In researching this phrase the trail led to finding it had been given a (faux) book, chapter and verse as though it were Biblical.
This is what some would call a “phantom scripture”. It is circulated as though it is Biblical and application should be hastened as we allow it to become part of our belief system.
Some attribute this quote to Ben Franklin printed in Poor Richard’s Almanac in 1757. Others suggest it originated from Algernon Sydney in 1698 in an article titled, Discourses Concerning Government. Going back further yet, it is eerily similar to Aesop’s Fable called, Hercules and the Wagoneer, that states, “The gods help them that help themselves.” Regardless of its origination, it is in opposition to the Word of God except for a sprinkle of truism. That being, this is not to advocate that we have a pass for inactivity. We are accountable for being obedient to God.
The harm in this phrase is that it promotes the “self-help” trend that we see so prevalent in today’s society. There is no lack of resources to encourage people to help themselves out of their problems. It is a multi-billion dollar a year industry. Whether it is money-making seminars, the latest health program or the secrets to life, we are inundated with false hope.
Perhaps the advice is advantageous from a business point of view. It may even have practical suggestions that are applicable. Still, when it comes to our relationship with God, helping ourselves separates us from Him. Self-reliance moves us away from God, not closer to Him. As a society, we have become obsessed with ‘self’.
“You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.” Deuteronomy 8:17
Human beings want to be their own saviors. They want to get the glory for their accomplishments. They want to “will” themselves to victory by fueling our self-serving pride. Reinforcing self-centeredness rather than seeking the One who truly has the power to change our lives.
“Thus says the Lord: ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord.’” Jeremiah 17:5
How often do we convince ourselves that we know best? Think of Eve in the garden when she allowed the serpent to convince her that she ought to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil to be like God. Or when Sarai decided she knew the best route to becoming a mother and chose Hagar as her surrogate instead of waiting on God’s promise. We know the consequences of these decisions when we substitute our own plans for God’s. Believing we are helping ourselves or worse yet, helping God, as though we are above His ways and He needs our help.
“Whenever a man takes upon him to make additions to the Scriptures, he is likely to end with valuing his own additions above Scripture itself.” J.C. Ryle
To the contrary of this phrase, God helps those who can not help themselves. This is one of the distinguishing aspects of Biblical Christianity. It is not autosoteric. Meaning, we are not saved by our own merit or character or performance or works or…but rather that of Christ and Christ alone. When we realize that our relationship with God is based solely on the merit of Christ, we have then found authentic freedom, joy and most of all, salvation.
“The creature without Christ is an empty thing, a lamp without oil, a bone without marrow. But when Christ is present our cup runs over, and we eat bread to the full.” Charles Spurgeon
In the wilderness, the enemy twisted scripture as he tempted Christ. If the enemy is brazen enough to tempt Christ we are surely in need of the Truth. It is imperative that we do as King David did and hide the Word in our hearts so that we may not sin.
“Doctrine matters. What you believe about God, the gospel, the nature of man, and every major truth addressed in Scripture filters down to every area of your life. You and I will never rise above our view of God and our understanding of His Word.” John Macarthur
What other beliefs are we embracing as Biblical that will be found errant as we sift them through scripture?
Let us become like the Bereans…
“Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” (Acts 17:11)
For further study please consider the following: