Of Walking Humbly with God, Part 5
by John Owen
We have at large considered the nature of this duty.
III. Let us now proceed to prove the proposition at first laid down, and shut up the whole; viz., —
Humble walking with God is the great duty and most valuable concernment of believers.
“What doth the Lord thy God require of thee?” This is sufficiently asserted in the words of the text itself, which being so emphatically proposed, stand not in need of any farther confirmation by testimony; but because this is a business the Scripture doth much abound in, I shall subjoin a single proof upon each part of the proposition, — that it is both our great duty and most valuable concernment.
For the former, take that parallel place of Deut. x. 12, 13. That which is summarily expressed in my text by walking humbly with God, is here more at large described, with the same preface, “What doth the Lord thy God require of thee?’ It gives us both the root and fruit; the root, in fear and love; the fruit, in walking in God’s ways and keeping his commandments. The perfection of both is, to fear and love the Lord with all the heart and all the soul, and to walk in all his ways. This is the great thing that God requires of professors.
A place of the same importance, as to the excellency of this concernment of believers, which is the second consideration of it, you have in the answer of the scribe, commended by our Saviour, Mark xii. 33; as if he should say, in these days, “This is better than all your preaching, all your hearing, all your private meetings, all your conferences, all your fastings.” Whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices were then the instituted worship of God, appointed by him, and acceptable to him, as are the things which I now repeated. But all these outward things may be counterfeited, — hypocrites may perform the outward work of them, as they then offered sacrifice; but walking humbly with God cannot: nor are they, in the best of men, of any value, but as they are parts and fruits of humble walking. If in and under the performance of them there be, as there may be, a proud, unmortified heart, — not subdued to the law of the Spirit of life, — not humbled in all things to walk with God; both they and their performance are abhorred of God. So that, though these things ought to be done, yet our great concernment lies, as to the main, in humble walking: “Only let your conversation be as becometh the gospel.”
This is the import of the expression at the beginning of the verse, — “What doth the Lord thy God require of thee?” Thou mayest cast about in thy thoughts to other things, wherein either thyself may be more delighted, or, as thou supposest, may be more acceptable to God. Be not mistaken; this is the great thing that he requires of thee, — to walk humbly with him.
The grounds of it are:—
1. Every man is most concerned in that which is his great end; the bringing about of that is of most importance to him; the great exercise of his thoughts is, whether he shall succeed as to this or not. The chief end of believers is, the glory of God. This, I say, is so, or ought to be so. For this purpose they were made, redeemed to this purpose, and purchased to be a peculiar people. Now, the Scripture everywhere teaches, that the great means of our glorifying God, is by our humble walking with him, according as it was before described. John xv. 8, “Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit.” You may have many thoughts that God is glorified by works of miracles, and the like, amazing and dazzling the eyes of the world. Be it so; but in the most eminent manner, it is by your bearing fruit. You know the general rule that our Saviour gives his followers, Matt. v. 16. It is from our good works that men give glory to God. Which advice is again renewed by the Holy Ghost, 1 Pet. ii. 12.
Now, there are sundry ways whereby glory redounds to God by believers’ humble walking with him:— (1.) It gives him the glory of the doctrine of grace. (2.) It gives him the glory of the power of his grace. (3.) It gives him the glory of the law of his grace, — that he is a king obeyed. (4.) It gives him the glory of his justice. (5.) It gives him the glory of his kingdom; — first, in its order and beauty; secondly, in multiplying his subjects:—
(1.) It gives God the glory of the doctrine of grace, or of the doctrine of the gospel; which is therefore called “The glorious gospel of God,” because it so brings glory to him. Walking according to this rule, we adorn the doctrine of the gospel in all things. So the apostle tells us, Tit. ii. 11, 12: “This is that which this grace teacheth us; the substance is, to walk humbly with God.” And when men professing it walk answerable to it, it is rendered glorious. When the world shall see that these are the fruits which that doctrine produceth, they must needs magnify it. The pride, folly, and wickedness of professors, hath been the greatest obstacle that ever the gospel received in this world. Nor will it, by any endeavours whatever, be advanced, until there be more conformity unto it in them who make the greatest profession of it. Then is the word glorified, when it hath a free course and progress, 2 Thess. iii. 1; which it will not have without the humble walking of professors. What eminent gifts are poured out in the days wherein we live! what light is bestowed! what pains in preaching! how is the dispensation of the word multiplied! — yet how little ground is got by it! how few converted! The word hath a free course in preaching, but is not glorified in acceptable obedience. Is it not high time for professors and preachers to look at home, whether the obstacle lie not in ourselves? Do we not fortify the world against the doctrine we profess, by the fruits of it they see in ourselves, and our own ways? Do they not say of us, “These are our new lights and professors; proud, selfish, worldly, unrighteous; negligent of the ordinances themselves profess to magnify; useless in their places and generations; — falling into the very same path which they condemn in others”? Perhaps they may deal falsely and maliciously in these things; but is it not high time for us to examine ourselves, lest, abounding in preaching and talking, we have forgot to walk humbly with God; — and so, not glorifying the gospel, have hindered the free course of its work and efficacy?
