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To Humility Represented in the Character of St. Paul, Sfe.
JL Hope there will be something found in these papers which is suited to rectify the vicious disorders of the mind, to subdue the foolish vanity of human nature, and promote a meek and humble spirit: But I am sure, tbey can have no such influence, while they continue to sleep in a desk where they liave lain many years already. It' the divine grace shall so far attend the the publication of them now, as to make them attain these happy ends, my duty will be thankfulness and praise.
While I have endeavoured to trace out the pride of the heart in the raxiousaud general appearances of it both in higher and lower life, I have carefully avoided the particular description of any person living. By this means my representation of true humility in the moral and religious springs and advantages of it, together with some views of the opposite vice, may have a more kindly and powerful effect upon every reader. Conviction and reproof are much better received when such hints only are given, as may lead conscience in secret to search out the criminals, and may teach them to set their own folly and guilt and danger before themselves. We all like to do this work best in retirement and silence. And I hope my readers will be so kind and so just both to themselves and to me, as to be more diligent in the discovery and cure of any weakness of their own, than in pointing out censure for their ncighbours: though it must be confessed these is sufficient matter for it in every corner of the world. Surely if we could but look down upon mankind with an all-surveyiug eye as the great God dotb, we should see a dreadful and universal spread of this vice of pride over all the race of man, and an infinite number of mischiefs derived from it, and diffused through kingdoms and churches, through all human societies and personal affairs. Had we such a view as this, one would think every son and daughter of Adam should labour night and day to root out this cursed and poisonous plant, till not a branch or fibre of it remained to infect the earth. Pride was the ruin of angels: Pride was the fall of man: "Ye shall he as Gods," was the great temptation, and the event is we are become like devils: Nor doth the array of flesh and blood which we wear, cover our shame or excuse our iniquity.
God has sent his Son Jesus into the world in the likeness of man, and lh all the forms of humiliation, that he might teach us by his word and his example to be meek and londy, and shew us how to regain the divine favour and image, by laying the foundation of his gospel and of our recovery in humility of soul: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven ,Mat. v. 3. And next to his own Son, God has set his servant Paul for our pattern, who calls himself, lessjhan the least of all the saints, and persuades us to be followers of him as he is of Christ.
I have not drawn out at large here the particular rules and directions for acquiring these lovely virtues of christian humility and meekness, having' written so many chapters of advice how to subdue pride and wrath and other vices in my little Treatise of the Passions, and to these I refer my readers under the divine blessing.
Newiugton, March 25, 1737^
CHARACTER OF ST. PAUL, &c
Efh. iii. 8.—Less than the least of all the Saints.
JH.OW meanly does this great and holy man, this chiefest of the apostles speak of himself? To how low a degree does he sink himself and his exalted virtues? To how narrow a compass does he reduce all his own natural talents, his acquired excellencies and even his divine qualifications? Less than the least, ka^irc'ripo;: It is a Greek word made on purpose to signify the exceeding diminutive idea he had of himself, and it is very happily rendered by our English translators?
How different is our common behaviour from that of holy Paul? When we think of self we are ready to raise our thoughts beyond all measure and aggrandize our ideas to a vast and shameful degree, as though we stood as fair and as large and as high in the eyes of our fellow-worms as we do in our own eyes. Vain imagination! Wretched self-flattery and foolish pride! We take the least of all words, the least of syllables, the least of letters, I, and swell and amplify it, if I may so speak, to fill a page, or to spread over a whole leaf, and we scarce leave a scanty margin for all other names to stand in : Nothing less than a volume will contain or display our characters and our due praises. We set so many flourishes round our own names and fill our own eyes with them, that we can see nothing else. All other names lie concealed and disappear, while our own ingrosses our sight and admiration. We make every thing else look so little, as though it were fit only to lie neglected and forgotten, while self, or I, should be alone beheld and alone regarded. But the great apostle who had more excellencies and real honours than a thousand of us put together, gives his thoughts a different turn; what am I r says he, a little mean worthless thing, to be intrusted with this glorious gospel, and to have such divine favours conferred on me? "I am nothing that is grand and exalted, but the least of all the saints, and less than the least of them." When, O my soul, when wilt thou learn to copy after so illustrious an example, so divine a pattern of humility ? But not to paraphrase any longer on this matter here at large let us cuter into particulars.
Perhaps some persons may expect that I should spend time
here to distinguish and determine exactly what sort of opinion and esteem we ought to have of ourselves. Surely a man of letters and education is not bound to think himself as illiterate as a peasant, nor a youth of ingenuity to fancy himself a fool: A person of figure and quality must not suppose himself in all respects upon a level with the lower ranks of mankind, nor can it be but that a man of sense and virtue, of religion and goodness must know himself to be of superior worth and merit to the rude and the wicked multitude. Do not nature and reason direct ns to judge of persons as well as things according to truth? Nor does the best of religions forbid us to pass a true and right judgment concerning ourselves or concerning our fcllow-crcaturos. Besides, it is proper and necessary that a man should have in some measure a just idea of himself, that he may every where in his conduct and behaviour maintain his own character, and answer the demands of his own station with justice and honour both iii the world and in the church. What is it then we arc to understand by this diminishing idea of self, which was so honourable in the great apostle, and which is so worthy of our imitation.
