DANGER IN SPIRITUAL PRIDE
PRIDE in any form and in anybody is a dangerous thing. In a worldly way the proverb is well attested, "Pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall"; and surely very, very few people have anything of which they might justly be proud! Some who hold their heads high with the pride of a haughty spirit, as though they were especially created out of some preferable "dust of the earth," have really nothing to boast of as to ancestry. A very few generations back are generally sufficient for any boaster.
The world is learning that it is not wise to boast of riches, lest thereby some one ask how were the riches accumulated and by whom, and whether they were honestly obtained. Pride of education is not appropriate, either; for education in general signifies the learning of what other people have found out or have written as history. And in our day those who would boast of great education have need of humility lest it be found that the very thing that they are boasting about has been disproven by later researches. Scientific books of the year 1900 will not pass muster today, nor their theories stand in the light of present knowledge. So if it were right to boast of knowledge, the boaster would need to be very careful to keep up to date.
Pride of one's beauty or physical perfection is scarcely to be excused; for the beauty of form and feature came by heredity, and the parent rather than the child might have some reason for pride. Pride as respects clothing, adornments is also foolish. The maker of the fabrics or the ornaments might have some reason for pride in the handiwork, but surely the wearer has not! He is merely appropriating to himself the skill and labor of others.
SPIRITUAL PRIDE WORST OF ALL
But our theme is spiritual pride! We would divide it into two classes: first, the spiritual pride of the merely nominal or professing Christian; and second, the spiritual pride affecting true Christians.
The spiritual pride of the nominal church-goer is not all hypocrisy. He sees spiritual forms and ceremonies, hears spiritual songs and sermons, and in many instances is not aware but that he himself is a true Christian, as much so as any. Does he not go regularly to meeting? Is he not a regular contributor, not only to the expenses of the house of worship, but in general to the forwarding of the Lord's cause--charities, etc., as these are presented to him from time to time?
However they have lived during the week, however they have dealt with the butcher and the baker, most church-goers take a pleasurable pride in joining some of the showy groups moving toward church buildings. The spiritually proud usually prefer the showiest and most aristocratic and high-toned temples of worship. At the conclusion of the services they feel a self-satisfaction. Have they not worshiped God? Ought not all people to worship Him? How many others have not done so! They feel a spiritual pride or superiority when comparing themselves with non-attendants.
They went not for spiritual instruction; or even if any were given in the places visited, they were not themselves in condition to receive such--not being spirit-begotten. They had no real hunger for righteousness, for truth. They had merely satisfied a feeling of duty. They had in a sense done penance, and hoped that somehow, sometime it would inure to their advantage--perhaps saving them from some of the worst degrees of purgatorial sufferings-- perhaps even making them acceptable for Heaven. Why should not God feel grateful to them for having denied themselves and wasted a few of their precious hours to go worship Him?
Although they would not put it so, they feel in a measure that God would be very unjust if He would pass by such a matter and not reward it handsomely. They feel spiritually proud and self-satisfied, and so long as in that condition are not in a particle of danger of getting hold of the Truth. Nor need we suppose that the Great Adversary would especially give his attention to them, for they are very safely under his influence. Was he not the first to manifest pride and to say in his heart, "I will ascend above the sons of God [I will take a higher position than others]; I will be as the Most High"? Spiritual pride was evidently Satan's great mistake, which led to his complete downfall.
Some who make no pretense of belief in God or in the Lord Jesus Christ or in the Bible have what might be termed a sort of spiritual pride. They pride themselves on living a moral life, on being able to conduct themselves honorably and decently in life--never getting drunk, never doing some of the seriously immoral and perverse things that many others do. In pride and boastfulness they will say: "I feel myself just as good as any church member, and I never go to church." And by this they mean, "I feel myself to be better than any church member." They are merely mixing modesty of statement with pride of thought in the proportion which they think will best influence the hearer.
