Category Archives: Pride

“Sacred things may become profane by becoming matters of the job” by C.S. Lewis

“To Sheldon Vanauken

Magdalen College,
Oxford
January 5, 1951

Dear Mr. Van Auken,

We must ask three questions about the probable effect of changing your research subject to something more theological.

(1.) Would it be better for your immediate enjoyment? Answer, probably but not certainly, Yes.

(2.) Would it be better for your academic career? Answer, probably No. You would have to make up in haste a lot of knowledge which could not be very easily digested in the time.

(3.) Would it be better for your soul? I don’t know.

I think there is a great deal to be said for having one’s deepest spiritual interest distinct from one’s ordinary duty as a student or professional man.

St Paul’s job was tent-making. When the two coincide I should have thought there was a danger lest the natural interest in one’s job and the pleasures of gratified ambition might be mistaken for spiritual progress and spiritual consolation: and I think clergymen sometimes fall into this trap.

Contrariwise, there is the danger that what is boring or repellent in the job may alienate one from the spiritual life. And finally someone has said ‘None are so unholy as those whose hands are cauterized with holy things: sacred things may become profane by becoming matters of the job.

You now want truth for her own sake: how will it be when the same truth is also needed for an effective footnote in your thesis?

In fact, the change might do good or harm. I’ve always been glad myself that Theology is not the thing I earn my living by.

On the whole, I’d advise you to get on with your tent-making. The performance of a duty will probably teach you quite as much about God as academic Theology would do.

Mind, I’m not certain: but that is the view I incline to.

Yours,

C. S. Lewis”

–C.S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume 3: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy, 1950 – 1963, Ed. Walter Hooper (New York: HarperCollins, 2007), 3: 82-83. Vanauken had asked Lewis his opinion as to whether he should continue with his postgraduate work in history or study theology.

  1. Francis Bacon, Essays (1625), ‘Of Atheism’: ‘The great atheists, indeed are hypocrites; which are ever handling holy things, but without feeling; so as they must needs be cauterized in the end.’

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“A child of God keeps two books always by him” by Thomas Watson

“A child of God keeps two books always by him:

One to write his sins in, so that he may be humble;

The other to write his mercies in, so that he may be thankful.”

–Thomas Watson, The Godly Man’s Picture Drawn with a Scripture-Pencil, or, Some Characteristic Marks of a Man who is Going to Heaven (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1666/2003), 132.

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“Poverty of spirit” by D.A. Carson

“Poverty of spirit is the personal acknowledgment of spiritual bankruptcy. It is the conscious confession of unworth before God. As such, it is the deepest form of repentance.

It is exemplified by the guilty publican in the corner of the Temple: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” It is not a man’s confession that he is ontologically insignificant, or personally without value, for such would be untrue; it is, rather, a confession that he is sinful and rebellious and utterly without moral virtues adequate to commend him to God.

I suspect that there is no pride more deadly than that which finds its roots in great learning, great external piety, or a showy defense of orthodoxy. My suspicion does not call into question the value of learning, piety, or orthodoxy; rather, it exposes professing believers to the full glare of this beatitude.

Pride based on genuine virtues has the greatest potential for self-deception; but our Lord will allow none of it. Poverty of spirit he insists on—a full, honest, factual, conscious, and conscientious recognition before God of personal moral unworth. It is, as I have said, the deepest form of repentance.

It is not surprising, then, that the kingdom of heaven belongs to the poor in spirit. At the very outset of the Sermon on the Mount, we learn that we do not have the spiritual resources to put any of the Sermon’s precepts into practice.

We cannot fulfill God’s standards ourselves. We must come to him and acknowledge our spiritual bankruptcy, emptying ourselves of our self-righteousness, moral self-esteem, and personal vainglory. Emptied of these things we are ready for him to fill us.

Much of the rest of the Sermon on the Mount is designed to remove these self-delusions from us, and foster within us a genuine poverty of spirit. The genuineness and depth of this repentance is a prime requirement for entering into life.”

–D.A. Carson, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World: An Exposition of Matthew 5–10 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1999/2018), 18–19.

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“Never be ashamed of being a learner” by J.C. Ryle

“Humility was the beginning of Solomon’s wisdom. He writes it down as his own experience, “Seest thou a man wise in his own conceit? there is more hope of a fool than of him” (Prov. 26:12).

Young men, lay to heart the Scriptures here quoted. Do not be too confident in your own judgment.

