It is no wonder, then, that these are the first principles that we must learn in Christ's school, the very A B C of Christianity: "Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls," Matth. xi.29. This is the great Prophet sent of the Father into the world to teach us, whom he hath, with a voice from heaven, commanded us to hear: "This is my well-beloved Son, hear him." Should not the fame and report of such a Teacher move us? He was testified of very honourably, long before he came, that he had the Spirit above measure, that he had "the tongue of the learned;" (Isa. l.4.) that he was a greater prophet than Moses, (Deut. xviii.15, 18.) that is, the wonderful Counsellor of heaven and earth, (Isa. ix.6.) the "Witness to the people," a Teacher and "Leader to the people." And then, when he came, he had the most glorious testimony from the most glorious persons, -- the Father and the Holy Ghost, -- in the most solemn manner that ever the world heard of, Matth. xvii.5. "Behold, a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him." Now, this is our Master, our Rabbi, Matth. xxiii.8. This is the Apostle and High Priest of our profession (Heb. iii.1.); "the light of the world and life of men," John viii.12. and vi.33, 51. Having, then, such a Teacher and Master, sent us from heaven, may we not glory in our Master? But some may suppose, that he who came down from heaven, filled with all the riches and treasures of heavenly wisdom, should reveal in his school unto his disciples, all the mysteries and profound secrets of nature and art, about which the world hath ploded since the first taste of the tree of knowledge, and beaten out their brains to the vexation of all their spirits, without any fruit, but the discovery of the impossibility of knowing, and the increase of sorrow by searching. Who would not expect, when the Wisdom of God descends among men, but that he should show unto the world that wisdom, in the understanding of all the works of God, which all men have been pursuing in vain; that he by whom all things were created, and so could unbowel and manifest all their hidden causes and virtues, all their admirable and wonderful qualities and operations, as easily by a word, as he made them by a word; who would not expect, I say, but that he should have made this world, and the mysteries of it, the subject of all his lessons, the more to illustrate his own glorious power and wisdom? And yet behold, they who had come into his school and heard this Master and Doctor teach his scholars, they who had been invited to come, through the fame and report of his name, would have stood astonished and surprised to hear the subject of his doctrine; one come from on high to teach so low things as these, "Learn of me, I am meek and lowly." Other men that are masters of professions, and authors of sects or orders, do aspire unto some singularity in doctrine to make them famous. But behold our Lord and Master, this is the doctrine he vents! It hath nothing in it that sounds high, and looks big in the estimation of the world. In regard of the wisdom of the world, it is foolishness, a doctrine of humility from the most High! A lesson of lowliness and meekness from the Lord and Maker of all! There seems, at first, nothing in it to allure any to follow it. Who would travel so far as the college of Christianity to learn no more but this, when every man pretends to be a teacher of it?
But truly there is a majesty in this lowliness and there is a singularity in this commonness. If ye would stay and hear a little longer, and enter into a deep search of this doctrine, we would be surcharged and overcome with wonders. It seems shallow till ye enter but it has no bottom. Christianity makes no great noise, but it runs the deeper. It is a light and overly knowledge of it, a small smattering of the doctrine of it, that makes men despise it and prefer other things, but the deep and solid apprehension of it will make us adore and admire, and drive us to an O altitudo! "O the depth both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!" Rom. xi.33. As the superficial knowledge of nature makes men atheists, but the profound understanding of it makes men pious so all other things, vilescit scientia, "grow more contemptible by the knowledge of them." It is ignorance of them which is the mother of that devout admiration we bear to them. But Christianity only, vilescit ignorantia, clarescit scientia, is common and base, because not known. And that is no disparagement at all unto it, that there is none despises it, but he that knoweth it not, and none can do any thing, but despise all besides it that once knows it. That is the proper excellency and glory of it.
All arts and sciences have their principles, and common axioms of unquestionable authority. All kind of professions have some fundamental doctrines and points which are the character of them. Christianity hath its principles too. And principles must be plain and uncontroverted; they must be evident by their own light, and apt to give light to other things. All the rest of the conclusions of the art are but derivations and deductions from them. Our Master and Doctor follows the same method. He lays down some common principles some fundamental points of this profession, upon which all the building of Christianity hangs. "Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly." This was the high lesson that his life preached so exemplarily, and his doctrine pressed so earnestly, and in this he is very unlike other teachers who impose burdens on others, and themselves do not so much as touch them. But he first practises his doctrine and then preaches it. He first casts a pattern in himself, and then presses to follow it. Examples teach better than rules, but both together are most effectual and sure. The rarest example and noblest rule that ever was given to men are here met together.
