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Means and Exercises for obtaining and increasing the Grace of Humility.
1. Make confession of thy sins often to God; and consider what all that evil amounts to which you then charge upon yourself. Look not upon them as scattered in the course of a long life; now an intemperate anger, then too full a meal; now idle talking, and another time impatience; but unite them into one continued representation, and remember, that he whose life seems fair, by reason that his faults are scattered at large distances in the several parts of his life, yet, if all his errors and follies were articled against him, the man would seem vicious and miserable; and possibly this exercise, really applied upon thy spirit may be useful.
2. Remember that we usually disparage others upon slight grounds and little instances, and toward them one fly is enough to spoil a whole box of ointment; and if a man be highly commended, we think him sufficiently lessened if we clap one sin or folly or infirmity into his account. Let us, therefore, be just to ourselves, since we are so severe to others, and consider that whatsoever good any one can think or say of us, we can tell him of hundreds of base, and unworthy, and foolish actions, any one of which were enough (we hope) to destroy another’s reputation; therefore, let so many be sufficient to destroy our over-high thoughts of ourselves.
3. When our neighbour is cried up by public fame and popular noises, that we may disparage and lessen him, we cry out that the people is a herd of unlearned and ignorant persons, ill judges, loud trumpets, but which never give certain sound; let us use the same art to humble ourselves, and never take delight and pleasure in public reports and acclamations of assemblies, and please ourselves with their judgment, of whom, in other the like cases, we affirm that they are mad.
4. We change our opinion of others by their kindness or unkindness towards us. If he be my patron, and bounteous, he is wise, he is noble, his faults are but warts, his virtues are mountains; but if he proves unkind, or rejects our importunate suit, then he is ill-natured, covetous, and his free meal is called gluttony; that which before we called civility is now very drunkenness, and all he speaks if flat, and dull, and ignorant as a swine. This, indeed, is unjust towards others; but a good instrument if we turn the edge of it upon ourselves. We use ourselves ill, abusing ourselves with false principles, cheating ourselves with lies and pretences, stealing the choice and elections from our wills, placing voluntary ignorance in our understandings, denying the desires of the spirit, setting up a faction against every noble and just desire, the least of which, because we should resent up to reviling the injurious person, it is but reason we should at least not flatter ourselves with fond and too kind opinions.
5. Every day call to mind some one of thy foulest sins, or the most shameful of thy disgraces, or the indiscreetest of thy actions, or anything that did then most trouble thee, and apply it to the present swelling of thy spirit and opinion, and it may help to allay it.
6. Pray often for his grace with all humility of gesture and passion of desire, and in thy devotion interpose many acts of humility, by way of confession and address to God, and reflection upon thyself.
7. Avoid great offices and employments, and the noises of worldly honour.119119Fabis abstine, dixit Pythagoras. Olim nam Magistratus per suffragia fabis lata creabantur.—Plut. For in those states, many times so many ceremonies and circumstances will seem necessary, as will destroy the sobriety of thy thoughts. If the number of thy servants be fewer, and their observances less, and their reverences less solemn, possibly they will seem less than thy dignity; and if they be so much and so many it is likely they will be too big for thy spirit. And here be thou very careful, lest thou be abused by a pretence, that thou wouldest use thy great dignity as an opportunity of doing great good. For supposing it might be good for others, yet it is not good for thee; they may have encouragement in noble things from thee, and, by the same instrument, thou mayest thyself be tempted to pride and vanity. And certain it is, God is as much glorified by thy example of humility in a low or temperate condition, as by thy bounty in a great and dangerous.
8. Make no reflex upon thy own humility, nor upon any other grace with which God hath enriched thy soul. For since God oftentimes hides from his saints and servants the sight of those excellent things by which, they shine to others (though the dark side of the lantern be toward themselves,) that he may secure the grace of humility, it is good that thou do so thyself; and if thou beholdest a grace of God in thee, remember to give him thanks for it, that thou mayest not boast in that which is none of they own; and consider how thou hast sullied it by handling it with dirty fingers, with thy own imperfections, and with mixture of anhandsome circumstances. Spiritual pride is very dangerous, not only by reason it spoils so many graces, by which we draw nigh unto the kingdom of God, but also because it so frequently creeps upon the spirit of holy persons. For it is no wonder for a beggar to call himself poor, or a drunkard to confess that he is no sober person; but for a holy person to be humble, for one whom all men esteem a saint to fear lest himself become a devil, and to observe his own danger, and to discern his own infirmities, and make discovery of his bad adherences, is as hard as for a prince to submit himself to be guided by tutors, and make himself subject to discipline, like the meanest of his servants.
