Thoughts on Pride from Jonathan Edwards
By Fabienne Harford (in cooperation with Desiring God)
Pride will kill you. Forever. Pride is the sin most likely to keep you from crying out for a Savior. Those who think they are well will not look for a doctor.
As seriously dangerous as pride is, it’s equally hard to spot. When it comes to diagnosing our hearts, those of us who have the disease of pride have a challenging time identifying our sickness. Pride infects our eyesight, causing us to view ourselves through a lens that colors and distorts reality. Pride will paint even our ugliness in sin as beautiful and commendable.
We can’t conclude that we don’t struggle with pride because we don’t see pride in our hearts. The comfortable moments when I pat myself on the back for how well I am doing are the moments that should alarm me the most. I need to reach for the glasses of Christ-like humility, remembering that nothing good dwells in my flesh, and search my heart for secret pride and its symptoms.
In his essay on undetected pride, Jonathan Edwards points out seven sneaky symptoms of the infection of pride.
While pride causes us to filter out the evil we see in ourselves, it also causes us to filter out God’s goodness in others. We sift them, letting only their faults fall into our perception of them.
When I’m sitting in a sermon or studying a passage, it’s pride that prompts the terrible temptation to skip the Spirit’s surgery on my own heart and instead draft a mental blog post or plan a potential conversation for the people who “really need to hear this.”
Edwards writes, “The spiritually proud person shows it in his finding fault with other saints. … 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.”
2. A Harsh Spirit
Those who have the sickness of pride in their hearts speak of others’ sins with contempt, irritation, frustration or judgment. Pride is crouching inside our belittling of the struggles of others. It’s cowering in our jokes about the ‘craziness’ of our spouse. It may even be lurking in the prayers we throw upward for our friends that are—subtly or not—tainted with exasperated irritation.
Again Edwards writes, “Christians who are but fellow-worms ought at least to treat one another with as much humility and gentleness as Christ treats them.”
When pride lives in our hearts, we’re far more concerned with others’ perceptions of us than the reality of our hearts. We fight the sins that have an impact on how others view us, and make peace with the ones that no one sees. We have great success in the areas of holiness that have highly visible accountability, but little concern for the disciplines that happen in secret.
Those who stand in the strength of Christ’s righteousness alone find a confident hiding place from the attacks of men and Satan alike. True humility is not knocked off balance and thrown into a defensive posture by challenge or rebuke, but instead continues in doing good, entrusting the soul to our faithful Creator.
Edwards says, “For the humble Christian, the more the world is against him, the more silent and still he will be, unless it is in his prayer closet, and there he will not be still.”
5. Presumption Before God
Humility approaches God with humble assurance in Christ Jesus. If either the “humble” or the “assurance” are missing in that equation, our hearts very well might be infected with pride. Some of us have no shortage of boldness before God, but if we’re not careful, we can forget that he is God.
Edwards writes, “Some, in their great rejoicing before God, have not paid sufficient regard to that rule in Psalm 2:11: ‘Worship the Lord with reverence, and rejoice with trembling.’”
Others of us feel no confidence before God. Which sounds like humility, but in reality it’s another symptom of pride. In those moments, we’re testifying that we believe our sins are greater than his grace. We doubt the power of Christ’s blood and we’re stuck staring at ourselves instead of Christ.
6. Desperation for Attention
Pride is hungry for attention, respect and worship in all its forms.
Maybe it sounds like shameless boasting about ourselves. Maybe it’s being unable to say “no” to anyone because we need to be needed. Maybe it looks like obsessively thirsting for marriage—or fantasizing about a better marriage—because you’re hungry to be adored. Maybe it looks like being haunted by your desire for the right car or the right house or the right title at work: all because you seek the glory that comes from men, not God.
7. Neglecting Others
Pride prefers some people over others. It honors those whom the world deems worthy of honor, giving more weight to their words, their wants and their needs. There’s a thrill that goes through me when people with “power” acknowledge me. We consciously or unconsciously pass over the weak, the inconvenient and the unattractive, because they don’t seem to offer us much.
Maybe more of us struggle with pride than we thought.
There’s good news for the prideful. Confession of pride signals the beginning of the end for pride. It indicates the war is already being waged. For only when the Spirit of God is moving, already humbling us, can we remove the lenses of pride from our eyes and see ourselves clearly, identifying the sickness and seeking the cure.
By God’s grace, we can turn once again to the glorious gospel in which we stand and make much of him even through identifying our pride in all its hiding places inside of us. Just as my concealed pride once moved me toward death, so the acknowledgement of my own pride moves me toward life by causing me to cling more fiercely to the righteousness of Christ.
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23–24)