Pride and Christian Character
William Nicholson, 1862
"Do not be proud, but fear." Romans 11:20
Humility and dependence upon God, are essential to the Christian character. The opposite, pride and self-sufficiency, are the traits
in the conduct of the unregenerate, and they will lead to shame and ruin. By pride and unbelief the Jews fell, and were cut off from the favor of God. The Apostle, in the preceding verses, presents their conduct as a solemn warning to the Church; and in the text gives a most emphatic prohibition: "Do not be proud, but fear."
I. The Evil to Be Avoided:"Do not be proud!"
The meaning of the text is, do not be elated in the conception of your privileges, so as to produce vain self-confidence, boasting, and presumption; but rather see and feel the necessity of being continually on your guard, lest you should fall through unbelief, and be cast off.
1. Those are proud, who boast of the dignity and wealth of their ancestors, and the excellency of their birth, and think themselves, in consequence, superior to others who have no lofty or distinguished lineage to boast of. How this idea prevails in the minds of the great, the noble! etc. And even some people in indigent condition, are proud because honorably descended. The Jews said, "We have Abraham as our father!" etc. Matthew 3:9; John 8:39.
"Before his downfall a man's heart is proud, but humility comes before honor." Proverbs 18:12
2. Those are proud, who have high opinions of themselves, and are fond of human applause. Even the wicked proclaim their own goodness; they tell us they mean well--that their hearts are good, as if the tree could be good, and the fruit bad; the fountain pure, and the streams denied. Then they boast of their liberality, etc., though we often find this combined with sensuality, and even made an excuse for it.
Pride characterized the Pharisees of old. They dearly loved human applause. If they fasted, they disfigured their faces, to convince men that they really fasted. When they prayed, they stood at the corner of the streets that they might be seen by people coming two ways. When they gave alms, they sounded a trumpet before them. They trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others. Just observe one of them, Luke 18:10-12.
In the days of Solomon, there was a whole generation of such characters, Proverbs 30:12, 13. The Apostle Paul himself was once one of them, Romans 7:9; and this spirit infested the Church at Laodicea, Revelation 3:17-18.
3. This evil sometimes besets Christians themselves. Instance Peter when he said, "Though all men, you--I never will!" Did not presumption lead to the denial of his Lord, and bitter repentance? When the seventy disciples returned from their mission, through the land of Judea, they said, "Lord, even the demons are subject to us!" etc, Luke 10:17-20. They acknowledge the agency to be his, but they were unduly elated at being the instruments. Christians may talk too much about themselves. "Let another praise you, and not your own lips."
In the Christian, this pride may exhibit itself,
(1.) In the pride of wealth, or superior circumstances in life. This may lead to the neglect of the poor of God's flock. Wealth, when sanctified, will prove a blessing to the Redeemer's cause. Christians are emphatically cautioned not to pay undue respect to the rich. See James 2:1, etc.
(2.) In the pride of talent. If a man has superior knowledge, discernment, eloquent speech, etc., he is in danger of being puffed up. The voice of commendation may often sound in his ears, and Satan will not fail to insinuate that he is highly gifted, etc. Hence it requires much grace to avoid pride. See 1 Corinthians 8:1-2.
All gifts come from God, 1 Corinthians 12:4, etc. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. Though Paul preached successfully, he had nothing to glory of, 1 Corinthians 9:16; and estimated himself as "nothing," 1 Corinthians 12:11.
(3.) In the pride of usefulness. Here a man is in danger of attributing too much to himself, instead of ascribing the whole of his success to God, who alone can give the increase, 1 Corinthians 3:6-7. Therefore, be not like the Pharisees of old, boasting of what you are, of what you do, or of what you give.
II. The Means of Avoiding this Evil:"But fear."
This fear implies prudence, vigilance, watchfulness. As if the Apostle had said, "You have seen the effects of pride and unbelief in the case of the Jews--avoid their conduct, and be continually on your guard, lest you also come into the same condemnation." The fear of the Lord implanted in the heart will produce such watchfulness. Hence fear is represented as a holy affection, or gracious habit produced by Divine power in the heart, Jeremiah 32:40, which causes it to hate and flee from evil, Proverbs 8:13, 16:6.
1. Fear the treachery and natural pride of your hearts. They are depraved, deceitful, and fond of applause. "He who trusts his own heart is a fool." "Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life!" Proverbs 4:23. Pride springs from depravity, and ignorance of that depravity--and from not feeling dependence upon God as the source of all good.
2. Fear the awful effects of pride. It is the forerunner of destruction. It ruined Pharaoh, Haman, Nebuchadnezzar, etc. "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall."
Pride disregards the prudential advice of experience, and falls into those evils which wisdom urges to shun.
Pride induces neglect of the means of grace, etc., etc., by which the soul becomes unfruitful, like dead branches.
3. This fear may be promoted by regarding the patterns of humility in the Scriptures:
The humility of Christ, Philippians 2:6, 7.
Abraham called himself "dust and ashes."
Jacob, "I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant." Genesis 32:10.
Job, "Behold I am vile!"
Paul; "I know that in me dwells no good thing." "I am less than the least of all the saints"
Humility even characterizes perfected spirits in glory.
4. As creatures, our insignificance should make us humble--but as sinners, we have reason to be still more so. If there is one flower in our heart's garden--there may be a thousand noxious weeds. And if we possess any degree of goodness--yet there is enough in us to keep us humble. But if this be not sufficient, the Lord will find other means to lay us low. "To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me!" 2 Corinthians 12:7
5. Fervently pray for humbling grace. God alone can clothe the heart and life with humility!
"Pride causes the professor to neglect studying the Bible and his own heart, and to despise others. This kind of pride is the more dangerous, because it is perhaps the most secret of all sins, and the heart is more deceitful in this matter than in any other. The very nature of pride is to work self-confidence, and to drive away dependence on God, and humility. Pride appears in many shapes undiscerned, and takes occasion to arise even from the exercise of real grace. Spiritual pride causes us to speak of the failings of others in a bitter and severe manner--while we attempt to hide or defend the greatest improprieties in our own conduct." Jonathan Edwards.
"Pride is founded on error and self-ignorance. Some are proud of what they are--and some of what they are not. A man may be poor in purse--yet proud in spirit. Pride may account the Gospel foolishness--but the Gospel proves pride to be so. God would rather his people should fare poorly--than live proudly. As cankers breed in the sweetest roses--so pride may arise out of the best duties." J. Mason.