1Pe_5:5. Be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.
AS words are nothing more than sounds whereby to convey ideas, it may seem of little importance what words are used, provided that the ideas annexed to them are sufficiently distinct. But I conceive, that the adopting of a word which was in use among the unenlightened heathen, and continuing to use it as they did, when from the superior light of Christianity, we know that all the sentiments and feelings originally annexed to it were bad, has a direct tendency to counteract the Gospel, and to perpetuate the darkness of heathenism in the land. I refer here to the word pride; which is frequently used in common conversation, and at the bar, and in the senate, yea and even in the pulpit too, in a good sense; as “a just pride,” and “an honest pride.” But I know no passage of Scripture that sanctions the feelings which are associated with that term: or, if the term be so explained as to convey nothing but what is consistent with Christianity, still I conceive that such an use of it is highly inexpedient, because it tends to foster in the mind an approbation of sentiments which are in direct opposition to the morality of the Gospel. Humility is the grace which alone becomes the Christian moralist; and the cherishing of any feeling contrary to humility, will, as the Apostle informs us in my text, expose us to God’s heaviest displeasure.
In confirmation of this, I will endeavour to unfold,
The duty here enjoined—
Humility is not a mere insulated grace, if I may so speak, like patience, or meekness, or any other virtue, but a feeling which pervades the whole man, and is called forth into exercise with every grace. Humility is that to the Christian which holiness is to the Deity. Holiness is not a distinct attribute of the Deity, like justice, or mercy, or power, but a perfection that is blended with all the other attributes, and is the crown and glory of them all. So humility is the warp in the Christian’s loom: and all other graces, whether of a lively or sombre hue, are the woof, by which the piece is diversified: but from beginning to end, humility pervades it all. On this account, I must speak of humility in a large and extended view, and notice it in all its actings, whether towards God or man.
But there is another reason why this grace must be thus extensively considered; namely, that the Apostle himself here speaks of it in this comprehensive view. If we look at the words which precede my text, we shall find that humility is spoken of as exercised towards men: but in the words immediately following my text, it is connected with our duty to God: “All of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace unto the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time.”
Let us then notice this grace,
As exercised towards God—
[Here it must begin. We cannot have one spark of real humility till we are abased before God, as guilty, helpless, and undone creatures, who have no hope but in the tender mercy of God in Christ Jesus. We must, as far as respects all hope in ourselves, feel ourselves in the very condition of the fallen angels, whose sin we have followed, and whose punishment we are doomed to share. Indeed, indeed, this is our very state, whether we know it or not: and it becomes us to seek the knowledge of it, and to live under a sense of it every day, and all the day long. We should never appear either before God or man in any other dress than this. It was the clothing of holy Job when in his most perfect state [Note: Job_42:5-6.]: and so far ought we to be from putting it off because God is reconciled towards us, that a sense of our acceptance with him through Christ should operate as an additional motive for making it the one continual habit of our minds [Note: Eze_16:63.]. Incessantly should we lie low before him in dust and ashes, and rely altogether upon “his mercy to pardon us, and his grace to help us in every time of need.”]
As exercised towards men—
[I forbear to mention any other exercises of this grace towards God, in order that I may keep the subject as simple and intelligible as I can. But in viewing its exercises towards man, I must of necessity diversify it somewhat more. Its chief actings will be found to consist in the following things: we must regard ourselves as the lowest of all; and be willing to be treated by others as the lowest of all; and gladly execute the meanest offices, as the lowest of all.
We must regard ourselves as the lowest of all; “esteeming others better than ourselves [Note: Php_2:3.],” and “preferring them in honour before ourselves [Note: Rom_12:10.],” and being ready in all places, and on all occasions, to “take the lowest place [Note: Luk_14:10.].” It is not indeed necessary that we should accuse ourselves of sins which we have not committed, or deny the superiority of virtue to vice: but we should have such a sense of the peculiar advantages we have enjoyed, and the infinite obligations we lie under, and the consequent aggravations that have attended the many evils which we have committed, that we should account ourselves “less than the least of all saints [Note: Eph_3:8.],” yea, the very “chief of sinners [Note: 1Ti_1:15.].”
Nor must we be offended if we be treated by others as deserving of this character. It is only from pride and a conceit of something good in us, that we are induced to lay to heart the contempt and ignominy that are cast upon us. If we are sincere in abhorring ourselves, it will be a small matter to us that we are abhorred by others. David deserved not the reproaches of his wife Michal: but, when he heard them, instead of being moved with indignation against her, he meekly replied, “I will be yet more vile than thus, and will be base in my own sight [Note: 2Sa_6:22.].” It was but a small matter to the holy Apostles, that they were considered “as the filth of the world, and the off-scouring of all things [Note: 1Co_4:13.]:” they knew that they deserved nothing but wrath and indignation at the hands of God; and, having obtained mercy of the Lord, they cared not what treatment they met with at the hands of men. To be rendered conformable to our Divine Master in the bitterest reproaches, or the most ignominious death, will, if we be truly humble, be a matter rather of joy and gratitude than of mourning and complaint.
At the same time we must be willing to take on ourselves the lowest offices. To become “the servant of all [Note: Mar_10:44.]” must be our highest ambition. Even the Lord of Glory himself, in the days of his flesh, came not to be ministered unto, but to minister: and this he did, even to the “washing of his disciples’ feet [Note: Joh_11:13-14.]:” yea, though he was in the form of God, and thought it not robbery to be equal with God, yet he took upon him the form of a servant, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” “This is the mind that should be in us [Note: Php_2:5-8.]:” and this is the example which, as far as circumstances will admit of it, we should follow.
Here is the perfection of humility: and this is the grace which every one of us should be putting on from day to day.]