Cease to be sure that you are always right, and others wrong. Be distrustful of your own opinion, when you find it contrary to that of older men than yourselves, and specially to that of your own parents.

Age gives experience, and therefore deserves respect. It is a mark of Elihu’s wisdom, in the book of Job, that “he waited till Job had spoken, because they were older than himself” (Job 32:4).

And afterwards he said, “I am young, and you are very old; wherefore I was afraid, and durst not show you mine opinion. I said, Days should speak, and multitude of years should teach wisdom” (Job 32:6, 7).

Modesty and silence are beautiful graces in young people.

Never be ashamed of being a learner. Jesus was one at twelve years; when He was found in the temple, He was “sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46).

The wisest men would tell you they are always learners, and are humbled to find after all how little they know. The great Sir Isaac Newton used to say that he felt himself no better than a little child, who had picked up a few precious stones on the shore of the sea of knowledge.

Young men, if you would be wise, if you would be happy, remember the warning I give you,—Beware of pride.”

–J.C. Ryle, Thoughts for Young Men (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1888/2018), 22-23.

 

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“This is our pattern when we speak and write for God” by John Newton

“Self-righteousness can feed upon doctrines, as well as upon works; and a man may have the heart of a Pharisee, while his head is stored with orthodox notions of the unworthiness of the creature and the riches of free grace.

Yea, I would add, the best of men are not wholly free from this leaven; and therefore are too apt to be pleased with such representations as hold up our adversaries to ridicule, and by consequence flatter our own superior judgments.

Controversies, for the most part, are so managed as to indulge rather than to repress this wrong disposition; and therefore, generally speaking, they are productive of little good. They provoke those whom they should convince, and puff up those whom they should edify.

I hope your performance will savour of a spirit of true humility, and be a means of promoting it in others.

This leads me, in the last place, to consider your own concern in your present undertaking. It seems a laudable service to defend the faith once delivered to the saints; we are commanded to contend earnestly for it, and to convince gainsayers.

If ever such defences were seasonable and expedient, they appear to be so in our day, when errors abound on all sides, and every truth of the Gospel is either directly denied, or grossly misrepresented. And yet we find but very few writers of controversy who have not been manifestly hurt by it.

Either they grow in a sense of their own importance, or imbibe an angry contentious spirit, or they insensibly withdraw their attention from those things which are the food and immediate support of the life of faith, and spend their time and strength upon matters which at most are but of a secondary value.

This shews, that, if the service is honourable, it is dangerous. What will it profit a man if he gains his cause, and silences his adversary, if at the same time he loses that humble, tender frame of spirit in which the Lord delights, and to which the promise of His presence is made!

Your aim, I doubt not, is good. But you have need to watch and pray, for you will find Satan at your right hand to resist you: he will try to debase your views; and though you set out in defence of the cause of God, if you are not continually looking to the Lord to keep you, it may become your own cause, and awaken in you those tempers which are inconsistent with true peace of mind, and will surely obstruct communion with God.

Be upon your guard against admitting anything personal into the debate.

If you think you have been ill treated, you will have an opportunity of showing that you are a disciple of Jesus, who, ‘when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not.’ (1 Pet. 2:23) This is our pattern, thus we are to speak and write for God, ‘not rendering railing for railing, but, contrariwise, blessing; knowing that hereunto we are called.’ (1 Pet. 3:9)

The wisdom that is from above is not only pure, but peaceable and gentle; and the want of these qualifications, like the dead fly in the pot of ointment, will spoil the savour and efficacy of our labours. If we act in a wrong spirit, we shall bring little glory to God, do little good to our fellow-creatures, and procure neither honour nor comfort to ourselves.

If you can be content with shewing your wit, and gaining the laugh on your side, you have an easy task. But I hope you have a far nobler aim, and that, sensible of the solemn importance of Gospel truths, and the compassion due to the souls of men, you would rather be a means of removing prejudices in a single instance, than obtain the empty applause of thousands.

Go forth, therefore, in the name and strength of the Lord of Hosts, speaking the truth in love; and may He give you a witness in many hearts, that you are taught of God, and favoured with the unction of His Holy Spirit.”

–John Newton, The Works of John NewtonVolume 1 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1988), 1: 272-274.

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“Professed loud sticklers for free grace” by John Newton

“I hope when this comes, it will find you and your’s comfortable, and your heart and mouth full of gratitude to Him who crowneth the year with His goodness. Well, these returning years each bear away a large portion of our time, and the last year cannot be far off.

