“Learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly of heart.”
— Matthew 11:29
“Whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant, even as the Son of Man came to serve.”
— Matthew 10:27
We have seen humility in the life of Christ, as He laid open His heart to us: let us listen to His teaching. There we shall hear how He speaks of it, and how far He expects men, and specially His disciples, to be humble as He was. Let us carefully study the passages, which I can scarce do more than quote, to receive the full impression of how often and how earnestly He taught it: it may help us to realize what He asks of us.
Look at the commencement of His ministry. In the Beatitudes with which the Sermon on the Mount opens, He speaks: “Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the meek; for they shall inherit the earth.” The very first words of His proclamation of the kingdom of heaven reveal the open gate through which alone we enter. The poor, who have nothing in themselves, to them the kingdom comes. The meek, who seek nothing in themselves, theirs the earth shall be. The blessings of heaven and earth are for the lowly. For the heavenly and the earthly life, humility is the secret of blessing.
“Learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly of heart, and ye shall find rest for your souls.” Jesus offers Himself as Teacher. He tells what the spirit both is, which we shall find Him as Teacher, and which we can learn and receive from Him. Meekness and lowliness the one thing He offers us; in it we shall find perfect rest of soul. Humility is to be a salvation.
The disciples had been disputing who would be the greatest in the kingdom, and had agreed to ask the Master [ Luke 9:46; Matthew 18:3 ]. He set a child in their midst and said, “Whosoever shall humble himself as this little child, shall be exalted.” “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” The question is indeed a far-reaching one. What will be the chief distinction in the heavenly kingdom? The answer, none but Jesus would have given. The chief glory of heaven, the true heavenly-mindedness, the chief of the graces, is humility. “He that is least among you, the same shall be great.”
The sons of Zebedee had asked Jesus to sit on His right and left, the highest place in the kingdom. Jesus said it was not His to give, but the Father’s, who would give it to those for whom it was prepared. They must not look or ask for it. Their thought must be of the cup and the baptism of humiliation. And then He added, “Whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant. Even as the Son of Man came to serve.” Humility, as it is the mark of Christ the heavenly, will be the one standard of glory in heaven: the lowliest is the nearest to God. The primacy in the Church is promised to the humblest.
Speaking to the multitude and the disciples, of the Pharisees and their love of the chief seats, Christ said once again [ Matthew 23:11 ], “He that is greatest among you shall be your servant.” Humiliation is the only ladder to honor in God’s kingdom.
On another occasion, in the house of a Pharisee, He spoke the parable of the guest who would be invited to come up higher [ Luke 14:1-11 ], and added, “For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” The demand is inexorable; there is no other way. Self-abasement alone will be exalted.
After the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican, Christ spake again [ Luke18:14 ], “Everyone that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” In the temple and presence and worship of God, everything is worthless that is not pervaded by deep, true humility towards God and men.
After washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus said [ John 13:14 ], “If I then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.” The authority of command, and example, every thought, either of obedience or conformity, make humility the first and most essential element of discipleship.
At the Holy Supper table, the disciples still disputed who should be greatest [ Luke 22:26 ]. Jesus said, “He that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. I am among you as he that serveth.” The path in which Jesus walked, and which He opened up for us, the power and spirit in which He wrought out salvation, and to which He saves us, is ever the humility that makes me the servant of all.
How little this is preached. How little it is practised. How little the lack of it is felt or confessed. I do not say, how few attain to it, some recognizable measure of likeness to Jesus in His humility. But how few ever think, of making it a distinct object of continual desire or prayer. How little the world has seen it. How little has it been seen even in the inner circle of the Church.
“Whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.” Would God that it might be given us to believe that Jesus means this! We all know what the character of a faithful servant or slave implies. Devotion to the master’s interests, thoughtful study and care to please him, delight in his prosperity and honor and happiness. There are servants on earth in whom these dispositions have been seen, and to whom the name of servant has never been anything but a glory. To how many of us has it not been a new joy in the Christian life to know that we may yield ourselves as servants, as slaves to God, and to find that His service is our highest liberty, — the liberty from sin and self? We need now to learn another lesson, — that Jesus calls us to be servants of one another, and that, as we accept it heartily, this service too will be a most blessed one, a new and fuller liberty too from sin and self. At first it may appear hard; this is only because of the pride which still counts itself something. If once we learn that to be nothing before God is the glory of the creature, the spirit of Jesus, the joy of heaven, we shall welcome with our whole heart the discipline we may have in serving even those who try to vex us. When our own heart is set upon this, the true sanctification, we shall study each word of Jesus on self-abasement with new zest, and no place will be too low, and no stooping too deep, and no service too mean or too long continued, if we may but share and prove the fellowship with Him who spake, “I am among you as he that serveth”.
Brethren, here is the path to the higher life. Down, lower down! This was what Jesus ever said to the disciples who were thinking of being great in the kingdom, and of sitting on His right hand and His left. Seek not, ask not for exaltation; that is God’s work. Look to it that you abase and humble yourselves, and take no place before God or man but that of servant; that is your work; let that be your one purpose and prayer. God is faithful. Just as water ever seeks and fills the lowest place, so the moment God finds the creature abased and empty, His glory and power flow in to exalt and to bless. He that humbleth himself — that must be our one care — shall be exalted; that is God’s care; by His mighty power and in His great love He will do it.
Men sometimes speak as if humility and meekness would rob us of what is noble and bold and manlike. Oh that all would believe that this is the nobility of the kingdom of heaven, that this is the royal spirit that the King of heaven displayed, that this is Godlike, to humble oneself, to become the servant of all! This is the path to the gladness and the glory of Christ’s presence ever in us, His power ever resting on us.
Jesus, the meek and lowly One, calls us to learn of Him the path to God. Let us study the words we have been reading, until our heart is filled with the thought: My one need is humility. And let us believe that what He shows, He gives; what He is, He imparts. As the meek and lowly One, He will come in and dwell in the longing heart.