Consider first, that the most necessary of all mortifications is that which teaches us to mortify our pride, by the virtue of humility. Humility is the favourite virtue of heaven: all other virtues are nothing without it; they even degenerate into vices when they are tainted with pride. Humility makes us become as little ones; low, mean, and despicable in our own eyes, and willing to be such in the eyes of others. Humility makes us quite sensible of our own demerit, of our misery and sinfulness; teaches us to divest ourselves of all conceit of our own performances or abilities, and to ascribe all good to God alone. Humility sits down in the lowest place; makes us sincerely prefer all others before ourselves, and pretend to no esteem or praise, or honour, or glory, as due to us, or to any excellence of our own; but to be fully and feelingly convinced, not only that we are good for nothing of ourselves, fit for nothing but to do mischief, and deserve nothing but punishment, but also that 'tis owning to God's pure goodness that we are suffered to live upon earth, and that any one at all shows us the least regard, or does us the least service; and that all God's creatures have not a general licence to rise up against us, and to punish us in all manner of ways, for our offences against their creator: in fine, that we were not long since in hell.
Consider 2ndly, that what makes this virtue of humility so acceptable to God is because God is the Truth, and cannot help loving the truth. Now all pride is made up of errors and lies, in taking ourselves to be something, in pretending to what is not our due, or ascribing to ourselves what belongs not to us; or in fine, in being puffed up with the gifts of God, as if they were our own property, or of our own growth. And what is all this but lies? Sacrilegious lies, that offer to rob God of his glory, to challenge to ourselves what belongs to him, and Satan-like to pretend to set ourselves on his throne! But humility goes always hand-in-hand with truth, and ever grounds herself upon the truth, by giving always to God what belongs to God, and to man what belongs to man; by acknowledging, with all simplicity, conviction, and affection, God to be all, and man to be nothing; and by ever ascribing to God whatsoever there is of good in one's self or in anything created; and reserving to one's self nothing but one's own defects. This is true humility, this is the truth that shall stand for ever. This was found, in the greatest perfection, in the most eminent saints upon earth; this shall reign with them in heaven for all eternity, where God shall be all in all for ever.
Consider 3rdly, that humility is not only a virtue absolutely necessary for arriving at Christian perfection, but that there is even no salvation at all for us without it. There is no going to heaven without God's grace; now, 'God resists the proud, and gives his grace to the humble,' St. James iv. 6. And our Lord expressly assures us that 'except we become as little children,' (by humility,) 'we shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven,' Matt. xviii. 3. No, my soul, let us not deceive ourselves, there is no room in heaven for pride. Satan and his companions were cast down from thence by their pride; and their places are not to be filled up but by the humble. Only they that humble themselves upon earth shall be exalted in heaven. The most high and the most holy, who inhabiteth eternity, will only 'dwell with a contrite and humble spirit,' Isaia lvii. 15, and will have respect to none, to bring them to his heavenly kingdom, but such as in their mortal life, by the virtue of humility, are 'poor and little, and of contrite spirit, and tremble at his words,' Isaia lxvi. 2.
Conclude, if thou wouldst have any part with God in his eternal kingdom, to be ever little and humble here upon earth The more thou stoopest down, and castest thyself under the feet of all, by humility, the more God will lift thee up and exalt thee; for he alone is truly great and high, and ever looks down with a favourable eye upon them that are low and humble, to exalt them here by his grace, and hereafter in his glory. But as for such as lift up their heads by pride, and take themselves to be great and high, he keeps them off at a distance and regards them with horror, 'For the proud and arrogant are an abomination to the Lord,' Prov. xvi. 5.
Consider first, that the school in which we are to learn true humility is the serious consideration and true knowledge of God and of ourselves. To know God and to know ourselves is the true science of the saints. These two branches of Christian knowledge usually go hand-in-hand, and mutually promote and assist one another. The more we know our God, and the infinity of all his perfections, the more sensible we are of our own demerit, and of our total dependence on him; and the more we know ourselves and all our miseries and sins, the more clearly we perceive that God alone is good, and that he is infinitely good in bearing with us. Here we learn true humility, because here we learn to annihilate ourselves in the sight of that infinite majesty in whose presence the whole universe dwindles away to a mere nothing, and both heaven and earth quite disappear. here we learn to ascribe all good to this sovereign good, and nothing of good to ourselves. Here we learn to descend even beneath ourselves, by the consideration of our sins, and of the hell we have deserved by them. Here, in fine, we learn to have so great a sense of our manifold miseries and sins, as to keep our eyes only open to our own defects, and shut to those of others: and by that means we learn to despise no one but ourselves, and to prefer all others before ourselves.
