Nauvoo Nauvoo
Print this page
E-mail this page
Nauvoo

Home Page
About Nauvoo
The Back Bench
Vigor - Web Edition
Mansion House Library
Contact Nauvoo
Nauvoo Forum
Nauvoo Kids
Links

Humility

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:

. . .My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth. But thou shalt remember the Lord thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth. (Deuteronomy 8:17,18)

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:

Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass. (Matthew 21:5)

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:

Knowledge is proud that he has learn'd so much;
Wisdom is humble that he knows no more.

John M. Coulter said,

No one should ever look out upon the world from the bottom of his own particular well and imagine that his own patch of sky is all there is for him to see.

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,

I am well aware that I am the 'umblest person going. . . . My mother is also a very 'umble person. We live in a 'umble abode.

William Jennings Bryan, back in the other century, gave us this:

The humblest citizen of all the land, when clad in the armor of a righteous cause, is stronger than all the hosts of error. (Speech at the National Democratic Convention, 1896)

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,

Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things. . . .
And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgement of God? (Romans 2:1,3)

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:

Hath a dog money? Is it possible
A cur can lend three thousand ducats? or
Shall I bend low and in a bondman's key,
With bated breath and whispering humbleness,
Say this,--
"Fair sir, you spit on me on Wednesday last;
You spurn'd me such a day; another time
You call'd me dog; and for these courtesies
I'll lend you thus much moneys"?
(Shylock, Merchant of Venice I, iii (117), Shakespeare)

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,

And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments. (D&C 59:21)

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:

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows' houses, and for pretence make long prayer. (Matthew 23:14)

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,

Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. (Matthew 23:28)

Paul portrayed the Lord and said,

. . .(he) made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. (Philippians 2:7,8)

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.

. . . Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh. . . . I am not eloquent. . . . but I am slow of speech and of a slow tongue.
And the Lord said unto him, Who hath made man's mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the Lord?
Is not Aaron, the Levite thy brother?
And he shall be thy spokesman unto the people: and he shall be, even he shall be to thee instead of a mouth, and thou shalt be to him instead of God. (Exodus 3:11; 4:10,11,14,16)

"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.

And there was no water for the congregation. . . .
And the people chode with Moses, and spake,. . . .
And why have ye brought up the congregation of the Lord into this wilderness, that we and our cattle should die there?
. . . it is no place of seed, or of figs, or of vines, or of pomegranates; neither is there any water to drink. (Numbers 20:2-5)

But Moses, undoubtedly annoyed to the limit of human endurance, forgot himself and said to them,

. . . Hear now, ye rebels: must we fetch you water out of this rock? (Numbers 20:10)

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,

. . . Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them. (Numbers 20:12)

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,

Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:
And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up. (James 5:14,15)

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.

Isaiah says,

And the mean man boweth not down, and the great man humbleth himself not, therefore, forgive him not. (2 Nephi 12:9)

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,

. . . Art thou able to make known unto me the dream. . . and the interpretation thereof?

the modest Daniel had said, no man can do this,

But there is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets. (Daniel 2:26,28)

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:

. . . Hath the Lord indeed spoken only by Moses? hath he not spoken also by us? (Numbers 12:2)

This recalls to us the statement of Wolsey, in King Henry VIII, where he said,

Had I but served my God with half the zeal
I served my king, he would not in mine age
Have left me naked to mine enemies. (Act III, ii, 448)

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,

. . . Am not I a Benjamite, of the smallest of the tribes of Israel? and my family the least of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin? wherefore then speakest thou so to me? (1 Samuel 9:21)

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)

And it was so, that when he had turned his back to go from Samuel, God gave him another heart. . . . behold, a company of prophets met him; and the Spirit of God came upon him, and he prophesied among them. (1 Samuel 10:9,10)

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:

. . . When thou wast little in thine own sight, wast thou not made the head of the tribes of Israel, and the Lord anointed thee king over Israel?
. . . Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king. (1 Samuel 15:17,23)

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:

. . . Fools mock, but they shall mourn; and my grace is sufficient for the meek, that they shall take no advantage of your weakness;
And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness,. . . that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them. (Ether 12:26,27)

Alma aksed this question:

Have ye walked, keeping yourselves blameless before God? Could ye say, if ye were called to die at this time, within yourselves, that ye have been sufficiently humble? (Alma 5:27)

The Prophet Joseph Smith, in our own dispensation, gave us this:

When the Twelve or any other witnesses stand, before the congregations of the earth, and they preach in the power and demonstration of the Spirit of God, and the people are astonished and confounded at the doctrine, and say, "That man has preached a powerful discourse, a great sermon," then let that man or those men take care that they do not ascribe the glory unto themselves, but be careful that they are humble, and ascribe the praise and glory to God and the Lamb; for it is by the power of the Holy Priesthood and the Holy Ghost that they have power thus to speak. What art thou, O man, but dust? And from whom receivest thou thy power and blessings, but from God?

