Genuine humility refuses to acknowledge as righteous any human experience, including humility itself. Humility is not a self-contained possession; it is not something one 'has' to which he can point. It is a relation. (The Theology of Jonathan Edwards, p. 81)But if we cultivate humility by looking at something other than humility, what do we look at? If humility 'is a relation,' as Cherry rightly says, what is it a relation to?
God, you say.
Well, yes. But what about him?
His greatness, you might say. His infinitude. He is vastly above us, resplendent in glory and might. Awareness of his greatness and my littleness, then, generates humility.
Jonathan Edwards would disagree. He would say: Yes, that's true as far as it goes, but you still haven't gotten to the core.
In the sixth sermon of the series 'Charity and Its Fruits'--15 exquisite sermons arguing from 1 Corinthians 13 that the entire Christian life is summed up in love--Edwards says:
A sense of the loveliness of God is peculiarly that discovery of God which makes humility. A sense or discovery of God's greatness without his loveliness will not do it. But it is a discovery of his loveliness that is the very discovery that affects the thing and makes the soul humble. All grace is wrought in the heart by the knowledge of God or a discovery of God, or sense of God's perfections. The knowledge of God is the foundation of all grace. But the knowledge of God or sense of him which is the essential thing, the very thing which works humility in the heart, is a sense of his loveliness, or seeing how infinitely God is above us in loveliness. Merely having a sense that God is infinitely above us, and that there is an infinite distance between him and us in greatness, will not work humility; it will signify nothing towards making the heart humble, unless we are sensible there is an infinite distance between him and us in respect of his loveliness. (Works, Yale ed., vol. 8, pp. 243-44)It is not an inward sense of God's greatness that generates humility; it is an inward sense of God's loveliness, against a backdrop of his greatness.