Christian Love,
or the Influence of Religion upon Temper

By John Angell James, 1828


"Love does not envy."

ENVY is that passion which causes us to feel uneasiness at the sight of another's possessions or happiness—and which makes us dislike him on that account. Of all the base passions, this is the basest. It is unmingled malignity, the very worst and bitterest dregs of human depravity—the most direct contrariety of love. Envy is either general or special in its objects. 'General' envy often exists in the mind to such an extent that its subjects seem almost instinctively opposed to excellence and to happiness, wherever they see them, or wherever they hear them. They may not regard the individuals on whom their envious glance is fixed in the light of competitors or rivals; they may have nothing to hope from their recession—nothing to fear from their elevation; but it is enough to awaken their uneasiness and dislike to know that they are in some respects superior. They cannot bear to see excellence or happiness in anyone, or even to hear the language of commendation or praise. They would beggar the universe to enrich themselves, and monopolize all possessions and all admiration; they would be alone in the world, as the sole occupants of everything valuable, and can endure neither a superior nor an equal. This, it must be allowed, is a height to which envy rarely attains, compared with its more special and limited operations.

It will be proper, before we delineate at length the evil features and general deformity of this hideous passion, to state the more prevailing grounds and occasions of its exercise. And it is a striking proof of its evil nature, that it is rarely indulged in reference to holiness or virtue. It scarcely ever happens that any one is envied for superior moral excellence, as such—many are hated for their virtue; but envy, while it includes hatred, combines with it a desire to possess the thing which occasions the uneasiness. It may indeed indirectly covet the virtue of another—but this is only on account of the esteem, the influence, or the delight which it procures, and not on account of the virtue itself; hence Satan, after his fall, is represented by our great poet as envying our first parents, not on the ground of their perfect rectitude—but of their happiness, and of their inheriting his lost honors. This horrid disposition of envy—is too satanic, too infernal, too far removed from all moral rectitude, to perceive the beauties of holiness, or to covet them on their own account.

The ultimate object and real ground of envy appears to me to be either happiness or public admiration—and all other things are regarded but as accessory to these. Let any one be more happy or more generally noticed and esteemed by others—and he will be sure to be regarded with envy. And what are those things which in general estimation procure for their possessors either pleasure or applause, and are therefore the occasions of envy?

1. ACCOMPLISHMENTS—such as genius, learning, eloquence, science, courage, skill—or any of those arts that attract the notice of the world.

2. Physical BEAUTY. How frequently has beauty of form or features—a gift which in value should be rated lower than any other which the hand of the Creator has bestowed upon us—been beheld with spiteful eyes, and by some less adorned competitors for admiration—been converted into an occasion of hatred and uneasiness.

3. Superiority in RANK and FORTUNE is a very common occasion for this detestable vice. Hence the ill-will which the poor often bear towards the rich, as engrossing to themselves all the comforts of life. Hence the evil eye with which people of inferior station scrutinize those who are above them in rank.

4. Superior SUCCESS in the pursuit of worldly objects of any kind is sure to excite the uneasiness and dislike of less fortunate rivals. Let a scientist be more successful in the career of scientific discovery—or a scholar in the path of literature—or a warrior in the field of glory—or a tradesman in the accumulation of wealth—or a mechanic in the toils of industry—and there will not be lacking those who will covet their rewards—and dislike them for their happier fortunes.

But while these are the general grounds of envy, there are some special objects to which it is commonly directed, such for instance as the following.

People who are nearly on our own level. Individuals who are either much above us in station, or much below us—are not so likely to excite uneasiness or dislike as those who are of our own standing in society. The tradesman envies not the nobleman—but some fellow-tradesman; the laurels and fame of the hero are not envied by the common soldier—but by some officer of his own rank.

Those who, though much above us, occupy a station from which we have been cast down, are likely to be regarded by us with an evil eye, and to draw forth our dislike.

Those who have obtained an honor, place, or esteem for which we once contended, are almost sure to be envied by us; and also any particular single rival, who more than all others eclipses us, or is likely to do so.

