|Christian Life and Doctrine||September 1949|
A Contrite and Humble Spirit
“For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.” —Isaiah 57:15
JEHOVAH is the “high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity.” “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.” (Psalm 90:2) To Moses at the burning bush he said, “I AM THAT I AM”—or as Rotherham renders this text, “I Will Become whatsoever I please.” (Exodus 3:14) What he was to become is left unexpressed in this scripture; but later, when the Lord passed by before Moses, he proclaimed himself to be, “The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty.”—Exodus 34:6,7
Isaiah, in a vision, saw “the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up,” with a seraph extolling his name, saying, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Isaiah 6:1,3) Solomon also realized the majesty and greatness of God, for at the dedication of the temple he queried, “Will God indeed dwell on the earth? behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have builded?”—I Kings 8:27
As though to answer, the Lord said, “The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest? For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been.” While impressed with the fact that our Lord is so incomprehensibly glorious, we become enraptured with the thought of his condescending grace, for we are told, “To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.”—Isaiah 66:1,2
In Isaiah 57:16 the Lord tells us, “I will not contend for ever, neither will I be always wroth: for the spirit should fail before me, and the souls which I have made.” Indeed, if God were to contend with humanity, the end of the strife would be that mankind would be blotted out of existence. The Psalmist tells us why our God will not “always be wroth.” In Psalm 103:8-14 we read, “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever. He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded_ us according to our iniquities. For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us. Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.”
Our God is particularly sympathetic toward those who are of a broken and contrite heart, whose spirit is humble, who realize that they are imperfect, and who desire to be in accord with him. To such he is ever near—to “revive the spirit of the humble,” to give them strength. He does not trample them to the dust nor does he turn away from their tears and supplications, for he is, as he proclaimed himself to be, “The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth.” However, in order to receive his blessings and mercies, the recipient must have the proper attitude of heart and mind.
A Broken Spirit—Not a Broken Will
There is a difference between a broken heart and a contrite heart. A heart is broken when it is bowed down with grief and sorrow; a heart is contrite when it has a quiet, deep, continual sorrow for acts not in harmony with righteousness. A broken spirit is one that realizes its undone condition and is emptied of self-confidence and self-esteem, that in humility of heart can appreciate its own littleness and imperfection. A broken will is not necessarily the same; for there are some whose wills are broken, but who are not submissive to the divine will, who rather quit the battle for righteousness and against sin, and give way to despondency.
The Psalmist said, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” (Psalm 51:17) In this utterance David reveals the depth of his understanding; for he could see that temporal sacrifices and offerings were meaningless to the Lord except they be prompted by a “broken spirit” and expressive of a “broken and a contrite heart.” The Lord is not interested in perfunctory ceremonies. No, he is seeking humble and contrite hearts that will respond to his loving-kindness.
It is the crushed olive that yields the oil, the pressed grape that gives forth the wine; and it was the smitten rock that gave the people water. So it is the broken, contrite heart that is most rich in holiness and most fragrant in grace. The “high and lofty One” is pleased to dwell with such, not actually, of course, but by his Spirit and his overshadowing providences. Hence, as the Psalmist says, “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.”—Psalm 91:1
The humble, discouraged condition of heart becomes a very favorable one if it causes the person to repent from any course of unrighteousness. True repentance implies a change of mental attitude toward sin. Once this change takes place, and the mind becomes hostile to sin, then conversion is in order. This implies a turning around from pursuing the downward course of sin to a desire to walk in the difficult and narrow way that leads to life. Then if the person will seek divine assistance, if he will become submissive to the Lord and ready to do the divine will, he will surely receive the blessing of the Lord; for the Lord is very nigh to every one who is brokenhearted and seeking after him, if haply he might find him. To such the way to full consecration would be very short indeed.
