I used to think that God’s gifts were on shelves – one above another – and the taller we grow, the easier we can reach them. Now I find that God’s gifts are on shelves – and the lower we stoop, the more we get. (F. B. Meyer)
He who humbles himself will be exalted. (Luke 14:11; 18:14)
God gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. (James 4:6, 10)
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. (1 Peter 5:6)
Recently I was asked the question, “How can I overcome my pride?” The answer is simple. Two things are needed. Do what God says to do: humble yourself. Trust him to do what he says he will do: he will exalt you.
The command is clear. But to humble yourself does not mean that you must conquer and cast out the pride of your nature and then from within yourself the lowliness of Jesus. No, this is God’s work. He lifts you up into the true likeness of his beloved Son. What the command does mean is this: take every opportunity to humble yourself before God and man. In the faith of the grace that is already working in you; in the assurance of the grace for the victory that is yet to be; stand persistently under the unchanging command: humble yourself. Accept with gratitude everything that God allows from within or without, from friend or enemy, in nature or in grace, to remind you of your need for humbling and to help you in it. Reckon humility to be the mother-virtue, your very first duty before God, the one perpetual safeguard of the soul, and set your heart upon it as the source of all blessing. The promise is divine and sure: He that humbles himself shall be exalted. See that you do the one thing that God asks, and he will see that he does the one thing he has promised. He will give more grace; he will exalt you in due time.
All God’s dealings with man are characterized by two stages. There is the time of preparation, when command and promise, with the mingled experience of effort and impotence, of failure and partial success, with the holy expectancy of something better, that these waken, train, and discipline men for a higher stage. Then comes the time of fulfillment, when faith inherits the promise and enjoys what it had so often struggled for in vain. This law holds good in every part of the Christian life and in the pursuit of every separate virtue. And that is because it is grounded in the very nature of things. In all that concerns our redemption, God must take the initiative. When that has been done, it is man’s turn. In the effort after obedience and attainment, he must learn to know his powerlessness, in self-despair to die to himself, and so be fitted voluntarily and intelligently to receive from God the end, the completion of that which he had accepted in the beginning in ignorance. So God who had been the Beginning before man rightly knew him or fully understood what his purpose was, is longed for and welcomed as the End, as the All in All.
It is so, too, in the pursuit of humility. To every Christian the command comes from the throne of God himself: humble yourself. The earnest attempt to listen and obey will be rewarded with the painful discovery of two things: the depth of our pride, and the powerlessness of all our efforts to destroy it. Blessed is the man who has learned to put his hope in God. We know the law of human nature: acts produce habits, habits breed dispositions, dispositions form the will, and the rightly formed will becomes the character. It is no different in the work of grace. As acts, persistently repeated, beget habits and dispositions, and these strengthen the will, he who works both to will and to do in us comes with his mighty power and Spirit; and the humbling of the proud heart with which the penitent saint so often casts himself before God is rewarded with the “more grace” of the humble heart.
Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he will exalt you. It cannot be repeated too often. The highest glory of the creature is in being a vessel, to receive and enjoy and show forth the glory of God. It can do this only as it is willing to be nothing in itself, that God may be everything. Water always fills first the lowest places. The lower, the emptier a man lies before God, the speedier and the fuller will be the inflow of the divine glory. The exaltation God promises is not, cannot be, any external thing apart from himself: all that he has to give or can give is only more of himself, in order that he might take the more complete possession. The exaltation is not, like an Earthly prize, something arbitrary, in no connection with the conduct to be rewarded. It is in its very nature the effect and result of the humbling of ourselves. It is nothing but the gift of such a divine indwelling humility, such a conformity to and possession of the humility of the Lamb of God, as fits us for receiving fully the indwelling of God.
He that humbles himself shall be exalted. Of the truth of these words Jesus himself is the proof; of the certainty of their fulfillment to us he is the pledge. Let us take his yoke upon us and learn of him, for he is meek and lowly of heart. If we are but willing to stoop to him, as he has stooped to us, he will yet stoop to each one of us again, and we shall find ourselves not unequally yoked with him. As we enter deeper into the fellowship of his humiliation – and either humble ourselves or bear the humbling of men – we can count upon the fact that the Spirit of his exaltation, “the Spirit of God and of glory,” will rest upon us. The presence and the power of the glorified Christ will come to them that are of a humble spirit. When God can again have his rightful place in us, he will lift us up. Make his glory your motivation to humble yourself; he will make your glory his motivation to perfect your humility. As the all-pervading life of God possesses you, there will be nothing so natural or sweet as to be nothing, with no thought or wish for self, because all is occupied with him. “I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me,” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Have we not here the reason that our consecration and our faith have availed so little in the pursuit of holiness? It was by self and its strength that the work was done under the name of faith; it was for self and its happiness that God was called in; it was, unconsciously, but still truly, in self and its holiness that the soul rejoiced. We never knew that humility – absolute, abiding, Christ-like humility – and self-effacement, pervading and marking our whole life with God and man, was the most essential element of the life of holiness for which we sought.
It is only in the possession of God that I lose myself. As it is in the height and breadth and glory of the sunshine that the smallest speck dancing in its beams is seen, even so humility is taking our place in God’s presence to be nothing but a speck dancing in the sunlight of his love.
How great is God! How small we are! Lost, swallowed up, in love’s immensity!
May God teach us to believe that to be humble, to be nothing in his presence, is the highest attainment and the fullest blessing of the Christian life. He speaks to us: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit,” (Isaiah 57:15).
Oh, to be emptier, lowlier
Mean, unnoticed, and unknown,
And to God a vessel holier,
Filled with Christ, and Christ alone!