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for the meat that perisheth, that you shall not fail of success.: "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord; forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord," 1 Cor. xv. 58.
Put on, therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering.
HE first instance of being wise for ourselves, is to put the principal value upon that part of ourselves which is most noble and durable, our souls, and to use our main diligence for securing their welfare. It is another branch of wisdom, to make a right estimate of ourselves, compared with other beings, either above us or of the same order with ourselves. Christian humility is the very temper of which such a thought will lead us. And that is to be our present subject.
St. Paul, in the 9th and 10th verses of this chapter, expresses his charitable hope of the Colossians, that they had
put off the old man with his deeds, and had put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge, after the image of him that created him." And hereupon, in the text, and some following verses, he enumerates several particular excellencies, which are parts of the new man, and, therefore, he exhorts those Colossians to put them on.
If any should say,
Since the apostle had already supposed that they had put them on, why does he yet exhort them to do so? especially why does he therefore exhort them to it?"
The answer is plain. His charitable hope was founded upon their avowed profession of Christianity, which was, in other words, a profession to have put on the new man: he, therefore, justly exhorts them to shew that this their possession was sincere and genuine; and his hope, concerning them, well founded, by all the actual and proper expressions of a renewed disposition. Or, supposing them to have been undoubtedly renewed already, yet there would be room for improvement and advance in every part of the Christian temper; and, therefore, they should still put on the new man more and more, daily grow. in the strength, and activity, and just expressions of every holy disposition. Among these, humbleness of mind, our present subject, is reckoned up for one.
My business shall be,
I. To explain the nature of this holy temper. And,
II. To shew the special obligations which lie upon us, as Christians, to cultivate it.
I. I would explain the nature of this temper, or shew wherein true humility of mind consists.
The word raTopgooúvn which is here, and in several other places of the New Testament, used to express this Christian virtue, signifies, in general, a low apprehension, or esteem: and from the scope of the places, though the word does not directly express so much, it must mean a low apprehension, or esteem, of ourselves. I think the apostle's exhortation, in Rom. xii. 3. is a natural paraphrase upon that in the text: "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." It stands directly opposed to pride and arrogance. Generally the word is used in scripture in a good sense, but twice in one chapter of this epistle in a bad one, Col. ii. 18, 23. for a base and unworthy subjection of mind; which shews, that there is occasion to guard against mistakes in this matter, as well as to illustrate the excellent temper designed to be expressed by it.
It is farther to be observed, that the word leads us to consider it principally as a disposition of mind suitable to the scheme I am upon. There may be a seeming humiliation of outward expression and behaviour, which covers a very proud heart.
But Christians are called to put on humbleness of mind, and not only a humble demeanour; though humility in the heart will certainly produce the proper fruits in the behavi
The actings of this temper will be best discerned in a relative view, as we entertain a humble opinion of ourselves, compared either with God, or with our fellow-creatures. And the description of it, as well as the distinguishing of it from what is unworthy and unbecoming, may, I think, naturally fall under the following particulars.
1. A humble apprehension of our own knowledge: "Knowledge," St Paul observes, "puffeth up," is very apt to do so, 1 Cor. viii. 1. There is nothing which men are more ready to be proud of, and to think better of themselves, in, beyond desert. Many would sooner bear a reflection upon their moral character, than upon their understandings. One would think the serpent was early sensible that this was man's weak side, when he made use of that artifice to seduce our first parents, to assure them, that if they would but follow his counsel," they should be as gods, knowing good and evil," Gen. iii. 5. And we may remember what an unhallowed flame this kindled in their inclination. And though they soon had sad evidence of the falsehood and folly of the suggestion; yet, notwithstanding so clear a confutation, there is no part of original sin which they seem to have conveyed more universally, and more strongly, to their posterity, than a proud surmise, that they have gained what the devil then promised. No branch of pride hath more need of a cure, though, indeed, none hath less to support it, than conceit of our own knowledge: "Vain man would be wise," and would be esteemed wise, "though he be born like the wild ass's colt," Job xi. 12. Now, the beginning of humility, and, indeed, of true wisdom, lies in moderating our conceit of our own sufficiency this way. And so it will include,
(1.) A sense of the natural imperfection of our faculties. There is indeed a dignity in our natures, in comparison of the lower creation, as God hath made us intelligent beings; but we should ever remember, that the faculties he has given us are but finite and limited at the best, and that many things are above them, which they cannot grasp, "things too wonderful for us, which we know not," Job xlii. 3. We find it so,
even in natural things; the wisest and greatest men will readily own themselves to be puzzled in several of these and much more may it be expected to be so in things supernatural, especially in what belongs to the great God, his nature, and purposes, and the mysteries of his providence: "Canst thou, by searching, find out God? canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection ?" Job xi. 7.
Now, a just sense of this imperfection of our own capacities, will dispose us absolutely to credit God's testimony, as far as he has been pleased to give it, and we can discern his inind, whatever difficulties may attend that revelation, as to the manner of things discovered by it, beyond our capacity to solve. God's word alone will be a sufficient reason of faith to a humble mind. And, on the other hand, it would teach us not to pretend "to be wise above what is written" in matters of pure revelation, not to venture to form schemes of our own to account how such things are, where none are delivered in God's word; at least not to be positive and dogmatical in them : but in the deep things of God, to satisfy ourselves to understand so much of them as God hath revealed by his Spirit in his word; because such "things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God," any farther than he has been pleased to make them known, 1 Cor. ii. 10, 11.
(2.) An apprehension of our own infallibility, and liable, ness to mistake, even where we may think we judge right. When we consider the power of prejudice, our readiness to make rash and hasty judgments, the plausible colours which may be put upon error, the indisposition of our minds in our fallen state for the admission of divine truths; when we consider these things, we have reason, in most judgments we form, to carry this cautionary thought along with us, that it is possible we may be mistaken. Who is there among us, who is not conscious to himself, that he hath actually been mistaken in many former judgments he hath made of things, even in some wherein he was very positive? And certainly this is a good reason why we should carry the thought of our fallibility about with us in our future time. Those, indeed, who have made the deepest searches, and the most impartial inquiries in every age, have discovered most mistakes in themselves; and, therefore, have justly entertained the most lively sense of the possibility of their being still mistaken in many things.