J.C. Philpot on “How Humility, Helplessness and Self-loathing are learned”!

Humility is obtained


J.C. Philpot

1. Humility. Humility is not obtained by reading texts, and turning over parallel passages which speak of it, but by having something in ourselves, discovered to us in a spiritual way, to be humble for. Thus a man who stands as a forsaken stump of what he was, and has the devil to harass him all the summer, and his own vile heart to plague him all the winter, has something in himself to make him humble. Humility is forced, beaten, driven into him; he is made humble, whether he will or not, and is compelled by sheer necessity to take the lowest room.

These cutting dispensations teach him:

2. His helplessness. A man does not learn that he is a helpless creature by reading Ro 5:6, as he does not learn that his heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked by reading Jer 17:9. A Chelsea pensioner, with both his arms shot off, or a man bed-ridden with the palsy, wants nobody to tell him how helpless he is. It is his daily, hourly, momently experience. Every time he wishes to eat, drink or stir, his helplessness is forced upon him by bitter experience. He cannot deny it, evade it, or escape from it. Thus a man who has had all his natural religion cut down to the ground, and the branches thereof taken away, and burnt before his eyes, needs no one to preach to him “the duty of helplessness”. The fowls of the mountains come flocking down; he has no arms to drive them away. The beasts of the earth gather around him; he is palsied, and is forced to lay his body as the street for them to pass over.

From these mysterious dealings he learns:

3. Self-loathing. He cannot be a peacock Pharisee, spreading out in the sun the feathers of good works. He has something to loathe himself for. We cannot hate others without a cause of hatred. Nor can we feel hatred of ourselves, unless there is something in self to hate. A man who falls into a stinking puddle hates his clothes because he loves cleanliness. Thus he who has a holy principle in his heart must needs hate sin. Our modern professors hate other people’s sins, but love their own. But a child of God hates himself as being so filthy and polluted before Him whom he loves. He hates the fowls that brood over him with their obscene wings and dismal croakings. He hates the beasts that roar about him for food, and grudge if they be not satisfied. And above all he hates himself, as the wretched stump to which these unclean animals resort.

It would not be difficult to show how patience, meekness, contrition of spirit, tenderness of conscience, and other similar graces are produced in the soul by this dark experience, which every prating fool whom presumption has stuck up in a pulpit has a bolt to shoot at.

But I hasten to an effect that I cannot pass over, and that is, that it produces a case for the Divine Redeemer in which to manifest His power, glory and salvation. With all the great swelling words about religion that are trumpeted through the land, and amongst the troops of professors that everywhere abound, there is scarcely one of a thousand who has a case that needs Christ’s heavenly manifestations. They can all see, all hear, all believe, all rejoice, and I am sure they can all talk. They never had their natural religion stripped from them; never had clay smeared over their eyes Joh 9:6, nor the divine fingers put into their ears Mr 7:33, nor their wisdom turned into foolishness, nor their comeliness into corruption. But they say, We see, and therefore their sin remaineth. The light which is in them is darkness, and thus how great is that darkness!

A physician is useless without a case, and the deeper the case, the wiser and better physician we need. Thus a guilty conscience is a case for atoning blood, a wounded spirit for healing balm, a filthy garment for a justifying robe, a drowning wretch for an Almighty hand, a criminal on the gallows for a full pardon, an incurable disease for a heavenly Physician, and a sinner sinking into hell for a Saviour stooping down from heaven. A man with a real case must have a real salvation. He is no longer to be cheated, fobbed off, deluded and tricked with pretences, as a nervous patient is sometimes cured with bread pills; but he must have a real remedy as having a real disease. Christ in the Bible, Christ sitting as an unknown Saviour in the heavens, Christ afar off, unmanifested and unrevealed, is no Christ to him. “Near, near; let Him come near-in my heart, in my soul, revealed in me, manifested unto me, formed within me-this, this is the Christ I want. O for one drop of His atoning blood, one smile of His blessed countenance, one testimony of His love, one gleam of His justifying righteousness!”

And thus when this divine Redeemer appears in His garments stained with blood, the sinking soul hails His approach, the fowls of the mountains take flight, the beasts of the earth slink off to their dens, the dreary stump pushes forth its shoots, and the voice sounds forth from the inmost depths of the soul, “This is our God; we have waited for Him, and He will save us. This is the Lord, we have waited for Him; we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation”.

