The Incarnation, a Lesson of Humility.
Christmas. Philippians 2:5-7.
"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."
"HE emptied Himself." Such is the full force of the amazing word, for which we read "He made Himself of no reputation." So much does God's Holy Word often contain in one word, partaking not of our infirmity of language, but of His Infinity. "He emptied Himself." He, the Eternal Son of the Eternal Father, God of God, Light of Light, Co-equal with the Father, Who hath neither beginning nor end, but is Himself "the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last," Uncreate, and the Creator, Infinite, Almighty, dwelling Ever-blessed in the Infinite Love of the Father, worshipped by Cherubim and Seraphim, and all the Host of Heaven and the Heaven of Heavens, became what He was not, Flesh; and, since what He was, God, He could not cease to be, yet He was as though He were It not. What He had not been, He became; and that so as to seem not to be what He was. He became what He was not! Aweful words to use; "God became," as though the Unchangeable could change. Yet He says, "The Word, Who was God, became Flesh;" became, not by ceasing to be what He was, but by taking into Himself what He was not; by veiling Himself under that Flesh which He united for ever with Himself. "He emptied Himself." He the Creator, passed by the Heavenly Host, delivered not them, by taking their nature, but came down to us, who were "lower than the Angels," last in order of His rational creation, and became as one of us. All His Attributes He veiled and hid; His Infinity, to abide, like other unborn babes, within the Virgin's womb; His Eternity, to receive birth in time, younger than His creatures; His Unchangeableness, to grow in stature, and (as it would seem) for His earthly Form to decay, and be worn by His sufferings; His Wisdom, "for our sake and among us to be ignorant, as Man," "of that which, as Lord, He knew;" His Self-sufficingness, that He, Who had all things, became as though He had nothing. [S. Cyril. Al. Thes. p. 221, and S. Athanas. c. Arian. iii, 28, see note p. 464, f. 466, g. 684, k. Oxf. Tr.] He forewent not things without Him only; He forewent Himself. He, the Creator, not only made Himself to need the creatures which He had formed, and was without them--He was hungry, and thirsty, and wearied, but even in the things which He wrought, He depended not alone on the Godhead within Him, but on the Father. His Works were not His own works, but His Father's. He came to do not His own Will, but His Father's, although He and the Father were One, and He was that Will. "My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to finish His work." He prayed, and praying was heard, though Himself was God. He was strengthened, as Man, by the Angel whom, as God, He created. Yea, still more did He forego His power, in that not only what He wrought He wrought by the power of the Father, but He was content to seem to effect nothing. He appeared but to prepare His own way. His visible ministry was scarcely different from that of His forerunner; He took up the words of His servant "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand:" He baptized not to Himself, Whom He hid. [See Tert. de Bapt. c. 11. p. 269 Oxf. Tr.] He "came not in His own Name." He was content, while on earth, not to "see the travail of His own soul." He gave not the Spirit. "I, if I be lifted up, from the earth, shall draw all men unto Me." "Greater works," saith He to His disciples, "than these shall he do that believeth on Me, because I go to the Father." His visible Presence was but a preparation for His invisible. His Presence was weak, and despised, and rejected; His Absence was with power. He sowed, for His servants to reap. He laid the foundation, even Himself; but deep, hidden, invisible, whereon His servants were to build.
Again, how must He have "emptied Himself" of His Majesty, Who, when, "with one rough word," He could have destroyed the ungodly, and "with the Breath of His Mouth" have (as He shall hereafter) "slain the wicked," was Himself sold into their hands, for the price of a bondslave. He "hid not His Face from shame and spitting," before Whom Angels veil their faces. Man discerned nothing to awe him from buffeting that Countenance before which the wicked shall melt away; the Judge of Heaven, and Earth stood before wicked judges, and they beheld neither His innocence nor their own guilt. They condemned Him because He owned that He was what He was, God. He "emptied Himself" of His Immortality, and the Immortal died. He became subject to death, the penalty of sin. He was hidden not only from men but from evil spirits, who see what lies below, in the heart, more than man; and thus the deceiver was strongly deceived, himself to destroy his own power, and set his captives free. The princes of this world (the rulers of darkness) discerned Him not, and so "crucified the Lord of glory." "God," it has been said, "was crucified and died in that Human Nature which, from Its participation in the united Word, calleth also for the Name of God." [Vigil. c. Eutych, L. iv. col. 512. See Petav. de Inc. iv. 15. S. Ath. c. Arian. i. 13 p. 207, Oxf. Tr. and p. 444, note i. &c.]
