to health.

…We see critical spirits all around us—in our media, in our schools, in our social relationships. But it should not be a part of the church. May God purge it from our lives and from our churches. We would each do well to ask ourselves, who have I been critical of this week? Has my focus on their faults blinded me to my own? Then we need to ask God to help us see ourselves as we are. (R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2001), 227–228.)

Jerry Bridges also wrote well on this when he discussed sins like pride, bitterness, envy, and an unforgiving spirit:

One of the most difficult defilements of spirit to deal with is the critical spirit. A critical spirit has its root in pride. Because of the “plank” of pride in our own eye we are not capable of dealing with the “speck” of need in someone else. We are often like the Pharisee who, completely unconscious of his own need, prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men” (Luke 18:11). We are quick to see—and to speak of—the faults of others, but slow to see our own needs. How sweetly we relish the opportunity to speak critically of someone else—even when we are unsure of our facts. We forget that “a man who stirs up dissension among brothers” by criticizing one to another is one of the “six things which the Lord hates” (Proverbs 6:16–19).

All of these attitudes—envy, jealousy, bitterness, an unforgiving and retaliatory spirit, and a critical and gossiping spirit—defile us and keep us from being holy before God. They are just as evil as immorality, drunkenness, and debauchery. Therefore, we must work diligently at rooting out these sinful attitudes from our minds. Often we are not even aware our attitudes are sinful. We cloak these defiling thoughts under the guise of justice and righteous indignation. But we need to pray daily for humility and honesty to see these sinful attitudes for what they really are, and then for grace and discipline to root them out of our minds and replace them with thoughts pleasing to God.  Jerry Bridges, The Pursuit of Holiness (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 1978), 122.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

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The Gospel and Daily Humility (Bridges)

 I enjoyed Jerry Bridges’ book, The Blessing of Humility.  It’s a readable discussion of humility based on the Beatitudes.  Chapter ten of this book is called, “The Humility and the Gospel.”  Below are four main points Bridges makes in this chapter.  I’ve summarized them for the sake of space.  The question is this: How does the good news of the gospel help keep us humble every day?

  1. For one thing, it frees us up to be honest with ourselves about our sin.  We can face our sin squarely when we know that it is forgiven.  Even when a particular sin is vile in our eyes – not to mention God’s eyes – we can call it what it is, and thank God for his forgiveness.

  2. The second way the gospel helps us live a life of humility is to show us another person’s sin in light of our own.  To paraphrase and even enlarge on the words of one of the Puritans, the proud person is so busy judging the sins of other people that he or she has no time to see the sins of his or her own heart.  Meanwhile, the humble person is so busy dealing with his or her own sins that he or she has no time to judge the sins  of others.

  3. A third way the gospel helps us walk in humility is that it helps us practice meekness and mercy.  We can only truly appreciate the gospel when we see it through the lens of our sin.  And as we do that, we can forgive the sins of others because we have been forgiven so much.

  4. Fourth, the gospel motivates us to want to live in purity of heart – that is, to have as our supreme goal in life to live no longer for ourselves but Him who redeemed us to be a people for his own possession. …I find myself often praying over a few phrases from the old hymn “My Faith Looks Up to Thee.” ‘Take all my guilt away / O let me from this day / Be wholly Thine!’

In summary, I would say that it is impossible to truly walk in humility without to some degree appropriating the truth of the gospel every day.

Jerry Bridges, The Blessing of Humility, p. 86-88.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

 

Humility and Distrusting the Heart (Hutchinson)

 I’m enjoying this book by Christopher Hutchinson called Rediscovering Humility.  It’s an engaging read that walks through the different dynamics of biblical humility in a gospel centered way.  I’ll write more about it later, but for now I wanted to share these helpful paragraphs:

I have often participated in religious or philosophical discussions with people who had made up their minds long before and without any real examination of the issues. They are sure they are right and cannot wait to tell anyone who will listen.  How often people say something like, ‘I think God is like this or that,’ without any consideration that they ought not to think anything about God unless He has first told them.  Wisdom reminds us, ‘A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion’ (Proverbs 18:2).  Fools would rather hear themselves talk than actually grow in knowledge and perhaps even change their minds.  In contrast, humility is ‘quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger’ (James 1:19)….

