January 8: Van Horn on Westminster Doctrines : Humility

John Calvin stated it well, “Humility is an unfeigned submission of our heart, stricken down in earnest with an awareness of its own misery and want. For so it is everywhere described by the Word of God.” (Institutes, III. 12. 6).


“To God’s Glory” : A Practical Study of a Doctrine of the Westminster Standards.

by Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn

THE SUBJECT : Humility

THE BIBLE VERSES TO READ : Micah 6:8; Luke 14:10; 22:26; Rom. 12:3; James 4:10; I Peter 5:5.
(Other references within the article.)

REFERENCE TO THE STANDARDS : Confession of Faith X.1 & 2; XII; XVI.3; Larger Catechism Q. 67; 73; 74; Shorter Catechism Q. 31; 34; 86.

When Martin Luther was asked what was the first step in religion, he replied it was humility. When he was asked what was the second and third he answered in the same way. The characteristic of humility is an important one in the life of every professing believer.

As those of us who are committed to the Reformed Faith think of the great doctrines of Effectual Calling, of Adoption, and of Good Works, we should show the fruits of humility in every area of our lives! He saved us by His grace and adopted us as His children. He enables us to work out our salvation in fear and trembling. Therefore, how could we show forth anything but humility?

It was a favorite expression of Whitfield’s that “nothing sets a person so much out of the Devil’s reach as humility.” He said further, “Those that have been most humbled, make the most solid, useful Christians. It stands to reason, the more a man is emptied of himself, the more room is there made for the Spirit of God to dwell in him.”

The Apostle Paul understood the grace of humility. In II Corinthians 12:11 he stated his way to humility well : “. . .  I be nothing.” Someone once outlined the areas which Paul thought he was nothing. These should help to alert all of us to examine ourselves in the light of Paul’s standard in God’s Word.

1. Regarding his preaching :
“Not with wisdom of words (I Cor. 1:17)
“Not with excellency of speech” (I Cor. 2:1)
“Not with enticing words” (I Cor. 2:4)
“Not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth” (I Cor. 2:13)
2. Regarding his power : (II Cor. 4:7)
3. Regarding his thinking : (II Cor. 3:5)
4. Regarding his resources : (II Cor. 1:9)
5. Regarding his receiving credit : (II Cor. 13:7)
6. Regarding how he labored : (I Cor. 15:10)
7. Regarding his life : (Gal. 2:20)
8. Regarding spiritual attainment : (Phil. 3:12-13)

How did Paul manage to have such attitudes that were all to God’s glory? Or, even more important, how can we manage to have such attitudes to the glory of God? Paul’s secret, and our secret, is found in the Lord Jesus Christ. Note some words from our Lord :

1. “My doctrine is not mine, but His that sent me.” (John 7:16)
2. “And I seek not mine own glory.” (John 8:50)
3. “I seek not mine own will.” (John 5:30)
4. “For I have not spoken of myself.” (John 12:49)
5. “I am not come of myself.” (John 7:28)

Many other examples could be given of our Lord. And Paul knew that the secret was to enthrone Christ in his heart. It is only then that the service for the Lord becomes as selfless as possible for His servants. And it is only then that the servant receives abundant grace. (James 4:6-7).

The grace of humility is founded in a true sense of our weakness, unworthiness, and sin. As we think of our pride, our impure thoughts and imaginations, our hasty words, our impatience, our temper, our harsh judgments of others, our lack of love, we have no right to be proud and every right to be humble.

The Puritans held that if others knew us as God knows us, we would hide ourselves in shame. But the same is true in regard to our Lord and our relationship with Him. He knows our hearts, He knows the deep crevices we keep hidden from others and even from ourselves. And the closer we live to Him the more conscious we are of sins and this should motivate us to true humility.

John Calvin stated it well, “Humility is an unfeigned submission of our heart, stricken down in earnest with an awareness of its own misery and want. For so it is everywhere described by the Word of God.” (Institutes, III. 12. 6).

How we need to recognize before our Lord how unfit we are to do His work in and of ourselves. There is no room for pride. There is no reason for us to think we are something when we are nothing. Any ability we might have is God-given. And results in His work that may take place are by His grace.

We dare not go about attempting to establish our own righteousness. Rather, we should submit ourselves unto the righteousness which is of God and know that we have nothing to glory in before Him. If we are called, we are called by His grace. If we serve, we serve by His grace. If we have hope, we have it by His grace.

Mark it well. We are insufficient, we are weak in ourselves. It is only when we become humble in mind and soul and begin to live for His glory that He will exalt us. We should practice daily the grace of humility.

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