It may not be amiss to specify here, those who are most in danger of committing the sin of envy–

1. The sorrowful. "Sorrow is selfish—it concentrates the affections upon our own interests. It may teach us to sympathize with griefs of others—but that others do grieve is something like consolation to the sorrowful; and those who would sympathize with others in their sorrows, and weep with those that weep, fall short of the higher attainment, to rejoice with those that rejoice. Sorrow cannot sympathize with happiness—and therefore heaven cannot admit sorrow—for envy would then enter with it. Happiness will not only be the fruit of holiness in another world—but the perfection of it, since it is that native seat in which alone the soul attains the full development of its affections so as to take part, without a jarring fiber, in the universal harmony." Let the sorrowful—be the occasion of their sorrows what it might—be much upon their guard, for they are pre-eminently in danger of envying those to whom Providence has granted a happier lot than to themselves.

2. People descending in life, and suffering under those painful reverses which have reduced them from comparative affluence and publicity, to obscurity and poverty, are exposed to the temptation of looking with ill-will and distress upon the prosperous and happy. Misfortune, where it is not sanctified by the grace of God, is very apt to produce an jealous disposition, and to generate envy in the bosom of its wretched subjects. Hard indeed is it, as WE sink into the shadow, to see the elevation of more favored individuals who rise into sunshine. An envious person will have feelings of jealousy and dislike for those who are succeeding.

3. Candidates for fame and popular applause are oftener than all others—the subjects of this base passion of envy! Could the veil that hides the heart be drawn aside, how much of this operation of human depravity would be detected! How much of hatred, envy, malice, and all uncharitableness, is sometimes to be found in the writer. Envy is also the orator's besetting sin. "Vanity, or a thirst after applause, is the most unsocial and envious of the passions—avarice itself not excepted. The reason is plain. Property is a kind of good, which may be more easily attained, and is capable of more minute subdivision, than fame. The portion of time and attention mankind are willing to spare from their avocations and pleasures, to devote to the 'admiration of each other', is so small, that every successful candidate is felt to have impaired the common stock. The success of one is the disappointment of multitudes. For though there be many rich, many virtuous, many wise men—fame must necessarily be the portion of but few. Hence every vain man, regarding his competitor as his rival, is strongly tempted to rejoice in his misfortune, and to repine at his success."

4. The prosperous, those who have gained much, or nearly all they seek, are apt to feel peculiar ill-will to any who may be just above them—and stand between them and the summit of their desires. That one man who keeps us from the highest rank, the chief place, is more likely to be hated, than all others who have actually injured us! How insatiable is envy—that evil desire—how craving after more, amid all its stores. Human nature is never satisfied with earthly good. I believe that many are inconceivably more miserable, and more full of hatred, who have vast possessions—than others who have scarcely anything.

On the other hand, there is not any kind of superiority, however low its nature or obscure its situation, which is not found to be sufficient to call forth the ill-will and hatred of some inferior or disappointed spectator. Children and farmers, as well as philosophers, warriors and princes, are subject to its influence. Like the venomous spider, envy weaves its web, and directs its deadly glance, in the cottages of poverty, the mansions of affluence, and the halls of science. Envy is the epidemic of the human race, the most common operation of human depravity. The apostle seems to give it as a general description of human nature, while unrenewed by divine grace—"Living in malice and envy—hateful, and hating one another." The whole Gentile world, before the coming of Christ, is described as having been "full of envy." "Envyings," bear a high place among the works of the flesh; and on the churches of believers, there was no one evil of which the prohibition was more frequent or more earnestly enjoined than this—and the apostle James tells us, that it is still partially inherent in every man—"the spirit that dwells in us lusts to envy."

This execrable disposition very often exists, where, through the deceitfulness of the human heart, it is not at all suspected! Sometimes it is felt in reference to an individual whom we have been accustomed to consider an inferior, and worthy only of our ridicule and contempt. But that very contempt and ridicule is often an operation of envy—our eye has discovered, almost without our being conscious of the fact, some fancied or real superiority, and in order to dispute it, or to conceal it, we have determined to treat him as only worthy of our ridicule and scorn. Our laughter is intended to hide the passion which lurks in our bosom, and to disparage or destroy in our own and others' estimation, the excellence or happiness which produces it. Envy, like the Devil, its parent, has a laugh as well as a frown at its command!

