Pride of Life.––The Apostle points out three causes of offence in men––the lust of the flesh, that is, the desire to satisfy the cravings of what we call 'human nature'; the lust of the eye, which makes the pursuit of the delight of beauty, not a part, but the whole of life; and, the pride of life. Of the three, perhaps, the last is the most deadly, because it is the most deceitful. People born in, and brought up upon, principles of self-control and self-restraint are on the watch against the lusts of the flesh. The lust of the eye does not make too fascinating an appeal to all of us; but who can be aware of the approaches of the pride of life? Still, Pride, mighty as he is, and manifold as are his forms, is but the Dæmon, the more or less subject Dæmon, of a mightier power than himself.
Humility is Born in us all.––Humility is born in us all, a Lord of the Bosom, gracious and beautiful, strong to subdue. That is why our Lord told the Jews that except they should humble themselves and become as a little child they could not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, the state where humble souls have their dwelling. We think of little children as being innocent and simple rather than humble; and it is only by examining this quality of children that we shall find out what Humility is in the divine thought. We have but two types of Humility to guide us––Christ, for 'He humbled Himself,' and little children, for He pronounced them humble. An old writer who has pondered on this matter says that, as there is only one Sanctification and one Redemption, so also there is only one Humility.
Humility travestied.––But no grace of heart is so travestied in our thoughts as this of Humility. We call cowardice Humility. We say––'Oh, I can't bear pain, I am not as strong as you are'; 'I can't undertake this and that, I have not the ability that others have'; 'I am not one of your clever fellows, there is no use in my going in for reading'; 'Oh, I'm not good enough, I could not teach a class in the Sunday School,' or, 'care for the things of the spiritual life.' Again, what we call Humility is often a form of Hypocrisy. 'Oh! I wish I were as capable as you,' we say, 'or as good,' or 'as clever,' priding ourselves secretly on the very unfitness which seems to put us somehow, we hardly know how, out of the common run of people. The person who is loud in his protestations of Humility is commonly hugging himself upon compensations we do not know of, and which, to his own thinking, rank him before us after all.
This sort of thing has brought Humility into disrepute. People take these self-deceivers at their word, and believe that they are humble; so, while they acknowledge Humility to be a Christian grace, it is a grace little esteemed and rarely coveted. This error of conception opens the gate for pride who comes riding full tilt to take possession. We prefer to be proud, openly proud of some advantage in our circumstances or our parentage, proud of our prejudices, proud of an angry or resentful temper, proud of our easy-going ways, proud of idleness, carelessness, recklessness; nay, the very murderer is a proud man, proud of the skill with which he can elude suspicion or destroy his victim. "Thank God, I have always kept myself to myself," said a small London housekeeper who did not "hold with neighboring." There is hardly a failing, a fault or a crime which men have not felt to be a distinction, a thing to be proud of. We can do few things simply, that is, without being aware that it is we who are doing them, and taking importance to ourselves for the fact.
Humility one with Simplicity.––Many who are sound of mind in other respects arrive at incipient megalomania, through a continual magnification of self. Their affairs, their dogs, their pictures, their opinions, their calling, their good works, their teaching, their religious convictions, fill the whole field of vision; and that, because they are theirs rather than for the sake of the things themselves. This pride of life is so insidious and importunate, the necessity of exalting self presses upon us so unceasingly, so spoils all our relations of friendship and neighbourliness by resentful tempers and exigeant demands, that we are fain to cry, "Oh, wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me?" when, for a moment, we face facts. But we need not despair, even about our hateful Pride. He is but an encroacher, an usurper; the Lord of the Heart whom he displaces is Humility; and a true conception of this true Lord, who is within us, is as the shepherd's stone against the giant. For it is not Humility to think ill of ourselves; that is faint-hearted when it is not false. Humility is perhaps one with Simplicity, and does not allow us to think of ourselves at all, ill or well. That is why a child is humble. The thought of self does not come to him at all; when it does, he falls from his child estate and becomes what we call self-conscious. In that wonderful first lesson of the Garden of Eden, the Fall consisted in our first parents becoming aware of themselves; and that is how we all fall––when we become aware.
It is good to be humble. Humble people are gay and good. They do not go about with a black dog on their shoulder or a thunder-cloud on their brow. We are all born humble. Humility sits within us all, waiting for pride to be silent that he may speak and be heard. What must we do to get rid of pride and give place to Humility?
The Way of Humility.––In the first place, we must not try to be humble. That is all make-believe, and a bad sort of pride. We do not wish to become like Uriah Heep, and that is what comes of trying to be humble. The thing is, not to think of ourselves at all, for if we only think how bad we are, we are playing at Uriah Heep. There are many ways of getting away from the thought of ourselves; the love and knowledge of birds and flowers, of clouds and stones, of all that nature has to show us; pictures, books, people, anything outside of us, will help us to escape from the tyrant who attacks our hearts. One rather good plan is, when we are talking or writing to our friends, not to talk or write about 'thou and I.' There are so many interesting things in the world to discuss that it is a waste of time to talk about ourselves. All the same, it is well to be up to the ways of those tiresome selves, and that is why you are invited to read these chapters. It is very well, too, to know that Humility, who takes no thought of himself, is really at home in each of us:––
"If that in sight of God is great
Which counts itself for small,
We by that law humility
The chiefest grace must call;
Which being such, not knows itself
To be a grace at all."