(2.) Humble walking with God gives him the glory of the power of his grace, — his converting, sanctifying grace. When the world shall see a poor, proud, selfish, rebellious, forward, perhaps dissolute and debauched creature, made gentle, meek, humble, self-denying, sober, useful, — they cannot but inquire after the secret and hidden virtue and power which principled such a change. This is given as the glory of the grace that was to be administered under the gospel, — that it should change the nature of the vilest men; — that it should take away cruelty from the wolf, and violence from the leopard, rage from the lion, and poison from the asp, — making them gentle and useful as the kid and the calf, the cow and the ox, Isa. xi. 6–9. It is not in our nature to humble ourselves to walk with God; we have an opposition to it and all parts of it: no angels or men can persuade us to it. Our carnal mind is enmity to him, not subject to his law, — nor can be. To have our souls humbled, brought to the foot of God, made always ready, willing, obedient, turned in their whole course, changed in all their ways and principles; — this glorifies the grace of God which is dispensed in Christ; by which alone it is that the work is wrought. When men make profession to have received converting and renewing grace from God, and so separate themselves from the men of the world on that account, yet live as they do, or worse, so that their ways and walking are contemptible to all; — it is the greatest reproach imaginable to that work of grace which they make profession of.
(3.) This gives God the glory of his law, whereby he requires this obedience at our hands. The obedience of them that are subject to it, sets forth the glory of the wisdom, goodness, and power of the lawgiver in that law. But this may be referred to the first head.
(4.) It gives him the glory of his justice, even in this world. There are two sorts of people in the world; the children of God, and others. Temptations lie on both, in reference to each other. The children of God are often disturbed by the outward prosperity of the wicked: the men of the world, at the public claim which they [the children of God] make in the privilege of God’s love and protection: “Why they rather than others, — than we?” For the first, we know upon what principle they are to satisfy themselves. For the latter, this gives God the glory of his justice, when those whom he owns in this world, who expect a crown of reward from him, do walk humbly with him. So the apostle, 2 Thess. i. 4, 5, “Your patience and faith in tribulation,” saith he to the saints, “is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of his kingdom.” Their patient and humble walking will be an evidence to convince even the world of the righteous justice of God, in rewarding of them and rejecting of itself. Though eternal life be the gift of God, and chiefly respects the praise of his glorious grace in Jesus Christ, yet God intending to bestow it on us in a way of reward, he will therein visibly glorify his justice also. Now, this gives a foretaste of it unto men, when they shall see those whom he will reward to walk humbly with him; wherein it may appear that his ways are equal, and his judgment righteous; or, as the apostle speaks, “according to truth.”
(5.) It gives him the glory of his kingdom, in being an effectual means for the increase of the number of his subjects, and so the propagation of it in the world.
Now, if on all these, and on sundry other considerations, God be glorified in a humble walking with him, beyond any thing else in this world; this humble walking must certainly be the great and incomparable concernment of all them whose chief end is the advancement of the glory of God.