Envy is often found in people who are in general accounted very amiable, and really are so, in most things. People the very opposite of such characters as Cain, and Saul, and Ahab—people who have not only much suavity of discourse—but much kindliness of disposition—are not free from the workings of this disposition in secret, and are sometimes guilty of such exhibitions of it, as fall like a dark shadow upon their many and distinguished virtues. Yes, it is, we lament to say, to borrow the true and just sarcasm of a writer already quoted, "a most reputable and orthodox vice, a regular church-going sin, one which often dresses like virtue and talks like her. Envy has a great zeal for religion, a keen sense of public justice, and is much shocked at the inconsistencies of good people. It exults when a hypocrite is unmasked, and says, 'I always suspected him!' It is also most benevolent, and when adversity overtakes a brother, prays that it may be the means of promoting his humility and other Christian graces."

Ah! how much envy there indeed is—even in the church of God. How much of that censoriousness and detraction which is indulged under pretense of bewailing the follies of others, is to be traced up to this evil source! How often is a 'little infirmity' pitched upon and deplored, with no other motive than to discredit and disparage that sterling excellence with which it happens to be associated—the 'speck' is pointed at and magnified, perhaps with a look of sorrow, and a tone of lamentation—but only to draw off public attention from the luster which is admired and envied! Envy has a thousand devices to practice against its object—under the veil of deceptive respect!

Is there any sin to which even the ministers of the gospel are more exposed than this? Is there any sin which they more frequently commit? How much grace does it require in any man to see the popularity, and hear of the usefulness of others—and to find himself overlooked and forgotten—without being envious! Perhaps the applauded individuals are his juniors in age, and his inferiors in literature, and taste, and science—and yet while he lies unnoticed—they are swept along their course with full gales of popular applause. How few, even of those whose business it is to preach contentment, and humility, and love, can with sincerity say, "I am quite satisfied that the honor should be denied to me—and rest upon the brows of others. I am prepared to say without a murmur, he must increase—but I must decrease."

This is indeed the virtue of heaven—to see others occupying a higher sphere than ourselves, more caressed, more admired, and more followed—and feel neither uneasiness in our own bosom nor anything of ill-will toward them. It is virtue rarely found on earth. For on the contrary, what distress and dislike are produced on some minds, by the talents and the success of those of fellow ministers, who are but a little more esteemed than themselves! Are there no arts of detraction employed, to diminish, if not their popularity, yet their claims to the coveted palm? No insinuations against their motives? No searching for vices of style, errors of taste, defects of learning? O when shall envy—that child of hell—be driven from the church of God? When shall it no longer creep in the pew—or soar in the pulpit?

Baxter has some very striking remarks on this subject. "O that ever it should be spoken of godly ministers, that they are so set upon popular applause, and of sitting high in men's estimation, that they envy the abilities and notoriety of their brethren who are preferred before them—as if all were taken from their praises that are given to another's; and as if God had given them their gifts to be the mere ornaments and trappings of their people, that they may walk as men of reputation in the world, and all his gifts in others were trodden down and vilified, if they seem to stand in the way of their honor! What, a preacher for Christ—and yet envy that which has the image of Christ—and malign his gifts for which he should have the glory—and all because they seem to hinder our glory? Is not every true Christian a member of the body, and therefore partakes the blessings of the whole, and of each particular member thereof? And does not every man owe thanks to God for his brethren's gifts—not only as having himself a part in them, as the foot has the benefit of the guidance of the eye—but also because his own ends may be obtained by his brethren's gifts as well as by his own? For if the glory of God and the church's felicity be not his end, he is not a Christian. Will any workman malign another because he helps him to do his master's work? Yet, alas, how common is this heinous crime of envy, amid men of ability and eminency in the church! They can secretly blot the reputation of those of greater eminence than themselves. And what they cannot for shame do in plain and open terms, lest they be proved palpable liars and slanderers—they will do in malicious innuendos—raising suspicions where they cannot fasten accusations. And so far are some gone in this satanical vice, that it is their common practice, and a considerable part of their business, to keep down the estimation of those they dislike, and defame others in the slyest and most plausible way! And some go so far that they are unwilling that any that are abler than themselves should come into their pulpits, lest they should be applauded above themselves! A fearful thing, that any man who has the least of the fear of God, should so envy at God's gifts, and had rather that his carnal hearers remain unconverted, and the drowsy not awakened—than that it should be done by another, who may be preferred before them! Yes, so far does this cursed vice prevail, that in great congregations—which have need of the help of many teachers, we can scarcely get two pastors in equality, to live together in love and quietness, and unanimously to carry on the work of God! But unless one of them be quite below the other in abilities, and content to be less esteemed, and ruled by the other—they are contending for superior honor—and envying each other—and walking with unkindness and jealousy towards each other—to the shame of the profession—and the great wrong of the congregation! I am ashamed to think of it, that when I have been endeavoring with ministers to further a good work, to convince them of the necessity of more ministers than one in great congregations, they tell me they will never agree together. I hope the objection is ungrounded as to the most ministers—but it is a sad case that so many ministers envy one another! No, some men are so far gone in pride, that when they might have an assistant of equal abilities, to further the work of God—they had rather take all the burden upon themselves—though more than they can bear—than that any should share with them in the honor—and for fear lest they should diminish their esteem with the people!