Nothing can more strongly mark the importance of this duty, than,
The considerations with which it is enforced—
The declaration, that “God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble,” is cited from the book of Proverbs: and, that it deserves especial attention, is evident from this; that St. James, as well as St. Peter, adduces it for the warning and instruction of the Catholic Church [Note: See Jam_4:6.].
“God resisteth the proud”—
[He does so: he abhors the very persons of the proud: “they are an abomination to him [Note: Pro_6:16-17.]:” he perfectly scorns them [Note: Pro_3:34. This is the passage that is cited both by St. Peter and St. James.]: and “knows them afar off,” as objects whom he disdains to look upon [Note: Psa_138:6.].
He will not hear any prayer that they may offer up. See the Pharisee and the Publican. You would imagine that a man who could make such appeals to God, respecting his manifold and self-denying services, should surely find acceptance at the throne of grace; whilst a man so conscious of his vileness as the Publican was, and with so little to say in his own behalf, should, comparatively at least, be disregarded. But the very reverse was the case; for “the publican went down to his house justified rather than the other:” and this is declared to be the universal rule of God’s procedure; for that “every one who exalteth himself shall be abased; but he, and he only, that humbleth himself, shall be exalted [Note: Luk_18:14.].”
Nor will God communicate to such persons any spiritual blessing. Instead of drawing them to himself, “he will scatter the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He will fill the hungry with good things, but the rich he will send empty away [Note: Luk_1:51; Luk_1:53.].” Their “esteeming themselves to be rich and increased in goods, and to have need of nothing, when they are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked,” renders them perfectly disgusting in his sight: and the higher they are in their own estimation, the more he nauseates and abhors them [Note: Rev_3:16-17.].
But this is not all; for he will surely fight against them, to bring them down. Nebuchadnezzar from his own experience attested, that “those who walk in pride, God is able to abase;” and he might with truth have added also, is determined to abase. For the Prophet Isaiah has plainly warned us, that “the lofty looks of men shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down; and the Lord alone shall be exalted: for the day of the Lord of Hosts shall be upon every one that is proud and lofty, and upon every one that is lifted up; and he shall be brought low [Note: Isa_2:11-12.].”
Now, I pray you, let this consideration be duly weighed, in order that you may with zeal and earnestness address yourselves to the duty that is here inculcated. If you bring not a broken and contrite spirit before God, and if you exercise not a spirit of meekness and lowliness before men, think not that God will ever look with complacency upon you, or acknowledge himself as your friend: for assuredly he is, and will be, your enemy, and will sooner or later resent the dishonour which you do unto him. He may not inflict on you such judgments as he did on Nebuchadnezzar or on Herod: if he only leave you to yourselves, you will soon find what an evil and bitter thing it is to cherish such a disposition in your hearts: for, as “pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall [Note: Pro_16:18.],” you may expect the effects of a spiritual dereliction; you may expect, that, “being lifted up with pride, you will fall into the condemnation of the devil [Note: 1Ti_3:6.].”]
He “giveth grace unto the humble”—
[What will he not do for those who are of an humble and contrite spirit? If there were but one such object in the whole universe, God would look through all the shining ranks of angels that surround his throne, and fix his eyes on him [Note: Isa_66:2.]: he would even come down to him, and dwell with him; yea, and dwell with him for the express purpose of comforting and reviving his drooping soul [Note: Isa_57:15.]. If he offered up a prayer, God would hear and answer it [Note: Job_33:27-28.]: if, on any sudden emergency, he only poured forth a cry, God would attend to it, and not forget it [Note: Psa_9:12.]: and if there were only a desire in his heart, even that should be noted, in order to satisfy and fulfil it [Note: Psa_10:17.]. See this exemplified in King Josiah. God had determined to destroy Jerusalem: but because Josiah was of an humble spirit, he would first take him to himself, and not suffer him to witness the calamities which were coming upon his nation: “Because thine heart was tender, and thou didst humble thyself before God, when thou heardest his words against this place, and against the inhabitants thereof, and humbledst thyself before me, and didst rend thy clothes, and weep before me, I have even heard thee also, saith the Lord [Note: 2Ch_34:27.].” See it yet more strongly illustrated in the case of the most wicked man that perhaps ever existed upon the face of the earth, the man that made the very streets of Jerusalem to run down with the blood of innocents, and set up his idols in the very House of God: see it, I say, in the case of King Manasseh; of whom it is said, “When he was in affliction, he besought the Lord his God, and humbled him greatly before the God of his fathers, and prayed unto him:” behold! of this man it is said, “God was entreated of him, and heard his supplication [Note: 2Ch_33:12-13.].”
Say now, whether here be not encouragement enough to seek humility? Find an humble person to whom God ever refused any thing. You cannot. A humble person may be “cast down for a time; but he shall soon be lifted up: for God will save the humble person [Note: Job_22:29.].”]
What shall I then add to these considerations?
[You need no other inducement to work either upon your hopes or fears. To have God your enemy, determined to “resist you,” would be the greatest evil that could befall you: but to have him your friend, pledged to supply you with all the blessings of grace and glory, would be the summit of human bliss. Commending then this alternative to your devoutest meditations, I would say to all of you, in the animated language of the prophet, “Awake, awake, put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city [Note: Isa_52:1.].” There is nothing so “becoming to one of God’s elect, as humbleness of mind [Note: Col_3:12.],” nor any ornament he can wear so pleasing to his God [Note: 1Pe_3:4.]. Come then, beloved, and clothe yourselves with humility; and wear it so at all times, that you may be known by it, as a man is by his accustomed dress: so shall “God be glorified in you,” and all who behold you be compelled to “acknowledge, that God is with you of a truth.”]