And now comes that season to which all the preceding have been but preparatory and introductory-the Harvest of the soul. I do not understand by “the harvest” spoken of in the text the harvest at the end of the world Mt 13:39, the general ingathering of the elect from the four winds, from one end of the heaven to the other. But I understand by it a particular harvest; a harvest in the soul in time; not a harvest of both soul and body at the end of time. As there is a spring, a summer and a winter in experience, so is there a harvest in experience; and as one part of the text is experimental, so the other part is experimental also.

The peculiar mark of harvest is, that it is the season of fruit. And thus I consider the harvest of grace to consist in the production of fruit in the soul. The only fruit which God will ever acknowledge as such, is that which He Himself produces by His Spirit in the heart. “From Me is thy fruit found” Ho 14:8. “Working in you that which is well-pleasing in His sight” Heb 13:21. “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained prepared, marg. that we should walk in them” Eph 2:10. “It is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure” Php 2:13. The market indeed is glutted with sloes and crabs. These are heaped up on every stall, and hawked about from door to door. But it is the fruit of the graft, not the fruit of the stock, that is worthy of the name, and none other will be put upon the heavenly table. The graft, however, would not bear till it was cut in. “Every branch that beareth fruit, He purgeth it”-that is, dresses and prunes it-“that it may bring forth more fruit” Joh 15:2.

The great secret of vital godliness is to be nothing, that Christ may be all in all. Every stripping, sifting, and emptying; every trial, exercise and temptation that the soul passes through, has but one object-to beat out of man’s heart that cursed spirit of independence which the devil breathed into him when he said, “Ye shall be as gods”. A man must well nigh be bled to death before this venom can be drained out of his veins. To cut down a giant into a babe a span long; to put a hunch-backed camel into a hydraulic press, and squeeze it into sufficient dimensions to pass through a needle’s eye-this is the process needful to be undergone before a man can bring forth fruit unto God. Well might Nicodemus marvel how a man could enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born; and the wonder how a grown-up man becomes a helpless babe is as great a mystery to most now.

The fatal mistake of thousands is to offer unto God the fruits of the flesh instead of the fruits of the Spirit. Fleshly holiness, fleshly exertions, fleshly prayers, fleshly duties, fleshly forms, fleshly zeal-these are what men consider good works, and present them as such to God. But well may He “who is of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on iniquity”, say to all such fleshly workers, “If ye offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? and if ye offer the lame and the sick, is it not evil?” Mal 1:8. All that the flesh can do is evil, for “every imagination of man’s heart is only evil continually”; and to present the fruits of this filthy heart to the Lord of hosts is “to offer polluted bread upon His altar” Mal 1:7. Thus the “pleasant fruits, new and old” So 7:13, of which all manner are laid up at the gates of the righteous for the Beloved, are such only as the Spirit of God produces in the soul. And as He looketh not “on the outward appearance but the Lord looketh on the heart” 1Sa 16:7, so these fruits are not so much outward as inward fruits.

It is within, in the secret depths of the soul, that the eternal Spirit works; and the outward actions are but visible signs and manifestations of His inward operations. A broken heart, a contrite spirit, a tender conscience, a filial fear, a desire to please, a dread to offend the great God of heaven, a sense of the evil of sin, and a desire to be delivered from its dominion, a mourning over our repeated backslidings, grief at being so often entangled in our lusts and passions, an acquaintance with our helplessness and weakness, a little simplicity and godly sincerity, a hanging upon grace for daily supplies, watching the hand of Providence, a singleness of eye to the glory of God-these are a few of the fruits that constitute the harvest of the soul. But why was it necessary that winter should precede? Why does the farmer break up the green sward with his plough, and turn in all the pretty daisies and cowslips, and lay bare the black soil, with all the hidden worms and maggots that lie concealed beneath the turf? Why does he drag his harrows over the fallows, and tear up the couchgrass, and gather it into heaps, and burn it to ashes? Because he wants a crop of corn to spring from seed which he himself sows, and because the natural produce of the land will not give him wheat and barley. Thus the violets and primroses of nature-the virtues of the natural heart, and all the flower of fleshly religion-must have the share of the winter plough pass beneath their roots, and be buried in mingled confusion beneath the black clods of inward corruption, that grace may spring up as an implanted crop.

By the wintry dealings I have before attempted to describe, independence has been broken to pieces, and the soul brought to hang upon Christ for everything; pride has been cut down, and humility produced; a deceitful heart has been laid bare, and spiritual integrity created; hypocrisy has been detected and sincerity implanted; a form of religion has been crushed, and power set up in its stead; an empty profession of dry doctrine has been rooted up, and a realisation of eternal things been substituted; the reprobate silver has been burnt in the furnace, and the pure gold has come out uninjured. A burnt child dreads the fire, and a broken-down soul dreads an empty profession. A tender wound cannot bear pressure, and a conscience made tender by terrible things in righteousness cannot bear the burden of guilt. “By the reason of God’s highness, it cannot endure” Job 31:23.

