For I say, through the grace given to me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think…
1. It is a common observation that however forward men may be to repine at the unequal portion which God has allotted them of worldly blessings, yet they are generally well satisfied with their share of inward endowments: it being as hard to meet with a person who humbly thinks he has too little sense and merit, as it is to find one who fancies he has too great riches and honours. What makes men uneasy in their circumstances is that they are continually setting to view the bright side of themselves and the dark side of their condition in life; the first to find out their own grievances, and the last to discern their own faults and follies. Whereas if they took a contrary method they would perceive that God had been kinder to the worst of men than the very best of men could deserve.
2. Among the many imputations which we are willing to fasten upon these whom we have an aversion to, that of pride is, I think, one of the most common. Now, if we would examine the innermost recesses of the mind, I doubt we should often find that our own pride is the cause why we tax others with it. Men elate with the thoughts of their own sufficiency are ever imagining that others are wanting in their regard to them, and therefore very apt to conclude that pride must be the cause why they withhold from them that respect which they have an unquestioned right to in their own opinion.
I. THE NOTION OF PRIDE. Our happiness, as well as knowledge, arises from sensation and reflection, and may be reduced to these two articles, viz., that of pleasing sensations, and that of agreeable thoughts. Now as to a desire of indulging the former without check or control, are owing lust, drunkenness, and intemperance; so from a desire of indulging the latter beyond measure, pride takes its original. It does not consist, in the bare consciousness that we have some accomplishments, as, for instance, good sense, beauty, great abilities; but in that exultation of mind which is frequent upon that consciousness, unallayed by self-dissatisfaction arising from a survey of our sins and frailties. The difference between humility and pride consists in this, that the humble man, whatever talents he is possessed of, considers them as so many trusts reposed in him by God, which are so far from raising his pride that they excite his caution; as knowing that to "whom much is given, of him much will be required"; whereas the proud values himself as if he were not only the subject but the author of the good qualities, and so makes an idol of himself, instead of adoring and thanking God for them. Pride, then, is the thinking too highly of ourselves. To obviate mistakes it will be necessary to observe that pride is not merely to think favourably of ourselves; for then indeed pride, as some late authors have maintained, would be an universal vice, everybody being more or less biassed in his own favour. But pride is to think so favourably of ourselves as to exclude a modest diffidence of ourselves, and a salutary sense of the number of human frailties, the imperfection of our virtues, the malignity of our crimes, and our dependence on God for everything good in us and for us.
II. THE UNREASONABLENESS OF THIS VICE. Are we proud of riches? Riches cannot alter the nature of things, they cannot make a man worthy that is worthless in himself; they may command an insipid complaisance, a formal homage, and ceremonious professions of respect, and teach a servile world to speak a language foreign to their hearts; but where a largeness of soul is wanting they can never procure grateful sentiments and an undissembled love, the willing tribute of a generous heart to merit only. Do we value ourselves upon our power? No; what is remarked by somebody or other is a great truth, viz., that there is no good in power, but merely the power of doing good. Upon our worldly prudence? Those who are acquainted with history know how often the best-laid designs have proved abortive. Are you proud of your distinguished virtue? He who is proud of distinguished abilities, learning, and wealth, is not the less able, learned, and wealthy, because he is proud of them. But he who is proud of distinguished virtue ceaseth to be virtuous by his being so. For the man that is pleased with any degree of virtue, merely because it is uncommon, would be sorry if what he values himself upon as a singular mark of distinction should become common, and all mankind should rise to the same eminence as himself in morality. Now this temper argues a want of benevolence, and consequently of virtue. But if human virtue affords no just grounds for pride, much less does human knowledge, which bears no proportion to our ignorance. The greatest and the least objects equally baffle bur inquiries. True knowledge is one of the strongest fences against pride. When good sense and reason speak, they come like their great Author, God, in "the still small voice," without any empty voice or loquacity, or overbearing pretensions. And those who keep the best sense within seldom hang out the sign of knowledge. Men of this stamp will own their entire ignorance in many things and their imperfect knowledge in all the rest. Whereas the ignorant are sometimes positive in matters quite above their sphere, and, like some creatures, are the bolder for being blind. In a word, the ingenuous will confess the weakness of their reason, and the presumptuous betray it by their being so. After all, what signifies all the learning in the world without a just discernment and penetration? And what is the result of our penetration but that we see through the littleness of almost everything, and our own especially? That we discern, and are disgusted with, several follies and absurdities which are hid from persons of a slower apprehension? So that our superior sagacity resembles the pretended second-sightedness of some people, by which they are said to see several uncomfortable and dismal objects which escape the rest of the world. Some may perhaps value themselves upon the strength of their genius, the largeness of their heart, even as the sand upon the seashore, and the brightness of their parts. Alas! the strength of the passions, and the quickness of the appetites, generally keep pace with the brightness of the imagination. And hence it comes to pass that those who have, with an uncommon compass of thought, inculcated excellent rules of morality in their writings have sometimes broke through them all in their practice: the brightness of their parts enabling them to lay down fine precepts, and the strength of their passions tempting them to transgress them. To a man of strong sensations every delight that is gentle seems dull, and everything but what is high seasoned flat and tasteless. The consequence of which is, that, disdaining common blessings, and not able to enjoy himself without something out of the usual road, he overleaps these bounds which confine meaner mortals, and precipitates himself into an endless train of inconveniences. But let us suppose, what is not a very common case, that a brightness of imagination and a well-poised judgment are happily united in the same person; yet the brightest genius, the greatest man that ever lived may say, "O my God! that I live, and that I please, if ever I please, is owing to Thee. May it be, then, my uppermost view to do Thy pleasure, from whom I have the ability to please." Dost thou value thyself upon popular applause and a great name? Think how many that have made a distinguished figure in the world are dead and unregarded as if they never had been, their deaths unlamented, their vacancy filled up, their persons missed no more than a drop of water when taken from the whole ocean. And is it worth our while to strive to please a vain fantastic world which will soon disregard us and think itself full as well without us, instead of laying out our endeavours to please that Almighty Being whose inexhaustible power and goodness will make His servants happy to all eternity?
(J. Seed, M.A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.
WEB: For I say, through the grace that was given me, to every man who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think reasonably, as God has apportioned to each person a measure of faith.