Friday, August 7, 2009

Fighting Friday: The Humble Soul a Particular Favourite in Heaven by Ebenezer Erskine

by Ebenezer Erskine

"When men are cast down, then thou shalt say, There is lifting up; and he shall save the humble person." —Job 22:29.

"Be ye clothed with humility; for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time." —1 Peter 5:5, 6.

"Though the Lord be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly: but the proud he knoweth afar off." —Psalm 138:6.

[Preached on a fast-day before the administration of the Lord's supper, at Orwell, July 27, 1721.
"The Whole Works of the Rev. Ebenezer Erskine: Consisting of Sermons and Discourses. To which is Added, an enlarged memoir of the Author, by the Rev. D. Fraser," Volume 1 (of 3). Philadelphia: Wm. S. & A. Young, 1836. Pages 81 to 105]

It is not material to inquire when, or upon what occasion, this psalm was penned. In the beginning of the psalm, the psalmist enters upon a firm resolution to praise the Lord; and he lays down several excellent grounds of praise and thanks-giving through the body of the psalm. As,

1. He resolves to praise God for the experience he had of his love and faithfulness, in the accomplishment of his gracious word of promise to him, ver. 2: "I will praise thy name for thy loving kindness, and for thy truth: for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name." God has a greater regard to the words of his mouth, than to the works of his hand: Heaven and earth shall pass away, but one jot or tittle of what he hath spoken shall never fall to the ground. —Some understand this of Christ, the essential Word, in whom he has set his name, and whom he has so highly exalted, that be has given him a name above every name.

2. David resolves to praise God for the experience he had of God's goodness in hearing his prayers, ver. 3: "In the day when I cried, thou answeredst me: and strengthenedst me with strength in my soul." God granted him a speedy answer; for it was in the very day that he cried that he was heard: and it was a spiritual answer; he was strengthened with strength in his soul. Would you have soul-strength for the work you have in view? Then cry unto him who is the strength of Israel for it; for "he giveth power to the faint, and he increaseth strength to them that have no might."

3. He resolves to praise God for the calling of the Gentiles, which he foresaw by the spirit of prophecy, ver. 4, 5. The prosperity and enlargement of the kingdom of Christ, is what fills the believer's mouth with hallelujahs of praise.

4. He resolves to bless God for his different ways of dealing with the humble and the proud, for his grace to the one, and his contempt and rejection of the other, in the words which I have read: Though the Lord be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly: but the proud he knoweth afar off.
It is the first part of the verse I design to insist upon. —Where we may notice,

1. The character of the gracious soul; he is a lowly person, one that is emptied, and abased in his own eyes. He sees nothing in himself, either to recommend him to God or man: on which account he is sometimes called poor in spirit, Matth. 5:3. He has god something of the mind and spirit of Jesus in him and so has learned of him who is meek and lowly, Matth. 11:29.

2. We have here God's transcendent greatness; he is the high Lord or Jehovah. He is "the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, and who dwells in the high and holy place, to which no man can approach." Who can think or speak of his highness in a suitable manner? It dazzles the eyes of sinful mortal worms, to behold "the place where his honour dwells." O how infinite is the distance between him and us! "There are none among the sons of the mighty that can be compared unto him." Yea, "the inhabitants of the earth are before him as a drop of a bucket, and as the small dust of the balance." He is not only high above men, but above angels: cherubims and seraphims are his ministering spirits. He is "high above the heavens;" for "the heaven," yea, "the heaven of heavens cannot contain him." And "he humbleth himself" when "he beholds the things that are in heaven." O, sirs, study to entertain high and admiring thoughts and apprehensions of the glorious majesty of God: for "honour and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary."

3. You have the amazing grace of this High God: though the distance between him and us be infinite, yet he hath a regard to the lowly. The apostle Peter expresses this by "giving grace to the humble," 1 Pet. 5:5: God is "good to all;" he distributes the effects of his common bounty to the good and bad, to the just and unjust: but he reserves his special grace and favour for the meek and lowly soul. What farther is needful for explication, will occur in the sequel of the discourse.