It is the humble and contrite hearts that the Lord leads to full and unreserved consecration. All such we can beseech to present their “bodies a living sacrifice, holy, and acceptable unto God,” which is their reasonable service. (Rom. 12:1) However, contrition and humility are not character traits which we leave behind after we once dedicate our lives to the Lord; for they are traits that all the consecrated must continue to possess in an abounding measure. How befitting, then, are the apostle’s words to the brethren, when he exhorts each one “not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.”—Romans 12:3
The Lord has promised to look “to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit,” and “trembleth” at his Word. The spirit that is smitten and humble must also take earnest heed to the Word of the Lord; for it is written, that “man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord.” (Deut. 8:3) The anger of the Lord was kindled against the Jewish nation when they “cast away the law of the Lord of hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 5:24) So, while the Lord shows favor to the poor and contrite of spirit, he only does so to the extent that they take heed and obey his words.
Reviving the Humble and Contrite
The Scriptures inform us that “They [Adam’s posterity] are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” (Psalm 14:3) From God’s righteous and holy standards the whole human race comes short of acceptability to him. However, there is a relative righteousness which God can and does approve. Those who are seeking to be in harmony with him to the best of their ability, who are walking in the ways of righteousness, and who are trusting in the precious blood of our Redeemer—such are spoken of as righteous. Of these it is said, “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.” (Matt. 5:6) Their desire to be righteous is satisfied and fulfilled because the blood of “Jesus Christ the righteous” cleanses them “from all unrighteousness.”—I John 1:9; 2:1
This class of consecrated and justified ones shall have afflictions. The Scriptures declare that “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” (II Tim. 3:12) But some will inquire, How much persecution and trial must the godly suffer? While the degree of affliction that each member of the body of Christ must endure will vary considerably, yet generally speaking, the Apostle Paul showed that these “must through much tribulation enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22) The proper attitude of these justified ones toward the suffering which they must endure is expressed by the apostle, saying, “We glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope: and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us.”—Romans 5:3-5
While the Lord’s people go through the fiery trials which so often come upon them, they frequently become faint and weary in the struggle. The hosts of their enemies become appalling, and their frail nature shrinks from the overwhelming opposition. There are fightings within and fightings without in which the Christian must engage. No wonder, then, that these humble and contrite ones need to be revived and strengthened in order to maintain the strife! The high and lofty One has promised to succor these, but properly the question arises, How?
The Lord does not often deliver nor revive the humble or contrite by changing the circumstances of life for them. He does not necessarily deliver them from their financial troubles, their physical ailments, their social maladies, or other difficulties that are common to mankind. What then does the Lord do? The Apostle Paul answers by stating that “No trial has assailed you except what belongs to man; and God is faithful, who will not permit you to be tried beyond your ability,” but with the trial, will also direct the issue, that you may be able to bear it. (I Cor. 10:13, Diaglott) The Lord provides the needed grace in each trial, and this prevents his people from falling. He also promises, “As thy days, so shall thy strength be.”—Deut. 33:25
To the humble and contrite ones of the past who trembled at the Word of the Lord, needful grace was provided. Consider how Abraham had his faith tested, even to the point of offering up his son of promise. He was willing to do this because he was fortified with the numerous promises of God that he should have a “seed” who would bless “all the nations of the earth.” (Gen. 22:18) Hence when he was tried he accounted “that God was able to raise him [Isaac] up, even from the dead.” (Heb. 11:19) It was the immutable Word of God that sustained Abraham in every trial so that he died in faith, still believing.
Reflect also upon the great lawgiver, Moses, whom the Scriptures declare to have been “very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.” (Numbers 12:3) Yet, even those of his household spoke against him fearlessly, saying, “Hath the Lord indeed spoken only by Moses? hath he not spoken also by us?” (Numbers 12:2) Not only did Moses endure the sedition of Miriam and Aaron, but shortly afterward the children of Israel murmured against their faithful leader and said, “Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would God we had died in this wilderness. …Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt.” (Numbers 14:2-4) And while this humble servant fell on his face when he heard the murmuring of the people, yet he had no resentment in his heart; for he besought the Lord to forgive the iniquity of the people.