Americans have a strong tradition of rugged individualism that pushes against humility.  In ‘Self-Reliance,’ Ralph Waldo Emerson says, ‘to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men – that is genius.’  So what happens when my genius heart disagrees with yours?  That is exactly why Scripture warns against trusting one’s own heart, ‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it (Jeremiah 17:9).  Humility teaches people to distrust their own hearts and judgment until wisdom has grown and been proved by an abundance of counselors.

What then are believers to do?  They are to distrust their own first instincts and listen to facts – the facts of the world around them, the facts of other people’s thoughts and opinions, and most of all, the facts found in God’s Word (cf. James 1:19, 22).  They are to heed the advice found in Proverbs, ‘Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding…’ (3:5-7).

Christopher Hutchinson, Rediscovering Humility (Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2018), p. 50-51.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

(NOTE: I received a copy of this book to review and was not compelled to write a positive review.)

Inquiring after the Weeds (Owen)

The Works of John Owen (24 vols.) I appreciate this section in John Owen’s “Of The Mortification of Sin in Believers”:

There are two things that are suited to humble the souls of men, and they are, first, a due consideration of God, and then of themselves; of God, in his greatness, glory, holiness, power, majesty, and authority; of ourselves, in our mean, abject, and sinful condition. Now, of all things in our condition, there is nothing so suited unto this end and purpose as that which lies before us; namely, the vile remainders of enmity against God which are yet in our hearts and natures.

And it is no small evidence of a gracious soul when it is willing to search itself in this matter, and to be helped therein from a word of truth; when it is willing that the word should dive into the secret parts of the heart, and rip open whatever of evil and corruption lies therein. The prophet says of Ephraim, Hos. 10:11, “He loved to tread out the corn” he loved to work when he might eat, to have always the corn before him: but God, says he, would “cause him to plough;” a labor no less needful, though at present not so delightful. Most men love to hear of the doctrine of grace, of the pardon of sin, of free love, and suppose they find food therein; however, it is evident that they grow and thrive in the life and notion of them. But to be breaking up the fallow ground of their hearts, to be inquiring after the weeds and briers that grow in them, they delight not so much, though this be no less necessary than the other.

This path is not so beaten as that of grace, nor so trod in, though it be the only way to come to a true knowledge of grace itself. It may be some, who are wise and grown in other truths, may yet be so little skilled in searching their own hearts, that they may be slow in the perception and understanding of these things. But this sloth and neglect is to be shaken off, if we have any regard unto our own souls

 Owen, J. (n.d.). The works of John Owen. (W. H. Goold, Ed.) (Vol. 6, pp. 200–201). Edinburgh: T&T Clark.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Pride, Celebrity, Self-Flattery, and Donkeys

 Andreas Kostenberger has a nice section about humility in his book Excellence.  He notes that humility is one of the “cardinal virtues in the Christian life and in academic work.”  In the chapter Kostenberger quotes Calvin:

I was always exceedingly delighted with that saying of Chrysostom, “The foundation of our philosophy is humility”; and yet more pleased with that of Augustine: “As the orator, when asked, What is the first precept in eloquence? answered, Delivery: What is the second? Delivery: What is the third? Delivery: so if you ask me concerning the precepts of the Christian religion, I will answer, first, second, and third, Humility.”

Kostenberger also spends some time saying that we should be humble in our academics and ministry because 1) we could be wrong, 2) we are not nearly as brilliant as scholars before us, 3) our ministry is at most a mere footnote in history that will barely be mentioned by others in the future, and 4) in the overall scheme of things we are not that important.  Our life is a vapor (James 4:14).  Kostenberger then talked about celebrity pastors and near the end of this section on humility he noted a great quote by Luther:

[If] you feel and are inclined to think you have made it, flattering yourself with your own little books, teaching, or writing, because you have done it beautifully and preached excellently; if you are highly pleased when someone praises you in the presence of others; if you perhaps look for praise, and would sulk or quit what you are doing if you did not get it– if you are of that stripe, dear friend, then take yourself by the ears, and if you do this in the right way you will find a beautiful pair of big, long, shaggy donkey ears.

