Zacharias Ursinus on Humility

Primary author of the Heidelberg CatechismVI. HUMILITY is to acknowledge that all the good which is in us, and done by us does not proceed from any worthiness or excellency which we possess, but from the free goodness of God, and so by an acknowledgment of the divine majesty, and our own weakness and unworthiness, to submit ourselves to God, to ascribe the glory of all the good which is in us to him alone, and so to fear God, to acknowledge and deplore our imperfections and faults, and not to desire any higher position for ourselves, than that which God has assigned to us, nor to be dissatisfied with our gifts, but by the help of God to remain contented and satisfied with our calling and position in life, and not to despise others who are placed in more desirable situations than ourselves, nor to hinder them in the discharge of their duty, but to acknowledge that others are, and may also become profitable instruments of God; and therefore to attribute and yield to them willingly the place and honor due them, and not to attribute to ourselves, or attempt that which it is not in our power to accomplish, nor claim for ourselves a higher degree of excellence than others possess, but to be contented with the gifts and position which God has assigned us, and so to devote all our gifts and endeavors to the glory of God and the salvation of our fellow men, even of those who are of the lower and more unworthy class, and not to murmur against God, if our hopes are disappointed, or we are despised, but in all things to attribute to God the praise of wisdom and righteousness. “Who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it.” “God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.” “Whosoever, therefore, shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” “Let nothing be done through strife or vain glory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.” (1 Cor. 4:7. 1 Pet. 5:5. Matt. 18:4Phil. 2:3.)

The opposite of humility, as it respects the want of this virtue, is pride, or arrogance. Pride consists in attributing the gifts which we possess, not to God, but to our own worthiness, and natural powers, and so includes an admiration of self and of our gifts. He who is possessed of pride does not fear God, neither does he acknowledge or deplore his imperfections he is continually aspiring after a more elevated position and calling in life, and attributes to himself not in the strength of God, but in that of his own powers, what he does not possess attempts things beyond his strength, and foreign to his calling despises those who are above him in life, yields to none, but desires to go before and excel others, and directs his gifts and counsels to his own praise and glory is displeased with God and man, and frets and speaks against God when his desires and projects are not realised, and even accuses God of error and injustice when the divine arrangements do not fall in with the opinions and wishes of men. Or to express it more briefly, we may say, that pride consists in an admiration of self and of one s own gifts and attainments, attributing these gifts to itself, attempting things that do not properly fall within its sphere, and fretting against God, when disappointed in the gratification of its own wishes and desires. Of this vice it is said: “God resisteth the proud.” “Every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord.” (1 Pet. 5:5 Prov. 16:5.)

A feigned modesty or humility is the opposite of this virtue as it respects the other extreme. This affected modesty consists in courting the praise of humility by denying those things which any one in his own mind attributes to himself, whether he really possess them or not, and by refusing those things which he desires and endeavors to obtain secretly. “Moreover, when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance; for they disfigure their faces that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. (Matt. 6:16.) Aristotle terms it affected niceness, as though he would call it a feigned fastidiousness. Some translate the words used by Aristotle, vain glorious dissemblers.  The words of Aristotle (Ethic, lib. 4. cap. 7.) may be rendered thus: “Those who dissemble in things that are small and manifest, are called skilful dissemblers, and are generally despised; and sometimes it consists in pride, as the wearing of a Lacedemonian attire.” This counterfeit humility is, therefore, a pride that is two-fold.  pp. 514-515

Ursinus, Zacharias Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, n.d.)

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