The things he has passed through have brought him into an acquaintance with God. He now knows the only true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent; and he has felt that God is a Spirit, and must be worshipped in spirit and in truth. He can no longer endure the vain inventions of men, the formalities of a carnal Establishment, the mummeries of priestcraft, the canting whine of hypocrites, the empty babble of chattering professors, the mock holiness of Arminian perfectionists, and the cloak of religion which masks thousands of rotten hearts. He becomes a solitary character. He sets little store by loud prayers or long prayers, whether they come from the blind mill-horse in the pulpit, or his humble imitator in the pew. He finds that a secret groan is better than a long prayer, a tear of contrition sweeter than an extempore form, and a few words with God in his closet more precious than many words at a prayer-meeting, even though deacons pray.

A line of Hart’s hymns relieves his soul, when a noisy choir chanting Dr. Watts loads it with a burden; and half a verse of Scripture melts his heart, when a letter preacher with a long sermon hardens it into ice. He never leaves the company of empty professors without a load, or the sweet company of God without a blessing. He feels Christ to be his best Counsellor. His love most worth seeking, His friendship most enduring, His presence most cheering, and His smiles most to be desired. Men, even the very best of them, often only wound him; the company of God’s children is often burdensome; and their advice usually an ineffectual help. His heavenly Friend never deceived him, never violated his confidence, disclosed his secrets, wounded his feelings, carnalised his mind, saddened his spirit, led him into error, or treated him with neglect. But on the contrary, ‘pardons his sins, forgives his ingratitude, pities his infirmities, heals his backslidings, and loves him freely.

The Christian thus learns that if he stands, God must hold him up; if he knows anything aright, God must teach him; if he walks in the way to heaven, God must first put, and afterwards keep him in it; if he has anything, God must give it to him; and that if he does anything, God must work it in him. He now “through the law”-that is, through his experience of its killing sentence-“is become dead to the law, that he may live unto God”. He can no longer take a killing letter for a living rule, but is deeply conscious that it is only by being “married to another, even to Him who is raised from the dead, that he can bring forth fruit unto God” Ro 7:4. Thus by the presence of God going with him, he becomes separated “from all the people that are upon the face of the earth” Ex 33:16.

Whilst others boast of what they have done for God, he is glad to feel that God has done something for him; whilst others are handling the shell, he is eating the kernel; whilst others are talking of Christ, he is talking with Him; whilst others are looking through the park palings, he is enjoying the estate; and whilst others are haranguing about the treasure in the Bank of England, he is pleased to find a few coins in his own pocket, stamped with the king’s image and superscription. But he finds the truth of that text, “In much wisdom is much grief; and he that increaseth knowledge increases sorrow” Ec 1:18. As his inward religion separates him from those who have only an outward one, he becomes a butt for empty professors to shoot at. Those whom he once would have disdained to set with the dogs of his flock, now spare not to spit in his face Job 30:1 Job 30:10. Every consequential Evangelical, who has not an idea about religion but what he has gleaned from Scott or Simeon, condemns him as “a rank Antinomian”. Every spruce Academic, hot from Hackney or Cheshunt, who knows no more about the operations of a living faith than of the Chinese language, has an arrow stored in his quiver, feathered with a text to strike him through the heart as “an awful character”. Every high-faith professor rides over his head; every dry Calvinist outruns him in the race; every Pharisee outstrips him in zeal; every ranting Methodist thunders at him for sloth; and every doer of duty avoids him as a pestilence.

However various sects differ among themselves, they all unite in condemning him. All other religion is right, and his alone wrong; everyone else’s faith is genuine, and his only is spurious. Of him alone the charitable augur uncharitably; universal salvationists cut off him alone from salvation; those that pity the heathen have no pity for him; and those who compass sea and land to make one proselyte, pronounce his case alone as past recovery. And what is his trespass and what is his sin, that they so hotly pursue after him? Ge 31:36. Does he live in sin? No. Is he buried in the world, head over ears in politics, heaping together dishonest gains, or eaten up with covetousness? None dare say so. Does he neglect prayer, reading the Word, hearing the truth, contributing to the necessities of saints, and living peaceably with all men? No. Why then this universal baying at him from every dog of the pack? For the same reason that Joseph’s brethren hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him-the Father loves him, and has clothed him in a garment of many colours, and given him revelations which He has denied to them.

