The Humble of Heart
May 30th, 1976 @ 10:50 AM
THE HUMBLE OF HEART
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-30-76 10:50 a.m.
The sermon today has meant more to me personally than any I have prepared in a long, long time. It is on a glorious magnificent text in the fifty-seventh chapter of the Book of Isaiah. In our preaching through this great prophet, we have come to chapter 57, and the text is verse 15: “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].
It is a spiritual sentiment that is repeated often in the Scriptures. In the last chapter of Isaiah, he himself writes of the same lofty thought again:
Thus saith the Lord, The heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool…
For all these things hath Mine hand made, and all these things have been, saith the Lord: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembleth at My word
The text: “For thus saith the High and Lofty One who inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, also with him that is of a contrite and humble spirit” [Isaiah 57:15].
The thought in the text is staggering beyond imagination. God who dwells in infinity and in eternity also dwells in the narrow confines of the human heart. It is inconceivable, it is incomprehensible how that God who fills the universe, whose farthest outreaches of infinity belong to Him as His house and His home, should also dwell in the strictures of a narrow, small human heart.
I can comprehend somewhat of the infinitude of God by looking into the starry heavens. I can certainly comprehend the iniquity of the human heart. But I cannot comprehend how one can be encompassed in the other. How does God, who inhabiteth all infinitude and eternity, dwell in a human heart?
We look first at the description of God as being great in space: “Thou who doth dwell in the high and heavenly place” [Isaiah 57:15]. Wherever there is, there is God. He is here. He is there. He is in the farthest outreaches of space and beyond the barrier that separates us and the distances we cannot even find. In the infinitude of the heavens above us, God is and God dwells. It staggers the thought and the imagination how big and how vast is the home, the abode, of the Almighty.
We need the measuring rod that John saw in the angel’s hand [Revelation 21:15]. Men have tried to speak of the distances of God’s infinitude. They first used the measurement of miles and said it is billions of miles, then trillions of miles, then quadrillions of miles. Then the measuring rod became useless. Then they invented a method of the velocity of a cannonball over a period of twenty-four hours, and then, using that as a measurement, found that God’s infinitude is millions and billions and quadrillions, until finally it became a useless and a clumsy instrument.
Eventually, the man turned to the measuring rod of heaven itself: the velocity of light, speeding one hundred eighty-six thousand three hundred miles a second—eight minutes, seven seconds from the ninety-two million mile-away sun to the earth. But once again, measuring God’s infinite home, they found in light years it is millions and billions and trillions and quadrillion millions of light years away. Ah, the vastness of God’s universe in which He dwells—God everywhere in it!
This will be a poor, poor illustration, but it is somewhat of what our text means when it speaks of God who dwells in the high and lofty place also dwelling in the human heart [Isaiah 57:15]. As vast as the starry heavens are and as infinite are those unbounded and immeasurable distances, yet at night, I can encompass it in the small circle of my eye.
A shepherd boy, watching over his flock by night, can lie on the ground and look up into God’s infinite sky and the great infinitude of the Lord’s handiwork he can capture and encompass in the small pupil of his eye. There in his eye marches the mighty Orion with his sparkling baldric and his jeweled sword. There in the small of his eye gleams the great Arcturus and glows Sirius, the brightest star in the heavens. And there in his eye is the North Star steadfast and the Great Dipper pointing to its celestial assignment in the north—all of it encompassed in the infinitely small circle of the shepherd’s eye. So it is, though a poor illustration, of the magnitude and majesty and glory of the infinite God who dwells in infinite space; He makes His home also in the human heart.
The text speaks of the great and mighty God in time. He inhabiteth eternity [Isaiah 57:15]. Here again language staggers under the weight of the magnitude of the burden laid upon it—He who inhabits, who dwells in eternity, in the eons and the eons and the ageless ages before creation was, and who is the great consummation of the eons and the eons that are yet to come, the ageless, unchanging, immutable God who inhabiteth eternity.
Last week, I was preaching to the pastor’s conference at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. And just outside my window, there stood a tall graceful Sears Building, the highest man-made structure in the world, towering a quarter of a mile high above the streets of the city. If you were to take a five-cent piece, a nickel, and place it on top of that vast building, the thickness of that five-cent piece would be relative, the age of man compared to the age of creation itself. And yet, creation is but a part, a small part, an infinitesimal part of the eternity before and the eternity that shall follow after. And in all of those ageless eons, God dwells.
