Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time (S. Peter v. 6); or, in the time of Visitation” (Vulgate).
IN these words St. Peter asserts three things. In the First place, he exhorts to humility, humble yourselves. In the Second place, he shows the necessity of the humbling under the mighty hand of God, Who is able to humble the unwilling. In the Third place, he places the usefulness of humility, that He may exalt you in due time.
- On the first head, it is to be noted, that humility is threefold. (1) Of guilt, There is one that humbleth himself wickedly, and his interior is full of deceit.(Ecclus. xix. 23)
We must be on our guard always for that false sense of humility which is found in the lives of those who are self-consciously ‘holy’. Having an idealized projected image of ourselves is always a great danger. Self-imaging or self-imagining always disrupts and frustrates the infusion of humility into the penitent soul. And yet the Church has never been bereft of those who are not humble at all but very proud indeed of their appearance of humility. This is the kind of humility that performs for an audience, plays for the cameras, and is made much of by worldly men. Of course, it is not humility at all. It is pride masquerading as humility, seeking always to overcome prepubescent or adolescent attention-deficit and deprivation. Far better, dear Brethren, to have our humility found out by others with difficulty, who recognize a gift in us of which we are wholly unaware!
(2) Of punishment, Their enemies also oppressed them, and they were brought into subjection under their hand. (Psalm cvi. 42)
The truly humble man is one whose determination to embrace the Grace of God in his life is met with ridicule and opposition. Men will praise a humble man for a short time only. Then they shall turn on him out of envy and jealousy. We must be prepared that the world will have no time for the truth and wisdom that is revealed to us from the Father, through the Son, and by the Holy Ghost. The truly humble man endeavors to be an ever-faithful member of the Body of Christ, and thus the Way that he embraces should run clean contrary to the common sense that reason affords to other men. The Christian is one who lives under authority of God the Father. He faithfully surrenders himself then to the Father’s Wisdom in the Son by the Holy Ghost. And so he strives only ever to please the Lord with all of his life. That he suffers and endures for this is counted as a great blessing, since he is all the more dependent upon God alone for his health and salvation. Suffering at the hands of our enemies drives us to need God’s power to persevere, wisdom to proceed, and love to pray for our adversary’s conversion.
(3) Of grace: Learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart. (St. Matt. xi. 29) The first kind of humility is to be fled from; the second to be endured ; the third to be sought for.
So we must flee all false pretense to that humility –that clearly has not yet been conceived in our souls. Next we must endure all suffering and discomfort that accompanies its growth in us as we open up to the rule and governance of God the Holy Trinity. At this stage we become dependent children who cast ourselves upon the Father’s mercy for our future sanctification and salvation. Finally we must learn about its most perfect expression in that humility and lowliness made Flesh, Jesus Christ, in order to find the pattern of life, which must become our own. We must learn about through the study of Holy Scripture. In both the Old and New Testaments Christ the Word is to be found as the expressed desire of God for His people, both as the preparatory Truth and then as the perfect Word made flesh, who shall call us into communion with Himself. Next we must learn to find His conception, birth, and growth in our lives through the predominancy and guidance of His Holy Spirit.
- On the second head, it is to be noted, that God shows His power over the proud in three ways. (1) In resisting them ; (2) In casting them down ; (3) In punishing them eternally.
Of the first, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. (St. James iv. 6)
God does not have communion or union with the proud. Thus the proud can have no power from or against God. Pride alienates and divides a man from God, and thus the proud man is in no way capable of receiving Grace until his arrogance and hubris are destroyed. Grace comes to the man who needs not himself but God. Grace comes to the man who is not wise in his own eyes, but fears the Lord and departs from evil. Of course, we should not think that God forces himself upon the proud man. God remains as he ever is and so does not violate the free will of the man who does not desire to obey Him. His nature does, however, stand against all pretenders to his throne and usurpers of his authority. In the end their pride cannot stand against or resist the eternal power of God.
