Category Archives: Humility

“The cross and criticism” by Alfred J. Poirier

“The cross of Christ reminds me that the Son of God loved me and gave Himself for me. And because of this, God has thoroughly and forever accepted me in Christ.

Here is how grace works: Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit (Gal. 3:13f).

What a sure foundation for the soul! Now, I don’t practice self-justification, but boasting—boasting about Christ’s righteousness for me.

If you truly take this to heart, the whole world can stand against you, denounce you, or criticize you, and you will be able to reply, “If God has justified me, who can condemn me?” “If God justifies me, accepts me, and will never forsake me, then why should I feel insecure and fear criticism?” “Christ took my sins, and I receive His Spirit. Christ takes my condemnation, and I receive His righteousness.”

In light of God’s judgment and justification of the sinner in the cross of Christ, we can begin to discover how to deal with any and all criticism. By agreeing with God’s criticism of me in Christ’s cross, I can face any criticism man may lay against me.

In other words, no one can criticize me more than the cross has. And the most devastating criticism turns out to be the finest mercy.

If you thus know yourself as having been crucified with Christ, then you can respond to any criticism, even mistaken or hostile criticism, without bitterness, defensiveness, or blameshifting. Such responses typically exacerbate and intensify conflict, and lead to the rupture of relationships. You can learn to hear criticism as constructive and not condemnatory because God has justified you.

  • Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? (Rom. 8:33–34a).
  • Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it (Ps. 141:5).

If I know myself as crucified with Christ, I can now receive another’s criticism with this attitude:

‘You have not discovered a fraction of my guilt. Christ has said more about my sin, my failings, my rebellion and my foolishness than any man can lay against me. I thank you for your corrections. They are a blessing and a kindness to me. For even when they are wrong or misplaced, they remind me of my true faults and sins for which my Lord and Savior paid dearly when He went to the cross for me. I want to hear where your criticisms are valid.’

The correction and advice that we hear are sent by our heavenly Father. They are His corrections, rebukes, warnings, and scoldings. His reminders are meant to humble me, to weed out the root of pride and replace it with a heart and lifestyle of growing wisdom, understanding, goodness, and truth.

I do not fear man’s criticism for I have already agreed with God’s criticism. And I do not look ultimately for man’s approval for I have gained by grace God’s approval.

In fact, His love for me helps me to hear correction and criticism as a kindness, oil on my head, from my Father who loves me and says, ‘My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when He rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone He accepts as a son’ (Heb. 12:5–6).”

–Alfred J. Poirier, “The Cross and Criticism,” ed. David A. Powlison, The Journal of Biblical Counseling, Number 3, Spring 1999 17 (1999): 18-20.

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“Self-righteousness can feed upon doctrines, as well as upon works” by John Newton

“There is a principle of self, which disposes us to despise those who differ from us; and we are often under its influence, when we think we are only shewing a becoming zeal in the cause of God.

I readily believe that the leading points of Arminianism spring from, and are nourished by, the pride of the human heart; but I should be glad if the reverse was always true; and that to embrace what are called the Calvinistic doctrines was an infallible token of a humble mind.

I think I have known some Arminians—that is, persons who, for want of clearer light, have been afraid of receiving the doctrines of free grace—who yet have given evidence that their hearts were in a degree humbled before the Lord.

And I am afraid there are Calvinists, who, while they account it a proof of their humility that they are willing in words to debase the creature, and to give all the glory of salvation to the Lord, yet know not what manner of spirit they are of.

Whatever it be that makes us trust in ourselves that we are comparatively wise or good, so as to treat those with contempt who do not subscribe to our doctrines, or follow our party, is a proof and fruit of a self-righteous spirit.

Self-righteousness can feed upon doctrines, as well as upon works; and a man may have the heart of a Pharisee, while his head is stored with orthodox notions of the unworthiness of the creature and the riches of free grace.

Yea, I would add, the best of men are not wholly free from this leaven; and therefore are too apt to be pleased with such representations as hold up our adversaries to ridicule, and by consequence flatter our own superior judgments.

Controversies, for the most part, are so managed as to indulge rather than to repress this wrong disposition; and therefore, generally speaking, they are productive of little good. They provoke those whom they should convince, and puff up those whom they should edify.

I hope your performance will savour of a spirit of true humility, and be a means of promoting it in others.”

–John Newton, “Letter XIX: On Controversy,” The Works of John NewtonVolume 1 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2015), 1: 272-273.

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“Oh it is a mercy that people need not be learned in order to receive the Gospel” by John Newton

“Oh it is a mercy that people need not to be learned men, fine reasoners, metaphysicians, in order to receive the Gospel and be happy!”

–John Newton, Wise Counsel: John Newton’s Letters to John Ryland Jr., Ed. Grant Gordon (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2009), 155.

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“A humble Christian studies his own infirmities, and another’s excellencies” by Thomas Watson

“A humble Christian studies his own infirmities, and another’s excellencies.”

–Thomas Watson, The Godly Man’s Picture Drawn with a Scripture-Pencil, or, Some Characteristic Marks of a Man who is Going to Heaven (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1666/2003), 79.

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“Emulate those whose constant confidence and boast is in Christ Jesus and in nothing else” by D.A. Carson

“In the flow of the chapter, then, Paul makes these points, at least in part, to insist that the Philippian believers emulate those whose constant confidence and boast is in Christ Jesus and in nothing else.

Most who read these pages, I suspect, will not be greatly tempted to boast about their Jewish ancestry and ancient rights of race and religious heritage.

But we may be tempted to brag about still less important things: our wealth, our status, our education, our emotional stability, our families, our political or business successes, our denominational alignments, or even about which version of the Bible we use.

Be careful of people like that.

They tend to regard everyone who is outside their little group as somehow inferior. Somewhere along the way they inadvertently—or even intentionally and maliciously—imagine that faith in Christ Jesus and delight in Him is a little less important than their personal accomplishments.

Instead, look around for those whose constant confidence is Jesus Christ, whose constant boast is Jesus Christ, whose constant delight is Jesus Christ.

Jesus is the center of their worship, the center of their gratitude, the center of their love, the center of their hope.

After that, doubtless we shall sometimes need to argue about relatively peripheral matters. But in the first instance, emulate those whose constant confidence and boast is in Christ Jesus and in nothing else.”

–D.A. Carson, Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1996), 86.

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“Sweet unity” by Wilhelmus à Brakel

“Love for our neighbor, humility, and meekness will beget peaceableness. Wherever the first three are to be found, the last will also be found.

Peaceableness is a believer’s quiet and contented disposition of soul, inclining him toward, and causing him to strive for, the maintaining of a relationship with his neighbor characterized by sweet unity— doing so in the way of truth and godliness.”

–Wilhelmus à Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, Volume 4, Ed. Joel Beeke, Trans. Bartel Elshout (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 1700/1994), 4: 91.

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“If we cannot all be writers, then we all want to be critics!” by Martin Luther

“Although I know full well and hear every day that many people think little of me and say that I only write little pamphlets and sermons in German for the uneducated laity, I do not let that stop me. Would to God that in my lifetime I had, to my fullest ability, helped one layman to be better!

I would be quite satisfied, thank God, and quite willing then to let all my little books perish. Whether the making of many large books is an art and of benefit to Christendom, I leave for others to judge.

If we cannot all be writers, then we all want to be critics! I will most gladly leave to anybody else the glory of greater things. I will not be ashamed in the slightest to preach to the uneducated layman and write for him in German.

Although I may have little skill at it myself, it seems to me that if we had hitherto busied ourselves in this very task and were of a mind to do more of it in the future, Christendom would have reaped no small advantage and would have been more benefitted by this than by those heavy, weighty tomes which are only handled in the schools among learned schoolmen.

Furthermore, I have never forced anyone or begged him to listen to me or read my sermons. I have served the church unstintingly with that which God gave me. This is my duty.

If anybody so chooses, he is free to read others and listen to them. If people do not want to read my books or hear my sermons, that does not matter very much.

As far as I am concerned it is quite enough, really more than enough, that some laymen—and those the most distinguished—are humble enough to read my sermons. And if nothing else motivated me, this would be more than sufficient.”

–Martin Luther, “Treatise on Good Works,Luther’s Works, Vol. 44: The Christian in Society I (ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann; vol. 44; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 22.

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