The rule is about a thing that has a low name, but a high nature. Lowliness and meekness in reputation and outward form, are like servants, yet they account it no robbery to be equal with the highest and most princely graces. The vein of gold and silver lies very low in the bowels of the earth, but it is not therefore base, but the more precious. Other virtues may come with more observation, but these, like the Master that teaches them, come with more reality. If they have less pomp, they have more power and virtue. Humility, how suitable is it to humanity! They are as near of kin one to another, as homo and humus,(420) and therefore, except a man cast off humanity, and forget his original, the ground, the dust from whence he was taken, I do not see how he can shake off humility. Self knowledge is the mother of it, the knowledge of that humus would make us humiles.(421) Look to the hole of the pit from whence thou art hewn. A man could not look high that looked so low as the pit from whence we were taken by nature, even the dust, and the pit from whence we are hewn by grace, even man's lost and ruined state. Such a low look would make a lowly mind. Therefore pride must be nothing else but an empty and vain tumour, a puffing up. "Knowledge puffeth up," not self knowledge. That casts down, and brings down all superstructures, razes out all vain confidence to the very foundation, and then begins to build on a solid ground. But knowledge of other things without, joined with ignorance of ourselves within, is but a swelling, not a growing, it is a bladder or skin full of wind, a blast or breath of an airy applause or commendation, will extend it and fill it full. And what is this else but a monster in humanity, the skin of a man stuffed or blown up with wind and vanity, to the shadow and resemblance of a man; but no bones or sinews, nor real substance within? Pride is an excrescence. It is nature swelled beyond the intrinsic terms or limits of magnitude, the spirit of a mouse in a mountain. And now, if any thing be gone without the just bounds of the magnitude set to it, it is imperfect, disabled in its operations, vain and unprofitable, yea, prodigious like. If there be not so much real excellency as may fill up the circle of our self estimation, then surely it must be full of emptiness and vanity, fancy and imagination must supply the vacant room, where solid worth cannot extend so far. Now, I believe, if any man could but impartially and seriously reflect upon himself, he would see nothing of that kind, no true solid and real dignity to provoke love, but real baseness and misery to procure loathing. There is a lie in every sin, but the greatest and grossest lie is committed in pride, and attribution of that excellency to ourselves which is not. And upon what erroneous fancy, which is a sandy and vain foundation, is built the tower of self estimation, vain gloriation, and such like? Pride, which is the mother of these, says most presumptuously, "By the strength of my hand I have done it, and by my wisdom, for I am prudent," (Isa. x.13.) "I am and none else besides me," Isa. xlvii.10. It is such a false imagination, as "I am of perfect beauty," "I am and none else," "I am a god," (Ezek. xxvii.3. and xxviii.2.) which swells and lifts up the heart. Now what a vain thing is it, an inordinate elevation of the heart upon a false misapprehension of the mind? The "soul which is lifted up, is not upright in him," Hab. ii.4. It must be a tottering building that is founded on such a gross mistake.
Some cover their pride with the pretence of high spiritedness, and please themselves in apprehensions of some magnanimity and generosity. But the truth is, it is not true magnitude, but a swelling out of the superabundance of pestilent humours. True greatness of spirit is inwardly and throughout solid, firm from the bottom, and the foundation of it is truth. Which of the two do ye think hath the better spirit, he that calls dust, dust, and accounts of dung as dung, or he that, upon a false imagination, thinks dust and dung is gold and silver, esteems himself a rich man, and raises up himself above others? Humility is only true magnanimity, for it digs down low, that it may set and establish the foundation of true worth. It is true, it is lowly, and bows down low. But as the water that comes from a height, the lower it comes down the higher it ascends up again, so the humble spirit, the lower it fall in its own estimation, the higher it is raised in real worth and in God's estimation. "He that humbles himself shall be exalted, and he that exalts himself shall be abased," Matt. xxiii.12. He is like a growing tree, the deeper the roots go down in the earth, the higher the tree grows above ground, as Jacob's ladder, the foot of it is fastened in the earth, but the top of it reaches the heaven. And this is the sure way to ascend to heaven. Pride would fly up upon its own wings. But the humble man will enter at the lowest step, and so goes up by degrees, and in the end is made manifest. Pride catches a fall,(422) and humility is raised on high; it descended that it might ascend. "A man's pride shall bring him low, but honour shall uphold the humble in spirit," Prov. xxix.23. "Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall." But "before honour is humility," Prov. xvi.18. and xviii.12. The first week of creation, as it were, afforded two signal examples of this wise permutation of divine justice, angels cast out of heaven, and man out of paradise, a high and wretched aim at wisdom brought both as low as hell. The pride of angels and men was but the rising up to a height, or climbing up a steep to the pinnacle of glory, that they might catch the lower fall. But the last week of the creation, to speak so, shall afford us rare and eminent demonstrations of the other, poor, wretched, and miserable sinners lifted up to heaven by humility, when angels were thrown down from heaven for pride. What a strange sight, an