A Godly Man Is A Humble Man

Thomas Watson
The Godly Man’s Picture Drawn With A Scripture-Pencil:
Some Characteristic Notes of a Man That Shall Go to Heaven
Ch. 4, § 11, pp. 80-91

A godly man is a humble man. He is like the sun in the zenith, which when it is at the highest, shows lowest. Augustine calls humility “the mother of the graces.” But before I show you who the humble man is, I shall lay down three distinctions:

1. I distinguish between being humbled and humble. A man may be humbled and not humble. A sinner may be humbled by affliction. His condition is low, but not his disposition. A godly man is not only humbled, but humble. His heart is as low as his condition.

2. I distinguish between outward and inward humility. There is a great deal of difference between humble behavior and a humble spirit.

(1) A person may behave humbly towards others, yet be proud. Who more humble than Absalom in his outward behavior? “When people tried to bow before him, Absalom wouldn’t let them. Instead, he took them by the hand and embraced them.” (2 Sam. 15:5). But though he acted humbly, he aspired to the crown (v. 10). Here was pride dressed in humility’s mantle!

(2) A person may behave humbly towards God, yet be proud. “Ahab put on sackcloth and fasted and went softly” (1 Kings 21:27), but his heart was not humble. A man may bow his head like a bulrush, yet lift up the ensigns of pride in his heart.

3. I distinguish between humility and policy. Many make a show of humility to achieve their own ends. The Papists seem to be the most humble, mortified saints, but it is rather subtlety than humility. For by this means, they get the revenues of the earth into their possession. All this they may do, and yet have no godliness.

Question: How may a Christian know that he is humble and consequently godly?

Answer 1: A humble soul is emptied of all swelling thoughts of himself. Bernard calls humility a self-annihilation. “Thou wilt save the humble” (Job 22:29). In the Hebrew it is “him that is of low eyes”. A humble man has lower thoughts of himself than others can have of him. David, though a king, still looked upon himself as a worm: “I am a worm, and no man” (Psalm 22:6). Bradford, a martyr, still subscribes himself a sinner. “If I be righteous, yet will I not lift up my head” (Job 10:15), like the violet which is a sweet flower, but hangs down the head.

Answer 2: A humble soul thinks better of others than of himself. “Let each esteem others better than themselves” (Phil. 2:3). A humble man values others at a higher rate than himself, and the reason is because he can see his own heart better than he can another’s. He sees his own corruption and thinks surely it is not so with others; their graces are not so weak as his; their corruptions are not so strong. “Surely”, he thinks, “they have better hearts than I.” A humble Christian studies his own infirmities, and another’s excellences and that makes him put a higher value upon others than himself. “Surely I am more brutish than any man” (Proverbs 30:2). And Paul, though he was the chief of the apostles, still calls himself “less than the least of all saints” (Eph. 3:8).

Answer 3: A humble soul has a low esteem of his duties. Pride is apt to breed in our holy things, as the worm breeds in the sweetest fruit, and froth comes from the most tasty wine. A humble person bemoans not only his sins, but also his duties. When he has prayed and wept, “Alas,” he says, “how little I have done! God might damn me for all this!” He says, like good Nehemiah, “Remember me, O my God, concerning this also, and spare me” (Neh. 13:22). “Remember, Lord, how I have poured out my soul, but spare me and pardon me.” He sees that his best duties weigh too light; therefore he desires that Christ’s merits may be put into the scales. The humble saint blushes when he looks at his copy. He sees he cannot write evenly, nor without blotting. This humbles him to think that his best duties run dregs. He drops poison upon his sacrifice. “Oh,” he says, “I dare not say I have prayed or wept; those which I write down as duties, God might write down as sins!”

