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XVII

BE CLOTHED WITH HUMILITY

"Likewise, ye younger, be subject unto the elder. Yea, all of you gird yourselves with humility, to serve one another: for God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time; casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He careth for you."—1 Peter v. 5-7.

Having admonished the shepherds, the Apostle now turns to the flock, and his words recall the exhortations which he has given several times before. In ii. 13 he taught Christian subjects the duty of submission, even should it be their lot to live under heathen rulers. A few verses further on in the same chapter he repeated this teaching to Christian slaves with heathen masters, and the third chapter opens with advice of the same character to the wives who were married to heathen husbands. And now once more, with his favourite verb "be subject," he opens his counsel to the Churches on their duty to those set over them. The relation between the elders and their flock will not be as strained, or not strained after the same manner, as between Christians and heathens in the other cases, but the same principle is to govern the behaviour of those who hold the subject position. The duly appointed teachers are to be accepted as powers ordained of God, and their rule and guidance followed with submission.

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Likewise, ye younger, be subject unto the elder. He teaches that as there is a duty of the elders to the younger, so there is a reciprocal duty which, in like manner and with the same thoroughness, must be discharged by the younger to the elders. In those early days the congregation could fitly be spoken of as "the younger." Naturally the teachers would be chosen from those who had been the first converts. The rest of the body would consist not only of those younger in years, but younger in the acceptance of the faith, younger in the knowledge of the doctrines of Christ, younger in Christian experience. And if the Churches were to be a power among their heathen surroundings, it must be by their unity in spirit and faith; and this could only be secured by a loyal and ready following of those who were chosen to instruct them.

But lest there may be any undue straining of the claim to submission, there follows immediately a precept to make it general: Yea, all of you gird yourselves with humility, to serve one another. Thus will be realised the true idea of the Christian body, where each member should help all, and be helped of all, the rest, eye and hand, head and feet, each having their office, and each ministering therein as parts of the one body. This idea of general humility was altogether unknown to the world before Christ's coming. The word, therefore, is one coined for Christian use: lowliness of mind, a frame wherein each deems others better than himself. And with it the Apostle has coupled another word for "gird yourselves," which is well fitted to be so placed. It is found nowhere else, and is full of that graphic character of which he is so fond. The noun from which it is derived signifies "an outer garment," mainly used by household servants and slaves, to cover their215 other clothing and keep it from being spoiled. It appears to have been bound round the waist by a girdle. The word is a complete picture. St. Peter sees in humility a robe which shall encompass the whole life of the believer, keeping off all that might sully or defile it; and into the sense of the word comes the lowly estate of those by whom the garment in question was worn. It was connected entirely with the humblest duties. Hence its appropriateness when joined with "serve one another."

And one cannot in studying this striking word of the Apostle but be carried in thought to that scene described by St. John where Jesus "took a towel and girded Himself" (John xiii. 4) to wash the feet of His disciples. St. Peter gained much instruction from that washing, and he has not forgotten the lesson when he desires to confirm the brethren in Christian humility. "I have given you an example, that ye also should do as I have done to you," was the Lord's injunction; and this the Apostle delivers to the Churches. And verily Christ spake of Himself more truly than of any other when He described the master's treatment of his watchful servants: "He shall gird himself, and make them sit down to meat, and shall come and serve them" (Luke xii. 37). Such has been the Lord's humiliation, who took upon Him our flesh, and now bids us to His banquet, where, through His Spirit, He is ever waiting to bless those who draw near.

How this exhortation to humility in dealing with one another is connected with the verse (Prov. iii. 34) by which the Apostle supports it does not perhaps immediately appear. For God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble. But a little reflection on the characteristics of pride towards men soon makes216 us conscious that it is very closely united with pride towards God. The Pharisee who despises the publican, and thanks God in words that he is not such a one, feels in his heart no thankfulness nor care for God at all. His own acts have made him the pattern of goodness which he conceives himself to be. And we discover the like in every other exhibition of this spirit. The term (ὑπερήφανοι) by which these haughty ones are described indicates a desire to be conspicuous, to stand apart from and above their fellows. They are self-centred, and look down upon the rest of the world, and forget their dependence upon God.

St. Peter in his quotation has followed the Septuagint. In the Hebrew the first half of the verse is, "He scorneth the scorners." And this is the manner of God's dealing. He pays men with their own coin. Jacob's deceit was punished in kind by the frequent deceptions of his children, so that at last he could hardly credit their report that Joseph is still alive. David was scourged for his offences exactly according to his own sin. But the word which the Apostle has drawn from the Septuagint is also of solemn import. It declares a state of war between God and man. God resisteth the proud; literally, He setteth Himself in array against them. And their overthrow is sure. They that strive with the Lord shall be broken to pieces. The Psalmist rejoices over the contrary lot: "The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do unto me?" (Psalm cxviii. 6). He had realised the feebleness of human strength, even for man to rely on, much more if it stand in opposition to God. "It is better to trust in the Lord than to put any confidence in man," be it in ourselves or in others. So out of his distress he called upon the Lord. It is the sense of need which217 makes men humble; and to humbled souls God's blessing comes: "He answered me, and set me in a large place."