Press the inquiry a little further--as to what good works they especially rejoice in--and they will tell how as "Odd Fellows," "Masons," etc., they sat up one night with [R5955 : page 276] a brother of the Order who was not very sick, who did not need very much attention and who had a trained nurse anyway to take care of him; but they felt as though they had been doing a noble work of charity. In general, their pride is that they have not violated the laws; that they have lived decent, respectable lives. Is there really anything in this that is an occasion for pride, for special self-congratulation? What man or woman should not keep the laws and should not be ashamed if he failed to keep the laws--especially when we would remember that those laws were made--not for good people, but for evil-doers?
SPIRITUAL PRIDE IN THE TRUE CHURCH
Now we come down to the most serious thing of all! The pride which is merely foolish or semi-hypocritical in the world and in the nominal Christians becomes a very serious matter indeed if it invades the heart and the life of the child of God. But why do we make such a difference? Why say that spiritual pride would be so very dangerous in one of the Lord's saints, whereas it would be little more than foolishness in the world? Ah! the difference is that these are God's special representatives in the world, who must become copies of God's dear Son if they would ever attain to the glory, honor and immortality to which they have been invited by the Lord.
When they gave themselves entirely to the Lord and were justified from sin through the imputation of the Redeemer's sacrifice, and were thus introduced into the family of God and begotten of the Holy Spirit, it meant a great change for these. Old things passed away; all things became new. These, and these alone, are on trial during this Gospel Age for eternal life or eternal death. And of all their temptations and beguilements, the sin of spiritual pride is probably one of the most dangerous of all. In proportion as it comes in, the Spirit of the Lord departs, and the spirituality of the individual ceases. This spiritual sickness, unless curbed, would surely lead on to the Second Death, for "the Lord resisteth the proud and showeth His favor to the humble."--James 4:6.
The Apostle Peter evidently had this besetting danger of spiritual pride in mind when he wrote to the Church: "Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time." (1 Peter 5:6.) "Whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted," said the Master.
ONE SYMPTOM OF THIS SOUL-SICKNESS
How may we know spiritual pride? some one may inquire. One of the most serious things in this connection [R5956 : page 276] is that those who have spiritual pride very rarely are aware of it. They sometimes have forms of godliness which not only deceive others, but deceive themselves and hinder them from seeing the spiritual pride which is working and which others may more readily see.
When you feel that your attendance at meetings, your reading of so many pages of SCRIPTURE STUDIES per day, your distribution of so many tracts, or your circulation or loaning of so many books, are matters to be boasted of--then take care! That disposition to boast is an indication that you would be in danger of catching spiritual pride if circumstances were favorable. These are all good and laudable things, all proper things; and you should feel a proper degree of self-congratulation that you find yourself able and willing to turn from the daily newspaper or novel, the reading of chitchat, or the writing of chitchat, to do things so reasonable, so proper, so much in harmony with the Divine will. But any disposition to boast of the matter should lead you to a careful scrutiny of thought--of the motives lying behind these activities in the Lord's service.
We are not meaning to say that it would be improper to give a testimony in which all of these things might be brought forward as an encouragement to others or as a proof that we love the Lord and are anxious to serve Him. What we are cautioning against is a spirit, or disposition, to boast of anything that we might be or do as the Lord's children. We have nothing whereof to boast. If we gave all of our goods to feed the spiritually poor, all our time to circulating the Truth, and all of our energy to the honoring of the Lord's name, we should feel that, having done all, we had not really profited our Lord, but merely found an opportunity of showing Him a little of the devotion of our hearts in acknowledgment of the numberless blessings already received at His hand, and the still more wonderful favors which He has promised shall be ours, if faithful. Well did the poet write:
"I want the first approach to feel
Of pride or fond desire!"
STILL FURTHER SYMPTOMS
Another form of this disease of spiritual pride manifests itself in a hypercritical attitude of mind. When one attends a testimony meeting, or a Berean class, and hears no real good testimony but his own, hears no proper answer except his own to any of the questions, never sees an Elder in the chair who knows how to lead a meeting anyway--these should be considered dangerous symptoms of spiritual pride.