But what (if we may speak reverently of these mysteries), seems yet more amazing, He was content to veil even that, in Himself, wherein, so to say, God is most God, the Glory of the Divinity, His Holy Being, whereby He hateth all iniquity. He, Who is "the Truth," was contented to be called "that deceiver;" they said of Him, "Nay, but He deceiveth the people." He hid His Holiness, so that His apostate angel shrank not from approaching Him, to tempt Him. He came in the likeness of sinful flesh, so that His fallen creature thought that He might become as himself. He veiled the very humility wherewith He humbled Himself to be obedient, so that Satan thought that He might be tempted through pride. He was content to be thought able to covet the creatures which He had made, and, like us, to prefer them to the Father; yea, and the very lowest of the creatures, which even man can despise. They called Him "a gluttonous man, and a wine-bibber." "We know," say they, "that this man is a sinner. "They reproached Him for disobedience to the Father, and breaking the law which He gave. So wholly was He made like unto us, in all things, sin only excepted, that man could not discern that He, the Holy God, was not (shocking to say) unholy man.
It surpasses all thought, it amazes, it confounds, to think of God becoming man; the Infinite enshrined within the finite, the Lord of all blended e with His servant, the Creator with His creature! [i. e. closely united, yet without "confusion of substance." See on Tertull. Apol. p. 48, note h. Oxf. Tr.] It is a depth of mystery unsearchable. We must shrink with awe when we pronounce it Of old they fell down and worshipped, when, in our Creed, they uttered it--"God was made Man." It was an unimaginable condescension for God to create. From Eternity, in Eternity, (since it had no beginning), He was Ever-blessed, Love loving Love in the Holy Spirit, Who is the Bond of Love and Unity. He was, in Himself, All-perfect. He needed nothing, changed not. And yet, in that He created, He did a new thing, and formed those who needed Him, as though He needed them. He formed them to serve Him Who needed them not, and He accepted their service. It was much, as Scripture saith, to "humble Himself to behold the things which are in Heaven and earth." But that He, Who was Perfect in Himself, should take into Himself something without Him; that He, Who is All in all, should add something to Himself; that He Who is a Spirit, should take into Himself that which was material; in a word, that God (if we realize to ourselves what that word GOD is) should take into Himself what is not GOD; one must stand speechless with awe at so amazing a mystery. How must we be amazed and scarce believe for joy, to think that that which He so took was man, ourselves, our fallen, sinful, in Him Alone unsinful, unsinning nature.