Consider 2ndly, O my soul, and in order to acquire a more perfect knowledge of thyself, that so thou mayest always be little and humble, take a more particular review of thy whole self, and seriously reflect on what thou art, both as a mortal and as a sinner: that thy extraction is from nothing; that thou wast conceived and born in sin; that thou art perpetually liable to innumerable miseries, both of soul and body; that all thy powers and faculties are strangely impaired and disordered by sin; that thou art ever prone to evil, and hard to be brought to good; that thy passions are headstrong and rebellious; thy affections ever bent upon vain toys and lying fooleries; and thy thoughts, words, and actions full of corruption. In the meanwhile thy time is hastening on without intermission to its last period; death is following close at thy heels, and shall quickly overtake thee, and send away this body of thine, which thou art so fond of, to the food of maggots and worms, and thy poor soul to another world, to be tried there at an unerring tribunal, under a dreadful uncertainty, whether she shall not be delivered up an eternal prey to merciless devils. And is it possible that we should be sensible of all these humbling truths, and should seriously reflect on them, and yet be proud?
Consider 3rdly, that amongst all these humbling considerations that which ought most effectually to abate, or rather quite to beat down our pride, is the remembrance of our sins, and what we have deserved for them. Ah! wretched creature that I am, I have been guilty of mortal sin, of high treason against my God, and that perhaps a thousand times; and consequently I have deserved a thousand hells; and what can I have to be proud of? Ah! what a wretched figure did my soul then make in the sight of God and his angels! How odious, how filthy, how abominable was she all that time! And is she not so still? She stood then condemned to hell; and has that sentence ever been reversed? What pretensions then can I have to any honour, esteem, or regard from any one? What title to any favour from God or man? What just reason to complain, if even all God's creatures should combine against me, to revenge upon me the wrong done to their creator; and should tread me under their feet, to punish the pride by which I have lifted up my head against the Almighty? What would all this be in comparison with my deserts? How then shall I dare to entertain any proud thought, either of conceit of myself, or of seeking to be esteemed by others, or of resenting affront, contradiction, or contempt from any man; since I have no title to any thing else but hell! And what room can there be for glorifying thee?
Conclude daily to frequent this school of humility, by studying well to know thy God and to know thyself: this kind o science is infinitely more to thy purpose than all other arts and sciences put together; all which, indeed, would only serve to puff thee up and to betray thee to thy mortal enemies, the world, the flesh, and the devil, if not accompanied with the knowledge of God and of thyself.
Consider first, that in order to teach us humility God has sent us down a master from heaven, even his own eternal Son, who is no less God that his Father. Of what importance, then, must it be for us, my soul, to study well this great lesson, which the Son of God himself has come down from heaven to teach? O, who could have thought that we, who are of ourselves so very little, so very wretched and contemptible, so near the brink of nothing, and by our sins beneath nothing, should be so strangely conceited of ourselves, and so monstrously corrupted with pride and self-love, that nothing less should suffice to teach us to be little and humble than the great example of the Son of God himself coming down from heaven and becoming a little one amongst us -
'yea, as a worm and no man, the reproach of men, and the outcast of the people,' Ps. xxi. And yet, even so,
how few are there of us that are content to be little and contemptible with him! How few are willing to be scholars of this heavenly master, or even to submit to the least humiliations for the love of him!
Consider 2ndly, the sweet invitation of our Lord, St. Matt. xi. 28, 29, calling us to 'come to him, and to take up his yoke upon us, and to learn of him because he is meek and humble of heart,' and promising us 'refreshment and rest for our souls' upon our compliance with this invitation. O what encouragements are here, my soul, to engage us to spare no pains in learning in this heavenly school of humility, opened by the Son of God, and to make us quite in love with the study of truth! a most excellent master! The Son of God himself, the sovereign truth! Blessed schoolfellows, all the saints of God and favourites of heaven! A most excellent science, which brings the soul through the gate of her own unworthiness to the contemplation of her God, the pure truth! Excellent fruits, the peace of the soul, refreshment and rest from her labours and burdens, a victory over all her passions, and a happy acquisition of all other virtues! O let us frequent this heavenly school of Christ!
