PRAYER AND HUMILITY
???If two angels were to receive at the same moment a commission from
God, one to go down and rule earth???s grandest empire, the other to go
and sweep the streets of its meanest village, it would be a matter of
entire indifference to each which service fell to his lot, the post of
ruler or the post of scavenger; for the joy of the angels lies only in
obedience to God???s will, and with equal joy they would lift a Lazarus
in his rags to Abraham???s bosom, or be a chariot of fire to carry an
Elijah home.??????John Newton
TO be humble is to have a low estimate of one???s self. It is to be
modest, lowly, with a disposition to seek obscurity. Humility retires
itself from the public gaze. It does not seek publicity nor hunt for
high places, neither does it care for prominence. Humility is retiring
in its nature. Self-abasement belongs to humility. It is given to
self-depreciation. It never exalts itself in the eyes of others nor even
in the eyes of itself. Modesty is one of its most prominent
In humility there is the total absence of pride, and it is at the very
farthest distance from anything like self-conceit. There is no
self-praise in humility. Rather it has the disposition to praise others.
???In honour preferring one another.??? It is not given to
self-exaltation. Humility does not love the uppermost seats and aspire
to the high places. It is willing to take the lowliest seat and prefers
those places where it will be unnoticed. The prayer of humility is after
???Never let the world break in,
Fix a mighty gulf between;
Keep me humble and unknown,
Prized and loved by God alone.???
Humility does not have its eyes on self, but rather on God and others.
It is poor in spirit, meek in behaviour, lowly in heart. ???With all
lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in
The parable of the Pharisee and publican is a sermon in brief on
humility and self-praise. The Pharisee, given over to self-conceit,
wrapped up in himself, seeing only his own self-righteous deeds,
catalogues his virtues before God, despising the poor publican who
stands afar off. He exalts himself, gives himself over to self-praise,
is self-centered, and goes away unjustified, condemned and rejected by
The publican sees no good in himself, is overwhelmed with
self-depreciation, far removed from anything which would take any credit
for any good in himself, does not presume to lift his eyes to heaven,
but with downcast countenance smites himself on his breast, and cries
out, ???God be merciful to me, a sinner.???
Our Lord with great preciseness gives us the sequel of the story of
these two men, one utterly devoid of humility, the other utterly
submerged in the spirit of self-depreciation and lowliness of mind.
???I tell you this man went down to his house justified rather than the
other; for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that
humbleth himself shall be exalted.??? Luke 18:14.
God puts a great price on humility of heart. It is good to be clothed
with humility as with a garment. It is written, ???God resisteth the
proud, but giveth grace to the humble.??? That which brings the praying
soul near to God is humility of heart. That which gives wings to prayer
is lowliness of mind. That which gives ready access to the throne of
grace is self-depreciation. Pride, self-esteem, and self-praise
effectually shut the door of prayer. He who would come to God must
approach Him with self hid from his eyes. He must not be puffed-up with
self-conceit, nor be possessed with an over-estimate of his virtues and
Humility is a rare Christian grace, of great price in the courts of
heaven, entering into and being an inseparable condition of effectual
praying. It gives access to God when other qualities fail. It takes many
descriptions to describe it, and many definitions to define it. It is a
rare and retiring grace. Its full portrait is found only in the Lord
Jesus Christ Our prayers must be set low before they can ever rise high.
Our prayers must have much of the dust on them before they can ever
have much of the glory of the skies in them. In our Lord???s teaching,
humility has such prominence in His system of religion, and is such a
distinguishing feature of His character, that to leave it out of His
lesson on prayer would be very unseemly, would not comport with His
character, and would not fit into His religious system.
The parable of the Pharisee and publican stands out in such bold relief
that we must again refer to it. The Pharisee seemed to be inured to
prayer. Certainly he should have known by that time how to pray, but
alas! like many others, he seemed never to have learned this invaluable
lesson. He leaves business and business hours and walks with steady and
fixed steps up to the house of prayer. The position and place are
well-chosen by him. There is the sacred place, the sacred hour, and the
sacred name, each and all invoked by this seemingly praying man. But
this praying ecclesiastic, though schooled to prayer, by training and by
habit, prays not. Words are uttered by him, but words are not prayer.
God hears his words only to condemn him. A death-chill has come from
those formal lips of prayer???a death-curse from God is on his words of
prayer. A solution of pride has entirely poisoned the prayer offering of
that hour. His entire praying has been impregnated with self-praise,
self-congratulation, and self-exaltation. That season of temple going
has had no worship whatever in it.
On the other hand, the publican, smitten with a deep sense of his sins
and his inward sinfulness, realising how poor in spirit he is, how
utterly devoid of anything like righteousness, goodness, or any quality
which would commend him to God, his pride within utterly blasted and
dead, falls down with humiliation and despair before God, while he
utters a sharp cry for mercy for his sins and his guilt. A sense of sin
and a realisation of utter unworthiness has fixed the roots of humility
deep down in his soul, and has oppressed self and eye and heart,
downward to the dust. This is the picture of humility against pride in
praying. Here we see by sharp contrast the utter worthlessness of
self-righteousness, self-exaltation, and self-praise in praying, and the
great value, the beauty and the Divine commendation which comes to
humility of heart, self-depreciation, and self-condemnation when a soul
comes before God in prayer.