It had been past belief, were it not more past belief that what He declares should not be true, that God should take the manhood into God, had it been all perfection, had Pie even in it appeared in His Own Glory, as now He is, or as He shall be when He again appeareth. But Scripture veils even this truth, like Himself, in lowliness. It says, "the Word became Flesh," that is, God Man. It saith not even "became Man," but "became Flesh." It calls that which He took for us, our human nature, from that which in us is the lowest, our "flesh." [See S. Greg. Naz. and S. Aug. in Petav. de Inc. 4. 2. 8.] His Humility held back from nothing, not even our fallen flesh, which we had so defiled, in Him Alone "without desire of sin." [See S. Ath. c. Ar. i. 11, and p. 241. h, Oxf. Tr.] He became Man, in all his infirmity, all the infirmities brought upon him by sin, only not sin itself. He so became man, that the tears which man hides for shame, He wept, wept as one who suffered, and was, as it were, mastered by suffering, as though He could not but weep. There burst from His Body "sweat, as it were great drops of blood," the sign of weakness, the very penalty of Adam's sin. And at this time what became He? What even man pities, as helpless; what is the very type of helplessness; every member powerless, moved at will, yet unable to move itself; helpless to utter even its own wants and helplessness. One had not dared so to speak of His Ineffable Humility, lest we, so little humble, should not be able with reverence so to think on His Humility, had they not of old, in more reverent days, so spoken. [See S. Aug. Serm. 84, sqq. and S. Leo, Serm. 21, sqq. Nat. Dom.] But now we would repeat it, and, with Sarah, laugh with wondering joy. "For us" men "a Child was born;" the Lord of Hosts was born a Child; the Everlasting God, Who was before all times, and "by Whom are all things" and all times, was born in time. He became Man, Who created man. He Who guides the stars in their courses, lay motionless. He Who gives speech to men and Angels, the Word, in Whom is all utterance and all knowledge, lay speechless, so that, in the language of prophecy, He could not yet "say My Father, My Mother. "He was born of the mother whom He had created for Himself; He was borne on the hands which He had formed; He, as Scripture1 says, received infantine nourishment at her breasts, which He filled; He, if in this too He were like other infants, gave witness, by His Tears, that He was born to suffer for us, as we for ourselves. ["He is wrapped in swaddling clothes, as other children; He weepeth as others. His tears proclaim, His swaddling clothes proclaim, that man's wounds are now washed and wiped clean." S. Bern. in Nat. Dom. init.] "So deeply had human pride sunk us," says an ancient Bishop, "that nothing but Divine Humility could raise us." [S. Aug. Serm. 188, in Nat. Dom. 5. § 3.]
The Divine Words speak of Him as at once Perfect God, and Perfect Man. He was both wholly. Nothing was lacking to His Perfection, as God; nothing of man's infirmities, which, now from sin, though without touch, of sin, was lacking that He should be Perfect Man. [All our infirmities, which come from sin, He took, without participation with sin." S. Leo Serm. 63, (de Pass, Dom. 12.) c. 4.] Our imperfect nature He took perfectly. He was in the "Form of God; "He took upon Himself "the form of a servant." "In the Form of God," that is, in the very Essence of God; "in the form of man," that is, in the essence of man. Before, He was in that only, whereby God is what HE is, "the Form of God," the fulness of Divinity. "He emptied Himself," and took the fulness of human nature, all which maketh it what it is. He, the Only Begotten, in all things Equal to the Father, Equal in Glory, Majesty, Eternity, took the form of a servant, became the Brother of those who were under the yoke of servitude. To Him, Who was Equal with God, it became, in prophecy, a title of honour that He was the Servant of God;? He, in Whom the Father was ever well-pleased, as the Son, now became the Chosen "Servant," in Whom His Soul delighted.
And as was His Birth, such was His Life. We, being poor, having the intrinsic poverty of our sinful wretchedness, poor in His Holy Spirit, think it much if we have not all we long for; He, "being rich," in the love of the Co-Equal Trinity, in the Bosom of the Father, emptied Himself of His Riches, and, for our sakes, "became poor." We long to be and to have what we are not and have not; He forewent what He was and had. We long to be first; He became last, even man; and among men, "as he that serveth." We, deserving contempt, wish to be esteemed, are impatient of reproach; He, Who Alone hath glory, was content to be despised by His creature, man; yea "to be a worm and no man, a very scorn of men, and an outcast of the people," an outcast of the very outcasts; "the very abjects gathered themselves together against Me." "We," says the same holy Bishop, "being men, wished to be God-to be lost; He, being God, willed to be Man, to find that which was lost." [S. Aug. 1. c.]
