The Spirit of Love is a Humble Spirit
"Charity vaunts not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly."--1 Corinthians 13:4, 5
Having shown the nature and tendency of charity or Christian love, in respect to our receiving injury, and doing good to others — that it “suffers long and is kind;” and also with respect to the good possessed by others as compared with that possessed by ourselves — that charity “envieth not;” the apostle now proceeds to show, that in reference to what we ourselves may be or have, charity is not proud — that “it vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly.” As, on the one hand, it prevents us from envying others what they possess, so, on the other, it keeps us from glorying in what we possess ourselves. Paul had just declared that charity was contrary to a spirit of envy, and now he declares that it is equally contrary to that spirit which specially provokes men to envy others, and which they often make a pretense or apology for envying them, viz. that they are puffed up with their honors and prosperity, and vaunt themselves on their possession of these things. When men have obtained prosperity, or are advanced, and others observe that they are puffed up and vaunt themselves in it, this tends to provoke envy, and make others uneasy at the sight of their prosperity. But if a man has prosperity or advancement, and yet does not vaunt himself or behave in an unseemly manner on account of it, this tends to reconcile others to his high circumstances, and make them satisfied that he should enjoy his elevation. As already observed, when men envy another, they are prone to excuse and justify themselves in so doing, by the pretense that he does not make a good improvement of his prosperity, but is proud of it, and puffed up on account of it. But the apostle shows how Christian love, or charity, tends to make all behave suitably to their condition, whatever it may be: if below others, not to envy them, and if above others, not to be proud or puffed up with the prosperity.
In the words of the text, we may observe, that a spirit of Christian love is spoken of as the opposite of a proud behavior, and that two degrees of such a behavior are mentioned. The higher degree is expressed by a man’s “vaunting himself,” that is, by his so carrying himself as to show plainly that he glories in what he has, or is. The lower degree is expressed by his “behaving himself unseemly,” that is, by his not conducting himself in a becoming and decent manner in the enjoyment of his prosperity, but so acting as to show that he thinks the mere fact of his being prosperous exalts him above others. And the spirit of charity or love is spoken of, as opposed not only to a proud behavior, but to a proud spirit, or pride in the heart, for charity “is not puffed up.” The doctrine we are taught, then, in these words, is this:
THAT THE SPIRIT OF CHARITY, OR CHRISTIAN LOVE, IS AN HUMBLE SPIRIT.
In speaking to this doctrine, I would show — I. What humility is; and, II. How a Christian spirit, or the spirit of charity, is an humble spirit. And,
I. I would show what humility is. — Humility may be defined to be a habit of mind and heart corresponding to our comparative unworthiness and vileness before God, or a sense of our own comparative meanness in his sight, with the disposition to a behavior answerable thereto. It consists partly in the understanding, or in the thought and knowledge we have of ourselves, partly in the will, partly in the sense or estimate we have of ourselves, and partly in the disposition we have to a behavior answerable to this sense or estimate. And the first thing in humility is,
1. A sense of our own comparative meanness. — I say comparative meanness, because humility is a grace proper for beings that are glorious and excellent in very many respects. Thus the saints and angels in heaven excel in humility, and humility is proper and suitable in them, though they are pure, spotless, and glorious beings, perfect in holiness, and excelling in mind and strength. But though they are thus glorious, yet they have a comparative meanness before God, of which they are sensible; for he is said (Psa. 113:6) to humble himself to behold the things that are in heaven. So the man Christ Jesus, who is the most excellent and glorious of all creatures, is yet meek and lowly of heart, and excels all other beings in humility. Humility is one of the excellencies of Christ, because he is not only God, but man, and as a man he was humble. For humility is not, and cannot be, an attribute of the divine nature. God’s nature is indeed infinitely opposite to pride, and yet humility cannot properly be predicated of him. For if it could, this would argue imperfection, which is impossible in God. God, who is infinite in excellence and glory, and infinitely above all things, cannot have any comparative meanness, and of course cannot have any such comparative meanness to be sensible of, and therefore cannot be humble. But humility is an excellence proper to all created intelligent beings, for they are all infinitely little and mean before God, and most of them are in some way mean and low in comparison with some of their fellow creatures. Humility implies a compliance with that rule of the apostle (Rom. 12:3), that we think not of ourselves more highly than we ought to think, but that we think soberly, according as God hath dealt to everyone of us the measure, not only of faith, but of other things. And this humility, as a virtue in men, implies a sense of their own comparative meanness, both as compared with God and as compared with their fellow creatures. And,
First, humility doth primarily and chiefly consist in a sense of our meanness as compared with God, or a sense of the infinite distance there is between God and ourselves. We are little, despicable creatures, even worms of the dust, and we should feel that we are as nothing, and less than nothing, in comparison with the Majesty of heaven and earth. Such a sense of his nothingness Abraham expressed, when he said (Gen. 18:27), “Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and ashes.” There is no true humility without somewhat of this Spirit; for, however sensible we may be of our meanness as compared with some of our fellow creatures, we are not truly humble unless we have a sense of our nothingness as compared with God. Some have a low thought of themselves as compared with other men: from the meanness of their circumstances, or from a melancholy and desponding temperament which is natural to them, or from some other cause, while still they know nothing of the infinite distance there is between them and God. Though they may be ready to look upon themselves as humble-spirited, yet they have no true humility. That which above all other things it concerns us to know of ourselves, is what we are in comparison with God, who is our Creator, and the one in whom we live, and move, and have our being, and who is infinitely perfect in all things. And if we are ignorant of our meanness as compared with him, then the most essential thing, and that which is indispensable in true humility, is wanting. But where this is truly felt, there arises from it,
Secondly, a sense of our own meanness as compared with many of our fellow creatures. — For man is not only a mean creature in comparison with God, but he is very mean as compared with multitudes of creatures of a superior rank in the universe, and most men are mean in comparison with many of their fellowmen. And when a sense of this comparative meanness arises from a just sense of our meanness as God sees it, then it is of the nature of true humility. He that has a right sense and estimate of himself in comparison with God, will be likely to have his eyes open to see himself aright in all respects. Seeing truly how he stands with respect to the first and highest of all beings, will tend greatly to help him to a just apprehension of the place he stands in among creatures. And he that does not rightly know the first and greatest of beings, who is the fountain and source of all other beings, cannot truly know anything aright; but so far as he has come to a knowledge of the former, so far is he prepared for and led unto the knowledge of other things, and so of himself as related to others, and as standing among them. (Please click here to continue reading, The Spirit of Love Is A Humble Spirit)