Oh, that precious name which can enable a sinner to think of his last year and his last hour without dismay! What do we owe to Him who has disarmed death of its sting and horrors, and shown us the land of light and immortality beyond the grave!

May He be with us in the new year. Yea, He has promised He will, even unto death. Therefore, though we know not what a day may bring forth, we need fear no evil; for He knows all, and will provide accordingly.

Oh, what a relief is it, to be enabled to cast every care and burden upon Him that careth for us! Though the night should be dark, the storm loud, and the billows high, the infallible Pilot will steer our barks safely through.

Let us help each other with our prayers, that the little uncertain remainder of life may be filled up to the praise of our dear Lord; that we may be united to His will, conformed to His image, and devoted to His service.

Thus we shall show forth His praise; if we aim to walk as He walked, and, by a sweet constraining sense of His love, are formed into an habitual imitation of His spirit and temper, in meekness, integrity, benevolence towards men; in humility, dependence, resignation, confidence, and gratitude towards Him.

I pity such wise-headed Calvinists as you speak of. I am afraid there are no people more fully answer the character, and live in the spirit of the Pharisees of old, than some professed loud sticklers for free grace.

They are wise in their own eyes; their notions, which the pride of their hearts tells them are so bright and clear, serve them for a righteousness, and they trust in themselves and despise others.

One modest, inquiring Arminian is worth a thousand such Calvinists in my esteem.

You will do well to preach quietly in your own way, not minding what others say, while your own conscience testifies that you preach the truth. If you are travelling the right road, (to London for instance,) though fifty people should meet you and say you are wrong, you, knowing you are right, need not mind them.

But, alas! the spirit of self, which makes us unwilling to hear of contradiction, is not easily subdued.”

–John Newton, The Works of John NewtonVolume 6 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2015), 6: 196-197.

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“The cross and criticism” by Alfred J. Poirier

“The cross of Christ reminds me that the Son of God loved me and gave Himself for me. And because of this, God has thoroughly and forever accepted me in Christ.

Here is how grace works: Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit (Gal. 3:13f).

What a sure foundation for the soul! Now, I don’t practice self-justification, but boasting—boasting about Christ’s righteousness for me.

If you truly take this to heart, the whole world can stand against you, denounce you, or criticize you, and you will be able to reply, “If God has justified me, who can condemn me?” “If God justifies me, accepts me, and will never forsake me, then why should I feel insecure and fear criticism?” “Christ took my sins, and I receive His Spirit. Christ takes my condemnation, and I receive His righteousness.”

In light of God’s judgment and justification of the sinner in the cross of Christ, we can begin to discover how to deal with any and all criticism. By agreeing with God’s criticism of me in Christ’s cross, I can face any criticism man may lay against me.

In other words, no one can criticize me more than the cross has. And the most devastating criticism turns out to be the finest mercy.

If you thus know yourself as having been crucified with Christ, then you can respond to any criticism, even mistaken or hostile criticism, without bitterness, defensiveness, or blameshifting. Such responses typically exacerbate and intensify conflict, and lead to the rupture of relationships. You can learn to hear criticism as constructive and not condemnatory because God has justified you.

  • Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? (Rom. 8:33–34a).
  • Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it (Ps. 141:5).

If I know myself as crucified with Christ, I can now receive another’s criticism with this attitude:

‘You have not discovered a fraction of my guilt. Christ has said more about my sin, my failings, my rebellion and my foolishness than any man can lay against me. I thank you for your corrections. They are a blessing and a kindness to me. For even when they are wrong or misplaced, they remind me of my true faults and sins for which my Lord and Savior paid dearly when He went to the cross for me. I want to hear where your criticisms are valid.’

The correction and advice that we hear are sent by our heavenly Father. They are His corrections, rebukes, warnings, and scoldings. His reminders are meant to humble me, to weed out the root of pride and replace it with a heart and lifestyle of growing wisdom, understanding, goodness, and truth.

I do not fear man’s criticism for I have already agreed with God’s criticism. And I do not look ultimately for man’s approval for I have gained by grace God’s approval.

In fact, His love for me helps me to hear correction and criticism as a kindness, oil on my head, from my Father who loves me and says, ‘My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when He rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone He accepts as a son’ (Heb. 12:5–6).”

–Alfred J. Poirier, “The Cross and Criticism,” ed. David A. Powlison, The Journal of Biblical Counseling, Number 3, Spring 1999 17 (1999): 18-20.

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