The writer of Proverbs says that out of many daughters, the virtuous wife excels them all. Something analogous also may also be said of pride, the devil’s oldest daughter. Many sins are indeed ugly, but you surpass them all.
“Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor mine eyes lofty: Neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me. Surely I have behaved and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother: My soul is even as a weaned child. Let Israel hope in the Lord From henceforth and for ever” (Psalm 131:1-3).
Summary of the Text
In this place, David describes the place he occupies as one of great humility. But he does not say this as some kind of humblebrag because in this psalm he describes for us how he was brought to that place, most reluctantly. But first, let him describe where he is now. He tells the Lord that his heart is not haughty, and that his eyes are not lofty or exalted (v. 1). He has decided not to meddle in “great matters,” or in things that are above his head, his pay grade, or his responsibility (v. 1). He has let go of everything. But notice that he has let go of these things. It is not that he was naturally so humble. He has behaved and quieted himself (v. 2), and the tumultuous process that brought him to this place was like the process of weaning a child. But weaning a child is frequently a rodeo, as it apparently was in this instance. The place David occupies now is a place of exhausted acquiescence. The mother won, and the child lost. His soul is like that of a weaned child (v. 2). But notice that the lesson he has learned is a lesson of hope for all of Israel (v. 3). It is a lesson of hope for all time, for all of God’s people (v. 3). All of us have to learn this, because all of us are proud. We are to trust in God from this position, having abandoned our own sense of importance, knowing that God is in control. God is God, and God is God of all Israel.
Clothed with Humility
Because God opposes the proud, and gives grace to the humble (James 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5), this is the place where we must start. All grumbling, all discontent, all complaining, is basically murmuring against God. The “great things” that the psalmist has abandoned would be the great questions about God’s sovereignty, which often are inscrutable to us. This is stark and obvious when we are complaining about the weather, or a mysterious disease or ailment, or our height, or the comparative poverty of the family we were born into. All discontent is ultimately vertical, directed against God, but with such things as these it is most obvious—because these are all obviously acts of God. And God takes a dim view of it when He can hear all the Israelites grumbling in their tents (Ex. 16:7-8).
But sometimes, when our complaints are directed against other people, who are sinners (as Scripture teacheth), we think that we are simply being orthodox. The Bible teaches that all men sin in many ways (Eccl. 7:20), does it not, and are we not just pointing out this obvious and most scriptural fact? No, because the Scriptures include you in that number.
Why do you neglect the most obvious truth that you are part of the equation, that yours is one of the egos involved, that your perceptions are partial and tangled, and that your memory isn’t what it used to be? Why is it so easy to fail to budget for that? The answer is pride.
“Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?”
Matt. 7:1-3 (KJV)
“Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.”
Gal. 6:1 (KJV)
But horizontal pride is aimed at God also, just not as obviously. In the passage from Peter cited earlier, Peter says that we are to be subject to one another, and to be clothed with humility (1 Pet. 5:5), and this is precisely how we humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God (1 Pet. 5:6). Just as a visit to a prisoner is reckoned as visiting Christ (Matt. 25:44), so also is the proud dismissal of a fool counted as a proud dismissal of Christ (Matt. 5:22).
The vertical and horizontal are closely related. To echo Thomas Watson, we focus on the one who brought the affliction to us while forgetting the one who sent it to us. And flipping the same point around, we also forget that we are often His instruments for bringing an affliction to someone else. We don’t like considering the possibility that other people have to pray for grace in preparation for dealing with you.
The Proud are Cursed
“Thou hast rebuked the proud that are cursed, which do err from thy commandments” (Psalm 119:21). God opposes the proud, and curses the proud. But we must remember that pride is a most versatile sin, and can show up virtually anywhere. There are many sins that are not welcome here in the sanctuary—porn, drunkenness, blasphemy, and the like. But pride cleans up real nice. Pride specializes in cleaning up real nice. Paul instructs Timothy not to ordain a novice to the ministry “lest he be lifted up with pride [and] fall into the condemnation of the devil” (1 Tim. 3:6). We need to remember that the birthplace of this sin was in Heaven, in the heart of an exalted celestial being—who simply wanted to be more exalted (Is. 14:13). The devil is an accuser; the devil is self-righteous. Pride blinds the one afflicted by it. Pride blinds. How else can you be kicked out of Heaven, and still feel like you were in the right? And so it is not surprising that pride naturally appears in the places that we hold in honor.