And not only in Birth, in Life, in Death, but now also in His Glory, He is content to be hidden still. So did He veil His Majesty, that because, as Man, He confessed, "My Father is greater than I," some whom He came to redeem will not believe in Him; others believe not in Him as He is. The world still knoweth Him not, even as then "it knew Him not." He still cometh to His own, "and His own (His purchased ones) receive Him not." He still endures "the blasphemy of the multitude," is still neglected and trampled upon in His poor, despised and profaned in His Sacraments, hated in His servants, and in His body, the Church; alas! that we must say it, scoffed at by the infidel; and, worst of all, how often have they who own Him been ashamed to confess Him before men, ashamed of Him, their Saviour and their God! He is still content to be unknown to the wise and prudent in their own conceits, to be despised in Lazarus, and, as at this time, to receive the hidden worship of those whom the world knows nothing of, the poor, the desolate, the humble, the mourner, the broken-hearted, the stranger.
And all this for us, ungrateful! "This," says an ancient father, "is the glory of Christ, that in His Body He took the state of servitude, that He might give liberty to all; He bore our sins that He might take away the sin of the world; He was made a servant, sin, a curse, that thou mightest cease to be the servant of sin; that He might absolve thee from the curse of the Divine sentence." [S. Ambr. Ep 46. § 12, 13.] He became humble that He might cure our pride.
My brethren, we must not, on this our day of rejoicing, content ourselves with even holy feelings and thankfulness; we must not even think that we joy in the Lord, unless we seek to become like the Lord. They only can joy in Him who are like Him; man, when humbled, in a Humble God.
This is the special Festival of humility, as of joy, a lowly joy, a joy of the lowly. Our Lord, from the manger, where, for our sakes, He deigned to lie, preachcth to us humility. This was the beginning and end of His teaching. He taught it in action now, by His Birth; He taught it in all His Life and Sufferings; He summed up His teaching in this, a little before those Sufferings, when He washed His diseiples' feet, and said "know ye what I have done to you? If I, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, ye ought also to wash one another's feet. I have given you an example that ye should do as I have done to you. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them." He not merely, as in the days of His flesh, setteth before us, His disciples, a little child, and bids us become like it, if we would "enter into the Kingdom of Heaven;" He has Himself become that little Child. Year by year He sets Himself before us, a little Child, in great humility, and bids us become like Him, that when He appears again, in His glorious Majesty, we may again be made like Him. Year by year, through His Holy Nativity, He calleth us to behold Him, and cryeth, by His very speechless Infancy, "Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly of heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls." "The Master," says a holy father, "the Son of God, the Wisdom of God, through Whom all things were made, preacheth. He calleth the human race, and saith, 'Learn of Me.' What? ' how I created Heaven and earth? how all things were in Me before they were?' No; but 'I am meek and lowly of heart.'" [S. Aug. Serm. 117, dc verb. Ev. Job. § 17. See more at length Serm. 67, p. 501. Oxf. Tr.] The mysteries of His Godhead are the contemplation of eternity for those who shall see God; now He would teach us what for us He became, the Mystery of His Humility in His Incarnation. God Incarnate preaches humility to His creature.
For this is the foundation of the whole building of Christian virtues; or rather, thus alone can we reach that Foundation, Whereon Alone we can build securely. The heathen had semblances or images of well nigh every virtue. He had many excellencies, here and there, which put Christians to shame. Wretchedly corrupt as life was upon the whole, still not individuals only, but even nations, had great single virtues. The heathen had self-devotion, contentment, contempt of the world without him, and of the flesh; he had fortitude, endurance, self-denial, abstemiousness, temperance, chastity, even a sort of reverence for God Whom he knew not; but he had not humility. The first sin, the wish to be as God, pride, spoiled them all. Man, in his natural state, claims, as his own, what is God's; and so he displeases God, Whom he robs of His Honour. And so the first beginning of Christian virtues is to lay aside pride. It is to own that we have nothing, that so we may receive all and hold all of God; and when, as being in Christ and partaking of His Riches, we begin to have, still to own that, of our own, we have nothing. It is the only hope of our sinful selves to be freed from what is our own, and have what is not our own, but His. Our own fruits were but sin; our inheritance, the wages of sin, death. What we have is His Gift; what we hope for, is still His Gift; our price, His Blood; ourselves, His Purchase; our life, His within us; our sanctification, Himself; our works, His Grace, preventing, working, finishing; our hope, His pardoning Mercy, accepting what He gave, filling up what we lack, "forgiving all our iniquities, healing" at length and for ever "all our infirmities, redeeming our life from destruction, crowning" His Redeemed, as His Own Gift still, "with mercy and loving-kindness," and filling our emptiness with His Endless Good.