Not that all these things might not possibly occur, but they are surely not likely to occur continually. It would be perfectly proper for us to give such attention, and to be so well informed, that we would be able to see quickly any unscriptural proceeding or any instance of very poor judgment that would be a hindrance to the effectiveness of the services. It would be proper, too, if ever we saw that the best interests of the class were not being served--and if, after waiting patiently for a while, we found that they were not likely to be corrected--it would be entirely proper for us, in a meek and quiet spirit, to call attention to the fault, either in the Class or to an elder, or whatever would be the most effective and least demonstrative way. "Let nothing be done through strife or vain glory," but everything for the glory of God.
And right there we need to be careful, too, lest we get into the way of thinking that everything that harmonizes with our ideas is to the glory of God, and that whatever would not harmonize with our ideas could not be pleasing to Him. Well did the Apostle write: "See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools." (Ephesians 5:15.) Well do we see the meaning of this word "circumspectly"-- that it signifies with close scrutiny on every hand, especially as respects thoughts, motives, intentions.
"BE NOT MANY OF YOU TEACHERS"
Well did St. James write, "Be not many of you teachers, my brethren, knowing that a man shall receive the severer trial." (James 3:1.) While, as we have pointed out, all of the Lord's people are specially susceptible along the line of spiritual pride, there seems to be a special danger surrounding all who become in any manner identified with the promulgation of His Truth.
It is a special privilege, indeed, to tell out the Message of God's grace to all who have a hearing ear. How thankful we are that it is not--as it was once supposed-- the exclusive privilege of the clergy, but that the Lord declares that all who are His consecrated people and who receive the begetting of the holy Spirit have, through it, the anointing to preach the Good Tidings to the meek and to bind up the broken-hearted! (Isaiah 61:1.) We are glad of this privilege, which includes our private conversations [R5956 : page 277] with neighbors and friends. But what a privilege to be God's ambassadors, and in His name to tell of the coming Kingdom, of the great provision God has already made through the death of Jesus, of the grand outcome, and of how the kings and priests of that Kingdom are now being called out of the world, experiencing a change of nature in preparation for their future work!
Old as the Message is, it is so new and wonderful, if rightly presented, as to awaken astonishment in the honest-hearted who hear. They wonder, how did this ordinary man (or woman) ever come to understand and be able so beautifully to portray these wonderful things? Perhaps they give a hint of their surprise. Then comes a danger-moment for taking the disease of spiritual pride. Just a little swing of the mind; and you think that it is wonderful that even you should know about such things when the great mass of mankind have not the remotest conception of them, and that even some of the ablest and most talented ministers of the Word of God are ignorant respecting these things in the Bible.
If you are taking the disease of spiritual pride you will doubtless feel a straightening of your back. You are beginning to feel more important, and to look more dignified and to feel that, after all, you are somebody great. Your voice indicates this, too; and your hearer notices it. Then he begins to feel that it is not the Word of the Lord, but that, as you seem to admit, it is something that you made up--something that you are responsible for, and he thinks less of it on that account.
The proper attitude, as all will agree, is that the Lord's people should feel greatly humbled instead of greatly exalted and heady in respect to these opportunities for telling the Truth to others. We should feel our unworthiness. We should realize that the Plan is not ours; that we have merely heard of it ourselves; that it is really God's Plan; that we are honored as His servants to tell it out. But if we allow any impression to go out that it is by any wisdom on our part, or any skill, that the beauty is seen in the Message, then to that extent we are taking glory to ourselves which belongs to the Lord, and doing injury to ourselves proportionately by failing to demonstrate our worthiness to be used by the Lord in the present and in the future. The wonderful privilege of speaking as ambassadors for the Lord, to tell of His greatness and Plan should humble us with the thought that He has privileged us, whereas He has angels, who excel in strength and whom He might have used in communicating this most wonderful Message.
SPECIAL TEST UPON ELDERS AND DEACONS
But the dear brethren chosen by the Classes to be their Elders and Deacons have a still further test to their humility. Apparently no one could occupy such a position without great danger of infection from the disease called spiritual pride. Sometimes the Lord's people seem entirely to forget the caution which St. Paul gave, saying that a novice, a beginner, one young in the Truth, no matter how bright, no matter how educated, should not be chosen to the service of Elder or Deacon because, as the Apostle remarked, he would be especially susceptible to this foe of the children of God--spiritual pride.--1 Timothy 3:6.