What enabled Moses to suffer so unjustly, to endure such unmerited criticism and murmurings against himself by that rebellious group of the Lord’s people? The secret of his faithful perseverance is attributable to his great respect and reverence for the Word of God. He was willing to suffer affliction with and forbear with that wayward people of God because, as Paul says, he esteemed “the reproach of Christ [for Christ, margin] greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward.” (Heb. 11:26) Again we see, in the life of this humble servant, how the Lord revived and fortified his spirit with precious promises.
In passing over those worthy names of the past we cannot help, but notice that beloved servant of the Lord, David. While the record of his life is outstanding in his devotion and loyalty to the Lord yet there are some dark and obscene deeds that he committed, which, according to the Law, would have called for his death. Na doubt, if it were not for the fact that he was the Lord’s anointed king over Israel he would have been put to death. But in that he was spared, though not unpunished, he lived to demonstrate an outstanding degree of heart contrition. However, by those sins, as. Nathan declared, he gave “great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme.” (II Sam. 12:14) Yet, in the face of his transgressions, we are given to understand that his heart was perfect before the Lord.—I Kings 15:3
In David we have an exemplification of true heart contrition, a sorrow for his unrighteous acts that permeated his very being and remained with him. We recall when Shimei, “of the family of the house of Saul,” cursed David and threw stones and dust at him, saying, “Come out, come out, thou bloody man, and thou man of Belial.” Yet when David’s men would avenge him, and asked permission to “take off his [Shimei’s] head,” David forbade them saying, “Behold, my son, which came forth of my bowels, seeketh my life: how much more now may this Benjamite do it? let him alone, and let him curse; for the Lord hath bidden him. It may be that the Lord will look on mine affliction, and that the Lord will requite me good for his cursing this day.” (II Sam. 16:5-13) So deep was David’s sorrow, that he could hear the voice of the Lord reproving him, as it were, by the cursing of Shimei. All David needed to do to avert his persecution was to say the word, and his servants would have silenced that “dead dog,” but no such command was given; rather, David only desired that the Lord would see his affliction and reward him with good for enduring such cursing.
Such a humble and contrite heart the Lord would not despise, but according to his word he revived David’s spirit. How? By his loving-kindness and tender mercy and his good word of promise. What wonder then that we find David offering a psalm of thanksgiving for God’s deliverance and his manifold blessings saying, “The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; the God of my rock; in him will I trust: he is my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my high tower, and my refuge, my savior.”—II Sam. 22:2,3
The sons of God are, during this Gospel age, especially beset by trials and difficulties. If they should fall, however, the fact that they have stumbled will not make them feel like going back into sin if their hearts are of the right stamp. On the contrary, they will feel like the Apostle Peter, who, when others were stumbling, said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68) The true people of God have no desire to go to any one but him. If they stumble they recover themselves, avail themselves of his arrangements for forgiveness and press on. By these stumblings they learn of their own weaknesses and then fortify themselves so that they may be “strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.”—Ephesians 6:10
A just man will not fall into sin. The very most that could happen to him would be to stumble. There are various causes for stumbling. But if the heart is good and honest, humble and contrite, that man will rise again; for the Lord will show him that he has made a mistake and will point out the way to him by which he may recover himself. If he is a lover of righteousness, he will desire to press on toward that which is right, just, approved of the Lord, even if he should stumble many times.—Psalm 37:23,24; Proverbs 24:16
God’s grace abounds to his children in this age beyond the measure of human comprehension, far more than those men of old could have asked or hoped for. Isaiah, prophetically writing of our day, says, “For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him.” (Isaiah 64:4) Paul, commenting on this very scripture, tells us that, “God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.”—I Corinthians 2:10
If the humble and contrite ones of the past were refreshed by the Word of God, even though they understood but vaguely what it meant, much more should our spirits be uplifted, for unto us are given “exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye’ might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.”—II Pet. 1:4
If any of the Lord’s people should become faint or weary of spirit, the “high and lofty One” will surely not be unmindful of their need or fail to fulfill his good Word of promise to them. We have the assurance that “He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.” (Isa. 40:29) Nor is, the Lord’s hand “shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear.” (Isa. 59:1) Realizing that we have an High Priest that “ever liveth to make intercession” for us who also can “be touched with the feeling of our infirmities,” let us “come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”—Hebrews 4:15,16; 7:25