2. It is our great concernment, because God is greatly delighted in it; it is well-pleasing to him. The humble walking of professors is the great delight of the soul of God, — all that he hath in this world to delight in. If this be our aim, if this be our great interest, — that we may please God, that he may delight in us, and rejoice over us; this is the way whereby it is to be done, Isa. lvii. 15, “As I dwell,” saith God, “in the high and holy place, — delight to abide in the heavens, where I manifest my glory; so I dwell with the humble and contrite spirit with delight and joy.” Men in an opposition to this frame, be they what they will else in outward profession, are proud men. Nothing takes away pride in the sight of God but this humble walking with him. Now, “the proud he knoweth afar off,” Ps. cxxxviii. 6; he takes notice of them with scorn and indignation; they are to him an abominable thing. It is three times solemnly asserted in the Scriptures, that God resisteth the proud, or scorneth the scorner, and giveth grace to the humble and lowly, Prov. iii. 34; James iv. 6; 1 Pet. v. 5. God scorns, abominates, resists, and sets himself against such men; but he gives grace or favour to the lowly, to the humble. This is admirably set out, Isa. lxvi. 1–3. He deals there with a professing people, — men that in all they did, said, “Let the Lord be glorified,” verse 5. These men, aiming at acceptance with him, and to have him delight in them, pretended principally two things:—
(1.) The glory of the temple, — that high and holy house that was built to his own name. Says God, as to this, “Do you think that I have any need of it, or any delight in it, as it is such a goodly and glorious fabric in your eyes? The heaven is my throne,” saith he, “and the earth my footstool; my hands have made all these things, — what need have I of the house you have built, or what delight in it?”
(2.) They pleaded his worship and service; the duties they performed therein, their sacrifices and oblations, — praying, hearing. “Alas!” saith God, “all these things I abhor.” And so he compares them to the things which his soul did most hate, and which he has most severely forbid, verse 3. But if God will take delight in none of these things, — if neither temple nor ordinances, worship nor duty of religion, will prevail, — what is it that he delights in? Saith the Lord, “ ‘To this man will I look;’ I will rejoice over him, and rest in my love.” Let now the proud Pharisee come and boast his righteousness, his duties, his worship, and performances; — the eye of God is on the poor creature behind the door, that is crying, “God be merciful to me, a sinner;” that is, giving himself up to sovereign mercy, and following after him upon that account. We have got a holiness that puffeth up, that in some hath little other fruit but “Stand from me; I am holier than thou.” God delights not in it. It is a hard thing to excel in humble walking; it [i. e., to excel, distinction] is easier obtained by other ways; but God delights not in them.
3. It is our great concernment, because this makes us alone eminently conformable to Jesus Christ. When the church is raised up to an expectation of his coming, she is bid to look for him as one “meek and lowly,” Zech. ix. 9. And when he calls men to a conformity to his example, this he proposes to them. “Learn of me,” saith he, Matt. xi. 29. What shall we learn of him? what doth he propose to our imitation? — that we should work miracles? walk on the sea? open blind eyes? raise the dead? speak as never man spake? “No,” saith he; “this is not your concernment; but ‘learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you shall find rest for your souls.’ ” “Let this mind be in you,” saith the apostle, “that was in Jesus Christ,” Phil. ii. 5. What mind was this? He describes it in the next verse, — in his humbling, emptying himself, making himself poor, nothing, that he might do the will of God; coming to his foot, waiting for his command, doing his will cheerfully and readily. “Let,” saith he, “this mind be in you, to be like Christ in this.” I might go over all the contents of humble walking with God, and show the excellency of Jesus Christ in them, and how our conformity to Christ doth principally consist therein; but I must hasten.
4. I might farther evince it, by an induction of the promises that are made unto humble walking with God. But this would be a long work, to insist on the most considerable particulars; so that I shall wholly omit it.
5. It will appear so by comparing it with any thing else wherein men may suppose their interest and concernment to lie:—
(1.) Some men (I speak of professors) live as though their great concernments were in heaping up to themselves the things of this world. Their hearts are devoured with cares about them, and their thoughts taken up with them. This I shall not so much as compare with humble walking with God; nor make it my business — from the vanity, uncertainty, uselessness as to any eternal end, unsatisfactoriness, attendings of fear, care, and love — to manifest their great incompetency once to come into consideration in this inquiry, as to what is the great concernment of a professor.
(2.) There are others whose designs lie after greatness, high places, esteem in the world, — to be somebody in their days; outrunning the providence and call of God to that end; and who make this their business and interest, without farther consideration. But we may say the same of these as of the former, — their way is folly, though they that follow them should praise their sayings.
(3.) There are those whose aim is to be learned indeed, and so accounted. This they make their work; on this they set up their rest; this takes up their time and strength. If this succeed, all is well; — they have their hearts’ desire. The beauty of this also is fully sullied, and the vanity of it hath been discovered by many, and the shame of its nakedness made to appear. Is this thy great concernment? Dost thou waste thy time and spirit about it? Is this the bosom of thy rest? Hast thou here laid up thy glory? and dost thou aim at this as thy end? Poor creature! thou snuffest up the empty wind. All this while God may abhor thee; and thy learning will never swell to such a greatness as that the door of hell will not be wide enough to receive thee. The vanity, vexation, dreadfulness, emptiness, of this concernment may be easily discovered.
Nay, put all these together; suppose thou hadst high places, learning, and an answerable repute and credit to them all, — that thou hadst on these heads all that thy heart can desire, and more than ever man had before thee, — would it all give rest to thy soul? Canst thou not look through it all? Why, then, dost thou spend thy strength for a thing of nought? Why is the flower of thy spirit laid out about these things, that indeed are not, or are as a thing of nought? But, —
(4.) Some men’s great concernment seems to lie in a profession of religion. So they may attain to that, and therewithal a name to live, it doth suffice. Whether this humble walking with God, in any of the causes or effects of it, be found on them, they are not solicitous. That men may not rest here, give me leave to offer two or three considerations:—
[1.] All that they do may be counterfeited; and so, wherein is its excellency? It may be done by him who hath not the least of God or Christ in him. Hypocrites may hear much, pray often, speak of God and the things of God, perform all duties of religion, excel in gifts and parts, be forward in profession to a great repute, — and yet be hypocrites still.
[2.] All this hath been done by them who have perished. Many who are now in hell have done all these things, and went down to the pit with the burden of their profession and duties at their back. I could reckon up instances. And let me but try this foundation, which safely I may, — namely, that whatever excellencies have been found in hypocrites and perishing souls, may all meet in one, and yet he be an hypocrite still, — and I shall merit easily the best [repute] of mere profession. Take the zeal of Jehu, the hearing of Herod, the praying of the Pharisee, the fasting of the Jews, Isa. lviii., the joy of the stony ground, and you may dress up a perishing soul to a proportion of profession beyond what the most of us attain unto.
[3.] It is useless in the world. I shall freely say, Take away this humble walking, and all profession is a thing of nought; it doth no good at all in the world. Is it for the advantage of mankind, that a man should have credit and repute in religion, and cannot give an instance scarce that any man, high or low, rich or poor, hath been the better for him in the world? that they who should do good to all, do good to none at all? Is this being fruitful in the gospel? is this studying the good works that are profitable to all? — is this doing good to mankind in the places wherein we are?
[4.] This is the readiest way for a man to deceive himself to eternity. He that would go down to the pit in peace, let him keep up duties in his family and closet; let him hear as often as he can have an opportunity; let him speak often of good things; let him leave the company of profane and ignorant men, until he have obtained a great repute for religion; let him preach and labour to make others better than he is himself; and, in the meantime, neglect to humble his heart to walk with God in a manifest holiness and usefulness, and he will not fail of his end.
Let me not be mistaken. God forbid I should countenance profane men in their contempt of the ways of God, and the reproaches of hypocrisy that they are ready to cast upon the best of the saints of God; I say, God forbid. Nor let me be interpreted in the least to plead for men who satisfy themselves in a righteousness without these things, — whom I look upon as men ignorant wholly of the mystery of God and the Father, and of Christ, and evidently uninterested in the covenant of grace. No; this is all I aim at, — I would not have professors flatter themselves in a vain, empty profession, when the fruits they bear of envy, hatred, pride, folly, proclaim that their hearts are not humbled to walk with God. Will, then, these, or any of these things, stand in competition with that which we propose for the great concernment of souls? Doubtless, in comparison of it, they are all a thing of nought.
