He is like the sun in the zenith, which when it is at the highest, shows lowest. St Augustine calls humility the mother of the grace. But before I show you who the humble man is, I shall lay down three distinctions:1. I distinguish between being humbled and humble
A man may be humbled and not humble. A sinner may be humbled by affliction. His condition is low but not his disposition. A godly man is not only humbled but humble. His heart is as low as his condition.
2. I distinguish between outward and inward humility
There is a great deal of difference between humble behaviour and a humble spirit.
(i) A person may behave humbly towards others, yet be proud. Who more humble than Absalom in his outward behaviour? `When any man came near to do him obeisance, Absalom took him by the hand and kissed him' (2 Sam. 15:5). But though he acted humbly, he aspired to the crown: `As soon as ye hear the sound of the trumpet, then ye shall say, Absalom reigneth in Hebron' (v. 10). Here was pride dressed in humility's mantle.
(ii) A person may behave humbly towards God yet be proud. `Ahab put on sackcloth and fasted and went softly' (I Kings 21:27), but his heart was not humble. A man may bow his head like a bullrush, yet lift up the ensigns of pride in his heart.3. I distinguish between humility and policy
Many make a show of humility to achieve their own ends. The Papists seem to be the most humble, mortified saints but it is rather subtlety than humility. For by this means, they get the revenues of the earth into their possession. All this they may do and yet have no godliness.
Question: How may a Christian know that he is humble and consequently godly?
Answer 1: A humble soul is emptied of all swelling thoughts of himself. Bernard calls humility a self-annihilation. `Thou wilt save the humble' (Job 22:29). In the Hebrew it is `him that is of low eyes'. A humble man has lower thoughts of himself than others can have of him. David, though a king, still looked upon himself as a worm: `I am a worm, and no man' (Psa. 22:6). Bradford, a martyr, still subscribes himself a sinner. `If I be righteous, yet will I not lift up my head' (Job 10:15) – like the violet which is a sweet flower, but hangs down the head.
Answer 2: A humble soul thinks better of others than of himself: `let each esteem other better than themselves' (Phil. 2:3). A humble man values others at a higher rate than himself, and the reason is because he can see his own heart better than he can another's. He sees his own corruption and thinks surely it is not so with others; their graces are not so weak as his; their corruptions are not so strong. `Surely', he thinks, `they have better hearts than I.' A humble Christian studies his own infirmities and another's excellences and that makes him put a higher value upon others than himself. `Surely I am more brutish than any man' (Prov. 30:2). And Paul, though he was the chief of the apostles, still calls himself `less than the least of all saints' (Eph. 3:8).
Answer 3: A humble soul has a low esteem of his duties. Pride is apt to breed in our holy things as the worm breeds in the sweetest fruit and froth comes from the most generous wine. A humble person bemoans not only his sins but also his duties. When he has prayed and wept, `Alas,' he says, `how little I have done! God might damn me for all this.' He says, like good Nehemiah, `Remember me, 0 my God, concerning this also, and spare me' (Neh. 13:22). `Remember, Lord, how I have poured out my soul, but spare me and pardon me.' He sees that his best duties weigh many grains too light; therefore he desires that Christ's merits may be put into the scales. The humble saint blushes when he looks at his copy. He sees he cannot write evenly, nor without blotting. This humbles him to think that his best duties run to seed. He drops poison upon his sacrifice. `Oh,' he says, `I dare not say I have prayed or wept; those which I write down as duties, God might write down as sins.'
Answer 4: A humble man is always preferring bills of indictment against himself. He complains, not of his condition, but of his heart. `Oh, this evil heart of unbelief!'
`Lord,' says Hooper, `I am hell, but thou art heaven.' A hypocrite is for ever telling how good he is. A humble soul is for ever saying how bad he is. Paul, that highflown saint, was caught up into the third heaven, but how this bird of paradise bemoans his corruptions! `0 wretched man that I am! . . . ' (Rom. 7:24). Holy Bradford sub-scribes himself, `the hardhearted sinner'. The more know-ledge a humble Christian has, the more he complains of ignorance; the more faith, the more he bewails his unbelief.
Answer 5: A humble man will justify God in an afflicted condition: `Howbeit thou art just in all that is brought upon us' (Neh. 9:33). If men oppress and calumniate, the humble soul acknowledges God's righteousness in the midst of severity: Lo, I have sinned' (2 Sam. 24:17). `Lord, my pride, my barrenness, my sermon surfeiting have been the procuring cause of all these judgments.' When clouds are round about God, yet `righteousness is the habitation of his throne' (Psa. 97:2).
Answer 6: A humble soul is a Christ-magnifier (Phil. 1:20). He gives the glory of all his actions to Christ and free grace. King Canute took the crown off his own head and set it upon a crucifix. So a humble saint takes the crown of honour from his own head and sets it upon Christ's. And the reason is the love that he bears to Christ. Love can part with anything to the object loved. Isaac loved Rebekah and he gave away his jewels to her (Gen. 24:53). The humble saint loves Christ entirely, therefore can part with anything to him. He gives away to Christ the honour and praise of all he does. Let Christ wear those jewels.
