This past weekend in my message, “Friend of Sinners,” I mentioned an article by J. I. Packer that I read many years ago in which he talks about the church as a hospital for sinners. In searching for it, I discovered that the article was actually an excerpt from Packer’s book, A Quest for Godliness. I found an excerpt that I am sharing below:
Truth obeyed, said the Puritans, will heal. The word fits, because we are all spiritually sick — sick through sin, which is a wasting and killing disease of the heart. The unconverted are sick unto death; those who have come to know Christ and have been born again continue sick, but they are gradually getting better as the work of grace goes on in their lives.
The church, however, is a hospital in which nobody is completely well, and anyone can relapse at any time. Pastors no less than others are weakened by pressure from the world, the flesh, and the devil, with their lures of profit, pleasure, and pride, and, as we shall see more fully in a moment, pastors must acknowledge that they the healers remain sick and wounded and therefore need to apply the medicines of Scripture to themselves as well as to the sheep whom they tend in Christ’s name.
All Christians need Scripture truth as medicine for their souls at every stage, and the making and accepting of applications is the administering and swallowing of it.
J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness, 1990, reprint (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 65, paragraphing added.
“And forgive us our debts” (Matthew 6:12a)
The fifth petition of the Lord’s Prayer centers upon our relationship with God and with others. Specifically, it is a request for forgiveness. This request forces us to recognize that often we are not the sort of people we would like to be, others would like us to be, or God would like us to be.
Unfortunately, we are often dishonest in our lives, and this dishonesty can sometimes creep into prayer. Dishonest prayer does not lead us anywhere helpful, but inadequately hides us from God like Adam and Eve sheltering behind fig leaves. Jesus’ teaching on prayer, however, confronts us with the bare reality of who we are and who we are not.
When David was confronted by the prophet Nathan after his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah, he turned from hiding his sin to uncovering it before God. Psalm 51 is the record of that uncovering within prayer, which we call confession.
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin. (Psalm 51:1-2)
This psalm expresses the cry of a heart that knows its debts and calls out for mercy. John the Apostle offers words that respond meaningfully to our confession of our sinfulness: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). So, let us run to Our Father, holy and merciful, uncovering our sinful indebtedness with boldness and humility in prayer.
Search through my soul, O God.
Reveal my hidden sin.
Cut through my self-deception,
and cleanse me from within.
Apart from You our souls are lost.
We’re blind to our wrong ways.
We trick ourselves to walk a path
that leads to our disgrace.
So lead me on the path of life,
and purify my soul.
I kneel before You;
I give myself to You.
As I continue with my series of posts on Andrew Murray‘s brief book Humility, today I look at both chapter seven, “Humility and Holiness,” and chapter eight, “Humility and Sin.” These two chapters augment one another as counterpoints on similar themes.
In addressing the relationship between humility and holiness, Murray writes: “Humility is the bloom and the beauty of holiness.” As he has done before with other aspects of our walk with Christ, Murray returns to the theme of humility being the proof of our holiness.
The great test of whether the holiness we profess to seek or to attain is truth and life will be whether it be manifest in the increasing humility it produces.
This flows from Murray’s conviction that humility is a direct reflection of the character of God revealed in Jesus’ life and teaching. Thus, he can say at one point in this chapter: “the holiest will ever be the humblest.” This is so, he writes, because:
humility is nothing but the disappearance of self in the vision that God is all….And where the creature becomes nothing before God; it cannot be anything but humble towards the fellow-creature.
This leads directly into the central theme of chapter eight, “Humility and Sin,” where he describes humility as “the displacement of self by the enthronement of God.” Similar to his comments in the preface to the book, Murray is intent on differentiating between what he see as an unhelpful over-emphasis on and fixation with our sinfulness and the appropriately needful sense of our need for grace that leads us to fixation on the glory of God in Christ.
The point which I wish to emphasize is this: that the very fact of the absence of such confession of sinning [in the writings of the Apostle Paul] only gives more force to the truth that it is not in daily sinning that the secret of the deeper humility will be found, but in the habitual, never for a moment to be forgotten position, which just the more abundant grace will keep more distinctly alive, that our only place, the only place of blessing, our one abiding position before God, must be that of those whose highest joy it is to confess that they are sinners saved by grace.
Although the flow of language could use some editing, the flow of thought is overall clear. If we want greater humility, we must not become fixated upon our daily struggle with sin but with the greater grace of God that overcomes our sin. The way toward this is what has sometimes been called the expulsive power of Christ’s presence in our lives:
As health expels disease, and light swallows up darkness, and life conquers death, the indwelling of Christ through the Spirit is the health and light and life of the soul.
Putting it even more clearly, Murray writes:
Being occupied with self, even amid the deepest self-abhorrence, can never free us from self. It is the revelation of God, not only by the law condemning sin but by His grace delivering from it, that will make us humble. The law may break the heart with fear; it is only grace that works that sweet humility which becomes a joy to the souls as its second nature.
Both in terms of holiness and sin, Andrew Murray emphasizes the grace of God and His presence in our lives through Christ as more valuable than anguish over sin as the key.
Do you agree with Murray’s emphasis?
What have you found to be most helpful in your own growth in humility?
[Read the entire series of posts on Andrew Murray’s book Humility here.]
Over the next number of weeks, I am interacting with some of the writings of Andrew Murray. Murray was a South African pastor and missionary during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Murray is probably best known for his book With Christ in the School of Prayer, but he has many other valuable works.
My writing here was prompted by a conversation I had recently with a friend in town who shared Murray’s book Humility with me. Murray begins that book by distinguishing between three motives that urge us toward humility:
- The urge toward humility as a creature – “The first we see in the heavenly hosts, in unfallen man, in Jesus as Son of Man.”
- The urge toward humility as a sinner – “The second appeals to us in our fallen state, and points out the only way through which we can return to our right place as creatures.”
- The urge toward humility as a saint – “In the third we have the mystery of grace, which teaches us that, as we lose ourselves in the overwhelming greatness of redeeming love, humility becomes to us the consummation of everlasting blessedness and adoration.”