"I confess I have often wondered that this most heinous sin of envy, should be made so light of, and thought so consistent with a holy frame of heart and life—when far lesser sins are by ourselves proclaimed to be so damnable in our people.

"Brethren, I know this is a sad and harsh confession! But that all this should be so among us ministers, is more grievous, and should be so to us, than to be told of it. Could this nakedness be hid, I would not have disclosed it, at least so openly in the view of all. But, alas, this 'ministerial envy' is long ago open to the eye of the world—we have dishonored ourselves by idolizing our own honor—we print our shame, and preach our shame, and tell it unto all." (Richard Baxter, "The Reformed Pastor". This is a treatise, which, if frequently and devoutly read by all ministers of true religion, as it should be, would be a signal blessing to us!)

And are not religious bodies sometimes guilty of this sin? Has it no existence in the bosoms of professing Christians of different denominations? Is there no envy in Dissenters towards the Church of England—or of the Church of England towards Dissenters? Of Baptists towards Paedobaptists—or Paedobaptists towards Baptists? Of Methodists towards Congregationalists—and Congregationalists towards Methodists? Why that disposition to suspect and traduce each other—which is but too common among all the divisions of the Christian church? If one denomination prospers, are not all the rest too apt to look on with envious eyes, because theirs is likely to be eclipsed or diminished? Are not all the little arts of detraction most busily employed, and a hundred tongues made voluble to arrest the progress, and limit the prosperity, of the rising sect?

And how much of this envious spirit is often seen in the conduct of rising congregations of the same denominations! What ill-will is often cherished by the members of the declining cause, towards those of the prosperous one—and only because they are prosperous! They can never hear of the success of their sister church, without feeling and appearing uneasy and displeased—as if an injury were done to them; they profess to be skeptical of the fact; they suggest that it is more in outward show, than reality; they do not scruple to mention draw-backs in the talents, or perhaps the inconsistencies, of that minister; detraction, yes, even slander is employed against some of the members of this prosperous church, as it is sneeringly called. Such, even in Christian churches, or rather in the minds of some of their members, are the operations of envy.

Nor is its influence excluded from Religious Institutions. There is no sanctuary so sacred, which this diabolical passion of envy, will not violate—no asylum consecrated to piety or humanity, into which it will not intrude. Bible Societies, Missionary Societies, with other kindred institutions, are not secure against the entrance, operation and mischief of envy! Yes the more elevated and the more holy the ground—the more ambitious is envy to occupy it! Born in heaven, though soon cast down to hell, to heaven it would ascend again if it could. Envy is a vice, which while it spurns not the lowest place on earth, nor scorns the lowest bosom among men—is ambitious to approach as nearly as possible to the celestial temple—the doors of which it would force open if it could—and agitate and poison the mind of the second seraph in glory with ill-will towards the first, and make him hate the eternal God, because he, his creature, could not be higher than the Highest!

