Humility is the great ornament and jewel of Christian religion;
that whereby it is distinguished from all the wisdom of the world; it not
having been taught by the wise men of the Gentiles, but first put into a discipline,
and made part of a religion, by our Lord Jesus Christ, who propounded himself
imitable by his disciples so signally in nothing as in the twin sisters of
meekness and humility. ‘Learn of me, for I am meek and humble; and ye shall
find rest unto your souls.’
For all the world, all that we are, and all that we have, our
bodies and our souls, our actions and our sufferings, our conditions at home,
our accidents abroad, our many sins, and our seldom virtues, are as so many
arguments to make our souls dwell low in the deep valleys of humility.
Arguments against Pride, by way of consideration.
1. Our body is weak and impure, sending out more uncleannesses
from its several sinks than could be endured, if they were not necessary and
natural; and we are forced to pass that through our mouths, which as soon as we
see upon the ground, we loathe like rottenness and vomiting.
2. Our strength is inferior to that of many beasts, and our
infirmities so many that we are forced to dress and tend horses and asses, that
they may help our needs, and relieve our wants.
3. Our beauty is in colour inferior to many flowers, and in
proportion of parts it is no better than nothing; for even a dog hath parts as
well proportioned and fitted to his purposes, and the designs of his nature, as
we have; and when it is most florid and gay, three fits of an ague can change it
into yellowness and leanness, and the hollowness and wrinkles of deformity.
4. Our learning is then best when it teaches most humility; but
to be proud of learning is the greatest ignorance in the world. For our
learning is so long in getting, and so very imperfect, that the greatest clerk
knows not the thousandth part of what he is ignorant; and knows so uncertainly
what he seems to know, and knows no otherwise than a fool or a child even what
is told him or what he guesses at, that except those things which concern his
duty, and which God hath revealed to him, which also every woman knows so far
as is necessary, the most learned man hath nothing to be proud of, unless this
be a sufficient argument to exalt him, that he uncertainly guesses at some more
unnecessary things than many others, who yet know all that concerns them, and
mind other things more necessary for the needs of life and commonwealths.
5. He that is proud of riches is a fool. For if he be exalted
above his neighbours, because he hath more gold, how much inferior is he to a
gold mine! How much is he to give place to a chain of pearl, or a knot of
diamonds! For certainly that hath the greatest excellence from whence he
derives all his gallantry and pre-eminence over his neighbours.
6. If a man be exalted by reason of any excellence in his soul,
he may please to remember that all souls are equal; and their differing
operations are because their instrument is in better tune, their body is more
healthful or better tempered; which is no more praise to him than it is that he
was born in Italy.
7. He that is proud of his birth is proud of the blessings of
others, not of himself; for if his parents were more eminent in any
circumstance than their neighbours, he is to thank God, and rejoice in them;
but still he may be a fool, or unfortunate, or deformed; and when himself was
born, it was indifferent to him whether his father were a king, or a peasant,
for he knew not anything nor chose anything; and most commonly it is true, that
he that boasts of his ancestors, who were the founders and raisers of a noble
family, doth confess that he hath in himself a less virtue and a less honour,
and therefore he is degenerated.
8. Whatsoever other difference there is between thee and thy
neighbour, if it be bad, it is thine own, but thou hast no reason to boast of
thy misery and shame: if it be good thou hast received it from God; and then
thou art more obliged to pay duty and tribute, use and principal to him, and it
were a strange folly for a man to be proud of being more in debt than another.
9. Remember what thou wert before thou wert begotten. Nothing.
What wert thou in the first regions of thy dwelling, before thy birth?
Uncleanness. What wert thou for many years after? A great sinner. What in all
thy excellencies? A mere debtor to God, to thy parents, to the earth, to all
the creatures. But we may, if we please, use the method of the Platonists,
who reduce all the causes and arguments for humility, which we can take from
ourselves to these seven heads. 1. The spirit of a man is light and
troublesome. 2. His body is brutish and sickly. 3. He is constant in his folly
and error, and inconsistent in his manners and good purposes. 4. His labours
are vain, intricate, and endless. 5. His fortune is changeable, but seldom
pleasing, never perfect. 6. His wisdom comes not till he be ready to die, that
is, till he be past using it. 7. His death is certain, always ready at the
door, but never far off. Upon these or the like meditations if we dwell, or
frequently retire to them, we shall see nothing more reasonable than to be
humble, and nothing more foolish than to be proud.
Acts or Offices of Humility.
The grace of humility is exercised by these following rules.
1. Think not thyself better for anything that happens to thee
from without. For although thou mayest, by gifts bestowed upon thee, be better
than another, as one horse is better than another, that is of more use to
others; yet as thou art a man, thou hast nothing to commend thee to thyself but
that only by which thou art a man, that is, by what thou choosiest and
2. Humility consists not in railing against thyself, or wearing
mean clothes, or going softly and submissively; but in hearty and real evil or
mean opinion of thyself. Believe thyself an unworthy person heartily, as thou
believest thyself to be hungry, or poor, or sick, when thou art so.
