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ROM. xii. 3.
For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every
man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think ; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.
Each of the virtues which God requires us to practise, may be considered, either as being seated in our hearts, or exerted in our behaviour. That which the text enjoins, taken in the first of these views, consists in forming a right judgment of our own qualifications, rank, and circumstances. If any one hath already no more than a just opinion of these, he hath no need to lower it. But because we almost universally conceive too high notions of ourselves; condescending to entertain and act upon true and reasonable ones, hath acquired the name of humility or lowliness. And our obligation to be humble in heart, comprehends the following particulars: that we never imagine ourselves to have any pre-eminences or accomplishments, that we have not; nor esteem such as we have beyond their undoubted value: that we attend to our own faults and deficiencies, no less than the things in which we excel : that we be not fond of comparing ourselves with others; and, that, if ever we do make such comparisons, we make them fairly, and with proper diffidence; and extend them to the persons by whom, and the cases in which, we are likeliest to be outdone : that we often call to mind the meanness, the frailties, the infirmities, the uncertainties of our mortal state ; the immense numbers of known, and probably of unknown, orders of beings, adorned with glories, though finite, yet far beyond human conception; and the absolutely boundless perfections of our and their Creator: to whose voluntary gift what any of us enjoys above another, is owing: who can deprive us the moment he pleases, of our most favourite advantages; and will demand from us one day a serious account of the use that we have made of them; which the best of us all must be sensible, and few of us, if any, are sensible enough, hath in many respects been a wrong and a bad one.
This then is the first part of humility ; bringing down to real truth the exalted imaginations, that are strangely apt to get possession of us. The remaining one, after thinking reasonably and modestly, is acting so. But in order to this, two previous rules must be observed.
1. The first is, to keep always in our minds the right estimation, which we are now supposed to have formed of ourselves; and especially to remember the mortifying parts of it: for the others we seldom forget. Some persons, indeed, are addicted, above all at some times, to look only on the dark side of things, and they should be directed with prudence to dwell proportionably on the more cheering views. But the sole caution which the generality need is, to moderate their fondness for the pleasing employment of contemplating the advantageous part of their own characters or circumstances. And every one, the
greater bias he perceives in himself that way, for he may soon perceive it if he will, should apply the greater watchfulness to correct it.
2. The second rule is, that, be our rank amongst our fellow-creatures, in any respect, as low as it will, we must accommodate our minds to it, and never indulge any fraudulent affectations of seeming superior to what we are. All persons indeed, not only should improve themselves, but may also mend their situation, by every lawful method they can.
And so far as mere silence in the mean time is a concealment, it is a very innocent one. But to talk or behave unsuitably to our condition, in order to make a better figure than we have a right to make, is by no means allowable : nor even to be inwardly disturbed at its being such as we find it. Our present station is what the providence of God hath for the present placed us in: and who are we, to say or think it is beneath us? We are not to choose the part that we shall have to act on the stage of life: and if we are wise, we shall be glad that we are not. Well suffice, if, whatever is assigned us, we acted properly. Doing this with cheerfulness, we shall be acceptable to God, and approved of men*: whereas, he who labours to procure honour by cheating the world with false appearances, will be always uneasy in himself, and soon detached and despised by other men.
So that indeed to live in a lie is no more prudent than lawful.
Resolving therefore to preserve constantly in our thoughts what we really are, and be contented not to pass for more; let us examine, what behaviour must appear to us, in such a state of mind, ration
* Rom. xiv. 18.
ally humble; first towards our superiors, then our equals, and lastly our inferiors.
I. To our superiors in any kind, evidently we ought to pay, readily and freely, all that submission, which is their due: and if we perceive within, a reluctance to acknowledge their superiority, or an eagerness to dispute the degree of it, we should mark that for a sure indication and bad symptom of pride.
One sort of pride there is, almost too shocking to mention, of which yet the human heart is frequently guilty : pride against God. This we shew in a dreadful manner, when we can hardly condescend to humble ourselves before him, and worship him; or seem ashamed of the homage that we pay him : when we take upon us to choose, which of his laws we will obey, and which not: when we vainly pry into the secrets, that he hath hidden; or presume to despise, either the plainness, or the mysteriousness, of what he hath revealed : when we venture to commit sins, in confidence that our imagined virtues will compensate for them; or treat the Gospel terms of forgiveness, through the merits of a crucified Saviour, as too degrading: when we ascribe to ourselves the good actions, which he enables us to do, or the prosperity, which he grants us to enjoy ; or at any time express or conceive indignation at his disposal of the affairs of his own world. As the humility, which we owe to our Maker, is beyond comparison the deepest; so must a failure in it be unspeakably the most criminal. Therefore let us watch over ourselves in this article with the utmost care.
And, in the next place, as to our earthly superiors : whatever persons have authority over us, more or less, let us willingly pay them the obedience, and
the respect, which belongs to their station ; accepting with all thankfulness the benefits, that we receive from their superintendence; and making such equitable allowances for their mistakes and frailties as we, in the same circumstances, might perhaps have much greater need of, than we can easily imagine: not exercising ourselves in matters, that are too high for us *; nor fancying, that every one is qualified and situated to judge of every thing. Whatever persons are in rank above us, though without authority, let us give them all such demonstrations of honourable regard, as may prove our acquiescence in the distributions of a wise, though unsearchable providence, as may strengthen the subordinations, which are necessary in society; and procure us a return of good-will and esteem. Those who have either naturally better understandings, or a larger share of acquired knowledge ; let us pay, not an unlimited, but a reasonable deference to their judgments, and take pleasure in learning from them. Those who are noted for piety and virtue; let us reverence and love them, and make them our patterns. In a word : whoever hath any pre-eminence of any sort, our duty is on all fit occasions to own it, both in word and deed : not with artful contrivances to depreciate what we profess to recognize; but with such fairness and simplicity, as we should expect ourselves.
II. Towards our equals, humility of behaviour consists in shewing, that we are satisfied to live with them on equal terms; being kindly affectioned to them with brotherly love, and in honour preferring them t, as the Apostle exhorts, a few verses after the text: not demanding the respect, that we dislike to pay again; but setting the example of courteous and * Psalm cxxxi. 2.
+ Rom. xii. 10.