angel, once so glorious, so low, and a sinner, once so wretched and miserable, so high! Truly may any man conclude within himself, "Better it is to be of an humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud," Prov. xvi.19. Happy lowliness, that is the foundation of true highness! "But miserable highness that is the beginning of eternal baseness." "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven," Matt. v.3. Blessedness begins low, in poverty of spirit. And Christ's sermon upon blessedness begins at it, but it arises in the end to the riches of a kingdom, a heavenly kingdom. Grace is the seed of glory, and poverty of spirit is the seed, first dead before it be quickened to grow up in fruits. And indeed the grain "is not quickened except it die," (1 Cor. xv.36) and then it gets a body, and "bringeth forth much fruit," John xii.24. Even so, grace is sown into the heart, but it is not quickened except it die in humility, and then God gives it a body, when it springs up in other beautiful graces, of meekness, patience, love, &c. But these are never ripe till the day that the soul get the warm beams of heaven, being separated from the body, and then is the harvest a rich crop of blessedness. Holiness is the ladder to go up to happiness by, or rather our Lord Jesus Christ as adorned with all these graces. Now these are the steps of it, mentioned Matt. v., and the lowest step that a soul first ascends to him by, is poverty of spirit, or humility. And truly the spirit cannot meet with Jesus Christ till he first bring it down low, because he hath come so low himself, as that no soul can ascend up to heaven by him, except they bow down to his lowliness, and rise upon that step.
Now a man being thus humbled in spirit before God, and under his mighty hand, he is only fit to obey the apostolic precept "Be ye all of you subject one to another," 1 Pet. v.5. Humility towards men depends upon that poverty and self emptying under God's mighty hand, ver.6. It is only a lowly heart that can make the back to bow, and submit to others of whatsoever quality, and condescend to them of low degree, Rom. xii.16, Eph. v.21. But the fear of the Lord humbling the spirit will easily set it as low as any other can put it. This is the only basis and foundation of Christian submission and moderation. It is not a complemental condescendence. It consists not in an external show of gesture and voice. That is but an apish imitation. And indeed pride often will palliate itself under voluntary shows of humility, and can demean itself to undecent and unseemly submissions to persons far inferior, but it is the more deformed and hateful, that it lurks under some shadows of humility. As an ape is the more ugly and ill favoured that it is liker a man, because it is not a man, so vices have more deformity in them when they put on the garb and vizard of virtue. Only it may appear how beautiful a garment true humility is, when pride desires often to be covered with the appearance of it, to hide its nakedness. O how rich a clothing is the mean-like garment of humility and poverty of spirit! "Be ye clothed with humility," 1 Pet. v.5. It is the ornament of all graces. It covers a man's nakedness by uncovering of it. If a man had all other endowments, this one dead fly, would make all the ointment unsavoury, pride. But humility is condimentum virtutum, as well as vestimentum.(423) It seasons all graces, and covers all infirmities. Garments are for ornament and necessity both. Truly this clothing is alike fit for both, to adorn and beautify whatsoever is excellent, and to hide or supply whatsoever is deficient: ornamentum et operimentum.(424)
The apostle Paul gives a solemn charge to the Romans (Rom. xii.3), that no man should think high of himself; but soberly, according to the measure of faith given. That extreme undervaluing and denial of all worth in ourselves, though it be suitable before God (Luke xvii.6, 7, 10, Prov. xxx.2, 3, Job xlii.6, 1 Cor. iii.7), yet is uncomely and incongruous before men. Humility doth not exclude all knowledge of any excellency in itself, or defect in another, it can discern, but this is the worth of it: that it thinks soberly of the one, and despises not the other. The humble man knows any advantage he has beyond another, but he is not wise in his own conceit. He looks not so much upon that side of things, his own perfections and others' imperfections. That is very dangerous. But he casts his eye most on the other side, his own infirmities and others' virtues, his worst part and their best part, and this makes up an equality or proportion. Where there is inequality, there is a different measure of gifts and graces, there are diverse failings and infirmity, and degrees of them. Now, how shall so unequal members make up one body, and join unto one harmonious being, except this proportion be kept, that the defects of one be made up by the humility of another? The difference and inequality is taken away this way, by fixing my eye most upon my own disadvantages and my brother's advantages. If I be higher in any respect, yet certainly I am lower in some, and therefore the unity of the body may be preserved by humility. I will consider in what I come short, and in what another excels, and so I can condescend to them of low degree. This is the substance of that which is subjoined. (Rom. xii.16) "Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits." And this makes us meet in honour to prefer one another, taking ourselves up in the notion of what evil is in us, and another up in the notion of what good is in him. Rom. xii.10, "Be kindly affectioned one to another, with brotherly love, in honour preferring one another." Thus there may be an equality of mutual respect and love, where there is an in equality of gifts and graces, there may be one measure of charity, where there are different measures of faith, because both neglect that difference, and pitch upon their own evils and another's good.
