Humility in fallen man implies a sense of a twofold meanness before God, natural and moral.
His natural meanness consisting in his being infinitely below God in natural perfection, or God’s being infinitely above him in greatness, in power, wisdom, majesty, and the like. So a humble man is sensible of the small extent of his own knowledge, he is sensible of his ignorance of what small extent his understanding is in comparison with the wisdom of God. …
But his natural meanness is become much greater since the Fall. That moral ruin under which his nature has fallen has greatly impaired his natural faculties, though it has not extinguished them. But this brings me to the kind of meanness of fallen man of which the humble man is sensible; and that is his moral meanness and vileness. This consists in his sinfulness. His natural meanness is his littleness; his moral meanness is his filthiness. Fallen man is infinitely different from God in both these respects; both as little and as filthy. …
And both together in a sense of our own littleness, and also a sense of our own moral vileness before God, are implied in that poverty of spirit which the Scripture speaks of in Matthew 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” And this sense of our comparative meanness even more arises from a sense of God’s greatness and excellence. They who do not know God never can have any right knowledge of themselves and their own meanness and unworthiness. And in order to that sense of our own meanness and unworthiness, which is in humility, it is necessary that we should not only see God’s greatness, but also his excellence and holiness. The devils and damned spirits see a great deal of God’s greatness, his omnipotence and the like. God makes them sensible of it by what they feel of their sufferings. God shows them how much he is above them and makes them know it, however unwilling they are to know; and they shall see a great deal more of it at and after the Day of Judgment. But they have no humility nor ever will have, because though they see God’s awful greatness, yet they see nothing of his loveliness. There can be no true humility in any without the creature’s seeing his distance from God, not only with respect to greatness but also loveliness.
Ethical Writings, in WJE (Yale University Press, 1989), 235-237.
Infinite Wisdom also has contrived that we should behold the glory of the Deity, in the face of Jesus Christ, to the greatest advantage, in such a manner as should be best adapted to the capacity of poor feeble man; in such a manner, too, as is best fitted to engage our attention, and allure our hearts, as well as to inspire us with the most perfect [contentment] and delight. For Christ having, by his incarnation, come down from his infinite exaltation above us, has become one of our kinsmen and brothers. And his glory shining upon us through his human nature, the manifestation is wonderfully adapted to the strength of the human vision; so that, though it appears in all its effulgence, it is yet attempered to our sight. He is indeed possessed of infinite majesty, to inspire us with reverence and adoration; yet that majesty need not terrify us, for we behold it blended with humility, meekness, and sweet condescension. We may feel the most profound reverence and self-abasement, and yet our hearts be drawn forth sweetly and powerfully into an intimacy the most free, confidential, and delightful. The dread, so naturally inspired by his greatness, is dispelled by the contemplation of his gentleness and humility; while the familiarity, which might otherwise arise from the view of the loveliness of his character merely, is ever prevented by the consciousness of his infinite majesty and glory; and the sight of all his perfections united fills us with sweet surprise and humble confidence, with reverential love and delightful adoration.
“Empty the bucket before you go to the fountain.”
Wise advice. If the pail be full of the best and cleanest water it is idle to carry it to the well, for its fulness disqualifies it for being a receiver. Those who think themselves full of grace are not likely to pray aright, for prayer is a beggar’s trade, and supposes the existence of need. What does a full bucket want with the well? Let it stay where it is. Fitness for mercy is not found in self-sufficiency, but in emptiness and want.
He can and will receive most of the Lord who has least of his own.
If the bucket is full of foul water, it is wise to throw it away as we go to the crystal spring. We must not come to the Lord with our minds full of vanity, lust, covetousness, and pride. “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” He will not make his grace the medium of floating our unclean desires. Grace will cleanse out sin, but it will not mix with it, neither may we desire such a dishonorable compromising of the holy name of the Lord our God. Let the bucket of the heart be turned upside down and drained of the love of sin, and then prayer will be heard, and Jesus will come in and fill it.
Lord, empty me of self, of pride, of worldliness, of unbelief, and then fill me with all the fulness of God.
—Charles H. Spurgeon
Flowers from a Puritan’s Garden (Passmore & Alabaster, 1883).
Love will dispose to walk humbly among men. For real and dear love will dispose men to high thoughts of [others]; and Christian love disposes men to think others better than themselves. Love will dispose men to honor one another. For we are naturally inclined to think honorably of those whom we love, and to give them honor. So that those precepts in 1 Peter 2:17 are fulfilled by love, “Honor all men.” And Philippians 2:3, “In lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.” Love will dispose to contentment in the station in which God hath set him, without coveting anything which his neighbor possesses, or envying him any good thing which he has. Love will dispose men to meekness and gentleness in their carriage towards their neighbors, and not to treat them with passion or violence, but with moderation and calmness. Love checks and restrains a bitter spirit. For love has no bitterness in it. It is altogether a sweet disposition and affection of the soul. Love will prevent broils and quarrels, and will dispose to peaceableness. Love will dispose men to forgive injuries, which they receive from their neighbors. Proverbs 10:12, “Hatred stirreth up strifes; but love covereth all sins.” Love will dispose men to all acts of mercy towards our neighbor who is under any affliction or calamity. For we are naturally disposed to pity those whom we love when they are afflicted. This would dispose men to give to the poor, and bear one another’s burdens, to weep with those that weep, and rejoice with those that rejoice.
Ethical Writings, The Works of Jonathan Edwards (Yale University Press, 1989), 135–136.