Answer 4: A humble man is always giving bills of indictment against himself. He complains, not of his poor circumstances, but of his poor heart! “Oh, this evil heart of unbelief!” “Lord,” says Hooper, “I am hell, but you are heaven.” A hypocrite is forever telling how good he is. A humble soul is forever saying how bad he is. Paul, that high-flown saint, was caught up into the third heaven—but how this bird of paradise bemoans his corruptions! “O wretched man that I am!” (Romans 7:24). Holy Bradford subscribes himself, “the hard-hearted sinner”. The more knowledge a humble Christian has, the more he complains of ignorance; the more faith a humble Christian has, the more he bewails his unbelief.

Answer 5: A humble man will justify God in an afflicted condition. “Howbeit thou art just in all that is brought upon us” (Neh. 9:33). If men oppress and calumniate, the humble soul acknowledges God’s righteousness in the midst of severity: “Lo, I have sinned” (2 Sam. 24:17). “Lord, my pride, my barrenness, my worldliness have been the procuring cause of all these judgments.” When clouds are around about God, yet “righteousness is the habitation of his throne” (Psalm 97:2).

Answer 6: A humble soul is a Christ-magnifier (Phil. 1:20). He gives the glory of all his actions to Christ and free grace. King Canute took the crown off his own head and set it upon a crucifix. So a humble saint takes the crown of honor from his own head and sets it upon Christ’s. And the reason is the love that he bears to Christ. Love can part with anything to the object loved. Isaac loved Rebekah and he gave away his jewels to her (Gen. 24:53). The humble saint loves Christ entirely, therefore can part with anything to him. He gives away to Christ the honor and praise of all he does. “Let Christ wear those jewels!”

Answer 7: A humble soul is willing to take a reproof for sin. A wicked man is too high to stoop to a reproof. The prophet Micaiah told King Ahab of his sin, and the King said, “I hate him!” (1 Kings 22:8). Reproof to a proud man is like pouring water on lime, which grows the hotter. A gracious soul loves the one who reproves: “rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee” (Proverbs 9:8). The humble-spirited Christian can bear the reproach of an enemy, and the reproof of a friend.

Answer 8: A humble man is willing to have his name and gifts eclipsed, so that God’s glory may be increased. He is content to be outshone by others in gifts and esteem, so that the crown of Christ may shine the brighter. This is the humble man’s motto: “Let me decrease; let Christ increase.” It is his desire that Christ should be exalted, and if this is effected, whoever is the instrument, he rejoices. “some preach Christ of envy” (Phil. 1:15). They preached to take away some of Paul’s hearers. “Well,” says he, “Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice” (v.18). A humble Christian is content to be laid aside, if God has any other tools to work with which may bring him more glory.

Answer 9: A humble saint is content with that condition which God sees is best for him. A proud man complains that he has no more; a humble man wonders that he has so much: “I am not worthy of the least of all thy mercies!” (Gen. 32:10). When the heart lies low, it can stoop to a low condition. A Christian looking at his sins wonders that things are no worse with him. He says that his mercies are greater than he deserves. He knows that the worst piece which God carves for him, is better than he deserves; therefore he takes it thankfully upon his knees.

Answer 10: A humble Christian will stoop to the meanest person and the lowest office; he will visit the poorest member of Christ. Lazarus’ sores are more precious to him than Dives’ royal robes. He does not say, “Stand aside, come not near to me, for I am holier than thou” (Isaiah 65:5), but “condescends to men of low estate” (Romans 12:16).

Test Yourself: Are You Humble?

Use 1: If humility is the inseparable character of a godly man, let us test our hearts by this touchstone. Are we humble? Alas, where does their godliness appear who are swollen with pride and ready to burst? But though men are proud, they will not confess it. This bastard of pride is born, but none are willing to father it. Therefore let me ask a few questions and let conscience answer:

1. Are not those proud, who are given to boasting? “Your boasting is not good.” (1 Corinthians 5:6).

(1) Many are proud of their riches. Their hearts swell with their estates. Bernard calls pride the rich man’s cousin. “Thy heart has become proud because of thy wealth.” (Ezek. 28:5).

(2) Many are proud of their apparel. They dress themselves in such fashions as to make the devil fall in love with them. Painted faces, gaudy attire, naked breasts, what are these, but the banners which sinful pride displays?