Happy are they who have no righteousness of their own to plead and no
goodness of their own of which to boast. Humility flourishes in the soil
of a true and deep sense of our sinfulness and our nothingness. Nowhere
does humility grow so rankly and so rapidly and shine so brilliantly,
as when it feels all guilty, confesses all sin, and trusts all grace.
???I the chief of sinners am, but Jesus died for me.??? That is praying
ground, the ground of humility, low down, far away seemingly, but in
reality brought nigh by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. God dwells
in the lowly places. He makes such lowly places really the high places
to the praying soul.
???Let the world their virtue boast,
Their works of righteousness;
I, a wretch undone and lost,
Am freely saved by grace;
Other tide I disclaim,
This, only this, is all my plea,
I the chief of sinners am,
But Jesus died for me.???
Humility is an indispensable requisite of true prayer. It must be an
attribute, a characteristic of prayer. Humility must be in the praying
character as light is in the sun. Prayer has no beginning, no ending, no
being, without humility. As a ship is made for the sea, so prayer is
made for humility, and so humility is made for prayer.
Humility is not abstraction from self, nor does it ignore thought about
self. It is a many-phased principle. Humility is born by looking at God,
and His holiness, and then looking at self and man???s unholiness.
Humility loves obscurity and silence, dreads applause, esteems the
virtues of others, excuses their faults with mildness, easily pardons
injuries, fears contempt less and less, and sees baseness and falsehood
in pride. A true nobleness and greatness are in humility. It knows and
reveres the inestimable riches of the Cross, and the humiliations of
Jesus Christ. It fears the lustre of those virtues admired by men, and
loves those that are more secret and which are prized by God. It draws
comfort even from its own defects, through the abasement which they
occasion. It prefers any degree of compunction before all light in the
Somewhat after this order of description is that definable grace of
humility, so perfectly drawn in the publican???s prayer, and so entirely
absent from the prayer of the Pharisee. It takes many sittings to make a
good picture of it.
Humility holds in its keeping the very life of prayer. Neither pride nor
vanity can pray. Humility, though, is much more than the absence of
vanity and pride. It is a positive quality, a substantial force, which
energises prayer. There is no power in prayer to ascend without it.
Humility springs from a lowly estimate of ourselves and of our
deservings. The Pharisee prayed not, though well schooled and habituated
to pray, because there was no humility in his praying. The publican
prayed, though banned by the public and receiving no encouragement from
Church sentiment, because he prayed in humility. To be clothed with
humility is to be clothed with a praying garment. Humility is just
feeling little because we are little. Humility is realising our
unworthiness because we are unworthy, the feeling and declaring
ourselves sinners because we are sinners. Kneeling well becomes us as
the attitude of prayer, because it betokens humility.
The Pharisee???s proud estimate of himself and his supreme contempt for
his neighbour closed the gates of prayer to him, while humility opened
wide those gates to the defamed and reviled publican.
That fearful saying of our Lord about the works of big, religious
workers in the latter part of the Sermon on the Mount, is called out by
proud estimates of work and wrong estimates of prayer:
???Many shall say unto me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not
prophesied in thy name? and in thy name cast out devils? and in thy name
done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never
knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquiy.???
Humility is the first and last attribute of Christly religion, and the
first and last attribute of Christly praying. There is no Christ without
humility. There is no praying without humility. If thou wouldst learn
well the art of praying, then learn well the lesson of humility.
How graceful and imperative does the attitude of humility become to us!
Humility is one of the unchanging and exacting attitudes of prayer.
Dust, ashes, earth upon the head, sackcloth for the body, and fasting
for the appetites, were the symbols of humility for the Old Testament
saints. Sackcloth, fasting and ashes brought Daniel a lowliness before
God, and brought Gabriel to him. The angels are fond of the
How lowly the attitude of Abraham, the friend of God, when pleading for
God to stay His wrath against Sodom! ???Which am but sackcloth and
ashes.??? With what humility does Solomon appear before God! His
grandeur is abased, and his glory and majesty are retired as he assumes
the rightful attitude before God: ???I am but a little child, and know
not how to go out or to come in.???
The pride of doing sends its poison all through our praying. The same
pride of being infects all our prayers, no matter how well-worded they
may be. It was this lack of humility, this self-applauding, this
self-exaltation, which kept the most religious man of Christ???s day
from being accepted of God. And the same thing will keep us in this day
from being accepted of Him.
???O that now I might decrease!
O that all I am might cease!
Let me into nothing fall!
Let my Lord be all in all.???
???Complete Works of E. M. Bounds,
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