Consider 3rdly, the great example of humility given us by the Son of God, 'who being in the form of God,' (true God no less than his Father,) and therefore 'thought it no robbery to be equal with God, yet debased himself, taking the form of a servant, viz., the servile nature of man, and humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even the most disgraceful death of the Cross,' Philip. ii. 6, 7, 8. His whole life was full of lessons of humility. He chose to be born in a stable; to be circumcised as a sinner; to flee into Egypt, as if he were unable to resist a petty mortal; to be brought up in poverty and labour; to work at a laborious mechanical trade; to be obedient to his creatures; to be baptized amongst sinners; to suffer himself to be tempted by the devil; to make choice of the poorer and meaner sort of men for his companions and disciples; to make himself as their servant, even to the washing of their feet; to fly from honours and applause, to conceal his glory; to enjoin secrecy with regard to his wonderful works; and to embrace on all occasions, both in life and death, whatsoever was most humbling and most despicable in the eyes of men. O divine Jesus, teach us to follow the blessed example! O teach us to be meek and humble of heart like thee, that so we may be thy disciples indeed!
Conclude to set always before your eyes the life and doctrine of Jesus Christ, in order to conform yourself to his divine maxims and examples, and to learn of him to be truly humble. No other master but he can effectually teach you this divine lesson.
Consider first, that humility is the ground on which other virtues must be built: they have all of them a necessary dependence on this foundation, and are all of them more or less perfect in proportion to the degree in which we possess humility. Faith itself, which is commonly looked upon as the foundation of all our good, absolutely depends upon humility - even that humility which obliges the soul to adore what she cannot understand, to submit to the most humbling truths, and to 'cast down every height that exalted itself against the knowledge of God, and to bring into captivity every understanding to the obedience of Christ,'
2 Cor. x. 4, 5, Because, as all heresies proceed from pride, self-conceit, and refusing to give up or submit one's own judgment divine authority, so nothing else but humility can secure the soul from this danger and keep her firm to her faith. In like manner divine hope depends also upon humility, which alone can keep the soul in the golden mean, between the two extremes of diffidence and presumption; whilst it teaches her to have no opinion or confidence in herself, nor any way to build on her own sandy bottom, but wholly upon the rock which can never fail us, of the power, goodness, and mercy of God. For the less we trust in ourselves the more we trust in God. and thus we shall always find that they who are the most humble have also the strongest faith and hope, and are usually instruments in the hand of God of his greatest works.
Consider 2ndly, that divine charity, the queen of all virtues, as to both her branches, viz., both the love of God and the love of our neighbours, has also a close connexion with humility, and can never maintain her ground in our souls without being supported by humility. Because humility furnishes the soul with the most pressing motives to assist her to love her God; humility sets his goodness in its proper light; makes the soul admire that he, being what he is, should have any regard to her, or even bear with such a sinful wretch as she is: humility teaches her that she is nothing, and that God is the great all, infinitely good in himself, and infinitely good to her: and indeed, this infinite goodness of God, which is the proper object of divine love, is never rightly comprehended, but by the humble. and as to that other branch of charity that relates to our neighbours, 'tis very evident it can never be obtained but by humility: for all the vices that oppose and destroy fraternal charity, such as hatred, envy, contention, rash judgment, detraction, anger, &c., all spring from pride, and are not to be vanquished but by true humility; which teaches us to prefer all others before ourselves, and to be angry with no one but ourselves.
Consider 3rdly, that prayer, which is the general means of all our good, must also be presented before the throne of God, and recommended by humility; or else it will never be effectual with God: but when it is accompanied with humility, it can do all things. 'The prayer of him that humbleth himself,' saith the wise man, Eccles. xxxv. 21, 'shall pierce the clouds;' and he will not depart till the most high beholds him with a favourable eye, to grant his petition. For as the psalmist assures us, Ps. ci. 18, 'God hath regard to the prayer of the humble, and despiseth not their petitions.' 'And from the beginning the proud have never been acceptable to him; but the prayer of the humble and of the meek have always pleased him,' Judith ix 16. Even the prayer of the greatest sinners, when it is presented with a contrite and humble heart, is not despised by him, Ps. 1., as evidently appears in the case of the publican, Luke xviii., who by this one short prayer, 'O God, be merciful to me a sinner,' accompanied with a profound humility and a perfect contrition, was immediately justified. O blessed humility, what canst thou not effect! O dear Lord, teach us to be humble.
Conclude if thou desirest to raise in thy soul the fabric of virtue, to lay in the first place the foundation of humility; and the higher thou hopest to erect this fabric, the lower must thou sink the foundation, by a more profound humility. Virtue without this foundation will prove no better than a house built upon sand, which at the first storm or inundation will fall to ruin.
