Admit We Can Do Nothing without Divine Help
The first step in reading the Bible in the power of another is to begin with humility. It begins with the renunciation of pride. It begins with a real sense of how depraved and distorted our minds are, and how readily our hearts desire other things more than we desire God. If the Holy Spirit does not work in us the fruit of humility and meekness and teachability (Gal. 5:23; James 3:17), we will either deny or distort the truth of Scripture. For all of Scripture exalts God above us.
Jonathan Edwards quotes Psalm 25:9 (“He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way”) and says, “Pride is a very great obstacle to the entering of divine light, yea, and such an obstacle as will eternally prevent it, till it be mortified.”1 What a wonderful promise: “He . . . teaches the humble his way”! If we hope to see God act supernaturally as our teacher when we read the Bible, this is how we will begin. We will humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God (1 Pet. 5:6). We will take to heart the refrain of Scripture: “The Lord lifts up the humble” (Ps. 147:6). “The Lord . . . adorns the humble with salvation” (Ps. 149:4). “Receive with meekness the implanted word” (James 1:21). “This is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (Isa. 66:2). If God will not “look to” a proud person who reads the Scriptures, it is certain that the proud reader is not going to receive his help. John Owen sums up the point, “The Spirit of God never did nor ever will instruct a proud, unhumbled soul in the right knowledge of the Scripture, as it is a divine revelation.”2
The Childlikeness of Happy Need
If we hope to read the Scriptures supernaturally, we must be done with all pretenses of self-sufficiency. This is what Jesus meant by the necessity of childlikeness. “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3–4). The humility of a child is not his freedom from vanity. Children are naturally selfish (as are adults). The humility of a child, rather, is his free and willing awareness that he cannot provide for his own needs and must have an adult to meet all his needs.
No child mopes because he is not able to earn his own living. He accepts this as his station in life, and he trusts his parents to take care of him. That is the way we are supposed to approach life, including the way we read the Bible. We are like children, who will do all we can to understand what our Father has written for us, but who also will admit freely we will not see his glory without the gift of light.
So Peter tells us to long for the milk of the word “like newborn infants” (1 Pet. 2:2). That comparison probably carries not only the meaning of hearty craving, but also the unashamed sense that the nutrition of this milk is utterly undeserved. It is a free gift. And I am helpless to taste it apart from God’s quickening grace.
Humility as the Opposite of Self-Glorification
The proud love of our own glory has a blinding effect over the glory of God. This was at root why the Pharisees could not see the meaning of the Old Testament or the meaning of Jesus’s own ministry. Jesus put it so plainly:
I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? (John 5:43–44)
The human heart by nature prefers images of God’s glory (especially the one in the mirror) above the glory of God himself (Rom. 1:18–23). That preference is the essence of sin and the root of our pride and of the corruption that keeps us from seeing the glory of God in Scripture. The most central work of the Holy Spirit in assisting us in reading the Scriptures is not to add new information to our minds that is not in the Bible, but rather to humble us so that we relish the glory of Christ more than we relish our self-exaltation.
Humility is at the root of recognizing the truth.
This is the role Jesus promised for the Holy Spirit: “When the Spirit of truth comes . . . he will glorify me” (John 16:13–14). We know the Spirit is working when the exaltation of Christ is cherished. For “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3). When the Spirit works in the reading of Scripture, we are humbled, and Christ is exalted. Our old preference for self-exaltation is replaced with a passion for Christ-exaltation. This new passion is the key that throws open a thousand windows in Scripture to let in the brightness of God’s glory.
Humility Has Eyes
Jesus approaches the need for humility still another way. He says:
My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood. (John 7:16–18)
The idea of humility is expressed here in two ways. One is to say that our will must be so humbled that we are ready and eager for God’s will to be our will. We are not bent on proudly saying his will must conform to ours. Rather, “our will is to do his will.” That is who we are. That is the miracle that the Holy Spirit has done. He has given us an eagerness for our will to conform to God’s. Jesus says that his humble, God-exalting disposition “knows” divine teaching when it sees it. A “seeing” comes with this self-renouncing joy in God’s will.
The other way humility is expressed here is by emphasizing Jesus’s commitment to living for the glory of the Father: “The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.” The reason a person can recognize that kind of Messiah as true is that the person is eager to join Jesus in that self-denying exaltation of the Father’s glory. So humility is at the root of recognizing the truth. Humility is a key ingredient in the eye salve that gives supernatural sight in reading Scripture. That’s why Jesus said to the church at Laodicea, “I counsel you to buy from me . . . salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see” (Rev. 3:18). The main ingredient in that supernatural salve is the humbling of self.
- Jonathan Edwards, “A Spiritual Understanding of Divine Things Denied to the Unregenerate,” in Sermons and Discourses, 1723–1729, ed. Harry S. Stout and Kenneth P. Minkema, vol. 14, The Works of Jonathan Edwards (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997), 87.
- John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, vol. 4 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, n.d.), 186.
This article is adapted from Reading the Bible Supernaturally: Seeing and Savoring the Glory of God in Scripture by John Piper.
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