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by faith*. For we have all offended in every point: and having recourse to this one, of penitent faith in Christ, working by love, is our only cure for past sins, our only means of future obedience. By the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified †; but whosoever believeth in him, shall not be ashamed‡.
* Phil. iii. 9.
† Rom. iii. 20.
+ Rom. x. 11.
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 accordingly as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.
THESE words express the duty of humility so accurately, and carry in the very manner of stating it so full and clear an evidence of its obligation, that one would hope no man could read or hear them, without being convinced, that he ought to do what they enjoin.
There are directions of Scripture, concerning this matter, which some pretend to be impracticable, and unfit to be practised: as where St. Paul himself exhorts, in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves; and St. Peter, all of you be subject one to another †. In relation to such passages it hath been pleaded, that, were every one to think thus, many must think falsely; which we ought not to do if we could, and for the most part, in this case, cannot do if we would, but only pretend to it hypocritically that men would be inwardly prouder and outwardly more troublesome, with this affected humility, than without it: that the mockery of a
* Phil. ii. 3.
+ 1 Pet. v. 5.
† Ο γαρ ύπο ατυφία || τυφος τυφομενος, παντων χαλεπώτατος. Μ. Antonin. 1. xii. § 27.
|| Υπο ατυφίας, vel επι ατυφία. Gat.
mutual submission in every thing must fill human life with perpetual embarrassments; and whilst every one insisted upon obeying, no one would be left to rule or preserve order *.
Now the absurdity of such behaviour indeed is very glaring. But for that reason the Apostles are not to be understood, as they need not, in a sense that gives encouragement to it. Practical writers on religious and moral subjects, considering how hardly the generality are brought to entertain sufficiently strict notions of their duty, purposely express it sometimes in words which, taken literally, would be too strict. For abatements more than enough will not fail to be made; especially in such favourite points, as that of the good opinion, which we have of ourselves. But in these two apostolical injunctions, only a very moderate abatement is wanting. We are to esteem others better, or superior to us, not in things where we know they are not, but in things where we may justly suppose they are. And perhaps there is no person, or however no pious and good person, and to such the Apostles wrote, but hath the advantage of us in some particulars; or at least, from our fuller acquaintance with our own defects, may, on probable grounds, be apprehended by us to have it. Or if not, yet esteeming them such, may, according to a frequent use of the original word so rendered †, mean only treating them as such. And though we must no do this by making hollow and deceitful professions of inferiority; yet we may do it, by concealing and waving.
* Celsus affirmed unreasonably, that Christians had learned their notions of humility from Plato misunderstood. Orig. against Celsus,
† See Job. xiii. 24. xix. 11. xxxiii. 10. xli. 27. 29. Phil. iii. 7, 8. See also a Letter in the Nouvelle Bibliothèque, Sep. 1742.
our claims to superiority: not being subject one to the other on all occasions indeed, but on all proper ones, which are more than a few. It cannot be, that either of the Apostles should intend to carry the duty further; because both of them acted in stations of authority themselves, and prescribed rules to others how to act in them. But it is peculiarly impossible that St. Paul should run into such an extreme: for he hath distinguished very exactly the obligations proceeding from the different ranks and improvements of men, which implies, that they must be conscious of them. And if he had given no other proof of his understanding the nature of humility aright, the text alone affords a strong demonstration of it.
For what doth he there say, through the grace given unto him, in virtue of the dignity graciously conferred upon him, to every one amongst us, for our direction in this behalf? Only, not to think of ourselves more highly, than we ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith: that is according to the real degree of piety and virtue, which, through God's mercy, our faith in Christ hath produced: or rather, taking the word, faith, in a less common, but more suitable meaning, according to the real value of the several talents, which God hath entrusted to our faithful management.
This we must allow to be a most equitable way of stating the duty in general. And therefore it may be hoped we shall proceed, with willing minds, to examine more particularly,
First, What manner of thinking concerning ourselves; and
Secondly, What manner of acting towards others,
our obligation to humility, thus explained, requires. The former of these I shall consider now; the latter, God willing, hereafter. At present then let us inquire, how we ought to think of ourselves. And,
1. We ought plainly not to think, that we are possessed of any other good qualties or advantages, or any greater eminence in them, than in truth we are: which yet is a point, that we frequently misapprehend. Self-love, an affection inseparable from us, tempts us to be wonderfully easy of belief in our own favour; and extremely slow to discern, and industrious to disguise even to our own view, whatever tends to lessen us. Then, as for the information, which we might receive from others, whoever hints the least thing, which is not for our honour, we suspect immediately must do it, if not from ill design, yet at best from want of judgment: and, if we can but find a shadow of probability for either suspicion, we soon conclude, that only malice or ignorance can find fault with us. To confirm which persuasion, we see perhaps the generality of our acquaintance treat us with marks of considerable regard: and this we interpret as a most undeniable token that we deserve it all; though perhaps it arises merely from their civility, and desire of living well with us. Or it may be our case is yet worse: and we are misled by persons, who from bad motives make it their business to fill us with extravagant notions of our own accomplishments and pre-eminences. The rich and great indeed suffer most by these wretches; and therefore should above all be on their guard against them. But persons of every degree, down to the very lowest, have their flatterers. And even the grossest flattery is commonly believed: but if it be conducted with any art, it seldom fails.