by David Leach
There is no plainer interpretation than this that can be put upon the words of Jesus, "Except a man deny self, and take up the cross and follow me, he cannot be my disciple" (Luke 9:23, 14:27). So great is the blindness which pride brings to the soul, that helpless creatures feel exalted because of natural abilities that are given them by God, and boast of such things as though they were their own. No man has the power to do any thing, except by a life that every moment is loaned to him from God: he has no more power of his own to breathe or move a hand than to stop the earth or extinguish the sun.
This is the dependent, helpless poverty of man's state, which is a good reason for humility. Since it is God who "gives to all men life, and breath and all that we possess" (Acts 17:25); to ascribe glory to ourselves for these things is to be guilty both of stealing and lying. For pride takes to ourselves those things which only belong to God, and in denying the truth of our helpless dependence upon Him, we pretend to be something that we are not. What is the result of this pride which blinds us to our true condition? We reason ourselves into all kinds of misery making our lives the tools of unnecessary desires.
Seeking after imaginary happiness, creating to ourselves a thousand unnatural needs, amusing our hearts with false hopes and insatiable passions, envying one another, we bring distress of every sort upon ourselves. Let any man but look back upon his own life and see what jealous ambitions, what vain thoughts, what desires have taken up the greater part of his life! Let him consider how foolish he has been in his words and manner of living, how often he has rejected reason to follow lust and passion, how seldom he has been able to please himself, and how often he has been displeased with others; how soon he has changed his mind, hated what he had formerly loved, and loved what he had formerly hated: how often he has been angry over trifles, pleased and displeased with the very same things, and so often changed from one vain entertainment or project to another!
When any man honestly considers his life in this way, he will then realize that nothing is so unbecoming in any man as self-exaltation and pride. Perhaps there are very few people in the world who would nor rather choose to die than to have all their secret thoughts, lusts, follies, errors of judgment, vanities, false motives, uneasiness, hatred, envies, and corruptions made known to the world. And shall pride be entertained in a heart thus conscious of its own miserable condition and behavior?
It is not only the lust for possessions and the distinctions of life that nourish pride, but even devotions and charities' strivings after humility and goodness expose man to fresh and strong temptations of this evil spirit of self-exaltation. Every go; thought , every good action, exposes one to the assaults of vanity and self-satisfaction. None have more occasion to be afraid of the approaches of pride than those who have made some advances in a pious life: for pride can grow as well upon virtues as upon vices, and can even praise Itself while using words that seem to be praising God .
Now what is it in the human soul that most of all hinders the death of this old man? What is it that above all strengthens and exalts the life of self, and makes it the master and governor of all the powers of the heart and soul? It is the imagined genius of self-will, the glory of learning, and the conceit of natural reason. These are the master builders of pride's temple in the heart of man, and like faithful priests they keep up the daily worship of the false god, self . Whereas man ought to be the temple of the living God, self sits there in the natural man, obsessed with his imagined abilities, and fiercely jealous of his own independent interests.
Let it be clearly understood that all these magnificent corruptions of the natural man have their origin in his miserable fall from the life of God in his soul. Self-love, self-exaltation, self-will, and all the other partners of a natural reason would have had no more place among men than blindness, ignorance, and sickness, had man continued as he was created in the image of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Everything that then dwelt in him or came from him would have expressed only so much of God, and nothing of himself, and would have manifested nothing inwardly or outwardly but the heavenly Powers of his triune Creator.
Man would then have had no more self-conscious realization of his own goodness than of his own creating power upon beholding the animals and trees about him or the stars above. Had that been mans perfect state without the fall, then consider how unreasonable and odious it must be for poor, sinful creatures to take delight in their own imagined greatness, while the highest and most glorious sons of heaven seek no other occupation than that of glorifying God alone. Pride is only the disorder of the fallen world, and has no place among other beings.
It can only subsist where ignorance and sensuality, impurity ,reign. If man will boast of anything as his own, he must boast of his misery and sin, for there is nothing else but this that is his own property or his own doing. Let a man, when he is most delighted with himself, but contemplate our blessed Lord stretched out and nailed upon the cross; and then let him consider how absurd it must be for a heart full of pride and self-esteem to pray to God by virtue of the sufferings and death of the meek and lowly One. It is man's dreadful fall from the life of God in his soul that has given birth to self and the deceit of pride.
These are the great enemies of man and God, because they oppose the Spirit of God, through whose gracious work in the heart alone man can receive eternal life, And when the lusts of the flesh have had their last day, and the pride of life has only a dead body to inhabit, the soul of man which remains will know at last that it has nothing of its own, nothing that can say "I do this, or I possess that." Then all that man has or does, will either be the glory of God manifested in him, or the power of hell in full possession of his soul.
The time of man's playing with words and intellect, of grasping after positions among men or of amusing himself with the foolish toys of this vain world, can last no longer than he is able to eat and drink with the creatures of this world. When the time comes that he must take his leave of earthly treasure and honors, then all the stately structures which genius, learning, and proud imagination have painted before his own eyes or those of others must bear full witness to Solomon's "vanity of vanities, all is vanity (Eccl. 1:1). That humility which is despised by men now, and is so contrary to the spirit of this world, will then be known to be the root of that faith which overcomes the world, the flesh, and the devil.
He who dares to be Poor and contemptible in the eyes of this present evil world in order to approve himself to God; who resists and rejects all human glory; who opposes the clamor of his passions; meekly bears all injuries and wrongs; and dares to wait for his reward until the invisible hand of God gives to every one his proper place: that one will be found to be the man of true wisdom in the coming day. He is the good soldier of Jesus Christ, who has fought the good fight of faith. Yet it cannot have been in his own strength or wisdom, but only as he has embraced the death of Christ as the crucifixion of his own devilish self, and, through the power of the Holy Spirit, has known the indwelling life of the meek and lowly Lamb of God in his soul.
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