But not only in general or towards Him, have we need of humility. It enters in detail into each Christian grace, so that it has been said, "well-nigh the whole substance of the Christian discipline is humility." [S. Aug. Serm. 351. de Pænit., S. 1, § 4.] Every mountain of human pride must be brought low, to prepare the Lord's way; and so shall the lowly valley be exalted. Without humility, there can be no resignation, since humility alone knows it's sufferings and sorrows to be less than it deserves; no contentment, for humility alone knows that it has more blessings than it deserves; no peace, for contention cometh of want of humility; no kindness, for pride envieth; and this St. Paul assigns as the very reason why "love envieth not," that it "is not puffed up "i. e. is humble. How shall there, without it, be any Christian grace, since all are the Fruits of God's Holy Spirit, as He "resisteth the proud and giveth grace unto the lowly?" "He dwelleth in the humble and contrite heart." If love be the summit of all virtue, humility is the foundation. He humbled Himself because He loved us; we must be humble in order to love Him; for to such only will He impart His Love. "The Publican would not so much as lift up his eyes to Heaven," and God was more pleased with the confession of sins in the sinner, than in the recounting of the virtues of the righteous. The Canaanitish woman was content with the portion of the dogs, and she had "the children's bread." The gate of life is low as well as narrow. Through the lowly portal of repentance, are we brought into the Church; and humble as little children must we again become, if we would enter the everlasting gates.
Well indeed may the Christian be ashamed not to be humble, for whom God became humble; to be exalted where his Master was abased; to be had in honour where He was despised; to be rich where He was poor; to be waited upon, where He "came not to be ministered to but to minister." Yea, but that it must be so, well may we, if we have any humility, be ashamed to be waited on, honoured, served, by those who are perhaps higher in God's Favour, and who will one day behold His Presence nearer than we, who now are first. Well will it be for us if, while we accept such services, we be ashamed to receive them, as unworthy of them, and in that shame learn the humility, which they who render them learn by being the last.
We may not then contemplate a humble Saviour without longing ourselves to be humble. If on this Day, thou hast some thoughts of thankfulness for the great Humility of thy Lord, follow it; so shalt thou cherish them. Humbled thyself, thou shalt love thy Humble Saviour. Thoughts are wasted, unless turned into action. Seek in daily action to prefer others to thyself; give to others, when thou mayest, the first place, and take the last; be glad when others are praised and thou passed over; others are listened to and thou disregarded; forget thy good deeds and remember thy sins; consider what is good in thy neighbour, what is evil in thyself; amid what disadvantages they are what they are, how fenced around and with what supplies of grace we are but what we are. If thou must outwardly be honoured and served, inwardly abase thyself as unworthy; if praised, call quick to mind the ill thou knowest of thyself and others know not of; be very jealous not to seek praise, not to say any thing with a view to obtain praise, or to be thought well of; be not over-anxious to clear thyself from blame; all blame is deserved, if not at man's hand, yet at God's; in undeserved blame see, (as has been said by a good Bishop of our Church), what but for God's Grace, thou wouldest even now be; in praise, what by God's Grace we should have been, but, through our sin, are not; confess habitually to God the sins of thy youth, thy many short-comings, thy daily infirmities; consider with thyself what God is, and what thou; He, how pure! thou, in thyself nothing; of thyself but sin; pray to see thy sins as God seeth them; so, striking "root downwards" in humility, shalt thou bear "fruit upwards" unto God; so, laying a deep foundation, shall thy house remain. The tree falls with any gust of wind when the root is near the surface; the house which has a shallow foundation, is soon shaken. [see S. Aug. Serm. 69, (19 Oxf. Tr.)] High and wide as the noblest trees spread, so deep and wide their roots are sunk below; the more majestic and nobler a pile of building, the deeper its foundation; their height is but an earnest of their lowliness; you see their height, their lowliness is hidden; the use of sinking thus deep is not plain to sight, yet were they not thus lowly, they could not be thus lofty. [Virg. Georg. ii. 292, sqq.] Dig deep then the foundation of humility, so only mayest thou hope to reach the height of charity; for by humility alone canst thou reach that Rock, which shall not be shaken, that is Christ. Founded by humility on that Rock, the storms of the world shall not shake thee, the torrent of evil custom shall not bear thee away, the empty winds of vanity shall not cast thee clown. Founded deep on that Rock, thou mayest build day by day that tower whose top shall reach unto Heaven, to the very Presence of God, the sight of God, and shalt be able to finish it; for He shall raise thee thither, Who for thy sake abased Himself to us.