For our encouragement we can also look back to those men who have the testimony that they pleased God. We should consider what great faith was instilled in their hearts—“who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. … that they might obtain a better resurrection.” (Heb. 11:33-35) However, our consideration does not stop here, but should go on to the superlative degree by our “looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.”—Heb. 12:2
“For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.” (Heb. 12:3) Ah, how our spirits are revived and how our hearts are refreshed as we consider him! When we consider the grace of giving temporal gifts, we are reminded of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, “though he was rich,” yet for our sakes “became poor”—so poor that he could say, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.”—II Cor. 8:9; Matt. 8:20
Have our friends proved unfaithful and disloyal? Consider Jesus’ “own familiar friend,” in whom he trusted, who “lifted, up his heel” against him; also Peter who denied the Master three times, even with cursing. (Psa. 41:9) Have we trials and soul-vexing griefs? Think of Jesus who, according to the Scriptures, was “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” (Isa. 53:3) Are we disfellowshiped by the world and persecuted? Let us remember how they hated our Lord and Master, how they smote him, spat upon him, and mocked him; how they cried, “Crucify him, crucify him.” (John 19:6) Have we humbling experiences? Consider him, who “humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” (Phil. 2:8) As we thus consider Jesus, we learn of him who was “meek and lowly in heart” and we find “rest” for our fainting souls. Then his “yoke is easy,” and the “burden is light.”—Matt. 11:29,30
Humility and Contrition Essential in the Next Age
All who, in the next age, would be in harmony with God must also be repentant of their shortcomings. Moreover, they must be appreciative of God’s lofty standards—his holy standards. Under Christ’s mediatorial reign sympathy and favor will be extended to the humble, contrite hearts, even as now with the church.
The Apostle Peter tells us that “God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.” (I Peter 5:5) This text applies not only in the present time, but will also have an application in the next age. Among the several things that the Lord hates, the first one the wise man mentions is a “proud look.” (Proverbs 6:17-19) Hence there is no provision for the proud, the haughty, the self-centered, but every provision for the humble-minded. The Prophet Isaiah, in outlining the preparations to be made for the incoming age, said, “Go through, go through the gates; prepare ye the way of the people; cast up, cast up the highway; gather out the stones; lift up a standard for the people.” (Isa. 62:10) We can be sure, without presumption, that the standard held up before the people in the incoming age will be that of absolute holiness of heart and, as far as possible, of conduct.
Realizing that the favor and blessing of God is promised only to the humble and contrite ones, and realizing that there are few in number that are humble at the present time, the question naturally arises; Are there only a few who will bask in the sunshine of God’s love and favor? Ah no! for God is now allowing a humiliating influence to work with people which, in the age to come, should teach them humility and lead them to be contrite of heart.
Now the humble and contrite are trodden down in the street. Indeed, as the prophet has truly said, “Now we call the proud happy; yea, they that work wickedness are set up; yea, they that tempt God are even delivered.” But what is to become of the proud and wicked? The prophet further elucidates, “Behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up.” Hence we see that the pride and wickedness of men shall be thoroughly purged by the fiery trouble of our day, and to such an extent that it will leave them “neither root nor branch” for further development along this line.—Malachi 3:15; 4:1
The Lord through the prophet has said, “I will punish the world for their evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; and I will cause the arrogancy of the proud to cease, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible.” Then, after the humiliating and purging experiences, when men learn to esteem the “beauty of holiness” and deprecate unrighteousness and sin, he “will make a man more precious than fine gold; even a man than the golden wedge of Ophir.”—Isaiah 13:11,12
The Lord has said, “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth. … That unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear. Surely, shall one say, in the Lord have I righteousness and strength: even to him shall men come; and all that are incensed against him shall be ashamed. In the Lord shall all the seed of Israel [here typical of the world] be justified, and shall glory.” (Isaiah 45:22-25) And as we thus are now privileged to comprehend the breadth, and length, and depth, and height of God’s wonderful plan of salvation, surely we can say with the Psalmist, “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised.”—Psalm 48:1