Consider first, that the moral virtues, as well as the theological, have all of them a necessary dependence on humility. That prudence will come to nothing, which is self-conceited and builds upon the devices of man, rather than upon the light and grace of God, procured by humble prayer. Justice will be deficient in many of its branches, if corrupted by pride, which always makes men partial to themselves, and so full of themselves, as to be ever ready to judge, censure, despise, and condemn their neighbours; and unwilling to regulate their thoughts, words, and deeds, by that golden rule of doing in all things as they would be done by. That fortitude will fail, when it comes to the trial, which for want of humility is built upon sand, and not upon the rock. And that temperance can never be perfect which only withholds the sensual appetite from excess, and does not withal restrain the irregularities of the other passions, and qualify the fumes of pride, that they may not turn the head with self-conceit: now this is the proper business of humility, and can never be effected without humility.
Consider 2ndly, that not only the four cardinal virtues but all the others depend in like manner on the foundation of humility. Meekness, which restrains anger and bears with equality of soul all affronts and provocations, goes always hand-in-hand with humility, and is recommended to us jointly with humility, by the great example of our Lord: 'learn of me,' said he, 'for I am meek and humble of heart.' Poverty of spirit (which disengages the soul from the love of the world) is either humility itself, or the offspring of humility. Purity and chastity can never be maintained but by humility: the most shameful falls into the worst of impurities are often the punishment of pride, Rom. i. 24. Modesty, when it only regulates the exterior, and is not accompanied with humility of heart, is but hypocritical and Pharisaical, and deserves not the name of virtue. Obedience is the favourite daughter of humility, as disobedience is the first-born of pride. Patience under crosses and sufferings springs also from humility, which reaches us to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God in all his appointments, even to kiss the rod, and to be convinced that what we suffer is nothing to what we deserve. In a word, a perpetual conformity with the blessed will of God in all things, is ever the inseparable companion of true humility; and brings along with it to the soul the happy fruits of tranquillity and peace, which are the joint offspring of these two virtues.
Consider 3rdly, that humility is also the parent of these two necessary virtues of penitence and self-denial: because the more humble we are, the more we know ourselves, and the greater sense we have of our sins; and consequently the greater horror and hatred for them, and the greater desire of punishing them by penance,and of making satisfaction for them by a penitential life. And in like manner, the more humble we are, the more we are also sensible of our own weakness, and of all the dangers that surround us on all sides from the devil and the world, and most of all from our own passions, and that unhappy self-love which is the root of all evils; and thus the humble knowledge of ourselves puts us upon keeping a greater guard upon ourselves, and a closer rein upon our passions and disorderly inclinations, in order to restrain all their irregularities and bring them all under perfect subjection. Now this is self-denial; the business of which is to subdue self-love, and to force it to submit to the love of God. Thus all virtues depend upon humility. O lovely humility! O how blessed it is to be thus little in our own eyes! There is no other way to any degree of true greatness.
Conclude, if thou aspirest to perfection, to enter upon the path of humility; no other way can bring thee thither. If thou aimest at arriving thither by any other road, thou wilt be sure to fall down some dreadful precipice.
Consider first, that true humility does not consist in speaking ill of ourselves, by saying we are great sinners, or the like; nor yet in wearing plain apparel, or employing ourselves in mean offices; nor in looking down upon the ground, &c. - we may do all this, and yet be far from being humble; because all this may be done out of pride, either to acquire the esteem of others by this outward show of humility, or to please and applaud ourselves with the conceit of our being humble. True humility consists not in words, nor in the outside; but in the inward sentiments of the heart. 'Humility,' says St. Bernard, 'is a virtue by which a man, out of a most true knowledge of himself, becomes mean and contemptible in his own eye; so that for a man to be truly humble is to have a low opinion of himself, through the deep sense he has of his own unworthiness and of his sins; and therefore to despise himself and to be willing to be despised by all the world' See, my soul, if these be thy dispositions: if not thou art not truly humble.
Consider 2ndly, that the first degree of true humility is that which is expressed in the definition given by St. Bernard, viz., that we should have that knowledge of ourselves, and of all our miseries and sins; such a conviction of our having nothing at all to be proud of, and very many things that make us wretchedly mean and contemptible, as sincerely to despise ourselves: seeing there is nothing in us of good that is our own, and that whatsoever is in us of our own proper growth, or of our own stock, is all good for nothing, yea filthy and abominable. What room then can there be in us for any self-conceit, or self-esteem? How many and how pressing inducements have we to oblige us to think meanly of ourselves, and to despise ourselves? And yet how much does this unhappy pride prevail, in spite of all these humiliations which we carry about with us? Oh! let this misery of ours at least be a motive to despise ourselves the more!
