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is said to have made on the subject of eloquence. It seemed to have been the intention of that great man to insinuate, that lowliness of mind, in the full extent of its operation, included nearly the whole of practical religion.
Humility may be considered in two views; either as it respects the Divine Being, or as it respects our fellow-creatures,-humility before God, or as it affects our sentiments and conduct towards men. But, while this distinction is admitted, it must be carefully remembered, that it is no longer a christian virtue than when it originates in just conceptions of the great Parent of the universe; that the basis of all social excellence, of a moral nature, is in a right state of the heart towards God. The virtues which are severed from that stock will soon languish and decay; and as they are destitute of proper principle, so are they neither stable nor permanent.
In this discourse we shall confine ourselves to the consideration of humility, in its aspect towards the Supreme Being; or, in other words, humility before God. It may be defined as consisting in that profound, habitual conviction of our nothingness, guilt and pollution before God, which a just knowledge of ourselves will necessarily inspire. It is the rectitude of this conviction, it is its perfect conformity to the real nature of things, which renders it the object of divine approbation. It is the agreement betwixt the lowliness of our minds and the debasement of our character, and
the depression of our state, which invests it with all its beauty, and all its value. The gracious notice which this disposition attracts is not owing to any intrinsic excellence in the object, any more than in lofty sentiments connected with a reflection on ourselves; but solely because a deep humiliation coincides with our true state and characters, as surveyed by the eye of Omniscience. In a word, it is the justness and the correctness of the feelings and convictions which enter into the composition of a humble mind, which give it all its worth.
Pride is the growth of blindness and darkness; humility, the product of light and knowledge : and while the former has its origin in a mistaken and delusive estimate of things, the latter is as much the offspring of truth, as it is the parent of virtue.
Let it be observed, that the disposition under consideration is not an occasional feeling arising from some sudden and momentary impulse; it is not a transitory depression, produced by some unexpected disclosure: in the good man, it is an habitual state of feeling; it is the quality in which his mind is uniformly attired; he is “ clothed with humility.” Wide and diffusive as its operation is, some conception of it may be formed by attending to the following observations :
1. Humility in the sight of God will have a powerful influence on all our thoughts and reflections; on ourselves, on our character, condition, and prospects: a sense of inherent meanness and unworthiness in the sight of God will adhere closely to us, and will insensibly, and without effort, mingle with every recollection of the Supreme Being. A sort of self-annihilation before him will be natural and habitual; and by a recollection of his majesty, and a consciousness of our utter unworthiness to appear in his presence, we shall be no strangers to that ingenuous shame which will scarcely permit us to lift up our eyes to heaven. Under the influence of this principle, we shall be more apt to think of our faults than our virtues; of the criminal defects with which we are chargeable, than of any pretensions to excellence we may suppose ourselves to possess.
Our faults are our own; they originate entirely in ourselves; to us belong all their demerit and their shame: while, for whatever inherent good we may possess, we are indebted to divine grace, which has alone made us to differ. While there is none to share with us the baseness and turpitude of our sinful actions, our virtues are to be ultimately traced to a source out of ourselves. Hence, whatever is wrong in our dispositions and conduct lays a foundation for unmingled humiliation; what is of an opposite nature supplies no pretext for unmingled self-complacency. Besides, it requires but little attention to perceive that our sins admit of no apology, while our highest attainments in holiness are accompanied by much imperfection : so that, while every pretension to merit is defeated, our demerits are real and substantial. True
humbleness of mind will dispose us to form that correct estimate of ourselves, which can only result from an attention to the heart; the secret movements of which we may often perceive to be irregular and depraved, where the external conduct is correct; and innumerable pollutions and disorders may be detected there, by Him“ who seeth in secret,” when all that is visible to man is innocent and laudable.
Here a prospect is opened to the contemplation of humble piety, which suggests occasion of abasement and humility before God, where [our friends see nothing but matter of commendation and applause. It is this habit of inspecting the interior of the character, and of carrying the animadversions of conscience to the inmost thoughts and imaginations of the heart, that accounts for that unfailing lowliness and humility before God which is the constant appendage of exalted piety; and which reconciles the highest elevations of religion with the depths of self-abasement. This is sufficient to preserve alive a constant sense of deficiency in the most advanced christian ; of scattering every idea of “ having already attained,” and of “ being already perfect ;” and to urge him to press forward towards the prize with unabating ardour. This was the spirit of the great apostle of the Gentiles, * and of the most illustrious heroes in the cause of Christ. The self-reflective faculty is, by the constitution
* Phil. iii. 12–14.
of our minds, so incessantly active, and the idea of self of such frequent occurrence, that its effect on the character must be extremely different, according as it turns to the view its fairest or its darkest side. The habit on which we now speak, of directing the attention to criminal defects rather than to the excellencies of the character, is not only the dictate of humility, it is the absolute suggestion of prudence. Excellencies are not inspired by being often contemplated. He who delights to survey them, contributes nothing by that exercise to their prosperity or growth; on the contrary, he will be tempted to rest in the self-complacency they inspire, and to relax his efforts for improvement. Their purity and lustre are best preserved in a state of seclusion from the gaze even of the possessor. But, with respect to the faults and imperfections with which we are encompassed, it is just the reverse;the more they are reflected on, the more fully they are detected and exposed, the greater is the probability that their growth will be impeded, and a virtuous resolution evinced to extirpate and subdue them. To think much upon our sins and imperfections, is to turn ourselves to that quarter in which our business lies. Meditating much on our virtues and good deeds is a useless occupation, since they will thrive best when abandoned to a partial oblivion.
Some consciousness, indeed, [in the christian,] of his possessing the features of a renovated mind,