The Pioneer of Destruction!
Archibald G. Brown, June 20th, 1869, Stepney Green Tabernacle
"Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall." Proverbs 16:18
Chrysostom has aptly called pride "the mother of Hell" — for Hell with all its horrors is its hideous offspring. Had there been no treacherous pride, there would have been no bottomless pit. Perdition was prepared for the Devil and his angels, and pride prepared the Devil and his angels for perdition. We need fear no language we can possibly use being too strong to denounce pride, for as Aristotle says "As justice comprehends all virtue in it — so pride comprehends all vice."
Is drunkenness to be condemned with unmeasured severity? Then let pride be equally so, for it is nothing less than a spiritual drunkenness. It flies as wine to the brain, and produces the same result. No wretched drunkard reeling along the road is a more pitiable or disgusting sight than the man who is intoxicated into idiocy with the alcohol of his own accursed pride!
May the most unsparing language be employed in the denunciation of the sin of idolatry? Then let it be equally strong in the condemnation of pride, for they are one. The proud man is simply one who bends the knee and worships a more hateful idol than can ever be found in the whole catalogue of heathendom; and its name is "Self!"
God loathes pride, for "everyone that is proud is an abomination to the Lord." Pro 16.5.
To an angel's eye, it must be the ugliest thing on earth; and the saint, often deploring it, hates it with a perfect hatred.
But although universally condemned, it is too generally harbored, and it is easy work to find a thousand excuses for the particular species of pride we possess, which is almost always, according to our own estimate, "only proper pride."
Although the chief occupation of the minister should be the telling forth of the simple gospel message to perishing souls, and so preaching as ever to be able to say with Paul, "We preach Christ!" yet it is also his imperative duty to cry out against particular sins, and lay the axe at the root of special iniquities.
I want this evening, by God's help, to strike a blow at the deadly root of pride. I have no doubt many things I may say will be considered too severe. I cannot help it if they are. The language of my text is strong and unvarnished enough; the truth it contains is put in the most uncomplimentary mode, and I would be a traitor were I to attempt to smooth it down. My work is to declare that "pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall."
I will first of all — Try and Illustrate the Truthfulness of the Text by Scripture Examples; and then next — Apply the Text to Various Cases.
First then, let me,
I. Try and illustrate the text by Scripture examples.
I purpose to have eight terrible witnesses to the fact that "pride goes before destruction. Eight panoramic views proving that "a haughty spirit" precedes "a fall." The Lord grant that every illustration may be as a hammer driving the nail home, until at last the truth is clinched in our hearts; never to be withdrawn.
1. The first witnesses I shall call from Hell, in Satan and his compeers. There can be but little question that the sin which hurled Satan as lightning from Heaven to Hell, was pride. It was pride that drew a third part of the stars of Heaven from the glittering firmament, and quenched their light forever in the blackness of despair. 'Twas pride that emptied a myriad thrones, and made Hell groan with so stupendous a load of damned spirits.
The conception of England's greatest poet is not only grand — but one that bears the stamp of probability, that the cause of Satan's revolt and overthrow was his proud refusal to bend the knee to Christ. The mandate had gone forth from the everlasting Father's lips:
"Hear, all you angels, progeny of light,
Thrones, dominations, princedoms, virtues, powers,
Hear my decree, which unrevoked shall stand.
This day have I begot whom I declare
My only Son, and on this holy hill,
Him have appointed whom you now behold
At my right hand: your head I him appoint:
And by myself have sworn, to him shall bow
All knees in Heaven, and shall confess him Lord."
Satan refused to do this, and raised an impious war in Heaven. Then forth to the conquest came the Son; his countenance too severe to be beheld. On his fierce chariot rolled, as with the sound of ten thousand floods. Right on his foes he onward drove; in his right hand grasping a thousand thunderbolts, and swept them thunderstruck before him to the gaping jaws of Hell. Down, down they fell through liquid seas of fire while "Eternal wrath burnt after them to the bottomless pit." Thus in Milton's language concerning Satan's ruin:
"Him the Almighty Power
Hurled headlong flaming from the ethereal sky
With hideous ruin and combustion, down
To bottomless perdition; there to dwell
In adamantine chains and penal fire,
Who dared defy the Omnipotent to arms."
Inscribed over the portals of Hell,
Written in letters of livid flame,
Engraved on the fetters of eternal brass, I read,
"Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall."
"For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." Genesis 3:5
2. The next illustration of the text I find in the fall of OUR FIRST PARENTS. "In the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God!" The same accursed pride that introduced war, defeat, and ruin into Heaven — brought into God's fair earth sorrow, sickness, death. The same hateful motives influenced Eve, as Satan. Too proud to submit to a prohibition that was all love — her hand took and her mouth tasted the forbidden fruit.