Consider 3rdly, that the second degree of true humility advances us still farther, and makes us not only to despise ourselves, but to be willing and even desirous to be despised by all others; and that all others should have the same mean opinion of us as we pretend to have of ourselves. And indeed since in all things we are even willing to have others to be of the same opinion with ourselves, did we sincerely despise ourselves, we should certainly be glad that all others should have the same way of thinking as we have, and should in like manner despise us also. Alas! how far am I from these dispositions! The third and most sublime degree of humility is that of the saints, who in the midst of the greatest favours and highest elevations and all the supernatural gifts of divine grace are so established in God's truth as to ascribe nothing at all to themselves, but all to God: and by how much the more they are exalted by him, are so much the more mean in their own eyes, by descending so much the deeper into the abyss of their own nothingness. Happy they that in all things know how to distinguish what belongs to God, from that which belongs to themselves, and to reserve to themselves only which is their own, and to give all the rest to God!
Conclude to aim at ascending from step to step, by the help of the knowledge of thyself; and not to rest till thou arrivest at the perfection of humility. She will bring to thee all good things along with her, and conduct thee safe to the kingdom of God.
Consider first, that in order to acquire this most necessary virtue of humility we must have a great esteem for it; we must greatly desire it, and seek after it; we must earnestly pray for it every day of our lives, and must neglect no opportunity of learning it or improving ourselves in it by the practice of it - that is, by daily exercising ourselves in the acts of it. Now, as the humiliations which come to us either from the hand of God or man give us the best opportunity of practising or exercising humility, we must learn to welcome these humiliations, and to embrace them in such manner as to take occasion from them to humble ourselves daily both to God and man. For as we never shall learn patience without sufferings and crosses so we shall never learn humility without humiliations. But as in the sufferings and crosses which come to us through the hands of wicked men we must ever distinguish that which is the work and will of God from that which is the malice of men, so that we embrace the one whilst we detest the other; so likewise in our humiliations, if they be attended with the evil of sin, either of our own or of others, we must in such manner humble ourselves under them as to embrace the abjection or humiliation, whilst we abhor the sin.
Consider 2ndly, that in learning humility by practice it will be proper to proceed gradually by setting ourselves certain lessons, beginning with those that are more easy, and when these are learnt proceeding to such as are more difficult. Thus, for instance, let us begin by learning - 1. Not to seek in anything that we do the praise, esteem, or applause of man; nor to say one word tending directly or indirectly to our own praise or honour; but rather to mortify that inclination we have to be ever speaking of ourselves and of our own performances. 2. Never to excuse or palliate our own faults or defects, nor to fling the blame upon others. 3. Not to take pleasure in hearing ourselves praised nor in our being honoured or applauded by men; nor to be displeased at others being extolled or preferred before us. 4. Carefully to shun all occasions of honour and praise as far as we can, without being wanting to the duties of our calling. See, my soul, how much work is here cut out for thee, and yet these are but the beginnings of the virtue of humility.
Consider 3rdly, that to proceed in the practice of humility we must not content ourselves with the not seeking, nor affecting, nor taking any complacency in the praise, honour, and esteem of others, but rather shunning and flying from it; but, moreover, we must put off all self-esteem, and learn to despise ourselves from our hearts; and not to leave off till, according to the gospel lesson, we can, with all simplicity and sincerity, sit down in the lowest place, by giving the preference in our own esteem to all others before ourselves, and thinking ourselves the worst of all. Then as to the sentiments of others in our regard and their treatment of us, we are to proceed in the study and practice of humility by these three steps: 1. We are to learn to suffer with meekness and patience our being despised, reproached, or affronted by others. 2. We are to learn to receive this kind of treatment with a willingness and readiness of mind, and to be pleased with our being slighted and contemned. 3. We must even learn to embrace all these kinds of humiliations with joy, and not to stop till, with the apostle, we not only are dead to the world and to all it can say, either for us or against us; but we are even glad that we should be crucified to the world and the world to us.
Conclude to continue by a diligent application of both the study and practice of these great lessons till thou become perfect in them all, and go through the whole course of this heavenly science, the science of the saints.
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