Here little, and hereafter bliss, Is best from age to age.
But, now, from the shepherd boy and from his valley and his song, let us go on without any more poetry or parable to look our own selves full in the face and to ask our own hearts whether they are the hearts of really humble-minded and New Testament men or no. Dr. Newman, "that subtle, devout man," as Dr. Duncan calls him, says that "humility is one of the most difficult of virtues both to attain and to ascertain. It lies," he says, "close upon the heart itself, and its tests are exceedingly delicate and subtle. Its counterfeits abound." Most true. And yet humility is not intended for experts in morals only, or for men of a rare religious genius only. The plainest of men, the least skilled and the most unlettered of men, may not only excel in humility, but may also be permitted to know that they are indeed planted, and are growing slowly but surely in that grace of all graces. No doubt our Lord had, so to describe it, the most delicate and the most subtle of human minds; and, no doubt whatever, He had the most practised skill in reading off what lay closest to His own heart. And, then, it was just His attainment of the most perfect humility, and then His absolute ascertainment of the same, that enabled Him to say: Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me. At the same time, divine as the grace is, and divine as the insight is that is able to trace it out in all its exquisite refinements of thought and feeling in the sanctified soul, yet humility is a human virtue after all, and it is open to all men to attain to it and intelligently and lovingly to exercise it. The simplest and the least philosophical soul now in this house may apply to himself some of the subtlest and most sensitive tests of humility, as much as if he were Dr. Duncan or Dr. Newman themselves; and may thus with all assurance of hope know whether he is a counterfeit and a castaway or no.
Take this test for one, then. Explain this text to me: Phil. ii. 3--"In lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than himself." Explain and illustrate that. Not from a commentary, but straight out from your own heart. What does your heart make of that scripture? Does your heart turn away from that scripture almost in anger at it? Do you say you are certain that there must be some other explanation of it than that? Do you hold that this is just another of Paul's perpetual hyperboles, and that the New Testament is the last book in the world to be taken as it reads? Yes; both bold and subtle father that he is: counterfeits abound!
Another much blunter test, but, perhaps, a sufficiently sharp test, is this: How do you receive correction and instruction? Does your heart meekly and spontaneously and naturally take to correction and instruction as the most natural and proper thing possible to you? And do you immediately, and before all men, show forth and exhibit the correction and the instruction? Or, does this rather take place? Does your heart beat, and swell, and boil, and boil over at him who dares to correct or counsel you? If this is a fair test to put our humility to, how little humility there is among us! How few men any of us could name among our friends to whom we would risk telling all the things that behind their backs we point out continually to others? We are terrified to face their pride. We once did it, and we are not to do it again, if we can help it! Let a man not have too many irons in the fire; let him examine himself just by these two tests for the time--what he thinks of himself, and what he thinks of those who attempt, and especially before other people, to set him right. And after these two tests have been satisfied, others will no doubt be supplied till that so humble man is made very humility itself.
And now, in the hope that there may be one or two men here who are really and not counterfeitly in earnest to clothe themselves with humility before God and man, let them take these two looms to themselves out of which whole webs of such garments will be delivered to them every day--their past life, and their present heart. With a past life like ours, my brethren--and everyman knows his own--pride is surely the maddest state of mind that any of us can allow ourselves in. The first king of Bohemia kept his clouted old shoes ever in his sight, that he might never forget that he had once been a ploughman. And another wise king used to drink out of a coarse cup at table, and excused himself to his guests that he had made the rude thing in his rude potter days. Look with Primislaus and Agathocles at the hole of the pit out of which you also have been dug; look often enough, deep enough, and long enough, and you will be found passing up through the Valley of Humiliation singing:
"With us He dealt not as we sinn'd, Nor did requite our ill!"
Another excellent use of the past is, if you are equal to it, to call yourself aloud sometimes, or in writing, some of the names that other people who know your past are certainly calling you. It is a terrible discipline, but it is the terror of the Lord, and He will not let it hurt you too much. I was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious, says Paul. And, to show Titus, his gospel-son, the way, he said to him: We ourselves were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another. And John Bunyan calls himself a blackguard, and many other worse names; only he swears that neither with his soldiering nor with his tinkering hands did he ever plash down Beelzebub's orchard. But if you have done that, or anything like that, call yourself aloud by your true name on your knees to-night. William Law testifies, after five-and-twenty years' experience of it, that he never heard of any harm that he had done to any in his house by his habit of singing his secret psalms aloud, and sometimes, ere ever he was aware, bursting out in his penitential prayers.
And, then, how any man with a man's heart in his bosom for a single day can escape being the chief of sinners, and consequently the humblest of men for all the rest of his life on earth, passes my comprehension! How a spark of pride can live in such a hell as every human heart is would be past belief, did we not know that God avenges sin by more sin; avenges Himself on a wicked and a false heart by more wickedness and more falsehood, all ending in Satanic pride.