And as though He would mark humility as the chief grace to prepare men for His kingdom, the Lord's first words in His sermon on the mount are a blessing on the lowly-minded: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven"—not shall be, but is theirs even now. God's favour to the humble is a present gift. How the sense of this swells the thanksgivings of Hannah and the Virgin Mary! And to teach the lesson to His disciples, when they were far from humility and were anxious only to know which of them should be above the rest in what they still dreamt of as an earthly kingdom, He took a little child and set him before them, as the pattern to which His true followers must conform. This childlike virtue gives admission to the kingdom of heaven; its possessors have the kingdom of God within them.

And St. Peter feeds the flock as he himself was fed. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time. The Apostle may be referring in these words to the trials which were upon the converts when he wrote to them. These he would have them look upon as God's discipline, as a cause for joy rather than sorrow. Christian humility will not rebel against fatherly, merciful correction. How the good man bows before the hand of God we see in Moses when God refused to let him go over into Canaan: "I besought the Lord, saying, O Lord God, Thou hast begun to show Thy servant Thy greatness and Thy strong hand.... Let me go over, I pray Thee, and see the good land that is beyond Jordan. But the Lord was wroth with me for your sakes, and hearkened218 not unto me" (Deut. iii. 23). And so the meek prophet, who knew that his withdrawal was for the people's sake, having sung, "Happy art thou, O Israel; who is like unto thee, a people saved by the Lord?" (Deut. xxxiii. 29), went up unto Mount Nebo and died there, when his eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated. Hence his praise: "There hath not arisen a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses." Humility was his dying lesson.

But as the Apostle has just been speaking of the duty owed to the elders as teachers, it is perhaps better to apply the words of the exhortation in that sense. Those who were set over the Churches were so set in the Lord. For the time they represented His hand, the hand of care and guidance to those who were submissive. In honouring them, the younger were honouring God. Thus the lesson would be, Bend your hearts to the instruction which He imparts through their words; yield your will to His will, and order your life to be in harmony with His providence; live thus that He may exalt you. For the hand which may seem heavy now will be mighty to raise you in due time. And that time He knows. It is His time, not yours. If it tarry, wait for it. It will surely come; it will not tarry, when the Divine discipline has done its work.

Casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He careth for you. When men do this the due time has come. Till this stage is reached there can be no true humility. But how slow men are in reaching it! We are willing to bring to God a little here and there of our sorrow and our feebleness, but would fain still carry a part of the load ourselves. Human pride it is which cannot stoop to owe everything to God; want of faith, too, both in the Divine power and the Divine love, though219 our tongues may not confess it. What a powerful homily on this verse is the conduct of the youthful David when he went forth against the Philistine! "The Lord," he says to Saul, "that delivered me out of the paw of the lion and out of the paw of the bear, He will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine." And when the king offered his own coat of mail, though tempted thereby, he put the armour away, saying, "I cannot go with these, for I have not proved them." He knew that God had given him skill with the humbler weapons, and it was God's battle in which he was to engage. So with his stones and his sling he went forth, telling the defiant challenger, "I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts." The action is a comment on the Psalmist's words, "Commit thy way unto the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass" (Psalm xxxviii. 5).

But neither the young hero by his example, nor the Apostle in his exhortation, teaches a spirit of careless indifference and neglect of means. David chose him five smooth stones out of the brook. These he could use. With these God had delivered him aforetime. And in every condition men are bound to use the best means they know to ensure success, and the Christian will pour out his prayers for guidance and foresight in temporal concerns. That done, the counsel of Christ, on which St. Peter's exhortation is grounded, is, "Be not overanxious; your heavenly Father knoweth your needs." And he who has grown humble under the mighty hand of God in trials has learnt that the same hand is mighty to save: "He careth for you." When this perfect trust is placed in God, the load is lifted. It is, as the Psalmist says literally, rolled upon the Lord (Psalm xxxviii. 5).

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How salutary this teaching for both the elders and the congregations among these Christians of the dispersion, and how full the promise of help and blessing. The teachers had been placed in the midst of difficulties and charged with a mighty responsibility; but robed in the garment of humility, casting aside all self-trust, coming only in the name of the Lord, the burden would be raised by the almighty arms and made convenient to their powers. And to the younger the same lowly spirit, loving thoughts toward those who cared for their souls, would be fruitful in blessing. For the same God who resisteth the proud showers His grace upon the humble. It falls on them as the dew of Hermon, which cometh down upon the mountains of Zion. Unto them Christ has proclaimed His foremost blessing; has promised, and is giving, the kingdom of heaven to humble souls, and will give them life for evermore.

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