9. Often meditate upon the effects of pride on one side, and humility on the other. First, That pride is like a canker, and destroys the beauty of the fairest flowers, the most excellent gifts and graces; but humility crowns them all. Secondly, That pride is a great hinderance to the perceiving the things of God,120120Matt. xi. 25. and humility is an excellent preparative and instrument of spiritual wisdom. Thirdly, That pride hinders the acceptation of our prayers, but humility pierceth the clouds, and will not depart till the Most High shall regard. Fourthly, That humility is but a speaking truth, and all pride is a lie. Fifthly, That humility is the most certain way to real honour, and pride is ever affronted or despised. Sixthly, That pride turned Lucifer into a devil, and humility exalteth the Son of God above every name, and placed him eternally at the right hand of his Father. Seventhly, That ‘God resisteth the proud,’121121James, iv. 6. professing open defiance and hostility against such persons, but giveth grace to the humble; grace and pardon, remedy and relief, against misery and oppression, content in all conditions, tranquillity of spirit, patience in afflictions, love abroad, peace at home, and utter freedom from contention, and the sin of censuring others, and the trouble of being censured themselves. For the humble man will not judge his brother for the mote in his eye, being more troubled at the beam in his own eye; and is patient and glad to be reproved, because himself hath cast the first stone at himself, and therefore wonders not that others are of his mind.
10. Remember that the blessed Saviour of the world hath done more to prescribe, and transmit, and secure this grace than any other;122122John, xiii. 15. his whole life being a great continued example of humility; a vast descent from the glorious bosom of his Father to the womb of a poor maiden, to the form of a servant, to the miseries of a sinner, to a life of labour, to a state of poverty, to a death of malefactors, to the grave of death, and the intolerable calamities which we deserved; and it were a good design, and yet but reasonable, that we should be as humble, in the midst of our greatest imperfections and basest sins, as Christ was in the midst of his fulness of the Spirit, great wisdom, perfect life and most admirable virtue.
11. Drive away all flatterers from thy company, and at no hand endure them, for he that endures himself so to be abused by another is not only a fool for entertaining the mockery, but loves to have his own opinion of himself to be heightened and cherished.
12. Never change thy employment for the sudden coming of another to thee; but if modesty permits, or discretion, appear to him that visits thee the same that thou wert to God and thyself in thy privacy. But if thou wert walking or sleeping, or in any other innocent employment or retirement, snatch not up a book to seem studious, nor fall on thy knees to seem devout, nor alter anything to make him believe thee better employed than thou wert.
13. To the same purpose it is of great use that he who would preserve his humility should choose some spiritual person to whom he shall oblige himself to discover his very thoughts and fancies, every act of his, and all his intercourse with others, in which there may be danger; that by such an openness of spirit he may expose every blast of vain glory, every idle thought, to be chastened and lessened by the rod of spiritual discipline: and he that shall find himself tied to confess every proud thought, every vanity of his spirit, will also perceive they must not dwell with him, nor find any kindness from him; and, besides this, the nature of pride is so shameful and unhandsome, that the very discovery of it is a huge mortification and means of suppressant it. A man would be ashamed to be told that he inquires after the faults of his last oration or action on purpose to be commended; and, therefore, when the man shall tell his spiritual guide the same shameful story of himself, it is very likely he will be humbled and heartily ashamed of it.
14. Let every man suppose what opinion he should have of one that should spend his time in playing with drum-sticks and cockle-shells, and that should wrangle all day long with a little boy for pins, or should study hard and labour to cozen a child of his gauds; and who would run into a river, deep and dangerous, with a great burden upon his back, even then when he were told of the danger, and earnestly importuned not to do it? and let him but change the instances and the person, and he shall find that he hath the same reason to think as bad of himself, who pursues trifles with earnestness, spending mistime in vanity, and his labour for that which profits not; who, knowing the laws of God, the rewards of virtue, the cursed consequents of sin, that it is an evil spirit that tempts him to do it, a devil, one that hates him, that longs extremely to ruin him; that it is his own destruction that he is then working; that the pleasures of his sin are base and brutish, unsatisfying in the enjoyment, soon over, shameful in their story, bitter in the memory, painful in the effect here, and intolerable hereafter, and for ever; yet in despite of all this, he runs foolishly into his sin and his ruin, merely because he is a fool, and winks hard, and rushes violently like a horse into the battle, or, like a madman, to his death. He that can think great and good things of such a person, the next step may court the pack for an instrument of pleasure, and admire a swing for wisdom, and go for counsel to the prodigal and trifling grasshopper.
After the use of these and such like instruments and considerations, if you would try how your soul is grown, you shall know that humility, like the root of a goodly tree, is thrust very far into the ground by these goodly fruits which appear above ground.
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