Observe that the lowly and humble soul is the particular favourite of the high God. Though the Lord be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly.

This truth is so evidently founded on the text, that I shall not consume time in adducing other texts of scripture to confirm it. Many that I might name will fall in, in the prosecution of the doctrine; which I shall attempt, through grace, in the following method.

I. I shall give some account of this lowliness and humility, and show in what it consists.

II. Prove, that the humble and lowly soul is the particular favourite of heaven.

IlI. Why God has such respect to the lowly.

IV. Lay before you some marks or characters of the lowly and humble soul.

V. Offer some motives pressing you to seek after it.

VI. Offer a few directions or advices how it may be attained.

I. The first thing proposed is, to give some account of this lowliness and humility, that you may know in what it consists.—Now, lowliness being a relative grace, we must consider it in a threefold view. Either, 1. As it has a respect to ourselves. Or, 2. As it has a respect to others. Or, 3. As it has a respect to God.

First, I say, it may be considered with respect to ourselves. And so it implies,

1. Low and under-rating thoughts of ourselves. The humble soul has low thoughts of his own person; as David, "I am a worm, and no man." "I am less than the least of thy mercies," says Jacob. He has low thoughts of his pedigree: he is not like the princes of Zoan, who valued themselves on this, that they were the offspring of ancient kings. Some think there is none like them, because they are of such a clan, and such a family, they have such lords and lairds for their relations. But the humble soul makes little account of all these: "Who am I," says David, "and what is mine house, that thou hast brought me hitherto?" He considered himself as "the degenerate plant of a strange vine;" as a rotten branch of the corrupted and fallen family of Adam he views "the rock whence he was hewn, and the hole of the pit whence he was digged," saying as in Psalm 51.5: "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me." Again; the man has low thoughts of his own abilities for any work or service he is called to perform in his generation. O, says the lowly soul, I see I am nothing, I can do nothing; I cannot of myself think a good thought. "I am not sufficient of myself to think anything as of myself," says Paul. I cannot read, hear, pray, communicate, meditate, or examine myself: I see such sin and imperfection attending every duty I set about, as may justly provoke a holy God to cast it back like dung upon my face: I am sure "my goodness extendeth not to him." I see I cannot subdue one corruption, or resist the least temptation, when left to myself; I fall before it, and must needs be carried down the stream like a dead fish, unless the Lord's grace be sufficient for me. Again; the man has low thoughts of his attainments, whether moral or evangelical. "O," says Agur, "I am more brutish than any man, and have not the understanding of a man. I neither learned wisdom, nor have the knowledge of the holy." And Paul, the great apostle of the Gentiles, did not reckon that he had attained, or that he was already perfect; but he forgets those things which were behind, reaching forth unto things that were before, Phil. 3:12, 13.

2. This lowliness and humility with respect to ourselves, has in it a self-abhorrence; which is yet a degree beyond the former. The man sees so much sin and guilt, so much emptiness, poverty, and vileness about himself, that, with holy Job, he cries out, "Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer thee? I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." Agreeably to which is that text, Ezek. 36:31: "Ye shall remember your own evil ways, and your doings that were not good, and shall loathe yourselves in your own sight, for your iniquities, and for your abominations."

3. It has in it a singleness of heart in the discharge of duty, without vain-glory, or Pharisaical ostentation. It argues a proud hypocritical spirit, to pray, or give alms, or do any duty, to be seen of men, that we may procure a name to ourselves, or the approbation of others. I am afraid, there are many that attend sermons, and sacraments, with a design to maintain their credit and reputation among their neighbours. Verily, such "have their reward;" but a sorry one it is, when they have got it: the day comes, when this fig-leaf covering shall be torn, and your nakedness, emptiness, and hypocrisy, exposed before men and angels. The humble and lowly Christian will make conscience of duty, although none in the world should see him; yea, the more retired he is, he loves it the better: he cares not though, in things of this nature, his left hand know not what his right hand doth.

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