God is reached, not by lifting up ourselves, but by easting clown ourselves; we cannot approach Him, but He cometh nigh to us, even to those who are cast down. Be humble with Him, Who humbled Himself for thee, and He with Himself shall exalt thee. Be empty of thyself and He with Himself shall fill thee. The sins which thou in humility rememberest, God for Christ's sake will forget; the good deeds which in humility thou forgettest, He for Christ's sake will accept; and when thou acknowledges! their worthlessness, He will give them a worth which of themselves they could not have. He hath respect unto the lowly. Though we have nothing else in us worthy of His gracious regard, yet, if we be lowly, He will deign to look upon us. He will, herein at least, see in us the likeness of His Son; and while we humble ourselves to Hell where we deserve to be, He will raise us up, whither we deserve not, to Heaven.
But let us beware lest we deceive ourselves. What would be humility in others, may be pride in us. We know not mostly, are but learning feebly what deep humility we need. We have learnt nothing, until we have learnt to be last of all, to take the lowest place, and believe that it is the fittest place for us; to compare ourselves with none, except to abase ourselves; to see God in all besides, in ourselves, our own hideousness and deformity and the scars of our manifold sins; to count ourselves unworthy to be last in that glorious company, which shall see His Blissful Countenance for ever, and willing to be placed by Him not first, but last. Sad as it is, this to most of us will be nearer the truth. For many "that are first shall be last, and the last first." They whom the world despises, they whom alas! too many of us in the pride of our hearts, our station, our intellect, once little accounted of, shall be among the nearest friends of the Bridegroom in the Heavenly Halls. The weak in intellect but strong in love, the ignorant of all knowledge except the knowledge of God, the poor in all things outward, but rich in "the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, "shall by their love be borne aloft, shall for their true poverty receive the kingdom of Heaven, as being like Him Whose it is, and Who for us became poor; they shall for their true humility be exalted, as having "the mind of Christ" "Who emptied Himself, and became obedient to death, and that the Death of the Cross; wherefore God hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a Name above every name. "For us, who are in this Day exalted, well will it be, if in that Day, we be but least, lowest, last, where to be least and last is above all our deserts, as much as Heaven is above Hell.
Cling then fast to humility, shrink from station, advancement, honour, praise, prosperity, if thou mayest, and whatever else may hinder it. If thou must have any of these, humble thyself yet more in private. Take we gladly shame, reproach, abasement, whatever may teach us what we are. And on this Day seek we as we may the mind of little children, unlearn ourselves and our self-esteem; even in the outward joys which any may have, prefer one another as esteeming others better than ourselves. Study in them the Mind of Christ Jesus, that if we cannot be like them in innocence, we may at least in lowliness, and for His sake Who, as on this Day, deigned to become for us a little Child, bearing in us some shadow of His Humility, inwrought by Him, we may by Him be made partakers of the Reality of His Glory. To Whom with the Father and the Holy Ghost be all Glory, &c.