Let one man—or let one body of men—be conspicuous for their deeds of love and zeal in the cause of the Lord—let their doings go forth to the ends of the world, and their praises be sounded through the church of the living God—and Satan, alarmed at their past success and at their prospective victories, will soon find some bosoms which he will occupy with his own craft and his own envy—and from which he will go forth with all deceivableness, to maintain a factious and noisy opposition! And oh, how many cases we have been told, was to do the will, and seek the glory, and to accomplish the purposes of the Lord—were in fact nothing but the operation of that envy—which to the malignity, adds the subtlety of the old serpent!

Envy, with all its will and its power to do mischief, is not only a deceitful—but a dastardly vice! There is no being in our world so lofty that it will not attack! There is no place so strongly fortified that it will not assail! There is no enterprise so holy that it will not sneak in! There is it is at the same time ashamed and afraid to be seen as it really is. Pride, and revenge, and drunkenness, and gluttony, and many other vices—avow with an audacious boldness their names, and places of abode, and purposes—they borrow no mask—they put on no cloak of disguise—much less do they clothe themselves in the robe of righteousness, and talk the language of a saint. But envy does all this, conscious that it is an unnatural disposition, unsuitable to the human constitution, and partaking more of the rancour of a devil than of the temper of a man; that it is universally odious, branded by the common consent of mankind with a stigma deep and foul—it disclaims its name, conceals its nature, makes its professor deny its abode in his bosom, and compels him to call it "a sense of equity," "a power of discrimination," "a concern for the public welfare," "an enemy to ostentation," and to such length do its falsehood and impiety go, it professes in some cases to be "a zeal for the glory of God!"

But let us now contemplate the HATEFUL NATURE of envy.

Envy is a vice of the utmost deformity and heinousness. To feel uneasiness at another's happiness or excellence, and to dislike him on that account, is a sin that needs—no analysis to prove its deadly nature—no dissection to expose its corruption; it presents at once, to the most superficial observer, a frightful and disgusting appearance—a kind of leprous surface. It stands directly opposed to the nature of God, whose love delights in excellence and in happiness, and whose grace produces both; and by whom this sin must be regarded with infinite loathing and abhorrence.

Envy is a secret murmuring against the appointments of heaven—an incessant quarrel with Providence—an accusation against the wisdom, equity, and goodness of the divine administration. As it is unlike God—so it is the image of Satan—being the disposition, united with the pride, which cast down the apostate angels from their seats in heaven, and which fills and fires their bosoms in the bottomless pit! Envy is a mirror of the state of hell, and unceasingly the passions of devils, who despair for themselves, and envy the happiness of men and angels, yet cannot rejoice either in the good or the evil they witness, although they endeavor to hinder the good, and promote the evil, with all the restlessness of malice, and the devices of their mighty cunning.

Envy is a 'parent crime', and its progeny are as mischievous and deformed as itself—for malice, hatred, falsehood, slander, are its base brood; and not infrequently murder—for when carried to excess, there is scarcely an injury within its reach which it would not inflict upon its object!

Envy cannot even offer the excuses for itself which many vices sometimes bring forward. Anger pleads the provocation it has received—but envy has received no offense, except the well-being of another be an insult. Lust and intemperance plead the gratification which their objects yield, and robbery holds up its gain—but envy gains nothing but misery, and converts the happiness of which it is the witness into wormwood and gall of its own cup, and transvenoms the honey of another man's comfort into the poison of asps for its own bosom! Envy is—a source of eternal vexation—an instrument of self torment—a rottenness in the bones—a burning ulceration of the soul—a crime, which partaking of the guilt, partakes as largely of the misery of hell. (Jeremy Taylor)

Such is envy! But who can describe it accurately, or do it justice? If we look for it as embodied in living characters, we shall find it in Cain, the proto-murderer, who slew his brother at the instigation of this vice of envy. We shall find it in the dark and gloomy and revengeful spirit of Saul, who, under the influence of envy, plotted for years the slaughter of David. We shall find it in the King Ahab, when he pined for the vineyard of Naboth, and shed his blood to gain it. Yes, it was envy that perpetrated that most atrocious crime ever planned in hell, or executed on earth, on which the sun refused to look, and at which nature gave signs of abhorrence by the rending of the rocks; I mean the crucifixion of Christ—for the evangelist tells us, that for envy the Jews delivered our Lord. (Matthew 27:18, Mark 15:10)

How hateful, then, is this crime; and although we may not be in danger of carrying it to excess, yet we should ever strive against its least and lowest degrees. The means of opposing and mortifying it are many.