But he has sorrow, too, and opposition within, far more trying to his spirit than the evil names which malicious ignorance heaps upon him, or the unjust suspicions which Pharisaic pride harbours against him. Paul, after being caught up into the third heaven, had given to him a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet him, lest he should be exalted above measure 2Co 12:7. Go where he would, this thorn still accompanied him, rankling continually in his flesh, hampering every movement, inflicting unceasing pain, and piercing him deeper and deeper the more that he struggled against it. Ten thousand thorns in the hedge do not pain like one in the flesh. And thus ten thousand unjust suspicions of the sons of Belial, though they be “all of them as thorns thrust away, because they cannot be taken with hands; but the man that shall touch them must be fenced with iron and the staff of a spear” 2Sa 23:6,7 -ten thousand suspicions, I say, from vulture-eyed professors are but as thorns in the hedge, which only wound us when we go near them, and which a wise man will keep a due distance from. But a thorn in the flesh, driven and fastened in by the hand of God, we can neither ease nor extract.

And thus any one constant harassing temptation, which strikes into the soul of a child of God, will grieve and wound him a thousand times more deeply than a thick hedge of furze-bush professors standing by the roadside. But by these painful exercises he is kept from settling down on the lees of a dead assurance, or resting at his ease on the ground of a past experience. This rankling thorn preserves him from that vain, wretched, delusive establishment, falsely so-called, which, as a spreading gangrene, has infected well nigh whole churches with the dry rot-an establishment built upon length of profession, upon belief of the doctrines of grace, upon membership in a Particular Baptist Church, upon consistency of conduct, upon a general currency as a believer, upon freedom from doubts and fears, and upon an experience twenty years ago. His thorn in the flesh will not let him stand at ease, or ground his arms, as though the battle were won, the enemy vanquished, and the articles of peace signed. He cannot rest on doctrines, of which the power is not now felt; nor in a past experience, which is not continually renewed; nor in a Saviour in the Bible whose presence is not from time to time manifested; nor in promises, of which the sweetness is not occasionally enjoyed. He cannot thus cast anchor in the Dead Sea. He cannot lie stretched at his ease on this downy bed, for his thorn will not let him rest, but makes him “full of tossings to and fro unto the dawning of the day” Job 7:4.

Thus his establishment consists not in a head furnished with notions, but in a heart established with grace; not in an outward union with a church, but in an inward union with Christ; not in sitting down once a month to the ordinance, but in eating the bread which came down from heaven; not in having repented twenty years ago, but in being often melted by a sense of God’s goodness and mercy; not in occupying a corner in an experimental chapel, but in having a place and a name in the church of the Firstborn. He will not indeed despise nor neglect any one of Christ’s ordinances, but will look to the power more than to the form; and will think it sweeter to walk into the inner chambers of Zion’s palace, and behold the King’s face, than to go round about her, to tell her towers, and mark well her bulwarks.

Through the inward conflicts, secret workings, mysterious changes, and ever-varying exercises of his soul, he becomes established in a deep feeling of his own folly and God’s wisdom, of his own weakness and Christ’s strength, of his own sinfullness and the Lord’s goodness, of his own backslidings and the Spirit’s recoveries, of his own base ingratitude and Jehovah’s longsuffering, of the aboundings of sin and the super-aboundings of grace. He thus becomes daily more and more confirmed in the vanity of the creature, the utter helplessness of man, the deceitfullness and hypocrisy of the human heart, the sovereignty of distinguishing grace, the fewness of heaven-taught ministers, the scanty number of living souls, and the great rareness of true religion. Nor are these convictions borrowed ideas, floating opinions, crude, half-digested sentiments or articles of a creed, which may be right or may be wrong; but they are things known by him as certainly, and felt as evidently as any material object that his eye sees, or his hand touches.

He has a divine standard set up in his soul by which he measures others as well as himself, for “he that is spiritual judgeth all things” 1Co 2:15; and as he measures them with one hand, he is forced to stamp “Tekel” with the other. He looks into the granaries, and finds chaff stored instead of wheat; he holds up the notes to the light, and cannot discover the water-mark; he walks up to the fold, and sees goats penned instead of sheep; and visits the household to search for the family likeness, but finds it filled with the “sons of the sorceress, the seed of the adulterer and the whore” Isa 57:3. All he wants is reality. All that he is in search of is something which bears the divine impress, and carries with it a heavenly and supernatural character. But instead of finding widows “indeed and desolate” 1Ti 5:5, he is pestered with widows of Tekoa 2Sa 14:2; and instead of bankrupt debtors and insolvent prisoners, he encounters scarce any but wealthy merchants, with a flourishing trade and a stock in hand. His soul can, however, only unite with the poor and needy, the stripped and the emptied, the shipwrecked sailor and the shelterless wayfarer, who, from sheer necessity, from being driven out of house and home, have fled for refuge to the hope set before them in a salvation without money and without price.

