Self-Condemnation and Humility

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* Photo – Apostle Peter Denied Christ  by Rembrandt – Courtesy of allposters.com

Rembrandt based his depiction of consecutive episodes on the lines of Luke’s Gospel and packs the events into a scene taut with drama. The main and monumental figure of Peter the Apostle, wrapped in a light-coloured cloak, becomes recognisable in the light of a candle and is looked at with suspicious glances by those around him, while Jesus’ interrogation takes place in the background. The picture’s closed composition and the life-size figures being squeezed into a confined space both accentuate the desperation of the situation. There is not only fear on Peter’s face but also inner astonishment and recognition of the gravity of his deed, since Jesus turns towards him, reminding him of what he had said to him earlier: “Before the cock crows today, you will disown me three times”. The viewer knows that after these words were uttered Peter went away and wept bitterly.

 

Your decisions will master you, whichever direction they take.

Mary Baker Eddy

(Science and Health 392:22)

 

 

Self-Condemnation and Humility

ABBOT EDES SMITH.

From the January 23, 1904 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel

 

Before the advent of Christian Science people were often taught on retiring for the night to think over all that they had done or left undone during the day and to spend much time in grieving over the day’s sins of omission and of commission. It was very commonly deemed an important part of the Christian’s duty to spend much of his life in mourning over his past sins and failures, and this tended to produce a kind of sad resignation which has sometimes been thought to express a high degree of piety. The story used to be told of a boy whose father drove a nail into a post whenever the boy did wrong and drew out a nail whenever the boy resisted a temptation. At first the post became well filled with nails, but gradually these were drawn out, until finally the time came to draw out the last nail. The father expected the boy to be delighted, but to his surprise the boy burst into tears and exclaimed, “The scars remain!” Each day’s record in the book of life was supposed to be permanently marred by the blots of the daily misdoings, and it was forgotten that the prophet Isaiah had proclaimed, “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.”

When the hour of his betrayal was near at hand, Jesus took with him the three apostles whom he most trusted and asked them to watch with him in a brief hour of prayer. Three times in this hour of his agony he returned to find them asleep. Later on, when those appointed came to arrest him, Peter’s first impulse was to draw his sword and fight, but later on he acted upon his second impulse, and with the other apostles he forsook the Master and fled. So when Jesus was on trail at the house of the high priest, only one of the disciples was present in the courtroom, and he not as the friend of the prisoner, but as the friend of the high priest, the chief of the judges who condemned the prisoner. Peter, too, though he loved his Master and wished to know the result of the trail, did not dare to risk his life by openly avowing his sympathy, but stood with the high priest’s servants and with those who were probably part of the mob that cried, “Crucify him!” When Peter was recognized and accused of being a friend of Jesus, he positively denied the charge twice, and finally became so frightened lest he might share his Master’s fate, that he cursed and swore, confident that this would prove to all that he had no part with the prisoner.

Judas’ betrayal was but little worse than Peter’s desertion and denial; but the essential difference is illustrated by this; that when Judas realized what an awful wrong he had done, he went and hanged himself; while Peter, though realizing his cowardly ingratitude just as fully as did Judas his ungrateful selfishness, wept bitterly, but arose and pressed bravely on, resolved to try in the future to atone for his awful crime of the past, by living, so far as he might be able, such a life as his crucified Master had lived and taught. And nobly did he succeed. At times he still stumbled, as who does not? but in spite of his faults, Peter was a manly man, honest and earnest, and it was his honest steadfastness of purpose that, whenever he fell, enabled him, instead of uselessly grieving over what could not be changed, to remember the lesson thereby learned and then, forgetting the unpleasant experience itself, to press on with renewed courage in the path of duty. Later when Peter again met the same temptation to which he had yielded before, when his choice lay between a denial of his Master and death itself, he unhesitatingly chose death and bore this last testimony to Truth, as his Master had done.

In similar manner the apostle Paul, who certainly had a past bad enough to grieve over, if, indeed, that were the right method, has explained to us clearly the better way. He says, “I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark.” If Judas, when he fell, had only awakened from his overwhelming and hopeless self-condemnation and, like Peter, Paul, and the other apostles, having learned the lesson of less reliance on self and more on God, had with renewed courage pressed towards the mark, remembering, not the sad experience, but the blessed lesson learned therefrom, even Judas might have left a good record.

Self-condemnation, self-depreciation, is a species of self-consciousness. It is not to be mistaken for humility, and is useful only as a stepping-stone from self-pride and self-reliance to humility and trust in God. Self-condemnation and humility both agree in remembering with Paul, “Who is weak, and I am not weak;” but here the resemblance ceases. Self-condemnation blames and condemns the mortal self for its essential powerlessness, forgetting all else; while humility remembers also with joyous confidence that, as Jesus said, “The Father … doeth the works.” and as Paul said, “When I am weak, then am I strong.” It is when all is prosperous and full of light that one is most apt to be filled with self-pride and self-sufficiency, and to forget God, who is the source of all good; but when darkness comes and all seems lost, there is not much danger of self-pride and, if only one wisely avoids the Scylla of self-satisfaction and the Charybdis of self-condemnation, he will turn with reboubled earnestness to God for help, and, trusting Him, will safely and surely sail on with humility into clear and quiet waters lighted by the sunlight of God’s presence, power, and love, wherein he joyfully proves with Paul, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”

* Note that this article was written in 1904.  Thus, some of the writing contains language of the time.  For example; the description of Peter as “a manly man”.  Perhaps, a better description would be a man of good courage.