Pride is the greatest snare in the souls of men. It is essentially a measuring of ourselves by ourselves and a comparing of ourselves among ourselves (2 Cor. 10:12). When we allow pride to fester and take root in our hearts, we begin to think, act and speak as if we are, because of our superior virtue, spiritually superior to others. As we do so, we make that in which he believe we excel our standard of holiness, rather than God’s Law with its unattainable depths and requirements. Additionally, when we foster spiritual pride we reveal that we do not truly see our need the atoning sacrifice of Christ for our sin.
John Owen once wrote, “Spiritual pride is the worst sort of pride.” He explained,
“Pride, or carnal confidence in our own wisdom and ability of mind for all the ends of our duty towards God, either keeps the souls of men under the bondage of darkness and ignorance, or precipitates them into foolish apprehensions or pernicious errors.”
In 1742, Jonathan Edwards published Some Thoughts Concerning the Present Revival of Religion in New England. Edwards had taken note of the great evil of spiritual pride in his consideration of what was transpiring in many where he ministered. As he saw the ways in which so many set themselves up as examples of godliness over against others, he set down some of his toughts about the nature and marks of spiritual pride.
The Nature of Spiritual Pride
Edwards first explained the nature of spiritual pride. He wrote,
“The first, and the worst cause of errors that prevail in such a state of things, is spiritual pride. This is the main door, by which the Devil comes into the hearts of those that are zealous for the advancement of religion. . .This cause of error is the main support of all the rest. Till this disease is cured, medicines are in vain applied to heal other diseases. ’Tis by this that the mind defends itself in other errors, and guards itself against light by which it might be corrected and reclaimed. The spiritually proud man is full of light already; he don’t need instruction, and is ready to despise the offer of it.”
Edwards went on to offer a rationale about why spiritually pride is not easily detected in the hearts of those whose hearts are full of it. He noted,
“Of all kinds of pride, spiritual pride is the most hidden and difficultly discovered. . .because those that are spiritually proud, their pride consists much in an high conceit of those two things, viz. their light and their humility; both which are a strong prejudice against a discovery of their pride. Being proud of their light, that makes ’em not jealous of themselves; he that thinks a clear light shines around him is not suspicious of an enemy lurking near him, unseen: and then being proud of their humility, that makes ’em least of all jealous of themselves in that particular, viz. as being under the prevalence of pride.”
Marks of Spiritual Pride
Regarding the marks of spiritual pride, Edwards first observed that the spiritually proud person loves to talk about the sins of others while seeing very little sin in his own heart. He wrote,
“The spiritually proud person shows it in his finding fault with other saints, that they are low in grace and how cold and dead they are, and are quick to discern and take notice of their deficiencies. The eminently humble Christian has so much to do at home and sees so much evil in his own that he is not apt to be very busy with other hearts.
According to Edwards, the next mark of spiritual pride is that of speaking harshly about the sins of others without doing so about their own sin. He suggested,
“Spiritually proud persons. . .speak of almost everything they see in others in the most harsh, severe language. It is frequent with them to say of other’s opinion, conduct, advice, coldness, silence, caution, moderation, prudence, etc. that they are from the devil or from hell.”
The thrid mark of spiritual pride is that it leada a man to speak and carry himself in such a way as to give a pretense of superior godliness. Edwards observed,
“Spiritual pride often causes persons to act different in external appearance, to effect a different way of speaking, to use a different sort of dialect from others, or to be different in voice, countenance or behavior.”
The fourth mark of spiritual pride is that quickly takes offense whenever it perceives it is being attacked. Edwards explained,
“Spiritual pride takes great notice of opposition and injuries that are received and is prone to be often speaking of them and to be much in taking notice of their aggravation, either with an air of bitterness or contempt.”
A fifth mark of spiritual pride is that it loves the praise of men. As Edwards suggested,
“Another effect of spiritual pride is to make the subject of it want attention. People often tend to act in a special manner as though others ought to take great notice and regard of them. It is very natural to a person that is very much under the influence of spiritual pride to take all the respect that is paid to him.”
Finally, spiritual pride manifests itself in a disdain for others (especially unbelievers or weak believers) in such a way that it refuses to spend time in conversation with them. Edwards offered the following:
“As spiritual pride causes persons to assume much to themselves, so it treats others with neglect. On the contrary, pure Christian humility disposes persons to honor all men as from 1 Peter 2:17. To enter into disputes about Christianity is sometimes unseasonable, such as in meeting for Christian conference or for exercises of worship.
Yet, we ought to be very careful that we do not refuse to converse with carnal men, as though we counted them not worthy to be regarded. On the contrary, we should condescend to carnal men as Christ has condescended to us, to bear with our unteachableness and stupidity.”
As we consider the nature and marks of spiritual pride, we should ask the Lord to help us discern in what ways these things are evident in our own hearts. We should examine our thoughts, words, and actions in regard to how we perceive our spiritual condition and how we compare ourselves with others. When we consider ourselves in light of God’s requirement of perfect, personal, and perpetual obedience, we are left with no place for pride to dwell in our sinful hearts. When we come to the foot of the cross and seeing the sinless Son of God suffering under the wrath of God for our sin, we will be grieved over even the least uprising of sinful spiritual pride in out hearts. A due consideration of our true spiritual condition in light of God’s moral requirements and the atoning sacrifice of Christ should produce true spiritual humility in every place where we have allowed spiritual pride to dwell.