Oh, how can this lip describe the dire result, how tell the fall that followed? I think nature must have sighed. The clouds wept, the storm muttered, and Satan laughed! Eden's beauty was blasted — Innocence fled. Death stalked through the garden glades — Mankind was ruined!
From that first act of sin, what an awful harvest of sorrow has been reaped. The misery of ages may be traced to that revolt. Had there been no pride — there would have been no wars, no wrecks, no families, no orphans, no widows. But, through a haughty spirit, all have fallen. Man, made in his Maker's likeness, the crown of creation work — has lost his beauty, and now far more resembles Hell than Heaven! Man, that was made for happiness, is now born for sorrow "as the sparks fly upward." Job 5.7. The world, that was made an Eden, now brings forth the briar and the thorn — while "the whole creation groans and travails in pain together until now." Romans 8.22.
In every storm that rends the air,
in every tear that rolls the cheek,
in every groan that escapes the breast,
in every churchyard that holds its dead, and
in the great mass of sorrow that lies with crushing weight upon humanity
— I see sad testimonies to the truthfulness of the text, "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall."
3. The third witness I select to prove pride to be the pioneer of destruction is PHARAOH. For many a long and weary year the people of Israel had been crushed into the dust by the iron heel of despotism. Their servitude had grown beyond endurance. The taskmaster and his whip had driven them to despair. One long piercing cry ascended from their hearts to Heaven.
Mercy heard that cry, and determined deliverance. Moses and Aaron, two messengers of the Lord, enter into the presence of the imperial despot and deliver the edict given them: "Thus says the Lord God of Israel: Let my people go!" It would have been happy for Pharaoh if, swallowing his pride, he had obeyed the request and let the people go. With scornful haughtiness he replied, "Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, nor will I let Israel go!" Exo 5.1-2. Thus spoke pride, and truly it went "before destruction."
Ten devastating plagues like successive thunderclaps rolled through the land. The river ran blood — streams and pools all were blood. It was blood, blood on every hand. The land was red with it — but still pride held out. The dust was turned to lice. The flies swarmed everywhere. Boils broke out on man and beast. The hail swept in pitiless storms — the lightning ran along the ground. The locusts marched as an army through the land, leaving famine in their rear. Darkness grim and awful enveloped all. Yet still pride remained unhumbled!
And now at midnight, one doleful shriek rings throughout Egypt; for in every house, the first-born lies a corpse. Before so awful a destruction, pride staggered, and Israel was commanded to go.
And now comes the closing scene to this tragedy of a haughty spirit. I see the fugitive host as it presses onward with trembling haste to the shores of the Red Sea. It has now reached them; the mountains are on each side; the sea glitters in front and behind — ah!! what is it they hear? The shouts of men, the neighing horses, and the rumbling of chariots. What does it mean? It means this — that pride is bent on full destruction! No sooner had Israel escaped, than the old pride which had already cursed a country returned, "What have I done, to let Israel go?" it asked. "How shall I bear the laughter of surrounding nations?" "To arms, to arms!" it cried. "Draw out the chariots — harness the steeds!" "Equip the cavalry of Egypt for war!" "After them quick." "Bring them back in chains." "Retrieve the honor we have lost." "Let it never be said they thus escaped a Pharaoh!" "I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil — my lust shall be satisfied upon them; I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them."
Now, in obedience to pride, the mad host follows after. It sees the fugitives in front — it laughs in savage glee. "They are ours, they are ours!" it cries, "the Red Sea shuts them in!" But the cloudy pillar came between the two camps as an impassable barrier, so they did not come near the Israelites all night. And now the waters of the Red Sea divide and pile themselves in glassy walls on either side while Israel passes through. The cloud lifting, shows the proud despot the fugitives gathering fast upon the opposite shore. Drunken with pride, he rushes with his host between the watery walls. With shouts they urge the war-horse on — but all in vain. The Lord took off their chariot wheels, for in mid-ocean they had to learn his power! Who can describe the horror of that moment when the watery walls, loosed by the hand of God, leapt into each other's embrace?
Now, Pharaoh, ask "Who is the Lord, that I should obey him?" But no, the waves for a moment roll in glee, and when all again is calm, not a vestige of pride's army is to be seen except here and there some lifeless forms that are sullenly washed ashore. Surely the rushing waters and the drowning shrieks of Pharaoh's host, form an awful commentary on the text, "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall."
4. Our fourth illustration is that of KORAH and his company. Pride had taken possession of these sons of Levi, and shown itself in seeking the priesthood. They gathered together "against Moses and against Aaron, and said to them, You take too much upon you, seeing that all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them — why then lift yourselves up above the congregation of the Lord?" Num 16.3. Dumbfounded by such a charge, Moses falls back upon the Lord to vindicate him, and he replies to them, "Even tomorrow the Lord will show who are his, and who is holy; and will cause him to come near to him." Num 16.5. The morrow's light has come, and destruction walks closely upon the heels of Korah's pride. All Israel stands around the presumptuous company who, with their censors in their hands, are at the dictation of their own mad pride, about to assume the priesthood.