(3) Many are proud of their beauty. The body is but dust and blood kneaded together. Solomon says, “Beauty is vain” (Proverbs 31:30). Yet some are so vain as to be proud of vanity!

(4) Many are proud of their gifts and abilities. These trappings and ornaments do not approve them in God’s eyes. An angel is a creature of great abilities; but take away humility from an angel, and he is a devil!

2. Are not those who have a high opinion of their own excellences proud? Those who look at themselves in the magnifying mirror of self-love, appear in their own eyes better than they are. Simon Magus boasted that he was some great one (Acts 8:9). Alexander felt the need to be the son of Jupiter and of the race of the gods. Sapor, King of Persia, styles himself “Brother of the Sun and Moon”. I have read of a pope who trod upon the neck of Frederick the Emperor and as a cloak for his pride cited that text, “Thou shalt tread upon the lion, and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet” (Psalm. 91:13). There is no idol like self; the proud man bows down to this idol.

3. Are not those who despise others proud? “The Pharisees trusted in themselves, that they were righteous, and despised others” (Luke 18:9). The Chinese people say that Europe has one eye and they have two, and all the rest of the world is blind. A proud man looks upon others with such an eye of scorn, as Goliath did upon David: “when the Philistine looked about, and saw David, he disdained him” (1 Sam. 17:42). Those who stand upon the pinnacle of pride, look upon other men as no bigger than crows.

4. Are not those who trumpet their own praise proud? “Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody” (Acts 5:36). A proud man is the herald of his own good deeds; he blazes his own fame, and therein lies his vice, to paint his own virtue.

5. Are not those proud, who take the glory due to God, to themselves? “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built?” (Dan. 4:30). So says the proud man, “Are not these the prayers I have made? Are not these the works of charity I have done?” When Herod had made an oration and the people cried him up for a god (Acts 12:22), he was well content to have that honor done to him. Pride is the greatest sacrilege; it robs God of his glory!

6. Are not those who are never pleased with their condition proud? They speak hardly of God, charging his care and wisdom, as if he had dealt badly with them. God himself cannot please a proud man. He is forever finding fault, and flying in the face of heaven.

Oh, let us search if there is any of this leaven of pride in us. Man is naturally a proud piece of flesh. This sin of pride runs in the blood. Our first parents fell by their pride. They aspired to deity. There are the seeds of this sin of pride in the best, but the godly do not allow themselves in it. They labor to kill this weed by mortification. But certainly where this sin reigns and prevails, it cannot stand with grace. You may as well call him who wants discretion, a prudent man; as him who wants humility, a godly man.

Strive for Humility!

Use 2: Strive for this characteristic: be humble. It is an apostolic exhortation, “Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.” (1 Pet. 5:5). Put humility on as an embroidered robe. It is better to lack anything, rather than humility. It is better to lack gifts rather than humility. No, it is better to lack “the comforts of the Spirit” rather than lack humility. “What doth the Lord require of thee, but to walk humbly with thy God?” (Mic. 6:8).

1. The more value any man has, the more humble he is. Feathers fly up, but gold descends! The golden saint descends in humility. Some of the ancients have compared humility to the Celidonian stone, which is little for substance, but of rare virtue.

2. God loves a humble soul. It is not our high birth, but our humble hearts which God delights in. A humble spirit is in God’s view: “to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit” (Isaiah 66:2). A humble heart is God’s palace! “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.” (Isaiah 57:15). Great personages, besides their houses of state, have lesser houses which upon occasion they retreat to. Besides God’s house of state in heaven, he has the humble soul for his retiring house, where he takes up his rest, and solaces himself. Let Italy boast that it is, for pleasure, the garden of the world. A humble heart glories in this, that it is the presence chamber of the great and glorious King!

