Humility is not a virtue widely promoted in contemporary culture. In fact, it’s one of the traditional virtues largely dismissed today, in this age of constant selfies, self-promotion on social media, and the near-compulsion to the experience celebrity. Even in the church, we turn our pastors into rock stars, promote ourselves by writing books guaranteed to invite controversy and attention, and read more Christian celebrity self-help books than we do the Bible.
To read Humility: The Beauty of Holiness by writer, teacher, and pastor Andrew Murray (1828-1917) is, in a very real sense, to enter an alien landscape.
Murray, the son of a Dutch Reformed minister and missionary, was born in South Africa, educated in Scotland, became a missionary and pastor himself in South Africa, and authored more than 240 books on faith, theology, and Christian living. He lived during the century of Darwin, Marx, and Freud, the triumvirate of thinkers who many believe permanently closed the book on the Christian faith. And yet he remained steadfast in his belief, and wrote book after book to encourage others in the faith.
Humility was one of those books. It’s a series of meditations on the subject (this edition is updated with modern English), and draws heavily from the Bible. And this is how Murray summarizes the framework of humility: “The creature must accept that its main concern, its best asset, its only happiness, now and through all eternity, is to present itself an empty vessel in which God can dwell and demonstrate His power and goodness.” The creature Murray is referring to is the human creature.
Our best attribute is being an empty vessel?
Murray goes on to use the filter of human humility to reflect upon the secret of redemption, the humanity of Jesus, the teaching and disciples of Jesus, humility in daily life, holiness, sin, faith, death to self, happiness, and exaltation. He goes about his writing quietly and gently, but with a steadfast purpose – to help us understand why humility may be one of the most, if not the most, important characteristic of a Christian.
Humility may be the most countercultural book I’ve read in years.
Top photograph by Arto Marttinen via Unsplash. Used with permission.