And yet, the mightiness of God who lives in timeless unbounded eternity, my mind and my heart can encompass. A star cannot. His universes are insensitive to His presence, but I can see His handiwork. I can watch Him in His laws. I can see Him in His movements. I can think God’s thoughts after Him. The great Mighty One who inhabiteth eternity also dwells in the mind and in the soul of a human heart. He is also described as the great God of character whose name is Holy, qadosh, whose name is qadosh [Isaiah 57:15]. Qadosh literally means separate, set apart. That is, our understanding of what is holy is almost altogether in our understanding of what is not holy. Impurity we understand, and God is not that. Iniquity we understand; God is not that. Pride and deceitfulness and sin, all that is mean and base and wrong; God is not that. God is qadosh; that is, separate, set apart from sin. He is of such purity that Habakkuk says He cannot look upon iniquity [Habakkuk 1:13].
When Paul writes of Jesus, that God made Him to be sin for us [2 Corinthians 5:21], then we understand the cry of the cross, “My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” [Matthew 27:46]. When the sun refused to shine [Matthew 27:45, Luke 23:44-45], and the light of the world went out, and God turned away His face, for He is of purer eyes than to look upon iniquity [Habakkuk 1:13]. And yet, the great Mighty God, who inhabiteth eternity [Isaiah 57:15], and the great infinite Majesty that fills all space [Isaiah 57:15], and the great holy and pure and heavenly Character that cannot bear to look upon iniquity [Habakkuk 1:13], dwells in a sinful heart, in a human heart, in a carnal heart [Isaiah 57:15]. How could it be?
“O Thou that dwellest in the high and holy place, that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is purity, He also dwells,” the apostle says, “in a humble and in a contrite heart” [Isaiah 57:15]. He dwells in a humble heart.
What is a humble man? How do you describe him? I can do so easily and in a sentence: a humble man, a man with a humble spirit is a man who has a true evaluation of himself. A man who is proud and lifted up forgets that he is made of the dust of the ground and that he lives in the presence of a great and lofty God. And in his spirit, being full of pride, he lifts himself up. He is not humble.
I see so many who live in an intellectual world, and they are anything but humble. You see, they are filled with the overweening pride of intellectual and academic achievement. For example, an astronomer, looking into the vast heavens, can easily forget the great first cause, the God who made them [Genesis 1:1, 14-18]. An evolutionist forgets that matter cannot originate or organize itself. The surgeon can sometimes forget it is only God who can heal [Exodus 15:26]. And a metaphysician can easily forget that over and beyond all we see and know, there is an intelligence and there is a genius beyond us. And the intellectual lifts himself up in pride as though he knows more than God. And he scoffs in ridicule at those who bow before the name of the great and mighty Lord.
It is also easily possible for a man to be proud and lifted up in his own self-esteem. He magnifies his own self-importance. Therefore, he is hurt at some slight and supposed injury. He is offended when his opinions are not taken with deep sincerity. He is easily placed in bitterness when he supposedly receives some slight or some neglect, and he lives a life of unhappiness. He is proudful in his heart. He is uplifted in his spirit. He has an overweening estimation of his own importance. He is not humble.
How wonderful is it when a man can look upon himself as really he is, made of the dust of the ground! [Genesis 2:7]. And what a marvelous achievement when the man can say in the presence of his great Creator, as a wheel, as a vessel in the hands of a potter, “Lord, make me and use me, to be here, to be there, to be used, to be cast off, as God shall choose.” And thus, without a spirit of jealousy, he can watch others exalted while maybe he is debased. He can see others introduced to stand up while he remains seated, unrecognized. He can see others pass him by in achievement and in success and in praise. He can listen to the words of appreciation that he covets for himself, and he rejoices in the advancement of other people, in honor preferring him.
God dwells in the heart of that man, a humble man. And God dwells in the heart of the contrite man [Isaiah 57:15]. What a precious and beautiful thing that God deigns and feigns and designs and desires to look upon the spirit of a man who is contrite.
Like this: I am on my way with a little bundle—my little bundle of tears, and trials, and troubles, and sobs, and cares, and anxieties, and frustrations, and disappointments—I have them all in a little bundle, and I’m on my way to lay them before the great and Mighty God. And a philosopher stops me in the way, and he says, “What forsooth hast thou in that little bundle? Let me see.”
And I open my little bundle of cares, and anxieties, and trials, and tears before him. And he looks upon them, and he says, “What? What? What? Do you dare bring those fragments of wretchedness before the great and mighty and high God, the great, mighty, immutable, invisible, immortal God?” And with every epithet, my heart is smitten. I lay before God my little bundle of cares, and tears, and trials, and sorrows, and then I remember He bade me so. It was He who said, “Come unto Me, all ye who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” [Matthew 11:28].
