Page images
PDF
EPUB

the most sensible of their failures, because they have the most lively perception of true excellence: and hence, in part, arises their remarkable humility; as the strongest lights cast the deepest shadows. It seems, indeed, only necessary to have a just view of the holiness of God, in order to feel our own sinfulness. Let us but consider the extent of the law of Love, let us even recollect what have been our own sentiments and convictions; and if the comparison of our daily habits with these standards, does pot awaken shame and contrition, it cannot be “because we have performed much, but because we can conceive little." Or if we feel disposed to soften down our errors into imperfections, and plead guilty to deficiencies rather than sins, let us call in aid another consideration. By what power is it that we are preserved from the most flagitious offences? Are we sustained by our own strength? Is it the steady light of Reason that conducts us so safely through the clouds and darkness around us? Is it the holy fire of Spiritual Affection, purifying the air we breathe, and consuming the foul vapours that threaten to extinguish it? Woe were it for the best, if these were his only confidence. They who have known the force of temptation, and felt even for a little while that awful conflict, which many are ordained to feel, between the principles of holiness and the powers of evil, have learned by painful experience a lesson of higher wisdom. They tremble even at the recollection of their dangers; they are deeply sensible of the high import of that solemn admonition, “watch and pray that ye enter not into temptation;" they acknowledge with mingled confusion and thankfulness, that abandoned to their own strength they had perished for ever; and emptied of every vain and lofty thought,

they commit themselves in the fulness of faith, to that Almighty Saviour, whose power hath “led captivity captive," whose Spirit hath gone forth “conquering and to conquer.” I know not indeed any consideration more calculated than this, to humble the loftiest spirit. We are walking as it were on a single plank over a fathomless precipice. Thousands are falling around us the victims of. their temerity, and our own feet are continually failing ; a Heavenly Power sustains, a Heavenly arm directs, a Heavenly smile invites us forward. Can we doubt what is the disposition which best becomes our weakness and is the most necessary to our safety?

The blessed Grace which we are contemplating, is recommended to us by another consideration, which to a Christian should be above all others delightful and endearing. It is the temper of mind which our Redeemer has peculiarly invited us to “ learn of him.”

With a simplicity and a dignity which have no parallel, he declared of himself, that “he was meek and lowly in spirit,” and he has called on all who hear him, to bow their necks to his gentle yoke, that they may “find rest unto their souls.” And shall we not rejoice in the lessons of such an Instructer? What he has done for us entitles him surely to some regard; his perfect excellence may claim at least a faint imitation. Can we desire to be greater or more honourable than our Saviour? Can we doubt that he well knew how to appreciate and to attain both true greatness and lasting honour? Or be it that he has called us to shame and degradation; to the abandonment of many things we could have desired, and a submission even to some indignities: The path to which we are invited has been trodden by our Redeemer and our God. We walk, as it were, on hallowed earth; every step is consecrated by the memorials of his presence. There is something in the constitution of nature, which to a generous mind makes the renunciation of those things which are conimonly desired for the sake of a beloved object, more delightful, as it is far more ennobling, than the satisfaction of possessing them. And such, in a still higher measure, is every sacrifice, even the “ loss of all,” that we “may win Christ.” To partake willingly in his humility and abasement here, while it forms us to a capacity for the highest enjoyments, will afford, I am persuaded, the truest foretaste of the happiness prepared for us in the participation of his glory hereafter.

Excepting Love, which is “the fulfilling of the Law," Humility is perhaps the most comprehensive of all the Christian graces. It resembles indeed that first of virtues, in this striking peculiarity, that, diffusing its influence in different directions, it embraces the relations which connect us both to God and to man. With reference to our Heavenly Benefactor it implies the feeling acknowledgment of our guilt and unworthiness; filial Reverence and Fear; an entire Reliance upon the merits of our Saviour; a willing Submission to the dictates and impressions of the Spirit; Patience under God's fatherly chastisements; perfect Resignation to his holy will. In respect to Man, it supposes a Readiness to yield the superiority to others, and an Inclination to believe them to be wiser and better than ourselves; a hearty Indifference both for ourselves and our families, to the possession of rank, station, honours, wealth, and whatever is allied to worldly conséquence and applause; Meekness under every provocation; Contentment in every condition. Humility is in truth the expression of many heavenly graces; like that original white in the na

tural world, which includes in its composition the other colours, and is itself the purest of them all.

It cannot reasonably surprize us, that a temper so excellent as this, should in general be acquired rather slowly; and seldom be found on earth in its perfect state. The Teachers of Religion have always complained of the difficulty they experience in persuading men thoroughly to renounce all self-righteousness, and receive the offers of free grace as unworthy sinners; and it is probable that this repugnance to the humbling doctrines of the Gospel, has been the reason why some have been too apt to consider the acceptance of these truths, as alone deciding the character, and comprehending almost the whole of Religion. Yet without questioning in any degree the indisposition of men to the reception of these truths, it may reasonably be doubted whether that branch of Humility which respects our fellow-creatures, is not practically the most difficult of attainment. God is so excellent, and man in his own nature 80 evil, that it is really astonishing that the doctrine of Salvation by free grace should find much opposition; it is as if one tottering under a palsy, or sinking under an atrophy, should refuse cordials, from a confidence in the strength of his constitution. Submission also to the Divine authority is powerfully taught, by that necessity which none can resist, and of which all are conscious; and it is the less offensive to us, because between man and his Maker there can be no semblance of equality. But when we descend to the field of earthly competitions, the character of the question alters. Here we are surrounded by thousands who are only a little stronger or weaker, a little more knowing or more ignorant than ourselves. We act with beings of whom many are proud, and vain, and selfish, and unreasonable, and unfeeling. We see artificial distinctions allied to natural imbecillity, and powerful qualities debased by vice. All these things dispose us to sustain with some jealousy our claims to consideration; and unhappily we have the example of multitudes, acting as if nothing was insupportable but the want of worldly consequence. It is no easy matter to resist entirely the contagion of such a distemper. Yet the renunciation of lofty thoughts and projects, is but the first lesson of Christian meekness. What self-denial, what self-discipline are necessary before we acquire that fine edge and temper of soul, which can resist the sharpest provocations; that benign humility which rew ceives an affront and a courtesy almost with equal sweetness! How spiritual, how holy, how elevated must be that mind, which can contemplate exaltation and obw scurity, poverty and riches, with an equal aspect; or rather which can prefer the conditions which others fear, because they are most congenial to the character and most favourable to the cultivation of a true lowliness. Perfect Humility is perfect disinterestedness; the annihilation of every selfish desire, imagination, and action. It is the foundation and best ally of true Benevolence, banishing all those anxieties and competitions which obstruct the diffusion of affectionate sentiments; opening every source of Love, and giving it to flow around in a full and tranquil stream of benignant happiness. !. Yet let not the extent and perfection of this grace tempt us to suppose that it is unattainable, or that few can be expected to aspire to such a height in Holiness. A considerable measure of true Humility is essential to the very existence of Religion; nor have we any solid reason for believing that it is possessed even in the smallest de

« PreviousContinue »