Answer 7: A humble soul is willing to take a reproof for sin. A wicked man is too high to stoop to a reproof. The prophet Micaiah used to tell King Ahab of his sin, and the King said, `I hate him' (I Kings 22:8). Reproof to a proud man is like pouring water on lime, which grows the hotter. A gracious soul loves the one who reproves: `rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee' (Prov. 9:8). The humble-spirited Christian can bear the reproach of an enemy and the reproof of a friend.
Answer 8: A humble man is willing to have his name and gifts eclipsed, so that God's glory may be increased. He is content to be outshone by others in gifts and esteem, so that the crown of Christ may shine the brighter. This is the humble man's motto: `Let me decrease; let Christ increase.' It is his desire that Christ should be exalted, and if this is effected, whoever is the instrument, he rejoices. `Some preach Christ of envy' (Phil. 1:15). They preached to take away some of Paul's hearers. `Well,' says he, `Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice' (v.18). A humble Christian is content to be laid aside if God has any other tools to work with which may bring him more glory.
Answer 9: A humble saint likes that condition which God sees best for him. A proud man complains that he has no more; a humble man wonders that he has so much: `I am not worthy of the least of all thy mercies' (Gen. 32:10). When the heart lies low, it can stoop to a low condition. A Christian looking at his sins wonders that it is no worse with him; he does not say his mercies are small, but his sins are great. He knows that the worst piece God carves him is better than he deserves; therefore he takes it thankfully upon his knees.
Answer 10: A humble Christian will stoop to the meanest person and the lowest office; he will visit the poorest member of Christ. Lazarus' sores are more precious to him than Dives' purple. He does not say, `Stand by, come not near to me, for I am holier than thou' (Isa. 65:5), but `condescends to men of low estate' (Rom. 12:16).
Use 1: If humility is the inseparable character of a godly man, let us test our hearts by this touchstone. Are we humble? Alas, where does their godliness appear who are swollen with pride and ready to burst? But though men are proud, they will not confess it. This bastard of pride is born but none are willing to father it. Therefore let me ask a few questions and let conscience answer:
1. Are not those who are given to boasting proud? `Your glorying is not good' (1 Cor. 5:6). (i) Those who glory in their riches; their hearts swell with their estates. St Bernard calls pride the rich man's cousin. `Thine heart is lifted up because of thy riches' (Ezek. 28:5). (ii) Those who glory in their apparel. Many dress themselves in such fashions as to make the devil fall in love with them. Black spots, gaudy attire, naked breasts, what are these but the flags and banners which pride displays? (iii) Those who glory in their beauty. The body is but dust and blood kneaded together. Solomon says, `Beauty is vain' (Prov. 31:30). Yet some are so vain as to be proud of vanity. (iv) Those who glory in their gifts. These trappings and ornaments do not set them off in God's eyes. An angel is a knowledgeable creature, but take away humility from an angel, and he is a devil.
2. Are not those who have a high opinion of their own excellences proud? Those who look at themselves in the magnifying mirror of self-love appear in their own eyes better than they are. Simon Magus gave out that he was some great one (Acts 8:9). Alexander felt the need to be the son of Jupiter and of the race of the gods. Sapor, King of Persia, styles himself `Brother of the Sun and Moon'. `He tosses aside his paintpots and his words one-and-a-half feet rig' (Horace). I have read of a pope who trod upon the ck of Frederick the Emperor and as a cloak for his pride :ed that text, `Thou shalt tread upon the lion, and the agon shalt thou trample under feet' (Psa. 91:13). There is r idol like self; the proud man bows down to this idol.
3. Are not those who despise others proud? `The Pharisees trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others' (Luke 18:9). The Chinese people say that Europe has one eye and they have two, and all the rest of the world is blind. A proud man looks upon others with such an eye of scorn as Goliath did upon David: `when the Philistine looked about, and saw David, he disdained him' (1 Sam. 17:42). They who stand upon the pinnacle of pride look on other men as no bigger than crows.
4. Are not those who trumpet their own praise proud? `Before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody' (Acts 5:36). A proud man is the herald of his own good deeds; he blazes his own fame, and therein lies his vice, to paint his own virtue.
5. Are not those who take the glory due to God to themselves proud? `Is not this great Babylon, that I have built?' (Dan. 4:30). So says the proud man, `Are not these the prayers I've made? Are not these the works of charity I have done?' When Herod had made an oration and the people cried him up for a god (Acts 12:22), he was well content to have that honour done to him. Pride is the greatest sacrilege; it robs God of his glory.
6. Are not those who are never pleased with their condition proud? They speak harshly of God, taxing his care and wisdom, as if he had not dealt well with them. A proud man God himself cannot please but, like Momus, he is for ever finding fault, and flying in the face of heaven.
Oh, let us search if there is none of this leaven of pride in us. Man is naturally a proud piece of flesh; this sin runs in the blood. Our first parents fell by their pride. They aspired to deity. There are the seeds of this in the best, but the godly do not allow themselves in it. They strive to kill this weed by mortification. But certainly where this sin reigns and prevails, it cannot stand with grace. You may as well call him who lacks discretion a prudent man, as him who lacks humility a godly man.