Use 1. Is humble walking with God our great concernment? Let us make it our business and our work to bring our hearts unto it all our days. What do we, running out of the way all the day long, spending our strength for that which is not bread? My business is not, — whether I be rich or poor, wise or unwise, learned or ignorant; whether I shall live or die; whether there shall be peace or war with the nations; whether my house shall flourish or wither; whether my gifts be many or few, great or small, whether I have good repute or bad repute in the world; — but only, whether I walk humbly with God or not. As it is with me in this respect, so is my present condition, — so will be my future acceptation. I have tired myself about many things; — this one is necessary. What doth the Lord my God require of me, but this? What doth Christ call for, but this? What doth the whole sanctifying work of the Holy Ghost tend to, but that I may walk humbly with God?
Give me leave to name a motive or two unto it:—
(1.) In humble walking with God we shall find peace in every condition. “Learn of me; for I am meek and lowly: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” “Let war come on the nation, — I shall have peace. Let a consumption come on my estate, — I shall have peace. Let nearest relations be taken away, — I shall have peace.” The soul that sets up its rest, and makes it its great concernment to walk humbly with God, is brought to his foot, bent to his will, is ready for his disposal; and whatever God does in the world with himself, his, or others, he hath peace and quietness in it. His own will is gone, the will of God is his choice; his great concernment lies not in any thing that can perish, that can be lost.
(2.) We shall also find comfort. Mephibosheth cried, “Let all go, seeing the king is come in peace; which was all that I desired.” When a man shall see, in the worst state and condition, that his great concernment is safe; that though all is lost, God, who is all, is not lost; that this can never be taken from him; — it fills his heart with delight. Is he in prosperity? he fears not the loss of that which he most values. Is he in adversity? yet he can walk with God still; which is his all. He can therefore glory in tribulations, rejoice in afflictions; — his treasure, his concernment is secure.
(3.) This alone will make us useful in our generation, and fruitful in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. On this depends all the glory we bring to God, and all the good we do to men.
Let us, then, make this our business, — aim at it; and, in the strength of Christ, we shall have peace in it.
Use 2. To humble us all, that we have spent so much of our time and days in and about things wherein we are indeed so little concerned, let us a little bring our ways and affairs to the balance of the sanctuary. One hath risen early, gone to bed late, and worn out himself to increase knowledge and learning. What is it, when we have done? — an engine in the hand of Satan to puff us up with pride and folly; a diversion from the knowledge of Christ, full of vexation of spirit. How many other things have entangled us! What weight have we laid upon them! How have we put a value upon that profession, which hath been a shame rather than an honour to the gospel! The Lord forgive us our folly, in spending ourselves in and about things wherein we are so little concerned; and help us, that our mistake be not at last found out to be fatal! Could we seriously take a view of our ways and time, and see how much of it we have spent in and about things that indeed will, in the issue, do us no good; it would certainly fill our souls with a great deal of shame and confusion.
Use 3. As to them who seem not at all to be concerned in this business, who never made it their design in their lives to walk with God in the way that hath been spoken to; let me tell such, —
(1.) It is more than probable that they may be apt to take advantage at what hath been spoken against empty professors and profession; to triumph in their thoughts against them all, and say, “Such, indeed, they are, and no better.” If so, it is possible that this discourse, through the just judgment of God, may tend to their farther hardening in their sin, — pride and folly. What is the Lord’s intendment towards you, I know not. It is my duty to warn you of it. Some that are professors may fail of the mark of our high calling; but you that are none, can never attain it: but take heed that this be not the issue of this dispensation of the word towards you. I had rather never speak more in this place, than speak any one word with an intention to give you an advantage against professors. If you take it, it will be your ruin.
(2.) Consider this, — if the righteous be scarcely saved, where will you, and such as you, bitter scoffers, neglecters of ordinances, haters of the power of godliness and the purity of religion, appear? You whose pride and folly, or whose formality, lukewarmness, and superstition, whose company and society, whose ways and daily walking, proclaim you to be wholly strangers to this concernment of believers, — I say, what will be your lot and portion?
(3.) Consider how useless you are in this world. You bring no glory to God, but dishonour; and whereas by any outward acts you may suppose you do good sometimes to men, know that you do more hurt every day than you do good all your lives. How many are by you ensnared into hell! how many hardened! how many destroyed, by living in formality or profaneness!
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