Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Richard Baxter on Pride

This is a long post based on my analysis of a part of Baxter's massive Christian Directory.

Note, because of space constraints, I have not included the list of signs of pride. Sorry!

Richard Baxter on pride

A special warning concerning pride: Unlike many sins, pride is also generally abhorred by the world. It is not usually a compliment to be called a proud person. So the name and general idea of pride is spoken against by all. But the true nature of pride is so little known, and so commonly cherished in the hearts of men, that it is more dangerous a sin than those which are more obvious. We all learn, consciously or unconsciously, to hide our pride. But hiding it is not the same as killing it. For this reason, Baxter first lays out a careful definition of pride and its opposite, humility. Then he extensively lays out signs of pride, both external and internal. The list is exhaustive and is appended at the end. From there he moves into directions for putting this sin to death.

Defining pride and humility

The simple definition that Baxter presents for pride is inordinate self-exalting, or lifting ourselves above the state appointed to us. In this way, pride is a direct attack upon the sovereignty and wisdom of God, indeed the very love of God is assaulted. Because pride is a matter of degree, it can be present in every man no matter is situation, though certainly it is a greater snare to those in what is already a lofty position. Humility is the opposite, a resting content in the state assigned to us by God.

This is the simple definition, but Baxter goes on to find five parts in pride, along with their corresponding opposite. (1) Pride is a will to be greater than God would have us be, whereas humility is content in the station God has left us. (2) Pride therefore is an overvaluing of the self at the expense of others, while humility is an accurate self-assessment. (3) Pride desires that others think more highly of us than we deserve, while humility desires that others have an accurate idea of us. (4) Pride endeavors to rise above our appointed place, while humility devotes itself to our assigned task, even the meanest works of our own place. (5) Finally, pride displays itself in inordinate self-esteem in our speech and actions (read: pride is boastful), while humility avoids all false shows of greatness.

We can see from this definition that pride strikes against the greatest commandments, hating both God, against whom it strives, and our neighbor, whom it seeks to dominate.
Baxter is also careful to delineate what is not pride. A common attack on Christians by the world is to accuse them of pride for things which are not pride. In general, things which set the Christian apart from either worldly professors (Christians in name only) or outright unbelievers are not pride. For example, an insistence on a high degree of holiness is often attacked as legalism when it is no more than what God demands. Insistence on the truth, courage in being willing not to please men, obeying God over men, being earnest in preaching the Word of God, opposing false doctrine. None of these are pride in themselves.

Finally, having identified counterfeit pride, he indentifies counterfeit humility. Some of these are quite insightful. For example, he identifies the confession of sin at times and places when such confession is not a disgrace, but rather praised as humility. How true this is! Sometimes to confess sin causes us to increase in other people’s estimation. Refraining from boasting is also not humility, indeed, one could take pride in the reputation for humility that such refraining produces. A kind of shame towards public applause is not humility. Also, affirming humbling doctrines is not humility unless those doctrines are thoroughly applied to the heart.

Signs of pride

Here is where Baxter shows is utter mastery of the human heart. How thoroughly does he understand the pathways of sin! And this section is VERY thorough. As said above, I have appended all these signs below. I will discuss some themes here.

The signs are divided into several categories, moving from most obvious to most subtle. The first one, for example, is a man glorying in his perceived greatness, as a strong man boasting of his strength, and a wise man of his learning. There are four sections. In the first, he lists the signs of pride against God that are the most overt and obvious. In the second, he lists those that are more subtle, but still against God. In the third, he lists signs of pride in religious duties. And in the last and longest, he lists the signs of pride in normal life.

The most overt signs of pride are those which displace God in our lives and make us Lord and Master over ourselves and those around us. Thus pride sets us up in competition with God. The proud man lives only for his pleasure and joy, depending on himself and giving himself the credit for everything. Pride causes man to question God’s wisdom, love and justice (as revealed in the Scriptures). The proud man always wants more recognition and praise than he has, and prefers the praise of men to the pleasure of God.