It is our custom to compare ourselves among ourselves, and the result of that secret comparison is estimation of ourselves, and despising others. We take our measure, not by our own real and intrinsic qualifications, but by the stature of other men's, and if we find any disadvantage in others, or any pre-eminence in ourselves, in such a partial application and collation of ourselves with others (as readily self love, if it find it not, will fancy it), then we have a tacit gloriation within ourselves, and a secret complacency in ourselves. But the humble Christian dares not make himself of that number, nor boast of things without his measure. He dare not think himself good, because, deterioribus melior, "better than others who are worse." But he judges himself by that intrinsic measure which God hath distributed unto him, and so finds reason of sobriety and humility, and therefore he dare not stretch himself beyond his measure, or go without his station and degree, 2 Cor. x.12-14. Humility makes a man compare himself with the best, that he may find how bad he himself is. But pride measures by the worst, that it may hide from a man his own imperfections. The one takes a perfect rule, and finds itself nothing. The other takes a crooked rule, and imagines itself something. But this is the way that unity may be kept in the body, if all the members keep this method and order, the lowest to measure by him that is higher, and the higher to judge himself by him that is yet above him, and he that is above all the rest, to compare with the rule of perfection, and find himself further short of the rule than the lowest is below him. If our comparisons did thus ascend, we would descend in humility, and all the different degrees of persons would meet in one centre of lowliness of mind. But while our rule descends, our pride ascends. The scripture holds out pride and self estimation as the root of many evils, and humility as the root of many good fruits among men. "Only through pride comes contention," Prov. xiii.10. There is pride at least in one of the parties, and often in both. It makes one man careless of another, and out of contempt not to study equity and righteousness towards him, and it makes another man impatient of receiving and bearing an injury or disrespect. While every man seeks to please himself, the contention arises. Pride in both parties makes both stiff and inflexible to peace and equity, and in this there is a great deal of folly. For, by this means, both procure more real displeasure and dissatisfaction to their own spirits. "But with the well advised is wisdom." They who have discretion and judgment will not be so wedded to their own conceits, but that in humility they can forbear and forgive for peace' sake. And though this seem harsh and bitter at first, to a passionate and distempered mind, yet O how sweet is it after! There is a greater sweetness and refreshment in the peaceable condescendence of a man's spirit, and in the quiet passing by any injury, than the highest satisfaction that ever revenge or contention gave to any man. "When pride comes, then comes shame, but with the lowly is wisdom," Prov. xi.2. Pride groweth to maturity and ripeness. Shame is near hand it, almost as near as the harvest. If pride come up, shame is in the next rank behind it. But there is a great wisdom in lowliness. That is, the honourable society that it walks in. There may be a secret connection between this and the former verse, "divers and false balances are abomination to the Lord, but a just balance is his delight." Now, if it be so in such low things as merchandise, how much more abominable is a false spiritual balance in the weighing of ourselves! Pride hath a false balance in its hand, the weight of self love carries down the one scale by far.