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:

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said. . . .
Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?. . .
Who hath laid the measures thereof,. . . or who hath stretched the line upon it?
Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof?. . .
Or who shut up the sea with doors?. . .
Hast thou commanded the morning since thy days?. . .
. . . or hast thou seen the doors of the shadow of death?. . .
Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow? or hast thou seen the treasures of the hail?. . .
Who hath divided a watercourse for the overflowing of waters, or a way for the lightning of thunder;
To cause it to rain on the earth, where no man is;. . .
To satisfy the desolate and waste ground; and to cause the bud of the tender herb to spring forth?
Hath the rain a father? or who hath begotten the drops of dew?
Out of whose womb came the ice? and the hoary frost of heaven, who hath gendered it?. . .
Canst thou lift up thy voice to the clouds, that abundance of waters may cover thee?
Canst thou send lightnings?. . .
. . . who hath given understanding to the heart?
. . . who can stay the bottles of heaven,
When the dust groweth into hardness, and the clods cleave fast together?. . .
Who provideth for the raven his food?. . .
Gavest thou the goodly wings unto the peacocks? or wings and feathers unto the ostrich?. . .
Hast thou given the horse strength?. . .
Doth the hawk fly by thy wisdom, and stretch her wings toward the south?. . .
Doth the eagle mount up at thy command, and make her nest on high?. . .
Hast thou an arm like God? or canst thou thunder with a voice like him?. . .
Shall he that contendeth with the Almighty instruct him? he that reproveth God, let him answer it.
Then Job answered the Lord,. . . I will lay mine hand upon my mouth.
(Job 38:1,4-6,8,12,17,22,25-28,34,35,37,38,41; 39:13,19,26; 40:9; 39:27; 40:2-4)

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.

As I lay abed I thought of many things, including the life of the Savior, and its divine examples. Never before did I come so close to the "washing of feet" ordinance. I saw those Disciples, perhaps far from the sanitary facilities of the day. They had likely walked in their open sandals through streets where no modern equipment had gathered refuse -- where no streams of water had cleansed gutters -- where camels and horses had lounged -- where sheep and goats had been driven -- where humans had spit and drunkards had sprawled. Through these streets the disciples had come into this house for the feast of the Passover, and their Master and Lord was with them.
He could have instituted an ordinance by washing their faces, or anointing their heads with oil. He could have kissed their brow, patted them on the back, or stroked their beards. But he did not -- upon His bended knees, with water from His basin, He bathed their soiled and dusty feet, and with His own towel He dried their hard and calloused ones.
"The servant is not greater than his Lord," He told them. He could have set up rules in His kingdom whereby a nod, a handclasp, a kiss or a signature, could have been the entrance requirement, into the Kingdom, instead of baptism, but He did not.
Showing the way, He went into the impure waters of a much-polluted river, and came out wet and disheveled. He would ask nothing He would not do. He could have asked His God to baptize Him, or by other supernatural means it could have been accomplished, but He permitted His immersion to be done by a lesser, rugged, uncouth man, already considered by some eccentric and fanatic.
He could have lived in mansions, ridden camels and fraternized with the learned, rich and powerful, but he had not even the home of a fox or a bird. He walked those weary and dusty miles and made friends with the sick, lepers, unaccepted Samaritans and humble fishermen.
The Savior realized fully that the things He asked would not be easy. He knew it would try patience and conflict with pride, and make weak people flinch. He required not "an eye for an eye," revenge or retaliation, but good for evil, the second mile, the coat and cloak also, and love for enemies and persecutors, as well as friends and loved ones.
His program called not only for the outlawing of murder, but of hate and anger also; not only the forbidding of adultery in act, but adultery in thought also; not only the forgiving of the repentant injurer, but also the unrepentant accuser or persecutor.

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:

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same. . .
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings -- nor lose the common touch. . .
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it. . .

May we say then that

Humility is royalty without a crown,
Greatness in plain clothes,
Erudition without decoration,
Wealth without display
Power without scepter or force,
Position demanding no preferential rights,
Greatness sitting in the congregation,
Prayer in closets and not in corners of the street,
Fasting in secret without publication,
Stalwartness without a label,
Supplication upon its knees,
Divinity riding an ass.

Someone penned these short lines. May I conclude with them:

Help me to be humble, Lord.
I fear that in my carefree winging youth
Filled with heedless laughter
I may laugh too much and forget to cry,
Sing too much and forget to sigh,
Live too much and fear to die.
Help me to be humble, Lord.

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.

 
  Copyright © 2017 Hatrack River Enterprises. All rights reserved. Web Site Hosted and Designed by WebBoulevard.com