3. Whatsoever evil thou sayest of thyself, be content that others
should think to be true: and if thou callest thyself fool, be not angry if
another say so of thee. For if thou thinkest so truly, all men in the world
desire other men to be of their opinion; and he is an hypocrite that accuses
himself before others, with an intent not to be believed. But he that calls
himself intemperate, foolish, lustful, and is angry when his neighbours call
him so, is both a false and a proud person.
4. Love to be concealed, and little esteemed:
be content to want praise, never being troubled when thou art slighted or
undervalued; for thou canst not undervalue thyself, and if thou thinkest so
meanly as there is reason, no contempt will seem unreasonable, and therefore it
will be very tolerable.
5. Never be ashamed of thy birth, or thy parents, or thy trade,
or thy present employment, for the meanness or poverty of any of them; and when
there is an occasion to speak of them, such an occasion as would invite you to
speak of anything that pleases you, omit it not, but speak as readily and
indifferently of thy meanness as of thy greatness. Primislaus, the first king
of Bohemia, kept his country-shoes always by him, to remember from whence he
was raised: and Agathocles, by the furniture of his table, confessed that from
a potter he was raised to be the king of Sicily.
6. Never speak anything directly tending to thy praise or glory;
that is, with the purpose to be commended, and for no other end. If other ends
be mingled with thy honour, as if the glory of God, or charity, or necessity,
or anything of prudence be thy end, you are not tied to omit your discourse or
your design, that you may avoid praise, but pursue your end, though praise come
along in the company. Only let not praise be the design.
7. When thou hast said or done anything for which thou receivest
praise or estimation, take it indifferently, and return it to God, reflecting
upon his as the giver of the gift, or the blesser of the action, or the aid of
the design; and give God thanks for making thee an instrument of his glory, for
the benefit of others.
8. Secure a good name to thyself by living virtuously and humbly;
but let this good name be nursed abroad, and never be brought home to look upon
it: let others use it for their own advantage; let them speak of it if they
please; but do not thou at all use it, but as an instrument to do God glory,
and thy neighbour more advantage. Let thy face, like Moses’s, shine to others,
but make no looking-glasses for thyself.
9. Take no content in praise when it is offered thee; but let thy
rejoicing in God’s gift be allayed with fear, lest this good bring thee to
evil. Use the praise as you use your pleasure in eating and drinking; if it
comes, make it do drudgery; let it serve other ends, and minister to
necessities, and to caution, lest by pride you lose your just praise, which you
have deserved, or else, by being praised unjustly, you receive shame into
yourself with God and wise men.
10. Use no stratagems and devices to get praise. Some use to
inquire into the faults of their own actions or discourses, on purpose to hear
that it was well done or spoken, and without fault; others bring the matter
into talk, or thrust themselves into company, and intimate and give occasion to
be thought or spoken of. These men make a bait to persuade themselves to
swallow the hook, till by drinking the waters of vanity they swell and burst.
11. Make no suppletories to thyself, when thou art disgraced or
slighted, by pleasing thyself with supposing thou didest deserve praise, though
they understood thee not, or enviously detracted from thee: neither do thou get
to thyself a private theatre and flatterers, in
whose vain noises and fantastie praises thou mayest keep up thine own good
opinion of thyself.
12. Entertain no fancies of vanity and private whispers of this
devil of pride, such as was that of Nebuchadnezzar: ‘Is not this great Babylon,
which I have built for the honour of my name, and the might of my majesty, and
the power of my kingdom?’ Some fantastic spirits will walk alone, and dream
waking of greatness, of palaces, of excellent orations, full theatres, loud
applauses, sudden advancement, great fortunes, and so will spend an hour with
imaginative pleasure; all their employment being nothing but fumes of pride,
and secret indefinite desires and significations of what their heart wishes. In
this, although there is nothing of its own nature directly vicious, yet is
either an ill mother or an ill daughter an ill sign or an ill effect; and
therefore at no hand consisting with the safety and interests of humility.
13. Suffer others to be praised in thy presence, and entertain
their good and glory with delight; but at no hand disparage them, or lessen the
report, or make an objection; and think not the advancement of thy brother is a
lessening of thy worth. But this act is also to extend further.
14. Be content that he should be employed, and thou laid by as
unprofitable; his sentence approved, thine rejected; he be preferred, and thou
fixed in a low employment.
