By Spencer W. Kimball
Address Given to the Brigham Young University Student Body January 16, 1963
Beloved students of the Brigham Young University. It is always a pleasureto come here, to be with you, to feel your spirit. I pray the Lord will bless me while I stand before you this morning.
As I have toured many missions in the past two decades and have visited with the young missionaries, one question, more than any other, has been asked me. They have come to grips with realities, have met almost insurmountable difficulties and stiff opposition. Dealing now with the supernatural and with the intangibles, they realize that the things of men are understood by the spirit of men, but the things of God cannot be understood except by the spirit of God. They know that spirituality comes through humility, and they ask, "How can I acquire humility?"
The dictionary says humility is "freedom from pride or arrogance; the act of submission; lowliness, meekness," and says "meekness is mildness of temper; patient under injuries; long-suffering," and in a less favorable sense, "spiritless."
We would discard the latter synonym, for the Lord certainly was never spiritless. A lone man, armed only with a cord whip, drove money-changers from the temple. Confronted by reprobates who presented an adulteress for stoning, He put them all to flight. He upbraided the thousands of inhabitants of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum without a guard to protect him. Almost alone among his accusers, He chided and condemned them. One can be bold and meek at the same time. One can be courageous and humble.
Too many of us say in our hearts what the children of Israel said to Moses:
We say, "My brains are responsible for this invention. From my brilliance comes this great knowledge. It is my strength that carries this burden."
Following his prayer, his sample prayer to us, the Lord said:
What could be more humble than for a king to ride an ass? He was proud of His message but willing to forego all the adulation and applause usually expected by a monarch.
He gave in His Beatitudes, "Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth." (Matthew 5:5) He was saying that only those who are humble enough to forego the vain glories of the world and to follow the paths of righteousness -- paths which may be hard and unpopular -- will possess the earth. When the earth is renewed and receives its paradisiacal glory, only those will possess the real estate of this celestialized orb who have been meek enough to follow the lowly Nazarene and bravely meet all the problems of life and surmount them. "Blessed are the meek."
If the Lord was meek and lowly and humble, then to become humble one must do what He did in boldly denouncing evil, bravely advancing righteous works, courageously meeting every problem, becoming the master of himself and the situations about him and being near oblivious to personal credit.
Humility is not pretentious, presumptuous, nor proud. It is not weak, vacillating, nor servile.
In the Lord's sample prayer, he opened it addressing his Father in heaven and closed it with these words: "For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen." (Matthew 6:13)
Humble and meek properly suggest virtues, not weaknesses. They suggest a consistent mildness of temper and an absence of wrath and passion. Humility suggests no affectation, no bombastic actions. It is not turbid nor grandiloquent. It is not servile submissivesness. It is not cowed nor frightened. No shadow or the shaking of a leaf terrorizes it.
How does one get humble? To me, one must constantly be reminded of his dependence. On whom dependent? On the Lord. How remind one's self? By real, constant, worshipful, grateful prayer.
"How can I remain humble?" the brilliant missionary asks. By reminding one's self frequently of his own weaknesses and limitations, not to the point of depreciation, but an evaluation guided by an honest desire to give credit where credit is due.
Humility is teachableness -- an ability to realize that all virtues and abilities are not concentrated in one's self.
Cowper says this:
John M. Coulter said,
Humility is gracious, quiet, serene, not pompous, spectacular, nor histrionic. It is subdued, kindly, and understanding -- not crude, blatant, loud, or ugly. Humility is not just a man or a woman, but a perfect gentleman and a gentlelady. It never struts nor swaggers. Its faithful, quiet works will be the badge of its own accomplishments. It never sets itself in the center of the stage, leaving all others in supporting roles. Humility is never accusing nor contentious. It is not boastful, such as Dickens portrayed Uriah Heap, who said,
William Jennings Bryan, back in the other century, gave us this:
When one becomes conscious of his great humility, he has already lost it. When one begins boasting of his humility, it has already become pride, the antithesis of humility.
Humility is repentant and seeks not to justify its follies. It is forgiving others in the realization that there may be errors of the same kind or worse chalked up against itself. In this connection Paul says,
Humility makes no bid for popularity and notoriety; demands no honors.