And thus a little godly fear, a little living faith, a little groaning prayer, a little genuine repentance-in a word, a little heavenly reality, will kindle a union, when towering pretensions, unshaken confidence, ready utterance, a sanctified countenance, a whining cant, a gifted head, and a tongue that walketh through the earth, will freeze up every avenue of his heart. He has a needle in his soul which has been touched with a heavenly magnet; and the pole that a broken heart attracts, a brazen forehead repels.

Thus growth in grace is not progressive sanctification and fleshly holiness on the one hand, nor a false and delusive establishment on the other. The narrow path lies between these two extremes. On the one side is Seneh, and on the other side is Bozez 1Sa 14:4, Pharisaic holiness and Antinomian security, and between these two sharp rocks lies the path “which no fowl knoweth, and which the vulture’s eye hath not seen” Job 28:7. From dashing on either of these rocks, a living man is kept only by the mysterious dealings of God with his spirit, and the internal exercises through which he continually passes. A constant acquaintance with his own vileness preserves him from a self-righteous holiness in the flesh; a daily cross and a rankling thorn keep him from careless presumption. His path is indeed a mysterious one, full of harmonious contradictions and heavenly paradoxes. He is never easy when at ease, nor without a burden when he has none. He is never satisfied without doing something, and yet is never satisfied with anything that he does. He is never so strong as when he sits still Isa 30:7, never so fruitful as when he does nothing, and never so active as when he makes the least haste Isa 28:16. All outstrip him in the race, yet he alone gains the goal, and wins the prize. All are sure of heaven but himself, yet he enters into the kingdom, whilst they are thrust out. He wins pardon through guilt, hope through despair, deliverance through temptation, comfort through affliction, and a robe of righteousness through filthy rags. Though a worm and no man, he overcomes Omnipotence itself through violence; and though less than vanity and nothing Isa 40:17 2Co 12:11, he takes heaven itself by force Mt 11:12.

Thus amidst the strange contradictions which meet in a believing heart, he is never so prayerful as when he says nothing; never so wise as when he is the greatest fool; never so much alone as when most in company; and never so much under the power of an inward religion as when most separated from an outward one. Strange mysterious creature! He cannot live without sinning, yet cannot live in sin; cannot live without prayer, and yet for days together cannot pray; continually finds religion a burden, yet would not part with it for the world; lusts after sin as a delicious morsel, yet hates it with a perfect hatred; esteems Christ the Chiefest among ten thousand, and yet is at times tried with doubts whether He is a Saviour at all.

Such, then, is the path, however feebly or imperfectly described, in which the redeemed walk Isa 35:9, a path trodden by them alone, and that too, often sorely contrary to their own inclinations. To walk in this path is not the product of wisdom Da 2:30, the effect of talent 1Co 2:6, nor the fruit of study. On the contrary, all that nature can do is to fight against it. Reason calls it folly, wisdom terms it madness, prudence considers it delusion, learning deems it enthusiasm, free-will counts it presumption, and self-righteousness thinks it licentiousness. Bishops and Archbishops despise it, Deans and Archdeacons abhor it, High Church clergy revile it, Low Church clergy preach against it, Bible and Missionary Societies cashier anyone the least tainted with it, and the devout and honourable expel it out of their coasts Ac 13:50. Graceless Calvinists abhor the sword whose keen edge gives them no quarter; Wesleyans revile the weapon that lays their proud fabric in the dust; worldly Dissenters hate the light that makes manifest their rotten foundation; preachers made at colleges and academies detest the voice which demands their divine commission; and formalists of all grades, sects, names and denominations loathe a religion which cuts them off from eternal life, and leaves them without the shadow of a hope. One thing is to them sufficiently clear: if this be the only way to heaven, they are not walking in it. This, at any rate, they have discernment enough to see; and thus, if they would justify themselves, they must necessarily condemn the way itself, the people who are walking in it, and the ministers who preach it.

But happy are those of us who, by an Almighty hand and a supernatural power, have been put into this blessed path! We neither placed ourselves in it at first, nor have kept ourselves in it afterwards. If we have done either, we are not in the way at all, but are walking in a side path, and shall end at that door which Bunyan saw to open into hell from the very gates of heaven.


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