Of the second, When they were lifted up, Thou hast cast them down. (Psalm Ixxii. 18)
Every sin is its own punishment. The misery of the proud man enlarges and expands until he is cut down by his own sin. Of course, in earthly terms, we may not see the destruction of the proud at first glance. But if the proud man persists in his sin, what he reveals, ironically enough, is a real insecurity and weakness. Self-absorption and narcissism take their toll, and the proud man is progressively cut off from others and then even himself. He is cast down from heaven because he has immersed himself in his own lowly and limited nature. And thus he cannot hope to rise up much above the sources of his impermanent happiness. So the proud man begins to be cast down in this life, since as the cause of his own happiness he is confronted with his own impotent mortality. His body becomes heavier and heavier as the soul drags it into more exaggerated desperate attempts at self-promotion. The soul is fallen away from God and ‘cast down’ deeper into its own futility.
Of the third, And his stink shall come up, and his ill savour shall come up, because he hath done great things. (Joel ii. 20, Psalm Ixxii. 18) For God hath appointed to bring down every high mountain. (Baruck v. 7)
In the end the proud soul is rewarded with eternal punishment. God is all-loving and all-merciful and thus rewards a man for his habitual desire. The stench of the proud man’s life soars up into the clear fragrance of God’s truth and it is judged as alien and incongruent. Being found clean contrary to Heaven’s concourse and exchange, the proud man is cast down into Hell forever. He may lift up his head like Dives, but to no avail. He received his reward in this life –and because he desired nothing better, nothing more perfect, this kind of good will be his forever. His reward may have come in many forms. The sum of them all is mammon’s prize for a life so lived.
III. On the third head, it is to be noted, that man acquires a threefold profit from humility. (1) The gift of Grace; (2) The gift of knowledge ; (3) The gift of glory.
Of the first, God giveth grace unto the humble. (St. James iv. 6)
The humble man both needs and desires God’s Grace. The things of this world can never satisfy him. His own created nature is impotent to make him spiritually well. His spiritual end possesses his soul and thus throws him upon his knees to beg for God’s mercy, which he knows he neither deserves nor merits. He knows that he ought to be justly punished for all his offences. His sorrow is deep and broad and so he begs for mercy and prays for those he has hurt and those who have hurt him. He knows himself to be ‘the chief, the chiefest, the greatest of sinners”, and so he cries at all times, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner.’ The more the love of God enters his soul and begins to transform him, the more humble he becomes as he begins to sense the all-liberating compassion of his Lord. Once the Holy Ghost has taken a hold of him, he makes good time each day to pray for others, knowing that intercessory prayer best works the love of Christ’s Redemption and Atonement into his heart. His humility makes room for the growth of mercy and mourning within.
Of the second, Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. (St. Matt. xi. 25)
The humble man discovers the truth of his nature in the light of God’s wisdom. He becomes as a newborn babe whose eyes open to the Lord in faith. His faith seeks understanding and the wisdom of the Lord begins to fill his soul. He begins to discover God’s will and with that he begins to see the whole of the world in the brilliance of God’s intention. The whole of the creation becomes a fragrant seedbed of truth, beauty, and goodness. The temporal world is enveloped in Heaven’s song and the humble man begins to seek for a temperate and prudent relation to all things as he strives to serve God in Himself and God in all others.
Of the third, For he that hath been humbled shall be in glory.( Job. xxii. 29, Vulg.)
The humble man shall be saved and delivered into the glorious presence of the Lord. His life on earth will have been but the beginning of a journey into everlasting joy and happiness. His sins shall be no more and his tears shall be wiped away. He shall rest in the unending actuality of God’s love and desire. He shall begin to know and sense the true nature of perfect love that saturates his body, soul, and spirit.
Glory is the reward of the blessed. The blessed are those who have abased and humbled themselves under the Mighty Arm of God. Let us, dear Brethren, endeavor to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, journeying into the Father’s presence, beginning now, through the Son, and by the Holy Spirit. There is no other way to live honestly in this life than by humbling ourselves before the only One who can perfect us. Then with this beginning we can help others onto the salvation road also.