FOUNDATION TEXT:-- "I communed with mine own heart, saying, Lo, I am come to great estate, and have gotten more wisdom than all they that have been before me in Jerusalem: yea, my heart hath great experience of wisdom and knowledge." -- Eccl. 1:16.
THERE is no subject more vital to an every-day religion than a clear understanding of the right relations of our own individuality to the rest of the world. To most people the greatest person in the universe is themselves. Their whole lives are made up of endless variations on the word "ME". What do people think of ME? How will things affect ME? Will this make ME happy? Do people value ME as they ought? Look at MY great estate. Behold MY remarkable experiences. Listen to MY wisdom. Adopt MY views. Follow MY methods. And so on, and so on, through all the varied range of daily life. Always and everywhere this giant ME intrudes itself, demanding attention, and insisting on its rights.
Like Solomon in Ecclesiastes, we "commune with our own hearts" concerning our great possessions of various kinds, our wisdom, our knowledge, our righteousness, our good works; and are profoundly impressed with their great value and importance; and naturally we desire to call the attention of those around us to their magnitude!
The whole book of Ecclesiastes is founded on this devotion to the word ME. In the second chapter, for example, we find the words, I, me, my, mine used forty times in seven verses (see Eccl. 2:3-11).
The "Preacher," as he calls himself, is trying to solve the problem of earthly happiness. "I sought in my heart," he says, "till I might see what was that good for the sons of men, which they should do under the heaven all the days of their life." And he first of all secures for himself everything that he thinks can in any way conduce to the welfare and happiness of ME; and sums it all up in the seven verses I have mentioned. But at the end, in reviewing it all, he is forced to declare that, "behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun."
A little exercise of common-sense would show us that this must be the inevitable result of everything that has ME and ME only for its centre. There is never any "profit" in it, but always a grievous loss, and it can never turn out to be anything but "vanity and vexation of spirit." Have we not all discovered something of this in our own experience? You have set your heart, perhaps, on procuring something for the benefit or pleasure of your own great big ME; but when you have secured it, this ungrateful ME has refused to be satisfied, and has turned away from what it has cost you so much to procure, in weariness and disgust. Or you have laboured to have the claims of this ME recognised by those around you, and have reared with great pains and effort a high pinnacle, upon which you have seated yourself to be admired by all beholders. And lo! at the critical moment, the pinnacle has tottered over, and your glorious ME has fallen into the dust; and contempt, instead of honour, has become its portion. Never, under any circumstances, has it really in the end paid you to try and exalt your great exacting ME, for always, sooner or later, it has all proved to be "nothing but vanity and vexation of spirit."
Job, as well as Solomon, discovered this. In the twenty-ninth chapter of Job, for instance, we have a passage similar to the one in Ecclesiastes. Here the ME of Job is exalted even above the ME of Solomon. The words I, me, my, mine, are used over fifty times, and nothing seems wanting that could conduce to the honour and glory of ME. And yet, in spite of all his self-glorification, Job found at last that those who were younger than himself, and whose fathers he would have disdained to have "set among his dogs," simply "had him in derision." It is always so. Efforts after self-glorification and self-exaltation, always end in bringing the ME so glorified into derision. The onlookers may not say anything, perhaps, and may even seem to acquiesce in the praises self bestows upon its ME; but inwardly they laugh it all to scorn. Have not we ourselves seen people labouring to exalt their ME in the eyes of their friends, by recounting, as Job did, their own successes, and dwelling upon their own gifts and capabilities; and have we not always laughed at them in our secret hearts and been sorry that they could not see themselves as others saw them? May it not be even that we have done something of the same sort ourselves, and that there are many unwritten chapters in our own secret autobiographies that are quite as full of the variations on the personal pronouns I, me, my, as this chapter in the book of Job? Have we ever found, however, that such self-praise was any recommendation, or that our self-exaltation exalted us in the eyes of any one besides ourselves?
In the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican our Lord gives us a picture of the Divine judgment in regard to this exalting of our ME; and declares emphatically, "I tell you ... every one that exalteth himself shall be abased: and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted." (See Luke 18:9-14.)
Almost the worst effect of self-praise is that our fancied good grows and swells as we look at it and talk about it; and hence a man, whose eyes and whose thoughts are centered on self, comes to have for the most part a strangely exaggerated notion of the goodness and worthiness of his ME. It is like a sort of spiritual dropsy that swells the soul up to twice its natural size, and which looks, perhaps, on the surface as an increase of health and strength, but is in reality only a symptom of a sore disease. Such a one is suffering from what the French call, La maladie du moi; and it is one of the most fatal maladies there is.
"But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, and love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased: and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted" (Matt. 23:5-12).
It is an inevitable law that he who exalts himself shall be abased. Not always abased outwardly, so that the man himself knows it, but inevitably abased secretly, in the estimation of those around, who are always unfavourably impressed in exact proportion to the efforts self makes to create a favourable impression. How often have we seen pitiful illustrations of this, when Christian workers are together, and each one is vieing with the others in trying to edge in some account of the work "I have done," or the sermons "I have preached," or the meetings "I have held," or the honours that have been showered upon ME; and each one thinking all the others so tiresome and so grievously full of self!
"And He put forth a parable to those which were bidden, when he marked how they chose out the chief rooms; saying unto them, When thou art bidden of any man to a wedding, sit not down in the highest room; lest a more honourable man than thou be bidden of him; And he that bade thee and him come and say to thee, Give this man place; and thou begin with shame to take the lowest room. But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee. For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted" (Luke 14:7-11).
