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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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HUMILITY . Trench defines ‘humility’ as the esteeming of ourselves small, inasmuch as we are so; the thinking truly, and because truly, therefore lowlily, of ourselves. Alford, Ellicott, Salmond, Vincent, and many others agree. It is an inadequate and faulty definition. A man may be small and may realize his smallness, and yet be far from being humble. His spirit may be full of envy instead of humility. He may be depressed in spirit because he sees his own meanness and general worthlessness, and yet he may be as rebellious against his lot or his constitutional proclivities as he is clearly cognizant of them. Low-mindedness is not lowly-mindedness. The exhortation of Philippians 2:3 does not mean that every man ought to think that everybody else is better than himself in moral character, or in outward conduct, or in natural or inherited powers. That would be impossible in some cases and untruthful in many others. It is not an exhortation to either an impossibility or an untruthfulness. A better definition of the Christian grace of humility is found in the union of highest self-respect with uttermost abandon of sacrifice in service. A man who knows his own superior worth and yet is willing to serve his inferiors in Christian love is a humble man. The classic example in the NT is John 13:3-15 . The Lord, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He came forth from God and would go again unto God, knowing His incomparable superiority to every one in that company, was yet so meek and lowly in heart, so humble in spirit and ready for service, that He girded Himself with a towel and washed the disciples’ feet. The consciousness of His own transcendent worth was in no respect inconsistent with His humility. Genuine humility leads the strong to serve the weak. It never underestimates its own worth, but in utter unselfishness it is ready to sacrifice its own claims at any moment for the general good. Genuine humility loses all its self-conceit but never loses its self-respect. It is consistent with the highest dignity of character and life. Hence we may rightly call the Incarnation the Humiliation of Christ. He stood at the head of the heavenly hierarchies. He was equal with God. There was no dignity in the universe like unto His. Yet He humbled Himself to become a man. He made Himself of no reputation. He came not to be ministered unto, but to minister. He was the servant of all. There was no humility in the universe like unto His. He never forgot His dignity. When Pilate asked Him if He were a king, He answered that He was. He stood in kingly majesty before the mob, in kingly serenity before the magistrates; He hung as King upon the cross. Yet He never forgot His humility. Being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. St. Paul exhorts, ‘Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus’ ( Philippians 2:5-11 ). God giveth grace to all who are thus humble ( James 4:6 ).

When Augustine was asked, ‘What is the first article in the Christian religion?’ he answered, ‘Humility.’ And they said, ‘What is the second?’ and he said, ‘Humility.’ And they said, ‘What is the third?’ and he said the third time, ‘Humility.’ Pascal said: ‘Vanity has taken so firm a hold on the heart of man, that a porter, a hodman, a turn-spit, can talk greatly of himself, and is for having his admirers. Philosophers who write of the contempt of glory do yet desire the glory of writing well, and those who read their compositions would not lose the glory of having read them. We are so presumptuous as that we desire to be known to all the world; and even to those who are not to come into the world till we have left it. And at the same time we are so little and vain as that the esteem of five or six persons about us is enough to content and amuse us.’

D. A. Hayes.

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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Humility'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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