Spiritual Pride vs. Gospel Humility

Satan’s subtlety is at its height when he seduces people into spiritual pride. The deceitfulness of the human heart is evident in no one thing so much as it is in spiritual pride and self-righteousness. The ‘holier than thou’ attitude. In The Religious Affections, Jonathan Edwards points out that spiritual pride is antithetical to the humility demanded by the gospel.

Spiritual pride may arise when I compare myself to others; but gospel humility is the result of comparing myself to all that God demands. Do you think you more frequently assess your spiritual health by comparison to others or by comparison to God?

“A rebellious people…who say, ‘Keep to yourself, do not come near me, for I am too holy for you.’ These are a smoke in my nostrils, a fire that burns all the day”

Isaiah 65:5

First, for some context. In The Religious Affections, Edwards labors to demonstrate his thesis that “True religion, in great part, consists of holy affections” (23). His biblical basis for this insight is 1 Peter 1:8, “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and fully of glory.”

Edwards gives 12 signs that are uncertain, they don’t confirm whether religious affections are genuine or that they are not. He then proceeds to give 12 signs that are distinguishing marks of genuine religious affections, or “truly gracious and holy affections.”

The sixth of these twelve certain signs is this: “Gracious affections are attended with evangelical humiliation” (237). By “evangelical holiness,” he means, “a sense that a Christian has of his own utter insufficiency, despicableness, and odiousness, with an answerable frame of heart.” Evangelical is a reference to the gospel, which says we are sinful. And humiliation is the frame of heart, the humility that comes with the confession of our sinfulness. So “evangelical humiliation” is the same thing as “gospel humility.”

Edwards points out however, that a distinction must be made between evangelical humiliation and “legal humiliation” which makes the confession of sin (legal agreement) but does not have “the answerable frame of heart.” They are not actually humbled by who they are. Thus, legal humiliation is actually spiritual pride. Edwards insightfully distinguishes between spiritual and legal humiliation (see the chart below). Which better describes the condition of your heart?

Spiritual pride (“legal humiliation”)gospel humility (“evangelical humiliation”)
Arises from the common influence of the Spirit, assisting natural principles, especially the unregenerate conscience Arises from the special influences of the Spirit, implementing and exercising supernatural and divine principles
Arises from the mind’s being assisted to a greater sense of the things of religion as to their natural properties and qualities, and particularly of the natural perfections of God, such as his greatness and terrible majestyArises from a sense of the transcendent beauty of divine things in their moral qualities
Convinces men they are exceedingly sinful/guilty… but they do not see their own odiousness on account of sinThey have a sense of the hateful nature of sin by a discovery of the beauty of God’s holiness and moral perfection
They are made sensible that they are little and nothing, etc…but they have not an answerable frame of heart consisting in a disposition to abase themselves, and exalt God aloneThey have a self-abasing disposition that arises when evangelical humiliation overcoming the heart and changing its inclination, by a discovery of God’s holy beauty
The conscience is convinced…but the will is not bowed nor the inclination alteredThere is spiritual understanding, the will is bowed and the inclination altered
They are brought to despair of helping themselvesThey are brought voluntarily to deny and renounce themselves
They are subdued and forced to the groundThey are brought sweetly to yield, and freely and with delight to prostrate themselves at the feet of God
Legal humiliation has in it no spiritual good, nothing of the nature of true virtueEvangelical humiliation is that wherein the excellent beauty of Christian grace does very much consist.
Men may be legally humbled and yet have no humilityConsists in such humility as becomes a creature in itself exceeding sinful. It is a man’s mean esteem of himself, as in himself nothing… attended with a mortification of a disposition to exalt himself, and a free renunciation of his own glory
They that are destitute of evangelical humiliation have no true religionThis is a great and most essential thing in true religion

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