He who runs this universe, who guides the great planets in their orbits, who takes care of the starry galaxies of infinitude—He is the one who bows down to hear our prayers, and to see our tears, and to look through my little bundle of trial and trouble.
Or again, I am on the way to appear before the great and High God who inhabiteth eternity [Isaiah 57:15], and I have in my hand something to lay at His feet: a great and marvelous request. And the philosopher stops me, the sophist stops me, and he says, “What do you have in your hand that you are to lay at the feet of the great and Mighty God?”
And I open my hand and there is a request that is great, that is mighty. And he says, “What? What? Do you not know, do you not understand that the great and Mighty God runs this universe by law, by impersonal, inexorable law? And do you suppose that the great God will suspend His inexorable law at your meager and humble and foolish request?”
And then I remember one time Joshua prayed to God, and God stopped the sun and the moon in answer to his request [Joshua 10:12-14]. And then I remember Elijah asked of God, and God poured fire out of heaven upon the earth [1 Kings 18:24-38]. And I remember, in a humble request by Hezekiah, God turned the shadow on the sundial of Ahaz back ten degrees [2 Kings 20:8-11]. And I remember what He says to me: “There is nothing too hard for God [Genesis 18:14]. There is nothing impossible with God” [Luke 1:37; Matthew 19:26]. “Ask and I will give Thee the nations for an inheritance” [Psalm 2:8].
You see, and I’m on my way with my little bundle of thanksgivings, and gratitudes, and joys, and gladnesses, and I’m going to lay them at the altar of the great and Mighty God. And the philosopher stops me, and he says, “What forsooth do you have in that bundle? Let me see.”
And I undo my little bundle of gratitudes and thanksgivings to the Lord God. And he says, “What? What? Would you deign to bother the great Lord of the universe with such tiny, small, infinitesimal words of thanksgiving and gratitude and such meager gifts?”
And shamefaced, I think of my feeble and stammering words of gratitude. And I think of my halting expressions of thanksgiving. And I look at how poverty-stricken the gifts are in my hands to lay before the great and mighty God. And then I remember Mary and Joseph, in gratitude for the life of the little Lad they named Jesus, brought to God two little turtledoves. When they presented the Child before the Lord, they brought an offering, the best the poor could give: two little turtledoves [Luke 2:24; Leviticus 12:8].
And then I remember a lad who had a little lunch, some small biscuits and some little fish, and the Lord was pleased to bless it [John 6:9-13].
Then I remember when the Lord sat over against the treasury and there came a poor widow and cast in two mites that make a farthing, that make about a fifth of a cent, and the Lord was pleased to look upon it [Mark 12:41-44].
And He bids me come, with my halting and feeble words of gratitude and thanksgiving and the humble offering of my hand. And He welcomes me, and deigns to receive it as though it were a universe in itself. Can you imagine God like that? So He dwells in the humble heart and He blesses the contrite spirit [Isaiah 57:15]. And thus it was when two men went up into the temple to pray, and one was proud and lifted up his head and said to God, “I thank Thee I am not like other men, and I thank Thee that I am even not like that publican there!” But the publican, standing afar off, would not so much as lift up his face to heaven, but beat upon his breast and cried, saying, “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner” [Luke 18:9-13]. And the Lord God said, “The Mighty came down and made His home in the heart of that contrite and praying man” [Luke 18:14].
Oh, what a wonderful thing! “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock” [Revelation 3:20]. The great God of the universe, who inhabiteth eternity, whose name is qadosh, holiness, who dwells in the lofty and marvelous infinitude of the whole creation [Isaiah 57:15]; “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any one hears My voice, opens the door, I will come in, dwell with him, and he with Me” [Revelation 3:20]. Oh, blessedness of God’s goodness to us who are the humblest of His creatures!
And this is our invitation to you this day, to open your heart heavenward and God-ward and invite the Lord to come in [Romans 10:9-10]. On the radio, on the television, if you have seen, if you have heard, if you have watched the service, this day would you open your heart to God? “Lord Jesus, come into my heart.” And in the great throng that fill this auditorium today, in the balcony round, you; on this lower floor, you; a family, a couple, or just one somebody you: “This day, I decide for God. I invite Him into my heart, weak, sinful as I am. O God, take me. Save me. Bless me.” In any way the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, make the decision now, answer with your life, and come, on the first note of the first stanza, and welcome, while we stand and while we sing.