John Calvin

True humility gives God alone the honor

A saying of Chrysostom’s has always pleased me very much, that the foundation of our philosophy is humility.

But that of Augustine pleases me even more: “When a certain rhetorician was asked what was the chief rule in eloquence, he replied, ‘Delivery’; what was the second rule, ‘Delivery’; what was the third rule, ‘Delivery’; so if you ask me concerning the precepts of the Christian religion, first, second, third, and always I would answer, ‘Humility.’”

But, as he elsewhere declares, Augustine does not consider it humility when a man, aware that he has some virtues, abstains from pride and arrogance; but when man truly feels that he has no refuge except in humility. “Let no man,” he says, “flatter himself; of himself he is Satan. His blessing comes from God alone. For what do you have of your own but sin? Remove from yourself sin which is your own; for righteousness is of God.” Again: “Why do we presume so much on ability of human nature? It is wounded, battered, troubled, lost. What we need is true confession, not false defense.” Again: “When anyone realizes that in himself he is nothing and from himself he has no help, the weapons within him are broken, the wars are over. But all the weapons of impiety must be shattered, broken, and burned; you must remain unarmed, you must have no help in yourself. The weaker you are in yourself, the more readily the Lord will receive you.”

Thus in his interpretation of the Seventieth Psalm he forbids us to remember our own righteousness, that we may know God’s righteousness; and he shows that God so commends his grace to us that we know that we are nothing. By God’s mercy alone we stand, since by ourselves we are nothing but evil.

At this point, then, let us not contend against God concerning our right, as if what is attributed to him were withdrawn from our well-being. As our humility is his loftiness, so the confession of our humility has a ready remedy in his mercy.

Now I do not claim that man, unconvinced, should yield himself voluntarily, and that, if he has any powers, he should turn his mind from them in order that he may be subjected to true humility. But I require only that, laying aside the disease of self-love and ambition, by which he is blinded and thinks more highly of himself than he ought [cf. Gal. 6:3], he rightly recognize himself in the faithful mirror of Scripture [cf. James 1:22–25].

—John Calvin
Institutes of the Christian Religion II.ii.11.


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