3. The times we live in are humbling. The Lord seems to say to us now, as he did to Israel, “put off thy ornaments from thee, that I may know what to do unto thee.” (Exod. 33:5). “My displeasure is breaking forth, I have eclipsed the light of the sanctuary, I have stained the waters with blood, I have shot the arrow of pestilence, therefore lay down your pride. Remove your jewelry and ornaments!” Woe to those who lift themselves up, when God is casting them down. When should people be humble, if not when under the rod? “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God” (1 Pet. 5:6). When God afflicts his people, and cuts them short in their privileges, it is time then to “sew sackcloth on their skin, and defile their horn (or honor) in the dust” (Job 16:15).

4. What a horrid sin pride is! Chrysostom calls it “the mother of hell”. Pride is a complicated evil, as Aristotle said. Justice encompasses all virtue in itself; so pride encompasses all vice. Pride is a spiritual drunkenness; it flies up like wine into the brain and intoxicates it. Pride is idolatry; a proud man is a self-worshiper. Pride is revenge; Haman plotted Mordecai’s death because he would not bow the knee. How odious is this sin to God! “Everyone that is proud in heart, is an abomination to the Lord!” (Proverbs 16:5). “I hate pride and arrogance!” (Proverbs 8:13)

5. The mischief of pride. It is the breakneck of souls! “Therefore as I live, saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, Surely Moab shall be as Sodom, and the children of Ammon as Gomorrah, even the breeding of nettles, and saltpits, and a perpetual desolation: the residue of my people shall spoil them, and the remnant of my people shall possess them. This shall they have for their pride, because they have reproached and magnified themselves against the people of the Lord of hosts.” (Zeph. 2:9-10). “Doves”, says Pliny, “take a pride in their feathers, and in their flying high; at last they fly so high that they are a prey to the hawk.” Men fly so high in pride that at last they are a prey to the devil, the prince of the air.

6. Humility raises one’s esteem in the eyes of others. All give respect to the humble: “Before honor is humility” (Proverbs 15:33).

Question: What means may we use to be humble?

Answer 1: Let us set before us the golden pattern of Christ. His degree is ‘doctorate in humility’. “But made himself of no reputation, and was made in the likeness of flesh” (Phil. 2:7). O what abasement it was for the Son of God to take our flesh! No, that Christ should take our nature when it was in disgrace, being stained with sin, this was the wonder of humility. Look at a humble Savior, and let the plumes of pride fall off!

Answer 2: Study God’s immensity and purity; a sight of glory humbles. Elijah wrapped his face in a mantle when God’s glory passed before him (1 Kings 19:13). The stars vanish when the sun appears.

Answer 3: Let us study ourselves.

First, our dark side. By looking at our faces in the mirror of the Word, we see our spots. What a world of sin swarms in us! We may say with Bernard, “Lord, I am nothing but sin or sterility, either sinfulness or barrenness.”

Secondly, our light side. Is there any good in us?

1. How disproportionate is our good compared to the means of grace we have enjoyed! There is still something lacking in our faith (1 Thess. 3:10). O Christian, do not be proud of what you have, but be humble for what you lack.

2. The grace we have is not of our own growth. We are indebted to Christ and free grace for it. As he said of that axe which fell in the water, “Alas, master, for it was borrowed” (2 Kings 6:5), so I may say of all the good and excellence in us, “It is borrowed”. Would it not be folly to be proud of a ring that is loaned to us? “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 Cor. 4:7). The moon has no cause to be proud of her light, when she borrows it from the sun.

3. How far short we come of others! Perhaps other Christians are giants in grace; they are in Christ not only before us, but above us. We are but like the foot in Christ’s body; they are like the eye.

4. Our beauty is spotted. The church is said to be “fair as the moon” (Song 6:10), which when it shines brightest, has a dark spot in it. Faith is mixed with unbelief. A Christian has that in his very grace, which may humble him.

5. If we would be humble, let us contemplate our mortality. Shall dust exalt itself? The thoughts of the grave should bury our pride. They say that when there is a swelling in the body, the hand of a dead man stroking that part cures the swelling. The serious meditation of death is enough to cure the swelling of pride.


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