But not merely are the novices in danger. Everyone appointed to serve the Lord's people is thereby put into the place of great temptation, which might mean a spiritual fall and ruin in the Second Death. Perhaps the Lord's people have not been sufficiently considerate of these things as respects those whom they elect to be their servants. Perhaps those accepting these positions of service under the votes of the brethren scarcely realize what danger they do run in accepting. If they realized, doubtless that realization would make them hesitate about accepting at all; and humility would certainly lead them not to attempt to serve unless they were most explicitly appointed to the service.
But what do we find? Alas! in some a tendency to seek the eldership or deaconship. In some, even a tendency to "wire-pull" and bargain that they might be elected; in some a tendency to feel offended if they were not chosen; in some a tendency to feel angry with anybody who would vote against them in such an election. Alas! alas! if the dear brethren realized what was gnawing in their minds and urging them on to these things-- oh, what a different course they would take! In all meekness and humility they should feel a timidity even about taking a position where there would be such a responsibility. The admonition on this is that although all of the Church should, according to their knowledge of the Truth, be qualified to be teachers, nevertheless the safer place is not to be a teacher, knowing that such shall have the severer trial. Only a sense of responsibility to the Lord and to the brethren should make one willing to serve in such capacity, much as all ought to love to be the Lord's representatives in the Church.
Everything in the nature of pride, fond desire to be [R5957 : page 277] Elders or to be great, is not only dangerous to the person himself, but dangerous to the entire Class with which he is associated. The spirit is catching, just as is every disease. Strife, vain-glory, ambition, all contrary to the spirit of the Lord, soon appear. Next come anger, malice, envy, hatred, evil-speaking, evil-surmising. These, St. Paul tells us, are "works of the flesh and of the Devil." All this harm, all this spirit of the Adversary, is apt to be introduced into the class either by one or more of its Elders or Leaders, or by one or more who desire to be Elders or Leaders.
We are sorry that this is true, yet we know of a number of Classes containing many dear children of God, many of whom are otherwise exemplary, but who have gotten into this condition. Instead of the spirit of the Lord being fully in control, the evil spirit, or disposition, is frequently manifest in various ways in the meetings. The class fails to make progress, either numerically or spiritually. These are the bitter fruits of this noxious thing known as spiritual pride.
If we had but the power of language to hold it up before the readers of THE WATCH TOWER, that they might see it in its true shape and terrible color, the effect would surely be to cause an alarm in Zion! Fain would we ring the alarm bell from the "Watch Tower," for be it noted that these dear ones who are becoming thus involved are often grand characters, truly spirit-begotten children of God. Of some of them we know that in the past they ran the race splendidly. How sorry we feel to see signs that their characters are being transformed in a wrong direction! Let us heed Him who said, "By their fruits ye shall know them."--Matthew 7:16.
GUARDING AGAINST SPIRITUAL PRIDE
As already indicated, one of the serious things connected with this malady of spiritual pride is that those who have it are rarely aware of it. Another difficulty is that it is almost impossible to correct them and to cause them to know that they have the disease. If spoken to on the subject they seem to think at once that their benefactor is their enemy; that he is jealous of them; that he would like to get their position, etc. Hence the disease is nearly incurable, except as either the Class may assist or the Lord's providence may interpose.
If the Class notices the growth of such a disposition, [R5957 : page 278] it should quickly, and with love and good intention, merely fail to elect for any service to the Class the individual who seems to be getting top-heavy--spiritually proud. If this were resented, it should be considered all the more a necessity to leave the self-conscious one to cool off quietly and get his bearing--for his own good and that of the Class. Where the Class fails to help in this matter, apparently nothing remains except for the Lord to chasten the individual for his good, either with business reverses or losses or with physical disease, or in whatever way may seem best to Him. And we have confidence that the Lord will do this for everyone who is truly His child and who gets into such a condition as to need such correction in righteousness. Is it not written, "The Lord will judge [punish] His people"?--Deuteronomy 32:36.