Lowliness of mind is the strongest bond of peace and charity. It banishes away strife and vain glory, and makes each man to esteem another better than himself, (Philip. ii.3) because the humble man knows his own inside, and only another's outside. Now certainly the outside is always better and more specious than the inside, and therefore a humble man seeing nothing but his neighbour's outside, and being acquainted throughly with his own inside, he esteems another better than himself. Humility, as it makes a man to think well of another, so it hinders him to speak evil of his brother. James iv. He lays down the ground work in the 10th verse, "Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up." He raises his superstructure, verses 11, 12: "Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law, but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge. There is one lawgiver, who is able to save, and to destroy. who art thou that judgest another?" For truly the very ground of evil speaking of that nature, is some advantage, we conceive, that may redound to our own reputation, by the diminution of another's fame. Or, because we are so short sighted in ourselves, therefore we are sharp sighted towards others, and because we think little of our own faults, we are ready to aggravate other men's to an extremity. But in so doing we take the place of the judge and law upon us, which judges others, and is judged by none. So we judge others, and not ourselves. Neither will we suffer ourselves to be judged by others. This is to make ourselves the infallible rule, to judge the law.
Humility levels men to a holy subjection and submission to another, without the confusion of their different degrees and stations. It teaches men to give that respect and regard to even one that is due to his place or worth, and to signify it in such a way as may testify the simplicity of their estimation, and sincerity of their respect. Eph. v.21, "Submit yourselves one to another in the fear of God." 1 Pet. v.5, "All of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility." Now, if humility can put a man below others, certainly it will make him endure patiently and willingly to be placed in that same rank by others. When others give him that place to sit into, that he had chosen for himself, will he conceive himself wronged and affronted, though others about him think so? Nay, it is hard to persuade him of an injury of that kind, because the apprehension of such an affront hath for its foundation the imagination of some excellency beyond others, which lowliness hath razed out. He hath placed himself so low for every man's edification and instruction, that others can put him no lower, and there he sits quietly and peaceably. Bene qui latuit bene vixit.(425) Affronts and injuries fly over him, and light upon the taller cedars, while the shrubs are safe.
Qui cadit in plano, (vix hoc tamen evenit ipsum,)
He sits so low, that he cannot fall lower, so a humble man's fall upon the ground is no fall indeed, but in the apprehension of others, but it is a heavy and bruising fall from off the tower of self conceit.
Now the example that is given us, "Learn of me," is certainly of greater force to persuade a man to this humble, composed, and quiet temper of spirit, than all the rules in the world. That the Son of God should come down and act it before our eyes, and cast us a pattern of humility and meekness, if this do not prevail to humble the heart, I know not what can. Indeed this root of bitterness, which is in all men's hearts by nature, is very hard to pluck up, yea, when other weeds of corruption are extirpated this poisonable one, pride groweth the faster, and roots the deeper. Suppose a man should be stript naked of all the garments of the old man, this would be certainly nearest his skin and last to put off. It is so pestilent an evil, that it grows in the glass window as well as on the dunghill and, which is strange, it can spring out of the heart, and take moisture and aliment from humility, as well as from other graces. A man is in hazard to wax proud that he is not proud, and to be high minded because he is lowly. Therefore, it is not good to reflect much upon our own graces, no more than for a man to eat much honey.
I know not any antidote so sovereign as the example of Jesus Christ, to cure this evil, and he himself often proposes this receipt to his disciples, (John xiii.13-17) "Ye call me Master and Lord, and ye say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet ye also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, the servant is not greater than his lord, neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them." Matt xi.29, 30, "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." Matt. xx.27, 28, "And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant. Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many." Might not that sound always in our ears, the servant is not above his lord, the "Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister?" O whose spirit would not that compose? What apprehension of wrong would it not compensate? What flame of contention about worth and respect would it not quench? What noise of tumultuous passions would it not silence? Therefore, the apostle of the Gentiles prescribes this medicine, (Phil. ii.5-8) "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men, and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." If he did humble himself out of charity, who was so high, how should we humble ourselves, both out of charity and necessity, who are so low! If we knew ourselves, it were no strange thing that we were humble, the evidence of truth would extort it from us. But here is the wonder, that he who knew himself to be equal to God, should notwithstanding become lower than men, that the Lord of all should become the servant of all, and the King of glory make himself of no reputation! That he pleased to come down lowest, who knew himself to be the highest of all, no necessity could persuade it, but charity and love hath done it. Now, then, how monstrous and ugly a thing must pride be after this! That the dust should raise itself, and a worm swell, that wretched, miserable man should be proud, when it please the glorious God to be humble, that absolute necessity shall not constrain to this, that simple love persuaded him to! How doth this heighten and elevate humility, that such an one gives out himself, not only as the teacher, but as the pattern of it. "Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls."