Continuing my series of posts on Andrew Murray‘s brief book Humility, today I look at both chapter ten, “Humility and Death to Self,” and chapter twelve, “Humility and Exaltation.” While I admit I’m pulling these two chapters slightly out of order, I believe they fit together as two book-ends around chapter eleven (which we’ll look at next week) on “Humility and Happiness.”
“Death to self” is a phrase that we don’t hear too often any longer but derives from Paul’s description of Jesus in Philippians 2:8 (“he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death”) and Jesus’ teaching on discipleship in Luke 9:23 (“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me”). On this theme and its connection with humility, Andrew Murray writes:
The first and chief of the marks of the dying of the Lord Jesus, of the death-marks that show the true follower of Jesus, is humility. For these two reasons: Only humility leads to perfect death; Only death perfects humility.
This chapter comes into strong conflict with the prevailing approach to Christianity in our day as strongly as any other aspect of Murray’s book. In a time when we are focused so much on self-actualization, finding our gifts, understanding our personality, living out our uniqueness, the call toward death to self and its defining mark of humility seems like a message from another age. All I can say is: may we hear that message from another age even as we stand in this one.
The whole self consciousness of the Christian is to be imbued and characterized by the spirit that animated the death of Christ. He has ever to present himself to God as one who has died in Christ, and in Christ is alive from the dead, bearing about in his body the dying of the Lord Jesus. His life ever bears the two-fold mark: its root striking in true humility deep into the grave of Jesus, the death to sin and self; its head lifted up in resurrection power to the heaven where Jesus is.
We must die if we want to live. We must take the route of downward-mobility if we want to be exalted. And Murray takes us to that other side of the equation in chapter twelve, “Humility and Exaltation.” He describes the reality of death to self and exaltation of self in God in this way near the beginning of the chapter (italics mine):
All God’s dealing with man are characterized by two stages. There is the time of preparation, when command and promise, with the mingled experience of effort and impotence, of failure and partial success, with the holy expectancy of something better which these waken, train and discipline men for a higher stage. Then comes the time fulfillment, when faith inherits the promise, and enjoys what it had so often struggled for in vain.
There is preparation first, then fulfillment. There is no crown without a cross. There is no exaltation without humiliation. Murray goes on to say that our pursuit of humility will lead us straight into two piercing realities:
- “The one, what depth of pride…there was, the one never knew.”
- “The other, what utter impotence there is in all our efforts…to destroy the hideous monster.”
This is really a gift, writes Murray, because it leas us into a deeper embrace both of our need for God and draws us even deeper into humility. Using an illustration he returns to throughout this book, Murray compares the filling with the Holy Spirit of the humble to the flowing of water to fill the lowest place:
Water always fills first the lowest places. The lower, the emptier a man lies before God, the speedier and the fuller will be the inflow of the divine glory.
The goal of the book has been, and continues to be, to draw us into the greatest death to ourselves so that we might have the greatest life in God.
How about you?
How has death to self been the story of your pathway to humility?
How has your pursuit of humility actually led you into an encounter with the depth of your pride?
How have the words of James the Apostle been true in your life: “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” (James 4:10)?
[Read the entire series of posts on Andrew Murray’s book Humility here.]