Then do not spare any expense! Decorate them with golden bells, so that people will be able to hear you wherever you go, point their fingers at you, and say, ‘See, see! There goes that clever beast, who can write such exquisite books and preach so remarkably well.’ That very moment you will be blessed and blessed beyond measure in the kingdom of heaven. Yes, in that heaven where hellfire is ready for the devil and his angels. To sum up: Let us be proud and seek honor in the places where we can. But in this Book the honor is God’s alone, as it is said, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble’ (1 Pet. 5:5); to whom be glory, world without end, Amen.

The above quotes came from chapter 15 of Excellence: The Character of God and the Pursuit of Scholarly Virtue by Andreas Kostenberger.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Critical and Opinionated Christians (Manton)

Sadly, some Christians are super critical and overly opinionated.  They constantly criticize others and go around boldly stating their opinion (as if they’re always right).  This is a sign of pride.  Of course, no Christian is perfect – we all struggle with various sins, passions, and evil pleasures.  But it is important for those who follow Christ to be humble, loving, patient, kind, gentle, peaceful, and so forth (cf. Gal. 5:22).  We should fight against being critical and overly opinionated.  Thomas Manton does a nice job explaining moderation and Christian wisdom in his commentary on James 3:17.  He said, “A truly wise Christian is moderate:”

1) In his criticism.  He is not always making the worst of matters but judges charitably and favorably where things are capable of being interpreted without censure.  People who examine everything by very strict rules and use harder terms than the nature of human actions requires may seem to be more wise and perceptive than others, but they show lack of this true wisdom that the apostle commends. Austerity [a severe manner] is the sign of folly.  Wise Christians, in weighing actions, always allow for human frailty.

2) In his opinions.  He does not urge his own opinions too much or wrest those of his adversaries beyond what they intended to odious consequences that they disclaim – a fault that has much disturbed the peace of Christendom.  Charity should consider not what follows of itself from any other opinion, but what follows in the conscience of those who hold it.  A person may err in logic without erring in faith; and though you may show him the consequences of his opinion, you must not make him responsible for them.  To make anyone worse than he is, is the way to disgrace an adversary not reclaim him.

These are good reminders!  Rather than always criticising and voicing our opinion, we should seek the wisdom from above, Christ-like wisdom, wisdom that is pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere (James 3:17, NIV).

The above quotes are found in Thomas Manton’s (abridged) commentary on James, p. 215-216.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

 

 

Contribute to Our Salvation? (Luther)

Product DetailsThe following quote by Martin Luther, from The Bondage of the Will, is one of the main points of the Reformation, the biblical truth that the salvation of sinners belongs completely and wholly to the Lord:

“A man cannot be thoroughly humbled till he realizes that his salvation is utterly beyond his own powers, counsels, efforts, will and works, and depends absolutely on the will, counsel, pleasure and work of Another – God alone.  As long as he is persuaded that he can make even the smallest contribution to his salvation, he remains self-confident and does not utterly despair of himself, and so is not humbled before God; but plans out for himself (or at least hopes and longs for) a position, an occasion, a work, which shall bring him final salvation.  But he who is out of doubt that his destiny depends entirely on the will of God despairs of himself entirely, chooses nothing for himself, but waits for God to work in him; and such a man is very near to grace for his salvation.”

“…So these truths are published for the sake of the elect, that they may be humbled and brought down to nothing, and so saved.  The rest of men resist this humiliation; indeed, they condemn the teaching of self-despair; they want a little something left they can do for themselves.  Secretly they continue proud, and enemies of the grace of God.  This, I repeat, is one reason – that those who fear God might in humility comprehend, claim and receive his gracious promise.” Martin Luther, Bondage of the Will, II.vii.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI