Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults. –Ps 19:12 (NASB)
In Some Thoughts Concerning the Present Revival of Religion in New England, Jonathan Edwards describes the most hidden, and therefore most dangerous, of all sins . . . spiritual pride. He describes it as “the main door by which the devil comes into the hearts of those who are zealous for the advancement of religion” and says that it is most dangerous because it is undetectable to the person who suffers from it. The man who thinks too highly of himself is not apt to think that he thinks too highly of himself. Thus, spiritual pride goes undetected in the heart of the spiritually proud. It is a disease that spreads undiagnosed, infecting all other areas of life.
Yet, if the disease is to be cured, it must be diagnosed. The secrecy of this disease, though, makes its diagnosis difficult. However, there are, according to Edwards, ways of exposing spiritual pride–namely, observing its fruits or effects. Edwards goes on to identify seven effects of spiritual pride that can be observed in those who are infected with the disease.
- The spiritually proud are eager to find fault in others. Edwards says, “The spiritually proud person is apt to find fault with other saints, that they are low in grace and to be much in observing how cold and dead they are and being quick to discern and take notice of their deficiencies.” In contrast, the humble person has enough fault of his own with which to deal that he has no time to get involved in pointing out the faults of others.
- The spiritually proud speak of other saints and their shortcomings harshly. Edwards says that they “speak of almost everything that they see amiss in others in the most harsh, severe, and terrible language.” Then, they justify their harshness as “they look upon it as a virtue and high attainment thus to behave themselves. ‘Oh,’ say they, ‘we must be plain-hearted and bold for Christ, we must declare war against sin wherever we see it, we must not mince the matter in the cause of God and when speaking for Christ.’” Claiming to speak for Christ is merely the way they deceive themselves into believing that their harsh treatment of others is somehow pleasing in the eyes of God. In contrast, according to Edwards, “Christians who are but fellow-worms ought at least to treat one another with as much humility and gentleness as Christ, who is infinitely above them, treats them.”
- The spiritually proud set themselves up to be viewed as distinguished. In the words of Edwards, “Spiritual pride commonly occasions a certain stiffness and inflexibility in persons in their own judgment and their own ways.” They push their own will and opinion with no regard to the opinion of their fellows. “Spiritual pride disposes persons to affect separation, to stand at a distance from others as being better than they and loves the show and appearance of the distinction.” The humble, though, “is ready to pay deference to others’ opinions, loves to comply with their inclinations, and has a heart that is tender and flexible like a little child.”
- The spiritually proud take notice of opposition and often speak of injuries received with bitterness and contempt. The meekness of Christ as a lamb before its shearers is absent in the spiritually proud. They notice the wrongs done to them and are quick to decry any opposition.
- The spiritually proud have an un-suitable self-confidence before God and men. They are happy to declare their blood-earned place before God, but they fail to do so with reverence and awe. “They have not rejoiced with a reverential trembling, in a proper sense of the awful majesty of God and the awful distance between him and them.” Such boldness also seeps into their interaction with men as though it became them “to divest themselves of all manner of shamefacedness, modesty, or reverence towards man.”
- The spiritually proud behave in ways that make them the focus of others, as though they deserved to be in the forefront of everyone else’s mind just as they are in their own minds. They gladly take all the respect that is given them. Edwards pointedly describes such a man this way, “He is apt to think that it belongs to him to speak and to clothe himself with a judicial and dogmatical air in conversation and to take it upon him, as what belongs to him, to give forth his sentence and to determine and decide . . . [He] is more apt to instruct others than to inquire for himself and naturally puts on the airs of a master.” The humble Christian, on the other hand, prefers to honor others and is quick to hear and slow to speak. “The eminently humble Christian thinks he wants help from everybody, whereas he that is spiritually proud thinks that everybody wants his help.”
- Lastly, the spiritually proud treat others with neglect and contempt, viewing them as having nothing to offer. The humble man, though, is eager to condescend even to the most simple minded, engaging with him in discourse . . . always remembering how much further Christ condescended to engage with him.
I doubt there is a Christian alive who does not exhibit at least one of these effects. If one looks in the mirror objectively, surely one of these effects can be observed. And if one is observed, how much more of this wretched disease remains hidden? No wonder David prayed, “Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults.”
The full text of Edwards’ Some Thoughts concerning the Present Revival of Religion in New England can be found here. A condensed version of the section on spiritual pride can be found here.