Use 2: Strive for this characteristic: be humble. It is an apostolic exhortation, `be clothed with humility' (1 Pet. 5:5). Put it on as an embroidered robe. It is better to lack anything rather than humility. It is better to lack gifts rather than humility. No, it is better to lack `the comforts of the Spirit' rather than lack humility. `What doth the Lord require of thee, but to walk humbly with thy God?' (Mic. 6:8).
1. The more value any man has, the more humble he is. Feathers fly up, but gold descends. The golden saint descends in humility. Some of the ancients have compared humility to the Celidonian stone, which is little for substance, but of rare virtue.
2. God loves a humble soul. It is not our high birth, but our low hearts that God delights in. A humble spirit is in God's view: `to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit' (Isa. 66:2). A humble heart is God's palace: `I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit' (Isa. 57:15). Great personages, besides their houses of state, have lesser houses which upon occasion they retreat to. Besides God's house of state in heaven, he has the humble soul for his retiring house, where he takes up his rest, and solaces himself. Let Italy boast that it is, for pleasure, the garden of the world. A humble heart glories in this, that it is the presence chamber of the great King.
3. The times we live in are humbling. The Lord seems to say to us now, as he did to Israel, `Put off thy ornaments from thee, that I may know what to do unto thee' (Exod. 33:5). `My displeasure is breaking forth, I have eclipsed the light of the sanctuary, I have stained the waters with blood, I have shot the arrow of pestilence, therefore lay down your pride, put off your ornaments.' Woe to them that lift themselves up, when God is casting them down. When should people be humble if not under the rod? `Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God' (1 Pet. 5:6). When God afflicts his people, and cuts them short in their privileges, it is time then to `sow sackcloth on their skin and defile their horn (or honour) in the dust' (Job 16:15).
4. What a horrid sin pride is! St Chrysostom calls it `the mother of hell'. Pride is a complicated evil, as Aristotle said. Justice comprehends all virtue in itself; so pride comprehends all vice. It is a spiritual drunkenness; it flies up like wine into the brain and intoxicates it. It is idolatry; a proud man is a self-worshipper. It is revenge; Haman plotted Mordecai's death because he would not bow the knee.
How odious this sin is to God (1 Pet. 5:5)! `Every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord' (Prov. 16:5).
5. The mischief of pride. It is the breakneck of souls: `Surely Moab shall be as Sodom . . . This shall they have for their pride' (Zeph. 2:9,10). `The doves', says Pliny, `take a pride in their feathers, and in their flying high; at last they fly so high that they are a prey to the hawk.' Men fly so high in pride that at last they are a prey to the devil, the prince of the air.
6. Humility raises one's esteem in the eyes of others. All give respect to the humble: `Before honour is humility' (Prov. 15:33).
Question: What means may we use to be humble?
Answer 1: Let us set before us the golden pattern of Christ. He commenced doctor in humility: `But made himself of no reputation, and was made in the likeness of men' (Phil. 2:7). O what abasement it was for the Son of God to take our flesh! No, that Christ should take our nature when it was in disgrace, being stained with sin — this was the wonder of humility. Look at a humble Saviour, and let the plumes of pride fall.
Answer 2: Study God's immensity and purity; a sight of glory humbles. Elijah wrapped his face in a mantle when God's glory passed before him (I Kings 19:13). The stars vanish when the sun appears.
Answer 3: Let us study ourselves. First, our dark side. By looking at our faces in the mirror of the Word, we see our spots. What a world of sin swarms in us! We may say with Bernard, `Lord, I am nothing but sin or sterility, either sinfulness or barrenness.'
Secondly, our light side. Is there any good in us?
1. How disproportionate it is to the means of grace we have enjoyed! There is still something lacking in our faith (1 Thess. 3:10). O Christian, do not be proud of what you have, but be humble for what you lack.
2. The grace we have is not of our own growth. We are beholden to Christ and free grace for it. As he said of that axe which fell in the water, `Alas, master, for it was borrowed' (2 Kings 6:5), so I may say of all the good and excellence in us, `It is borrowed'. Would it not be folly to be proud of a ring that is loaned? `For who maketh thee to differ from another? And what hast thou that thou didst not receive?' (1 Cor. 4:7). The moon has no cause to be proud of her light when she borrows it from the sun.
3. How far short we come of others! Perhaps other Christians are giants in grace; they are in Christ not only before us, but above us. We are but like the foot in Christ's body; they are like the eye.
4. Our beauty is spotted. The church is said to be `fair as the moon' (Song 6:10), which when it shines brightest has a dark spot in it. Faith is mixed with infidelity. A Christian has that in his very grace which may humble him.
5. If we would be humble, let us contemplate our mortality.Shall dust exalt itself? The thoughts of the grave should bury our pride. They say that when there is a swelling in the body, the hand of a dead man stroking that part cures the swelling. The serious meditation of death is enough to cure the swelling of pride.
[From The Godly Man's Picture by Thomas Watson, a Puritan Paperback edition published by the Banner of Truth.]