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“A saying of Chrysostom’s has always pleased me very much, that the foundation of our philosophy is humility.  But that of Augustine pleases me even more: ‘. . . so if you ask me concerning the precepts of the Christian religion, first, second and third, and always I would answer ‘Humility.'”

John Calvin, Institutes, 2.2.11.

“Another observation, in a former letter of yours, has not escaped my remembrance – the three lessons which a minister has to learn:  1. Humility.  2. Humility.  3. Humility.  How long are we learning the true nature of Christianity!”

Charles Simeon, quoted in Charles Simeon, by H. C. G. Moule (London, 1956), page 65.

“According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride.  Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison.  It was through Pride that the devil became the devil.  Pride leads to every other vice.  It is the complete anti-God state of mind.”

C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York, 1958), page 94.

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4 thoughts on “The true nature of Christianity”

  1. Curt Day says:

    I have to partially disagree here. Humility per se isn’t Christianity. Christian humility must have the proper grounds. Just as Jesus is the reason for the season during Christmas, He and the abundance of our own sins is the reason for any Christian’s humility. Otherwise, humility becomes a philosophy or way of life.

    1. Chris Gatihi says:

      I wonder if one could go so far as to say that there is no true humility apart from the gospel. What I mean is, one might argue that humility as a philosophy or way of life isn’t true humility at all because it ultimately isn’t focused on the glory of God. And anything that isn’t focused on the glory of God is pride or, in the words of Lewis, the “anti-God state of mind.”

      Reading this post by Dr. Ortlund almost immediately directed my thoughts to Philippians 2:5-11. In that text Paul shows us what it means to have a humble mind and heart by pointing us to the incarnation of Jesus. In other words, in the mind of the apostle, humility doesn’t exist apart from the person and work of Jesus (“which is your in Christ Jesus”–and ONLY in Him). Jesus Himself is the definition of humility. And, in this sense, humility really is the true nature of Christianity.

      Dr. Ortlund, though I’ve never met you, everything you write and what others write about you oozes with the reality of this post. It’s like a sweet aroma that cannot be fabricated and that you can smell from a mile away. You smell it and you know almost immediately: “That’s the Spirit of God!” So much so that it often shines the light of Christ into the remaining dark places of my heart. At those times, it’s painfully convicting. But so beautiful (in fact, the beauty is the very thing that convicts because I know I have much to grow in). I praise God for your example. Thank you for your true Christianity.

      Merry Christmas!

  2. Benjamin says:

    “The knowledge of God without that of man’s misery causes pride. The knowledge of man’s misery without that of God causes despair. The knowledge of Jesus Christ constitutes the middle course, because in Him we find both God and our misery” –Pascal, Pensees 526.

    True humility is not a possible way of life apart from Christ. Pride may look like it, as might despair, but only in Christ can the two meet, since only in Christ are we made truly righteous while also seeing the depths of our sin. Humility may not be identical with Christianity, but it is both central and unique to it. It is certainly necessary as the foundation of our philosophy–else how soon we would go astray! And as the central lesson any Christian must learn–else how little could we love!

    I am pleased by how fitting it is, not only that this post consists of quotes, but that each quote exhibits the writer’s reliance on those who taught him, and thus teaches humility by example as well as by declaration.

  3. Martin says:

    Foot Washing

    With feet caked in dust
    scars of failure
    hardening our soles
    we enter a house of absolution

    A servant of man
    with basin and towel
    extends his arms
    his own hands
    calloused and torn

    Fallen eyes, faces down
    we beg to be washed
    head to toe
    each pore thirsting
    amnesty’s cup

    The perfect man
    kneels at the feet of imperfection
    raising each foot in guileless hands
    cleansing each wound cut with guilt
    self-loathing shame

    Humility conceived as a servant
    welcoming strangers as friends
    immersing both homeless and sinner
    in purity found in a bowl

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Ray Ortlund


Ray Ortlund is senior pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and serves as a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. You can follow him on Twitter.

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