A BIBLE ILLUSTRATION OF THIS SIN
The Bible gives many illustrations of this sin, but we choose the most conspicuous one. There was a holy man of old, beloved of the Lord, noble, self-sacrificing, a Prophet of the Lord. He served the Lord and His people faithfully--wonderfully--for forty years; but finally he was guilty of this sin of self-assurance--spiritual pride. And, strangest of all, this man is noted to us in the Bible as having been at the beginning of his career the "meekest man in all the earth."--Numbers 12:3.
Yes; it was the glorious Moses, who at the beginning of his experience as a servant of the Lord was so very meek, so very humble, but who, at the conclusion of his career, was hindered from entering the promised land as a punishment for spiritual pride or self-assurance, where he should have given the Lord the glory. We recall the circumstances: Moses, as the Lord's special servant, had led Israel out of Egypt across the Red Sea into the wilderness, en route for Canaan. He performed, by the Lord's direction, several miracles on the journey. One of them was the smiting of the rock when the people were famished for water. God directed him to smite the rock; and from that rock flowed an abundant stream of water for the refreshment of the people.
According to the Bible, that rock was a picture of Christ--the "Rock of Ages." (1 Corinthians 10:4.) It was by the Lord's arrangement that this "Rock of Ages" was smitten, that the water of life might flow from Jesus for all of Adam's race who would become Israelites indeed and come out of Egypt--out of the world--out of sin-- out of the kingdom of the Adversary into obedience and fellowship with the Lord.
Forty years after this time of the smiting of the rock, when Israel had been journeying to and fro, waiting for the time to come that they might be permitted to enter Canaan, their wandering led again into this district, so barren and devoid of water. The people cried to Moses and Moses cried to the Lord on their behalf as to what should be done. The Lord's answer was that Moses should speak to the rock which previously he had smitten, and that water would come forth. But during these forty years in which Moses had dealt with the Israelites as a father with his children, he had naturally gained a great deal of self-assurance. He could hardly pass through such experiences and still be the meekest man in all the earth.
So now, neglecting the command of the Lord, Moses went to the rock and smote it a second time with his rod, shouting to the people: "Ye rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?" (Numbers 20:1-12.) Alas, poor Moses! He was taking the glory to himself instead of ascribing it all to the Lord. Soon Moses realized the great mistake he had made. It might be said to have been his only mistake, and yet the Lord on this account denied him the privilege of going into the land of Canaan, granting him instead merely the opportunity of seeing it from across the River Jordan, and burying him there.
Shall we not from this illustration esteem that spiritual pride and self-assurance are very displeasing in the sight of the Lord? Could we draw any other conclusion from this great lesson written for our admonition?
A WORD OF CONSOLATION
For the comfort of those who may feel that they have done much worse than Moses, or been much more self-assertive, been much less careful to honor the Lord, have manifested much more spiritual pride--for their comfort let us notice that the punishment here was severe because it was part of a type. As the first smiting of the rock typified the crucifixion of our Lord, so the second smiting of the rock typified the crucifying of the Son of God afresh and putting Him to an open shame; as described by St. Paul in Hebrews 6:6. As the smiting of the rock represented this public, open repudiation of Jesus and His teaching and His cause, so the preventing of Moses from crossing Jordan into Canaan typified the Second Death. We are not to think that Moses will never come into Canaan; nor that he has died the Second Death, but merely that this type was shown in his experiences.
Neither are we to think that brethren who have manifested spiritual pride and done things in their own name, rather than in the name of the Lord and the name of the Class, have thereby committed the sin unto death. We are, however, to realize that a terrible danger goes with spiritual pride, and that, persisted in, it would surely result in Second Death. Realizing this, how anxious, how zealous we should be, not only in the eradication of every symptom of it we might find in ourselves, but also in being careful lest we should take the contagion or in any manner come under its influence or have any of its symptoms!
SPIRITUAL PRIDE--PREVENTION AND CURE
We have already intimated the difficulty in connection with the treatment of this disease when once it gets hold. The chief feature of the difficulty seems to be that the disease has a destroying effect upon the conscience. The mind becomes more or less obtuse to the simple principles of the Golden Rule--not to mention the still higher law of our Lord's New Commandment to the brethren. The ignoring of the Golden Rule is manifested every time an attempt is made to coerce the Class, either in the election of its servants or in the ordering of its meetings.
The regulations of the Lord's Word are known; the residing of the authority in the Class is recognized, and when an Elder attempts to twist or turn or alter this he is not doing to the others as he would be done by. He has a right, as one of the Class, to his own opinion of the Lord's will on any matter. He has the right to express his judgment. But he has no right to hinder others from the expression of their judgment; and every such interference is a violation of the Golden Rule as well as a violation of the Law of Love and a violation of the First Commandment--to honor God; for it is setting aside the Divine arrangement provided for such matters.
But where the Elder progresses along such lines, in defiance of the Golden Rule principle, to the ruling of the Class, the coercing or cajoling of them to the doing his way, his will, the effect is the perversion of his own mind. His conscience becomes obtuse. Whoever violates his conscience repeatedly, by ignoring the principles of righting a wrong which he clearly sees, that person is undermining his conscience.
Conscience is the scale by which we weigh the various things presented to our judgment to ascertain the right [R5958 : page 279] or the wrong, the justice or the injustice, the truth or the falsity of a thing. This scale may be a very coarse one or a very fine one. It may be capable of very fine discriminations; or it may see things only in a rude, crude way. The Christian, especially if he has been long in the School of Christ, should have a very sensitive conscience; and from the Word of God he should be able to draw the weights by which he would balance all the questions of the affairs of life, and determine with almost absolute accuracy their right or their wrong--to what extent they would be pleasing or displeasing to the Lord. The impairment of that scale is the great danger in every sin, and it seems to us especially so in respect to the sin of spiritual pride. Nothing much can be done until the scale be rectified.
How important all of the Lord's people should feel it to be to keep their consciences thoroughly just; to be unwilling to take advantage of a brother, or of anybody, either in business or in an argument or in a Church election! The thought of the slightest infraction of justice on his own part should ring the loudest bells of alarm in the heart and the head of every true child of God: "Could it be that I who have enlisted in this cause of justice should be found sympathetic with injustice? Could it be that I could close my eyes to anything in my own conduct in the nature of injustice? Can it be that I am vitiating my own conscience and shall be liable to all the terrible results?"
To rectify a wrong course would therefore mean the reestablishment of the principles of justice in the hearts and the minds with a carefulness proportionate to the results involved--life or death everlasting. As justice shall begin to be reestablished in our minds, it will begin to regulate our words and acts. Gradually, then, the wrong-doer would begin to see how grossly he had violated the principle, how spiritual pride had almost destroyed his future prospects in the Kingdom. To such an one would surely come hearty repentance and thorough resolutions for the future.
THE GREAT NECESSITY FOR SELF-EXAMINATION
But how shall we safeguard ourselves against this spiritual pride, knowing as we do its insidious character and evil influence? How may we know that we are keeping ourselves in the love of God and not straying away toward spiritual pride?
Our advice is the same that we have already given in THE WATCH TOWER; viz.--that the Lord's people not only go to Him at the opening of each day and ask for Divine wisdom and supervision, and then through the day seek to live in accordance with that prayer, but additionally at the close of the day we have recommended a special self-inspection as respects the things done, the things neglected that should have been done, and the things done that should not have been done, in accordance with our vows of consecration to the Lord. If these reckonings and balancings every night with the Lord continue, and if they are done honestly, by a conscience that is not perverted, but that balances truly, we may surely expect that such, in harmony with the Lord's Word, will be keeping themselves in the love of God. They will be growing in grace, growing in knowledge, growing in love; and "the Wicked One will not touch them."
But let us not forget that while we are to exercise great leniency in viewing the words and deeds of others, ascribing only good intentions where they are professed, we are to scrutinize with all of our might our own hearts, our own intentions. We are to inquire why we did this thing or left undone the other thing; why we did this thing this way; why we spoke in such a tone, etc. Such a careful examination, weighing of thoughts, words and deeds, would be very unsatisfactory to a person who was not wishing to be in accord with the Lord. But those who have made a covenant with the Lord and are faithful to that covenant will find such a course to be a great blessing, comforting their hearts at the time, strengthening them for the future, and in connection with the Lord's providences it will be fitting and preparing them for places in the Heavenly Kingdom.