ME is a most exacting personage, requiring the best seats and the highest places for itself, and feeling grievously wounded if its claims are not recognised and its rights considered. Most of the quarrels among Christian workers arise from the clamourings of this gigantic ME. "So and so is exalted above ME;" "My rights have been trampled upon;" "No one considers ME." How much there is of this sort of thing, expressed or unexpressed, in every heart where ME is king! How few of us understand the true glory of taking our seats in the lowest rooms! And yet, if we are to have real "honour in the presence of them that sit at meat" with us, this is what we must do.
"Let nothing be done through strife or vain glory: but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore, God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name" (Phil. 2:3-9).
"Lowliness of mind" is the only true road to honour. He that humbleth himself shall be exalted; and no one else. Our Divine Master has set us the example of this; and if we really want to have the "mind that was in Christ Jesus," we must be willing to be made of no reputation, and must take, not the place of mastery, but the place of service.
"But Jesus called them to Him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: and whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Mark 10:42-45).
To be the "servant of all" is not a gratifying position to ME. Much more suitable does it seem to this mighty ME that others should serve it, and that it should "exercise lordship and authority" over them. It is only therefore when this tyrannical ME is cast out of our inner kingdom, that we can understand the blessedness and glory of being the "servant of all," or can realise the greatness that comes by this road.
"Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time" (1 Pet. 5:5, 6).
It seems very hard for Christians to take on this spirit of subjection one to another. The ME in them rebels mightily at any suggestion of such a thing. And yet in the kingdom of heaven it is the only road to greatness.
Our Lord tells us we do well to beware of people who "love salutations in the market-places, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and the uppermost rooms at feasts;" and our own instincts tell us the same. Only lately, in discussing the appointment of different Christians to the presidency of an influential society, there was one name mentioned at which every one in the committee exclaimed, almost in a breath, "Oh, we cannot have her, she is far too full of self!"
"A man's pride shall bring him low: but honour shall uphold the humble in spirit" (Prov. 29:23).
"Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls" (Matt. 11:29).
To be "meek and lowly in heart" one must get rid of the ME. Some people think they are humble and lowly in heart when they say bitter and disparaging things about themselves, but I am convinced that the giant ME is often quite as much exalted and puffed up by self-blame as by self-praise. The simple truth is, that we ought not to think or talk about our ME at all. Self is so greedy of notice, that, if it cannot be praised, it would rather be blamed, than not noticed at all. It is content to say all manner of ugly things about itself, if only it can by this means attract attention to itself. If it feels a delicacy about saying, "I am so good," it finds almost as much delight in saying, "I am so bad." This seems strange, but I believe the reason is that self feels as if the very saying, "I am so bad," proves that it is not so very bad after all, since it can be so humble! It is, however, a very different thing to say disparaging things about ourselves from having any one else say them about us. If we are in the habit of making these self-disparaging remarks, let us think for a moment how we should feel if our friends were to agree with our remarks, and were to repeat them to others as their own opinions. Suppose the next time you should say of yourself, "Oh, I am such a poor good-for-nothing creature," some one of your friends should reply, "Yes, that is exactly what I have always thought about you." How would your ME like that? The truth is our ME always expects the disparaging remarks it makes about itself to be denied; and it often, I fear, even if unconsciously, makes them for the express purpose of having them denied, and of having its humility, in making such humble statements concerning itself, admired and applauded. What can be more delicious to a delicate self-love than to hear itself applauded for having none! The truly meek and lowly heart does not want to talk about its ME at all, either for good or evil. It wants to forget its very existence. As Fenelon writes, it says to this ME, "I do not know you, and am not interested in you. You are a stranger to me, and I do not care what happens to you nor how you are treated." If people slight you or treat you with contumely or neglect, the meek and lowly heart accepts all as its rightful portion. True humility makes us love to be treated, both by God and man, as we feel our imperfections really deserve; and, instead of resenting such treatment, we welcome it and are thankful for it. I remember being greatly struck by a saying of Madame Guyon's, that she had learned to give thanks for every mortification that befel her, because she had found mortifications so helpful in putting self to death. It is undoubtedly true, as another old saint says, that there is no way of attaining the grace of humility but by the way of humiliations. Humiliations are the medicine that the Great Physician generally administers to cure the spiritual dropsy caused by feeding the soul on continual thoughts of ME.
"And thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep His commandments, or no. And He humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that He might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live ..." (Deut. 8:2, 3).
Many of us may be at this moment taking the same sort of medicine that the Lord was obliged to give to the children of Israel. We need, perhaps, to be "humbled," as much as they did, that we may not be tempted to say in our hearts, "My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth;" and the Lord is therefore obliged to "suffer us to hunger," and to "lead us through great and terrible wildernesses" to "prove us, and do us good." Should this be the experience of any of us, we must look at the blessed cure to be wrought, and take our medicine, no matter how bitter may be its taste, with cheerful and thankful hearts.
The Apostle Paul understood the true common-sense of humility. He tells us in Philippians the causes he had for self-glorification, but declares that he "counted all these things but dung," so worthless had he discovered them to be. He bids good-bye to his own gigantic ME, and cries out in language I would we could all adopt, "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me" (Gal. 2:20).
This "yet not I" is one of those "swords of the Spirit" about which Paul speaks when he describes the Christian's armour, and I know none that is more effectual in our conflict with the unruly giant ME. Not even a giant can resist the disintegrating process of an absolute and persistent ignoring of his existence; and if we will but adopt Paul's language, we cannot fail sooner or later to gain Paul's glorious victories.
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