To this enquiry I shall give but a short answer, for I allow all that is here proposed by way of query or objection to be just and true. I grant it is our duty to know ourselves for many valuable purposes both in life and religion, and to form a just sentiment, as near as we can, of our own qualifications, and our place and rank amongst our fellow-creatures. But as the honourable example of St. Paul directs us, so the design of my present advice lies here, viz. that in passing a judgment concerning ourselves, we should always set a strong guard on the side of selflove and flattery: We should watch against the pride of our hearts, which is every moment ready to over-rate all appearances of what is valuable in us, and forgets to bring our defects into the balance of the account; pride spies out those excellencies in us which none else can see, while it conceals and lessens our evil qualities so as to reduce them almost to nothing. By this means the judgment that we form concernin r ourselves, is for the most part mistaken and criminal: We hearken to the prejudices of our self-love; we view our virtues through a magnifying glass in the sunshine, and cast our vices into shade and concealment. We carry always about us these false representations of ourselves, this vain picture which is so very unlike the original: We speak, and act, and live, according to this bright and great and mistaken idea of self, and thereby we plunge ourselves into many errors, iniquities and mischiefs.
And especially when we happen to compare ourselves with others, our envy arises to assist the work, and offers its wretched and dangerous aid to help on the comparison. We soon spy out sU their blemishes and i •qerfeetionsj and lesson their character in order to exalt our own. Thus while pride on the one side brightens and aggrandizes our own image, and on the other side envy detracts from the image of our neighbour, sullies his virtues and darkens his honours, we act our relative parts in the world in a very irregular manner, under the influence of these erroneous sentiments and ideas.
The mean opinion of self therefore, that by the pattern of the apostle, I would recommend to my own heart and to all my friends, is this, that in taking a just estimate of every thing that relates to ourselves or to our fellow-creatures, we should keep a strict watch against the dangers of these selfish passions and prejudices; and we should always make large allowances for those false and glaring colours, wherewith our vanity paints and adorns our own image, and for those deceitful weights which pride is ever flinging into our own scale, to make our virtues appear solid and weighty; and we should make the same allowances for those dark and disgraceful shades of vice and folly which envy spreads over our neighbours' character, and for those reproaches wherewith she loads the opposite scale while we are weighing the virtues of our neighbours, in order to make them seem lighter.
The bulk of mankind are so generally given to err on this hand, that is, to over-value themselves and depreciate their neighbours; and the number of those who make a mistake on the other side is so exceeding small, that in proposing general directions for our conduct there is scarce any need of a caution or guard against the humble and self-denying kinds of mistake. Then is our opinion concerning ourselves and our neighbours agreeable to the rule and temper of christianity, and generally nearer the truth, when we sink our idea of self rather below what seems to us to be our due, and when we raise the idea of our neighbours a little above what appears to belong to them, for they doubtless have some virtues and good qualities unknown to us, and it is certain we have some secret failings which do not usually come within our own notice. But I shall touch upon this subject perhaps once again, and therefore I proceed to the general heads of my discourse.
Here I shall enquire first, Whence comes it to pass that St. Paul forms so diminutive an idea of himself, and calls himself less than the least of all the saints? And secondly, What blessed advantages may we obtain by this lessening view of ourselves in imitation of such an example.
Sect. I.—The Springs of St. Paul's Humility.
The first thing to be enquired is, whence comes it to pass that St. Paul forms such diminutive ideas of himself? I answer, I. From a constant sense of his own former iniquities, and an ever-present consciousness of sin that dwells in him. Yoa may read this account in himself in many of his epistles; 1 Cor. xv. 9. I am the least of the apostles, and am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 1 Tim. i. 13, 15. / rcas before a blasphemer and a persecutor and injurious; And in this view I am the chief of sinners. Rom. vii. 14, 18, '21. I am carnal, sold under sin. In me, that is in my fesh, dwe/kth no good thing: O wretched man that I am.! Each of us are best acquainted with ourselves, and know best what ourowii former sins and follies have been. Some of us perhaps have been suffered to fall into more criminal actions and shameful iniquities than others; but there is not one of us who has not sinned enough to make him lie humble in the dust, and think meanly of himself if our former iniquities were always kept in view. But alas ! we are much inclined to forget our sins, to cast them behind our back, to turn our eyes away from them; it is a painful and an uneasy sight; while at the same time we vainly turn our eyes to our own fancied excellencies, and with pleasure we dwell long in the survey of our own real or imagined qualifications and virtues: We aggrandize our little worthless selves into idols, and then we worship the vain image which our pride has made. We pay much incense of self flattery and praise to the swelling and exalted idea of the little worthless name I or Me; and when we have set up a false god for our own worship, we are fond to have other men bow down and worship it too. Come, my soul, come, let the holy apostle teach thee to secure thyself against the danger and deceit of this foolish pride: Let him instruct thee how to depress and keep down this rising tumour, this fermenting swelling thing, self. Take a frequent survey of thy former sins and follies; look into thy heart, behold the hourly workings of iniquity there; what abatements of thy fancied honour, what defilements and stains and inward shame wilt thou find upon thee? Methinks, there is something elegant and exalted in the language of a famous English poet*, while he is humbling the vanity of human nature beneath the brute creatures, and even beneath the things which have neither sense nor life:
"Let the proud peacock his gay feathers spread
As if he should say, "Here is not that glorious thing, that honourable and holy creature man, as he was first made by the