Humility is the proper estimate of oneself.
They lay their crowns before the throne and say: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.
When God created the universe, it was with the objective of making those he created partakers of his perfection and blessedness, thus showing forth the glory of his love and wisdom and power. God desired to reveal himself in and through his creatures by communicating to them as much of his own goodness and glory as they were capable of receiving. But this communication was not meant to give created beings something they could possess in themselves, having full charge and access apart from him. Rather, God as the ever-living, ever-present, ever-acting One, who upholds all things by the word of his power, and in whom all things exist, meant that the relationship of his creatures to himself would be one of unceasing, absolute dependence. As truly as God by his power once created all things, so by that same power must God every moment maintain all things. We as his creatures have not only to look back to the origin and beginning of our existence and acknowledge that we owe everything to God – our chief care, highest virtue, and only happiness, now and throughout all eternity – but we must also present ourselves as empty vessels, in which God can dwell and manifest his power and goodness.
The life God bestows is imparted not once for all but each moment by the unceasing operation of his mighty power. Humility, the place of entire dependence upon God, is from the very nature of things the first duty and the highest virtue of his creatures.
And so pride – the loss of humility – is the root of every sin and evil. It was when the now-fallen angels began to look upon themselves with self-complacency that they were led to disobedience and were cast down from the light of Heaven into outer darkness. Likewise, it was when the serpent breathed the poison of his pride – the desire to be as God – into the hearts of our first parents, that they too fell from their high estate into the wretchedness to which all humankind has sunk. In Heaven and on Earth, pride of self-exaltation is the very gateway to hell.
And so it follows that nothing can save us but the restoration of our lost humility, the original and only true relationship of the creature to its God. And so Jesus came to bring humility back to Earth, to make us partakers of it, and by it to save us. In Heaven he humbled himself to become a man. The humility we see in him possessed him in Heaven; it brought him here. Here on Earth, “He humbled himself and became obedient to death”; his humility gave his death its value, and so became our redemption. And now the salvation he imparts is nothing less and nothing else than a communication of his own life and death, his own disposition and spirit, his own humility, as the ground and root of his relationship with God and his redeeming work. Jesus Christ took the place and fulfilled the destiny of man as a creature by his life of perfect humility. His humility became our salvation. His salvation is our humility.
The life of those who are saved, the saints, must bear this stamp of deliverance from sin and full restoration to their original state; their whole relationship to God and to man marked by an all-pervading humility. Without this there can be no true abiding in God’s presence or experience of his favor and the power of his Spirit; without this no abiding faith or love or joy or strength. Humility is the only soil in which virtue takes root; a lack of humility is the explanation of every defect and failure. Humility is not so much a virtue along with the others, but is the root of all, because it alone takes the right attitude before God and allows him, as God, to do all.
God has so constituted us as reasonable beings that the greater the insight into the true nature or the absolute need of a command, the quicker and more complete will be our obedience to it. The call to humility has been too little regarded in the church because its true nature and importance have been too little apprehended. It is not something that we bring to God, or that he bestows; it is simply the sense of entire nothingness that comes when we see how truly God is everything. When the creature realizes that this is a place of honor, and consents to be – with his will, his mind, and his affections – the vessel in which the life and glory of God are to work and manifest themselves, he sees that humility is simply acknowledging the truth of his position as creature and yielding to God his place.
In the life of earnest Christians who pursue and profess holiness, humility ought to be the chief mark of their uprightness. Often it is said that this is not the case. Perhaps one reason is that the teaching and example of the church has not placed the proper importance on humility. As strong as sin is a motive for it, there is one still wider and mightier influence: it is that which made the angels, Jesus himself, and the holiest saints humble. It is the first and chief mark of the relationship of the creature to God, of the Son to the Father – it is the secret of blessedness, the desire to be nothing, that allows God to be all-in-all.
I am sure there are many Christians who will confess that their experience has been very much like my own. I had long known the Lord without realizing that meekness and lowliness of heart are to be the distinguishing feature of the disciple, just as they were of the Master. And further, that this humility is not something that will come of itself, but that it must be made the object of special desire, prayer, faith, and practice. As we study the Word, we will see what very distinct and oft-repeated instructions Jesus gave his disciples on this point, and how slow they were to understand them.
Let us at the very outset of our meditations, then, admit that there is nothing so natural to man, nothing so insidious and hidden from our sight, nothing so difficult and dangerous as pride. And acknowledge that nothing but a very determined and persevering waiting on God will reveal how lacking we are in the grace of humility and how powerless we are to obtain what we seek. We must study the character of Christ until our souls are filled with the love and admiration of his lowliness. We must believe that when we are broken under a sense of pride and our inability to cast it out, Jesus Christ himself will come to impart this grace as a part of his wonderful life within us.