The less overt signs of pride generally deal with our understanding of our sinfulness. He does not feel the full weight of his sin, nor does he feel the need for any diligence in opposing and mortifying the flesh. He is quick to believe the best about himself and his motives, and doesn’t fear temptation. He is ungrateful for the mercy he has received. All these things can exist side-by-side with orthodox confessions of sinfulness and natural depravity. A man may acknowledge with his mind his need for a savior without feeling it in his heart. These signs of pride often lay hidden in the heart, because men love to think well of themselves and are quick to forgive themselves.

The main effect of pride in religious duties is a greater concern for outward appearances in religion than for true communion with God. A prideful man prefers public prayers and worship to private prayer and worship. Proud men are threatened by those with greater gifts (administration, teaching, prayer) than them, rather than rejoicing in the use of these gifts for their edification. Proud men hate church discipline unless they are exercising it.

The final group of signs concerns normal life, or the pride which is seen in the way we interact with society. Here Baxter delivers conviction with a sharp sword. I urge you to carefully read these signs, but the main theme here is how subtle pride is and how much it is exposed by our lack of love for others. The proud man is hard to please, quick to judge others, quick to forgive his faults. He thinks that he can do everything better than anyone else, wants precedence, and loves to hear himself praised. He is always seeking to dominate, impatient if contradicted, unwilling to admit his wrong, eager to revenge slights. He loves to hear himself speak, he always seeks to justify himself if he is rebuked, and is in love with his own significance.

In reading these lists, it is important to remember that only the most proud man would see ALL of these signs in himself. But the presence of even one is like dashboard indicator light of the presence of pride in your heart. If allowed to grow, it will take over.

Fighting Against Pride

Pride is a difficult sin to fight against because by its very nature it seeks to hide itself. Pride makes a man think the best of himself that he can, and no man wants to think himself proud. So the first, and most important step in fighting pride is to repent of it, for the best sign that it is in you is your inability to see it. The next is to carefully search for its presence in your life, that you may see it and hate it. If you do not look for it, you will not see it, and if you do not see it, it will lie hidden in your heart until disaster strikes.

Baxter cautiously recommends spiritual disciplines designed to fight against pride. The reason he does it cautiously is that in his day such exercises had been much abused and had themselves become causes for pride. But studying the law of God, searching for and confessing your sin to God, together with moderate, seasonal fastings can be of much use. But do not mistake self-violence for humility. Those that punish themselves the most severely can be the most filled with pride.

So how does one fight against pride? The most powerful means against is surely to bring your soul before God and consider how he opposes the proud but lifts up the humble. Think of Isaiah before the throne of God, how he immediately cries out, “Woe is me!” There is no room for pride before the unveiled presence of God.

To this, Baxter adds several helpful points of meditation. Look at the example of Christ. Consider the characteristics of a disciple as laid out in the gospels. Think of how worthless are the things that you take pride in. Think about the greatness of your sins and the weakness of your obedience. These and others tend to create in us an accurate self-assessment.

My Thoughts

1. The most dangerous tendency of pride is how it makes us quick to extenuate our sins. How quick we are to defend ourselves and our motives! We must be absolutely ruthless with ourselves, assuming that pride and sin is present to some degree in all of the motions of our heart.

2. The two biggest signs of pride seem to be lack of love in the way we treat others, and a quickness to extenuate or ignore our sin. Conflict arises out of pride. We should be quick to forgive others and quick to suspect ourselves. Instead, we are the reverse.

3. Points of particular conviction are the way we think about the utilization of our gifts. Do we long for the praise of men, especially the kind of praise that sets us apart from others with similar gifts?

4. Contentment seems to be the jewel of the humble man. He accepts from God what he gives without demanding more. He considers that he has received more than he deserves if he is rescued from hell, and so anything beyond that is sheer grace.

5. These signs should be carefully studied, and the most convicting especially meditated on.


Blogger Alissa said...

Thanks for posting this.

12:39 AM


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