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He Who Is Most Of All Conscious Of His Misery, Is Most Of All Acceptable To God; And His Christian Knowledge Of His Misery, Urges Him To Seek The Grace Of God.
To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.—Isaiah 66:2.
These comfortable words, our gracious and merciful God hath spoken by the prophet, in order to cheer our hearts, when they are most oppressed with misery and sorrow. Be not thou therefore ashamed to be bruised in spirit, and abased in thine own eyes. Humble thyself in the dust, and deem thyself unworthy of all grace and favor; so shalt thou be raised out of thine own vileness, and obtain, in Christ, acceptance with Almighty God.
2. He who is still something in his own estimation, is not duly humbled and depressed in his heart; nor can he expect to be regarded by that Being who looks upon the poor and contrite ones only. “If,” says the apostle, “a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself” (Gal. 6:3): and the reason of this is, that God is all in all, alone; and the creature must consequently become a bare and empty nothing. So great and so practical is this truth, that man is not only to believe it in his heart, but to express it in his life and conduct.
3. If ever thou designest, then, to give all the glory and honor to God, that He may be all, alone, thou must surely thyself become nothing in thine own eyes; and entertain a very low opinion of thyself, and of thy profiting in spiritual things. For how is it possible that God should be all in all, whilst thou thyself continuest to be something? By this self-exaltation thou invadest the sovereignty of God, and appropriatest that to thyself, which is his proper due and prerogative. “It was before the Lord,” said David to Michal, who had reproached him, “and I will yet be more vile than thus, and will be base in mine own sight.” 2 Sam. 6:21, 22.
4. A man that will be something, is the matter out of which God is wont to make nothing; but he, on the contrary, who loves to be reputed as nothing, and who, in his own judgment, is so, is the matter out of which the Almighty maketh something. He that will be wise in his own opinion, is the matter out of which God maketh a fool; and he who is truly sensible of his own folly and nothingness, is that of which God forms a wise and great man. He who, before the Lord, sincerely confesses himself to be the greatest and most miserable of sinners, is, in the sight of God, the first and greatest of all men. He who believes himself to be the chief of sinners, shall be honored by the Lord as the chief of saints. Matt. 23:12; Luke 1:52.
5. This is that humility which God exalts; that misery which he regards; that nothing from which he createth something. And as, at the creation, the glorious frame of heaven and earth was 58 brought forth out of nothing, so must man be reduced to a deep sense of his vileness and nothingness, if ever he be exalted to glory and to dignity.
6. Reflect upon the example of David, whose misery God beheld, and to whom he granted the richest gifts of his grace. Consider, again, the example of Jacob, who confessed, “I am not worthy of the least of all thy mercies.” Gen. 32:10.
7. But above all, lay to heart the example of Christ, the grand and blameless pattern of a Christian. He was abased below the meanest of men; was made a worm and a curse for our sake (Ps. 22:6), despised and rejected of men. Isaiah 53:3. But the lower he sunk, the higher did he afterwards rise, when he received a name which is above every name.
8. But who is that blessed and lowly one who is nothing in his own eyes? It is he who inwardly and in his heart esteems himself worthy of no divine benefit, whether bodily or spiritual. For he that arrogates anything to himself, esteems himself to be something; and is, therefore, the farthest removed from divine grace and from this new creation. So destructive is the spirit of self, that it renders even grace of no effect, and shuts out that which contains all things in it. For if a man judge himself worthy of anything, he then does not take all things as a free gift from the hands of God. Whatever we are, however, is of grace and not merit; nor can we call anything our own, except our sins, our helplessness, and our misery. All else belongs to God.
9. A man considered in himself, that is, independently of God, by whom he subsists, is no more than a shadow. And as the shadow of a tree constantly conforms to the tree on which it depends, so should man conform to the will of God from whom he has his very life and being; as the apostle says: “In him we live, and move, and have our being.” Acts 17:28. It is true, the fruit will sometimes appear in the shadow of the tree; yet it does not therefore belong to the shadow, but to the tree: so all the good fruits that may appear in thy life and conduct, are not the produce of thy own self and thy ability, but of God alone, who is the original source whence all good fruits proceed. And as the apple grows not from that gross substance the wood, which is seen by the eye, but from the seminal virtue which the tree contains, and which is made active from above; so the new man, and the fruit he bears, spring not up from anything that is gross and visible to the eye, but from a supernatural and invisible seed.
10. Now, man is by nature a dry tree; but God is his strength, whereby life is renewed in him, and he himself is made fat and green in the house of God. God is the “strength of our life” (Psal. 27:1), says the Psalmist: and hence we “shall bring forth much fruit whilst we abide in Christ.” John 15:5.