Humility is not insincere praise and flattery. It is marking goods at their proper value, neither overpriced for extravagant profit nor on sale in the basement bargain counter.
It is not self-abasement -- the hiding in the corner, the devaluation of everything one does or thinks or says; but it is the doing of one's best in every case and leaving of one's acts, expressions, and accomplishments to largely speak for themselves. It is not the selling of dignity and honor for money or revenge such as in the case of Shylock. Shakespeare had him say:
The peacock gives no evidence of humility nor is the pigeon meek as it struts to get attention from its fellows.
Frequently in calling men to high places in stakes, missions, and wards, they say they are willing but feel so inadequate. We usually say: "We're glad you feel inadequate. That means you will be humble and do all in your power to make yourself able. You will call upon the Lord, the source of power and strength." What a satisfaction it is to go finally again to the Lord for his benediction on one's effort when he can honestly tell the Lord he has done all he could possibly do in preparation.
Humility has the capacity to properly evaluate praise and applause and to catalog them. That which is flattering, gushing, insincere is thrown into the garbage. That which is exaggerated must be trimmed down to size. That which is appropriate may be accepted quietly, graciously, to be forgotten soon and to be used as a stimulus to further improvement.
I saw Humility once when she was baptized in a simple white gown -- no ornaments nor makeup, no ostentation or show; yet she and her husband were immensely wealthy. No special favors did she ask. She was immersed, though clothing would be clinging, her hair would be stringing, willing to acknowledge her need for the gospel, the Lord, and his people. She had been as on a raft, floating in mid-ocean without oars, sails or engines, or like the groping blind man alone in unfrequented places.
I saw Humility receive the Aaronic Priesthood, though he was a businessman of much affluence -- tall, handsome, successful, prominent. He walked with the deacons -- the twelve-year-olds -- to pass the sacrament and radiant in his new opportunity, realizing that "not where we serve, but how we serve" is the true test of greatness. I saw him later in the temple in white.
I saw Humility singing in the choir. She sang in many great productions, but now in the ward choir, grateful for the opportunity. I heard her sweet testimony after the administration when she was miraculously healed. A new light was in her eyes as she gave thanks to her Lord for her recovery. And I remembered what the Lord said,
I saw Humility again. He was young and stalwart. The group suggested pranks which were low and beneath the dignity of decent men. I heard him argue them out of their improper plans and back to sane activity.
Again I saw Humility. She was young, attractive, popular. Her make-up was limited; her clothes not extreme; her hairdo reasonable; her smile irresistible. About her there was nothing cheap nor gaudy.
The Savior knew life and he knew men and their weaknesses basic in man's carnal nature. Seemingly, He could not tolerate sham and pretense and hypocrisy. He castigated the "dog-in-the-manger" type of hypocrite:
Lips can speak honeyed words while hearts are black and foul. These men could pay tithes and make gifts for show and pray on street corners in the stance of humility while stiff with pride. These blind guides were proverbial in their straining at gnats and swallowing camels (see Matthew 23:24). His comparing them to the tombs is graphic. The sepulchre is whitewashed on the outside but inside are bodies of dead men with the stench of decomposition. He said of them,
Paul portrayed the Lord and said,
Though his accomplishments were spectacular, the Lord would allow no demonstrations. When He healed the leper, He sent him away with, "See thou tell no man; but go thy way. . ." (Matthew 8:4)
When He raised the child of Jairus from the dead, he performed the miracle in the privacy of the sick room, with only the parents and Peter, James, and John with him, leaving the weepers and the wailers and the mass of people outside. Then He ". . .charged them straitly that no man should know it. . . ." (Mark 5:43)
In most of His healings He seemed to give credit to their own faith rather than to His great power, as He did in the case of the woman who touched His garment and was healed of her twelve-year malady. "Daughter, be of good comfort: thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace." (Luke 8:48)
It seems the Lord calls the weak to serve in high places. Moses was such an one. Though trained in royal courts, he still had limitations and was conscious of them.
"How may I retain humility?" it is asked. Even Moses, like many of us, seemed to let his humility cloak wear thin and threadbare. The wanderers had come to the desert of Zin.
