Lord God, mercifully hear us, we humbly pray, and grant that we, to whom you have given a sincere desire to pray, may be defended by your mighty power, and strengthened in all dangers and adversities; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
2 Chronicles 33 : 9 - 13
But Manasseh led Judah and the people of Jerusalem, astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the Lord had destroyed before the Israelites.
The Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention. So the Lord brought against them the army commanders of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh prisoner, put a hook in his nose, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon. In his distress he sought the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. And when he prayed to him, the Lord was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea; so he brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord is God.
1 Peter 5 : 5 – 11
Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,
“God opposes the proud
but gives grace to the humble.”
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
It is key maxim of the Word of God that it is only the humble who receive the grace of God. Such humility is by no means a human virtue or a necessary qualification or merit for salvation. True humbling wrought in the heart of a believer is a work of grace and simultaneously the flip-side of the gift of faith. Martin Luther describes humility as the other side of the spiritual “coin of faith” (but he naturally suggests no notion of any purchasing power of this metaphorical coin).
Faith and humbleness are inseparable. Pride, arrogance, haughtiness is the sinful attitude of man that collides with the powerful resistance of divine repulsion and revulsion, immediately and perpetually, until it is caused to subside by the influence of the Holy Spirit. As Peter quotes from the Psalter, “God opposes the proud.” He also attests that all the children of God are to be clothed with humility. This vesture is not optional. It is the uniform or standard garb for all the people of God and we are to be carefully attired and modest in our internal life and its expression.
Likewise, in external ecclesiastical bearing, all clerical costume ought to be modest and never regarded as necessary, or appear splendidly gaudy. Simple clericals can emphasize the solemnity of ministerial office, and prepare the mind for duty and other-worldly worship, but it must never excite the sense of personal grandeur or self-importance of those who represent Jesus Christ. Every bishop ought best be graced by a humble eye and a sinner’s blush - the sheer “sartorial” fussiness of some. Bishops are servants of the servants and those who do not, as a priority, preach the word are not bishops at all.
A comment was once made by a high church Anglican that John Bunyan was not to be greatly regarded, as he did not belong to “the proper Church” (institutionally). But instead, the admirable Bunyan was indeed a true shepherd of his flock, as described by Peter elsewhere in his epistle, and, accordingly, the worthy Bedfordshire tinker, was known and honored by his people as “bishop”, faithfully feeding his flock the bread of life and romping with “the lambs”, the little children, of his various families on their cottage floors.
Whatever the qualities of genuine pastorship, a key attribute is lowliness. The scholarly pastor is without doubt an invaluable asset, if approachable, but the Lord has greatly blessed men of what may be deemed rather ordinary background and character.
Charles Simeon of Holy Trinity Church, Cambridge, gentleman and scholar, highly regarded John Stittle, founder of what became Eden Chapel in the same city. He rendered to Stitlle, a man who could not write, and was mocked by students, moral and financial support, and owned himself grateful that the dissenting minister took good care of Trinity’s strays.
Titles and attainments should never separate Christians into first and second class. Mutual respect is imperative, and working class and artisan parishes are often populated by men of honest and very able minds. At least, nowadays, no Anglican is obliged to address his bishop as “my lord!
Our English Reformers were generally men of great humility, courtesy and gentleness, as eminent and accomplished as they were, and grace established in them even the submissive spirit of martyrdom. One of those precious martyrs, Hugh Latimer, inveighed against the arrogance of certain holders of princely and fake episcopal office. Archbishop Marcus Loane observes in his book Masters of the English Reformation that Latimer became the friend of the poor, stating that “They in Christ are equal with you. Peers of the realm must needs be. [But] the poorest ploughman is in Christ equal with the greatest prince that is.”
God is not moved by pomp and pretentiousness of any kind. Before him all are weak, wicked and unreliable. And he will soon reveal to his chosen ones their evil nature, vulnerability to temptation, fluctuations of purpose and resolve, and coolness of devotion, love and obedience (without me you can do nothing). Paul was delivered from the snares of pride in the highest possible levels of spiritual experience; “To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me.”
However, the kindness of the Lord, after tempering pride, is enormous. In the guise of God-created humility an odious apostate such as Manasseh can be restored to God’s acceptance. We ourselves may find the welcome of the Lord as we humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand in all matters and moods of life. The motto of the great leader of the 18th century Awakening in the north of England, William Grimshaw, was “keep the proud chit down”; that is, to humble the childish vanity within each of us and bring it way down low, and under discipline at all times.
Humble access to God is the way of the lowly and contrite. It is that beautiful sentiment which is expressed by Thomas Cranmer in the prayer of humble access he composed for the Service of Holy Communion in the reformed Church of England: “We do not presume to come to this thy table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy . . . ” We stoop before the Lord’s table.
All our self-reliance, boastfulness, and self-promotion, as it is being checked by the restraints and chastisements of the Lord, abates and bowed spirits usher us, undeservingly, into the comprehensive care of the Father. The mighty hand “will lift us up in due time”, his capacious lap will receive all our anxieties. Paul is able to affirm, “He cares for you”.
Pride is the barrier to the Lord’s infinite range of blessing - all grace (v10). Pride is Satan’s key to our manipulable minds and hearts. We shall never in this life shed the horrid tendency of pride. It is innate and always ready to surge in a multiplicity of subtle and not so subtle ways. But God makes its taste nauseating to the mouth and we yearn for its extinction. The Lord Jesus, lofty and lowly, says to us, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” Matthew 11:29.