15. Never compare thyself with others, unless it be to advance
them and to depress thyself. To which purpose, we must be sure, in some sense
or other, to think ourselves the worst in every company where we come: one is
more learned than I am, another is more prudent, a third more charitable, or
less proud. For the humble man observes their good, and reflects only upon his
own vileness; or considers the many evils of himself certainly known to
himself, and the ill of others but by uncertain report; or he considers that
the evils done by another are out of much infirmity or ignorance, but his own
sins are against a clearer light, and if the other had so great helps, he would
have done more good and less evil; or he remembers, that his old sins before
his conversion were greater in the nature of the thing, or in certain
circumstances, than the sins of other men. So St. Paul reckoned himself the
chiefest of sinners, because formerly he had acted the chiefest sin of
persecuting the church of God. But this rule is to be used with this caution,
that though it be good always to think meanest of ourselves, yet it is not ever
safe to speak it, because those circumstances and considerations which
determine thy thoughts are not known to others as to thyself; and it may
concern others that they hear thee give God thanks for the graces he hath given
thee. But if thou preservest thy thoughts and opinions of thyself truly humble,
you may with more safety give God thanks in public for that good which cannot,
or ought not to be concealed.
16. Be not always ready to excuse every oversight, or
indiscretion, or ill action, but if thou beest guilty of it confess it plainly;
for virtue scorns a lie for its cover, but to hide a sin with it is like a
crust of leprosy drawn upon an ulcer. If thou beest not guilty (unless it be
scandalous,) be not over-earnest to remove it, but rather use it as an argument
to chastise all greatness of fancy and opinion in thyself; and accustom thyself
to bear reproof patiently and contentedly, and the harsh words of thy enemies,
as knowing that the anger of an enemy is a better monitor, and represents our
faults, or admonishes us of our duty, with more heartiness than the kindness
does or precious balms of a friend.
17. Give God thanks for every weakness, deformity, and
imperfection, and accept is as a favour and grace of God, and an instrument to
resist pride, and nurse humility, ever remembering, that when God, by giving
thee a crooked back, hath also made thy spirit stoop or less vain, thou art
more ready to enter the narrow gate of heaven, than by being straight, and
standing upright, and thinking highly. Thus the apostles rejoiced in their
infirmities, not moral, but natural and accidental, in their being beaten and
whipped like slaves, in their nakedness, and poverty.
18. Upbraid no man’s weakness to him to discomfort him, neither
report it to disparage him, neither delight to remember it to lessen him, or to
set thyself above him. Be sure never to praise thyself, or to dispraise any man
else, unless God’s glory or some holy end do hallow it. And it was noted to the
praise of Cyrus, that, amongst his equals in age,
he would never play at any sport, or use any exercise, in which he knew himself
more excellent than they; but in such in which he was unskillful he would make
his challenges, lest he should shame them by his victory, and that himself
might learn something of their skill, and do them civilities.
19. Besides the foregoing parts and actions, humility teaches us
to submit ourselves and all our faculties to God, ‘to believe all things, to do
all things, to suffer all things,’ which his will enjoins us; to be content in
every state or change, knowing we have deserved worse than the worst we feel,
and, as Anytus said to Alcibiades, he hath taken but half when he might have
taken all, to adore his goodness, to fear his greatness, to worship his eternal
and infinite excellencies, and to submit ourselves to all our superiors, in all
things, according to godliness, and to be meek and gentle in our conversation
Now, although, according to the nature of every grace, this
begins as a gift, and is increased like a habit, that is, best by its own acts;
yet, besides the former acts and offices of humility, there are certain other
exercises and considerations, which are good helps and instruments for the
procuring and increasing this grace, and the curing of pride.
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
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,
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,’
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;
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.
Signs of Humility
1. The humble man trusts not to his own discretion, but in
matters of concernment relies rather upon the judgment of his friends,
counsellors, or spiritual guides. 2. He does not pertinaciously pursue the
choice of his own will, but in all things lets God choose for him, and his
superiors, in those things which concern them. 3. He does not murmur against
He is not inquisitive into the reasonableness of indifferent and innocent
commands, but believes their command to be reasonable enough in such cases to
exact his obedience. 5. He lives according to a rule, and with compliance to
public customs, without any affectation or singularity. 6. He is meek and
indifferent in all accidents and chances. 7. He patiently bears injuries.
8. He is always unsatisfied in his own conduct, resolutions, and counsels. 9.
He is a great lover of good men, and a praiser of wise men, and a censurer of
no man. 10. He is modest in his speech, and reserved in his laughter. 11. He
fears when he hears himself commended, lest God make another judgment
concerning his actions than men do. 12. He gives no part of saucy answers when
he is reproved, whether justly or unjustly. 13. He loves to sit down in
private, and, if he may, be refuses the temptation of offices and new honours.
14. He is ingenuous, free, and open in his actions and discourses. 15. He mends
his fault, and gives thanks when he is admonished. 16. He is ready to do good
offices to the murderers of his fame, to his slanderers, backbiters, and
detractors, as Christ washed the feet of Judas. 17. And is contented to be
suspected of indiscretion, so before God he may really be innocent, and not
offensive to his neighbour, nor wanting to his just and prudent interest.