The warning voice of Moses is heard in ringing tones, crying, "Get back! Back! Back from the tents of these men, lest you be consumed in all their sins!" Num 16.26. Horror-stricken, the crowd shrinks from them until Korah and his company are left alone, the object of the gaze of the whole people. Again the voice of Moses is heard, "If these men die the common death of all men, then the Lord has not sent me." Num 16.29, There was a moment's pause of deathless silence — a trembling of the ground — and the earth yawned, and into that horrible abyss fell tents and men! Down alive they went into the pit, and the earth again closed her mouth and they were seen no more forever! Those falling tents — those looks of unutterable horror and despair — those smothered cries — must surely have proclaimed to the ears of Israel, as they do to us this evening, "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall."
5. The next scene is a warrior-host like the sands of the sea for multitude, and flushed with presumptuous joy and confidence through many a victory in the past. Its proud monarch and commander is named Sennacherib. With boastful spirit he sends a taunting letter to trembling Hezekiah, king of Judah. The epistle ran, "Do not let your God in whom you trusted deceive you, saying, Jerusalem shall not be delivered into the hand of the king of Assyria. Behold you have heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands by destroying them utterly — and shall you be delivered?" 2King 19.10-11.
Thus blasphemously wrote the conqueror, drunken with his pride. At his wits-end, Hezekiah "went up into the house of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord." The answer quickly came, "I will put my hook in his nose and my bridle in his lips, and will turn him back by the way which he came." 2King 19.14, 28.
Do you see the proud host? Their myriad tents spreading on every hand, and banners gently waving in the evening air. Listen to their proud scoffs as they jest about the God of Israel, and think him to be such a one as the gods of Hamath and Arphad. Their pride is as great as their host. "But stay, you haughty king of Assyria; do not boast yourself before the battle's fought; you have yet to learn that "pride goes before destruction." That night in proud security slept the Assyrian host: they slept — but never woke.
"For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed;
And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved, and forever grew still!
And there lay the rider distorted and pale,
With the dew on his arrow and the rust on his mail;
And the tents were all silent, the banners alone,
The lances unlifted, the trumpet unblown."
Thus with one sweeping stroke of omnipotence, Jehovah made the haughty Assyrian bite the dust! Those silent tents — those death glazed eyes — those rigid forms — that army of the silent dead — all preach one awful sermon from the same text we have heard before, "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall."
6. A proud monarch takes his stand upon the roof of his palace, and as he looks down upon the streets and buildings of the huge capital, pride swells within the breast, and he boastingly exclaims, "Is this not great Babylon that I have built?"
While the word was on his lip, there fell a voice from Heaven, saying, "O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken; the kingdom is departed from you" Dan 4.30-31. The same hour was the thing fulfilled upon the haughty monarch. Reason reeled and bewildered, left her throne. The imperious monarch was driven from among men, and ate grass like the oxen! His body was wet with the dew of Heaven; his hair grew like eagles' feathers, and his nails became like birds' claws. At the appointed time, God had mercy on the raving madman, and reason returned. Then the once haughty despot lifted up his eyes to Heaven, and exclaimed, "Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, know that those that walk in pride, He is able to abase." Dan 4.37
7. Yet one other illustration of the text found in the Old Testament. The scene is a banquet hall. Around the table are many guests, presided over by a merry, thoughtless, haughty king. The goblets freely drained by the blasphemous crew, were once used in the solemn worship of Jehovah. Drunken mirth is at its height, and pride has reached the climax, when a sight appears that sobers every reveler. A mysterious hand — and nothing but a hand — is seen writing a more mysterious message on the wall, right over the head of the amazed monarch. When all the wise men and astrologers have done their best — but failed to interpret the warning — Daniel, the servant of the Most High God, declares, "Because you, O Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart — but have lifted yourself up against the Lord of Heaven, therefore this writing was written, "Mene, mene, Tekel, Upharsin." Dan 5.22-25. In that same night, Belshazzar was slain. Inscribed on that wall by that bodyless hand was the truth, if not the words of our text, "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall."
8. I have already dwelt upon this first division far longer than I intended, so in a very few words let me call upon the New Testament to introduce its witness. A kingly orator clothed in purple addresses a deputation from the coasts of Tyre and Sidon. His eloquence warms them, besides which, their cringing nature prompts applause. With one impulse they shouted, "This is the voice of a God, and not of a man!" Act 12.22. Herod smiled approvingly. His pride was stroked the right way. No indignant repudiation of the flattery fell from his lip. For a moment he stood in the full enjoyment of gratified pride. It was but for a moment — with a cry of horror, the group of flatterers saw him fall — they rush to his help — 'tis all too late, for struck by the angel of the Lord, he lies as one mass of corruption, eaten up by worms! That rotting corpse unites its testimony with the seven witnesses we have already heard: that pride is the pioneer of destruction. God grant that you may be led by the mouth of so many witnesses, to believe the warning.