Pride always works the same way:
“The pride of thine heart hath deceived thee, thou that dwellest in the clefts of the rock, whose habitation is high; That saith in his heart, Who shall bring me down to the ground?”
Obadiah 3 (KJV)
Pride can work with any material. We can be proud of how underlined our Bibles are. We can be proud of how beautifully we sing Psalm 131. We can be proud of the fact that we understand the Reformed doctrine that we cannot be proud of anything—as opposed to those semi-Pelagian morons over there. The Pharisee in the Temple is not self-aware—he thanks God that he is not like that tax-collector over there, that miserable wretch. He is holy, and tithes, and fasts. And then we read something like that, and go home thanking God that we are not like that Pharisee.
As the joke goes, we all want people to buy our new book, Humility and How I Attained It.
When God has given great gifts, as He is doing for us here in Moscow, the only appropriate response is gratitude. And this is a great protection because gratitude and arrogance exclude one another.
“For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?”
1 Corinthians 4:7 (KJV)
Humility is Not Stupid
There is a quote that is falsely attributed to C.S. Lewis, which is a shame, because it sums it up nicely. Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”
Phil. 2:3 (ESV)
I like the ESV here (“more significant”), because it is not required that you pretend that the person you are giving lessons to is better at whatever it is you are teaching him. Humility is not a liar. Say there is one guitar in the room, and three guitarists. Two of them are masters and one is a hacker. A proud hacker can know that he is not as good, and yet want to be playing anyway. This is his one chance to “play for Clapton.” The masters, if they are humble, can know that they are far better at it, and yet want to hear the hacker play. His concerns are more significant than theirs.
Do you worship the Lord with psalms? Good on you, and that is what we are pursuing. But have you ever looked at a brother praising God with what you consider some lame worship song, and yet he is truly praising God, and you despised him in your heart? You were acting like Michal when she watched David dance before the Lord? “My soul shall make her boast in the Lord: The humble shall hear thereof, and be glad” (Psalm 34:2).
And humility does not strive for some kind of oily, unctuous “miserable me” approach. That is not humility either. If you occupy the central place on that television screen in your mind, it does not much matter if you see a worm or a celebrity. The conceit is the same. The arrogance is the same. The question is this—who is the focus of all your attention?
The Only Place That Pride Can Die
The Lord Jesus was the only perfect man who ever lived. And He came to live and die among a race of diseased and corrupted lepers. And how was He treated in this leper colony of ours—the only healthy man who ever lived here. We stole from him (John 12:6), we got in the way of His mission (Matt. 16:23), we refused to listen to Him (Matt. 13:15), we betrayed Him (Matt. 20:18), we ran Him through a railroaded trial (John 18:12ff), we had Him flogged (Matt. 20:19), we pulled out His beard (Is. 50:6), we spit in His face (Matt. 26:67), we nailed Him to a cross of wood (Acts 2:23), and we taunted Him there (Matt. 27:42).
All our sins were nailed to the cross of Jesus Christ (Col. 2:14). But the sin that was mostly visibly nailed there was the sin of pride, because when we look straight on at the cross, we see nothing, absolutely nothing but divine humility. When we look at the pride of man, gibbeted in that way, we can see why humility is exalted. Therefore God has highly exalted Him, and given Him a name that is above every name (Phil. 2:9-11). And that is a humility that can be yours. All you must do is look on it and live. Look in faith, and the gift is yours.
The best prayer we could have at this point is summed up in Chesterton’s hymn—“Take not thy thunder from us, but take away our pride.”