Let us very seriously meditate on its evil nature. A steady contemplation of its deformity and demon-like countenance is calculated to excite disgust, and to produce abhorrence. Many evils, and this among the number, are too much indulged, because they are too little contemplated. The more we meditate upon the heinousness of envy, the more we shall be convinced of the utter unsuitableness of such a temper as this is to be the inhabitant of a Christian's bosom—it is like a fiend inhabiting the temple of the Lord.

We must next form a deliberate resolution for its mortificationwe must stand prepared to take the greatest pains, to maintain the most determined efforts, for the riddance of our hearts from so hateful a disposition.

Let us next consider, that the circumstances which excite our envy are among the arrangements of a wise Providence; and that to dislike another on account of his excellence or happiness, is a crime of no less magnitude than a wish to oppose and subvert the dispensations of heaven. Let us remember, that if others have more than ourselves—we have infinitely more than we deserve. A deliberate and frequent consideration of our numerous and aggravated sins, with our deliverance from their consequences, together with a survey of our mercies and hopes as Christians, would very powerfully help us in the great business of mortifying envy. For the chief difference between man and man, as to real happiness, lies in spiritual distinctions; and if we have these, the absence of anything else is matter of little consequence.

It may not be amiss also to consider how comparatively small is the amount of happiness derived by the object of our envy, from those possessions on the ground of which we dislike him—and how soon, could we transfer them to ourselves, they would cease to impart any strong gratification to us. We always act under a delusion, when we indulge this hateful passion—its objects are seen through a magnifying medium of very high power. The circumstances which excite our envy have their attendant evils—evils which, though concealed from general observation, are well known to the possessor of them.

We should labor to be content with such things as we have—contentment is the secret of happiness, whether we have much or little. The man who makes up his mind to enjoy what he has, is quite as happy as he who is possessed of twice as much.

But still the great thing is, to endeavor by God's gracious help, to increase in LOVE. Our envy will then as certainly diminish, as darkness retires before the entrance of light, or cold before the power of heat. Love and envy are the very opposites of each other. Love delights in the happiness of others. Envy is made miserable by the happiness of others. Let us endeavor to cultivate this disposition of love, and to delight in witnessing and diffusing blessedness. This is what the Apostle meant, when he said, "Rejoice with those who rejoice." What a beatifying, and even sublime temper is that which leads its possessor to find consolation—even amid his own straits, privations, and difficulties—in contemplating the possessions and the comforts of those around him! What relief would such elevated virtue bring to the mourner, when he could turn his own darkened orb toward the illumination of his neighbor's prosperity!

Happy is the man who can thus borrow the joys of others, when he has none, or few of his own; and, from the wilderness of his own situation, enjoy the beautiful scene of his friend's well decorated yard and home. Difficult and rare as such a temper is, it is that which is the subject of the apostle's description in the chapter we are considering, and which it is the duty of every Christian to cultivate. Hard, indeed, is the saying, and few there are who can bear it—but it is assuredly the lesson which Christ teaches his disciples, and which those disciples must all endeavor to learn. Much may be done by effort. Let us determine, by God's help, to acquire it, let us make the attempt, and let us only persevere, notwithstanding many defeats and many discouragements—and it is astonishing what may be done. But this kind goes not forth but by fasting and prayer.

Love cannot be cultivated, nor envy destroyed in our hearts—but by the power of the Holy Spirit. We may as well try to pull up by the roots the oak of a century's growth, or overturn a mountain by our own strength, as to eradicate the vice of envy from our hearts, without the aid of God's own Spirit—that aid is promised to fervent and persevering prayer—and if we have it not, the fault is our own.