Having I trust proved by scripture illustration the veracity of the statement, there is now nothing left for me to do but to,
II. APPLY its Truth.This I will try and do,
1. First to the individual. Is there one here who, in the common expression of the day, "has been making headway in life" — then to him I speak. It is not long ago, friend, since in your own language you were "nothing." You could always tell how much you were worth, without the trouble of reckoning; in fact you could not have counted your assets had you tried, for they were nil. Your wealth was always, in an uncomfortable sense, untold.
But now things have changed with you. Business speculations have turned out successfully, and you begin to be the envied, rather than the pitied personage. You are admitted into circles which were previously closed against you, and you are now learning the truth of the proverb, "Nothing succeeds like success."
Ask the Lord, dear friend, to give you grace to keep humble, for it is as difficult to carry a full cup without pride — as it is an empty one devoid of murmuring. Shun all pride, if you would have prosperity continued — for he who does not know how to carry the cup aright, will soon have no cup at all to carry. Pride has ruined more than economic panics, and "a haughty spirit" is a shortcut to the workhouse.
If this text applies with any power to temporal concerns — it does so far more to spiritual concerns. Am I speaking to one who considers himself invulnerable to the attacks of Satan? Then to him I would give the warning "let him that thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall." 1Cor 10.12.
We are never so near a fall, as when we consider such an event impossible. The path of the spiritually proud is full of pitfalls; indeed, the very pride itself is the commencement of the fall. I tremble for the man who has never trembled for himself; he walks on the edge of an unseen precipice, and requires but the breath of a temptation to send him headlong over!
"He falls deepest, who falls highest," and "pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall."
Terribly true also is this text, in relation to work for the Lord. Many a minister has had his usefulness blasted through it. Many a work, fair and good in its commencement, has been stayed and withered by pride's blighting influence. Pride, as well as unbelief, hinders Christ from doing any great thing through its possessor. The stream of divine blessing only flows in any copious measure through the channel of a humble spirit. "Too proud to be used in the Lord's service!" might be written upon the brow of many. God save all those of us who are in any way workers in his vineyard, from so horrible a verdict.
It is indeed a solemn thought that there are this evening thousands of living testimonies to the fact that, whether in business, spiritual life, or the Lord's work, "pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall."
2. The text is as true of churches as individuals, and certainly most true of that church which styles itself "the established church." It is not the efforts of the Liberation Society; nor acts of parliament that will be its overthrow — but its own internal pride. A church that boasts its "Arch-bishops," "Lord-bishops," "Right-reverends," "Very-reverends," and I know not what other unscriptural titles besides — is a doomed one, apart from any outward opposition brought to bear upon it.
But let us not think that as dissenters — we are free from all danger. Pride can lurk in the little chapel as much as the great cathedral; and be found in her ministers — as well as in Anglican priests. "Dying of dignity" is the unhappy condition of many a dissenting congregation.
If there is one thing I dread more than another, it is lest through the abundance of blessing bestowed upon us — church pride should creep in. O pray it out, and keep it out — if you would see the work continued in our midst. For let the hideous monster but rear its ugly head, then "farewell blessing," while "Ichabod" will be engraved on every wall.
3. Thirdly and lastly, I would apply the text to the lost sinner. Dear friend, your pride precedes a destruction too terrific for me to paint in language. Your haughty spirit goes before a fall so deep, that it reaches Hell. Do you say, "What pride?" The pride that keeps you from confessing yourself a lost sinner. The pride that refuses to stoop to God's plan of salvation. The pride that makes you gather the filthy rags of your own supposed righteousness around you — while you despise the spotless robe that a Savior offers. The pride that makes you want to pay for salvation — instead of receiving it as a free gift. Here is pride enough to sink a soul to eternal Hell.
Do you still stand aloof from simple trust, as a guilty sinner in the atonement of Jesus — thinking that though such a way of salvation may suit a Mary Magdalene or a dying thief — it is far beneath your acceptance? Then your pride will be your destruction, for there is no other way whereby you can be saved.
What! Too proud to come to Christ? Too proud to be saved? Alas! you will not be too proud to be damned! For as God's ambassador I declare, that though pride can never enter Heaven, it does live eternally in Hell. Down with your pride, sinner — or it will down with you. Go now and tell the Lord that your pride is broken, your haughty spirit is quenched, and that as the very worst of sinners — you are willing to be saved by sovereign mercy through Christ. Do not lose your soul, to save your pride — but lose your pride, to save your soul.
May the Lord bless tonight's warning to all. May its notes ring in our ears for many a day to come. "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall!"