11. When a man is thus wretched and poor in his own eyes, and has nothing in the world in which to trust but the pure grace of God, manifested in Christ Jesus, then God graciously “looks upon him.” This divine regard must be understood in a divine sense. The look or countenance of God, is not as the countenance of men, destitute of life and virtue: but it is accompanied with a living power and influence that supports and revives the faint and penitent sinner. And as none but the humble and contrite are capable of 59 this heavenly regard; so the more fully they receive the consolation which God grants, the less do they think themselves worthy of it. Such a one deems himself unworthy of all blessings divine and temporal. He says with Jacob, “I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth which thou hast shewed unto thy servant:” for behold, since thou gavest me thy Son Jesus Christ, I come with two bands, with the blessings of grace and of glory. Gen. 32:10. And truly, if a man should weep a sea of tears, it were by no means sufficient to purchase or deserve the least part of heavenly comfort: the grace of God cannot be merited by men, who deserve nothing but wrath and eternal damnation.
12. Whoever thus acquaints himself in faith with his own misery, is truly one of those poor and contrite men, to whom the Lord graciously looks. Without this previous brokenness of heart, man cannot expect to enjoy this blessed aspect of God, nor indeed that grace and kindness which is promised to the poor in spirit only. In this weakness and poverty the apostle glories, when he says: “If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities” (2 Cor. 11:30): and he adds the reason: “that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2 Cor. 12:9. For so great indeed is the mercy of God, that he will not see the work of his hands destroyed: but the weaker the creature is in itself, the more is it sustained by the power of an Almighty Being. For in the weakness of the creature, the power of God is exalted, as the Lord declared unto Paul: “My grace is sufficient for thee; for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”
13. The more vile and miserable therefore a Christian is in his own opinion, the more freely God looks upon him, to the greater manifestation of the riches of his glory. And in bestowing this heavenly consolation, he does not look at all on man's merit, but barely on his want and poverty. And this comfort can in no degree be compared with any human comfort, all which it infinitely exceeds. In such a sense, then, God looks to the contrite man and comforts his spirit.
14. By “the poor and contrite man,” is not to be understood, a man that is poor in the outward sense of the word, or who is altogether destitute of human help and relief; but he is the poor man, who labors under the load of his sins, and is grieved for them. If sin were not in the world, there could be no misery: but now so much misery cannot befall a man, but that he is still worthy of much more. Ps. 103:10. Far be it therefore from us to grieve, because we have not many temporal benefits conferred upon us; since we are not worthy even of the least of them, no, not of life itself. Our flesh and blood may think this a hard saying; yet every penitent sinner ought to be a severe judge in his own case, and ought not to make the least allowance to his carnal propensities. This is the order in which we are to obtain God's favor and mercy.
15. And what has man now left to boast of, or what language shall he employ when he opens his mouth? The best course he can take will be to say simply, “Lord, I have sinned; have thou mercy upon me!” And, truly, God himself requires no more from a man than that he humbly deplore his sin, and in the unfeigned language of repentance pray for pardon. Whoever neglects this, may be 60 said to have slighted the best and most needful part of his being, Weep not therefore, O Man! on account of thy body, that it is naked and sick, pinched with hunger and cold, insulted and persecuted; or because it is confined by bonds and a prison: but humble thyself before the Lord, and bewail the woful condition of thy soul, which is constrained to dwell in so wretched a house as thy body is, a house of sin and death. “O wretched man,” says the apostle, “who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” Rom. 7:24. This free and Christian acknowledgment of thine own inward misery, this godly sorrow, this thirst after divine grace, this faith leaning on Christ alone, open, in Christ, the door of grace, by which God enters into thy soul. “Be zealous, therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand,” saith the Lord, “at the door and knock; if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and sup with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20): which supper is nothing else than the remission of sin, attended with heavenly comfort, with life and blessedness. This is the door of faith (Acts 14:27), through which the Lord, at the right time, enters into the soul; and after the day of toil and sorrow is over, refreshes her with the light of his countenance. Then it is, that “mercy and truth meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other; that truth springs out of the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven.” Ps. 85:10, 11. Then it is that the woman, that poor sinner, but now a penitent, anoints the feet of her Lord, washes them with tears, and wipes them with the hairs of her head, expressing thereby all the marks of an unfeigned and deep humility. Luke 7:37. Then it is, that the spiritual priest (Rev. 1:6), in the holy ornaments of faith, offers up the true sacrifice, even a broken and lowly spirit, with the incense of true contrition and prayer. Ps. 51:19. Then it is that the true sanctified water of purifying (Numb. 8:7) is applied,—the tears which grief for sin caused to flow; and now, through faith and by the power of the blood of Christ, the spiritual Israelite is washed and cleansed.
16. And thus, O Christian! is seen how by the sense of thy own misery, and by faith in Christ attending it, thou mayest attain the grace and favor of God. To conclude, the more wretched and miserable any one is in his own judgment, the more dearly he is beloved of God, and the more gracious is the regard which the Lord will bestow upon him.
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