But Moses, undoubtedly annoyed to the limit of human endurance, forgot himself and said to them,
The Lord was displeased with Moses in assuming to perform the miracle. I can imagine the Lord saying something like this: "Who, did you say? Who made the water? Who made the rock? Moses! Who brought the water from the rock?" And He did say,
Moses, that was a sad day. You did such a great work in moving Israel from Egypt. You were so patient, generally, with their whims and antagonisms. Oh, Moses, why did you let your humility deteriorate? You were once acclaimed as ". . . very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth." (Numbers 12:3)
The apostle James once asked,
When the sick, through the administration by the elders, are healed and especially if it approaches the miraculous, there is a temptation to the administering elders to tell of the matter and approach boasting about it. Their humility would be protected if they would always in the prayer, or otherwise, counsel the recipient not to mention the names of those who uttered the blessing but to give to the Lord all the praise and the honor and glory.
Occasionally we hear men boast, saying, "I have the gift of healing." What a hazardous thing to do! I would fear the Lord might hear me and reprove me like he did Moses, or he might take from me any gift I might have had.
Sometimes missionaries boast about the number of conversions they have made. It is the Holy Ghost who convinces men and bears witness to them the truth of the gospel. Elders might properly tell how many baptisms they performed, for that is physical; but never would it be appropriate for one to claim to himself the conversion of others.
What glorious lessons we learn from history.
Beloved Daniel the captive had great understanding and judgement, yet he never lost his humility. He recaptured and interpreted Nebuchadnezzar's dream. When asked by that king,
the modest Daniel had said, no man can do this,
And again under the regime of Belshazzar, with great honor bestowed upon him, Daniel remained true to his faith, his prayers, and his God.
When he could have had great acclaim and almost limitless power, he chose to humbly keep his conscience clear. Rather than to compromise his principles, he would suffer in dens of beasts.
Ammon, the fourteen-year missionary to the Lamanites, was willing to be a servant in order to find opportunity to advance the cause. When asked if he was divine, the Great Spirit, he took no honor but told them he was but a man.
This recalls to us the unhumbleness of Aaron and Miriam, who, in their jealousy over the prominence of their brother Moses, complained at him:
This recalls to us the statement of Wolsey, in King Henry VIII, where he said,
The great Peter showed his humility when he and John had healed the beggar at the temple and the crowd would have worshipped them. ". . . Why look ye so earnestly on us, as though by our own power or holiness we had made this man to walk?" (Acts 3:12)
King Saul of Israel is somewhat typical of many of us moderns who begin their public works with great humility but lose it as their work becomes routine. He was called by revelation through Samuel, the prophet, and called from the stable to rule over Israel. In his modesty he had offered to the prophet,
And the prophet saluted him with a kiss, anointed him and set him apart as king of Israel, and promised that the spirit of the Lord would come upon him and he should prophesy and ". . . shalt be turned into another man. . . . for God is with thee." (1 Samuel 10:6,7)
But Saul was not true to his trust. He lost his humility, performed ordinances unlawfully, disobeyed the Lord and became unfit for the high place he occupied. The prophet Samuel had repeated those classic words:
And the spirit of the Lord departed from Saul. No more revelations for him. The witch of Endor was now to be his only inspiration.
In Ether it is indicated that the weak man, under direction of the Lord, is stronger than the wisest and most powerful one alone:
Alma aksed this question:
The Prophet Joseph Smith, in our own dispensation, gave us this:
Who has the right to be smug and conceited in his own powers or accomplishments or talents? God gave us our breath, our life, our talents, our brains, our capacities.
Me thinks the lesson that came to Job is good for us all:
As I consulted with a brother who was in difficulty one day, I followed up with a letter to him. I would like to quote two or three paragraphs from it.
Not only the missionary but all of us need humility and meekness, a closeness to the Lord, a recognition of his great love for us and his gifts to us. If we can become great, hold high position, be signally honored, receive praise, yet keep humble -- that is the test.
Kipling gave us this stanza:
May we say then that
Someone penned these short lines. May I conclude with them:
May we all be meek and lowly and humble as our Lord has exemplified before us, I pray in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
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