“Only by pride cometh contention: but with the well advised is wisdom.” —Proverbs 13:10
Most accurately is contention here traced to its proper source. “He that is of a proud heart stirreth up strife” (Pro 28:25). All the crudeness of the day, all the novelties of doctrine producing contention (1Ti 1:4; 2Ti 2:23), originate in the proud swelling of “the fleshly mind” (Col 2:18; 1Ti 6:3-4). Men scorn the beaten track. They must strike out a new path. Singularity and extravagance are primary charms. They are ready to quarrel with everyone who does not value their notions as highly as they do. The desire of pre-eminence, “I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not” (3Jo 9); revolt from authority (Num 12:2) or sound doctrine (2Ti 4:3-4); party spirit, with the pride of knowledge and gifts (1Co 3:3-4 with 4:8)—all produce the same results. Is it too much to say that vain-glory hath lighted up all the sinful contentions that have ever kindled in the Church? We must indeed “contend for the faith” (Gal 2:5; 1Th 2:2; Jude 3), though it be with our own compromising brethren (Gal 2:11). But even here how yet imperceptibly may pride insinuate itself under the cover of glorifying God! Truly is it “the inmost coat, which we put on first and put off last."
This mischievous principle spreads in families or among friends. “Some point of honour must be maintained; some affront must be resented; some rival must be crushed or eclipsed; some renowned character emulated; or some superior equalled and surpassed.” Even in trifling disputes between relatives or neighbours—perhaps between Christians—each party contends vehemently for his rights, instead of satisfying himself with the testimony of his conscience, and submitting rather to be misunderstood and misjudged than to break the bond of the divine brotherhood (1Co 6:7). In the wide field of the world we may well ask, “From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not from this lust” (Jam 4:1)? Often has wounded pride (Jdg 12:1), even without any proved injury (2Ki 14:10), brought destructive contention upon a land.
The proud man conceives himself wise enough. He asks no counsel, and thus proves his want of wisdom. But with the modest, well-advised, there is the wisdom that is from above, “which is first pure, then peaceable” (Jam 3:17, with 3:14-16). Many a rising contention has it quelled (Gen 13:8; Jdg 8:1-3; Act 6:1-6). “Let nothing be done through strife or vain-glory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves” (Phi 2:3). Christian wisdom will keep us within our own line, knowing our own measure and bounds (2Co 10:13-16), and—whatever be our place, parts, or gifts—humble, active, loving, constant, thankful, in the improvement of them.
“Before destruction the heart of man is haughty, and before honour is humility.”—Proverbs 18:12
Surely this repetition, like our Lord’s often-repeated parallel (Mar 10:31), was intended to deepen our sense of their importance. It is hard to persuade a man that he is proud. Every one protests against this sin. Yet who does not cherish the viper in his own bosom? Man so little understands that dependence upon his God constitutes the creature’s happiness, and that the principle of independence is madness, and its end is destruction (Gen 3:5-6). The haughty walk on the brink of a fearful precipice; only a miracle preserves them from instant ruin. The security of the child of God is when he lies prostrate in the dust. If he soar high, the danger is imminent, though he be on the verge of heaven (2Co 12:1-7).
The danger to a young Christian lies in an over-forward profession. The glow of the first love, the awakened sensibility to the condition of his perishing fellow-sinners, ignorance of the subtle working of inbred vanity, the mistaken zeal of injudicious friends—all tend to foster self-pleasing. Oh! let him know that before honour is humility. In the low Valley of Humiliation special manifestations are realized. Enlarged gifts and apparently extended usefulness, without growing more deeply into the humility of Christ, will be the decline, not the advancing of grace. That undoubtedly is the most humbled spirit, that has most of the spirit of Christ. The rule of entry into His school, the first step of admission to His kingdom, is “Learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart” (Mat 11:29).
The spring of this humility is true self-knowledge. Whatever may be seen of a man externally to his advantage, let him keep his eye looking within; and the real sight of himself must lay him low. When he compares his secret follies with his external decency (what appears to his fellow-creatures with what he knows of himself), he can but cry out: “Behold I am vile! I abhor myself!” (Job 42:6). The seat of this precious grace is not in words, meltings, or tears, but in the heart. No longer will he delude himself with a false conceit of what he has not, or with a vain conceit of what he has. The recollection “Who maketh thee to differ?” (1Co 4:7) is ever present, to press him down under the weight of infinite obligations. Its fruit is lowliness of mind, meekness of temper, thankfulness in receiving reproof, forgetfulness of injury, readiness to be lightly regarded. No true greatness can there be without this deep-toned humility. This is he “whom the King delighteth to honour” (Est 6:6). “Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mat 5:3). “He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, that he may set him with princes, even with the princes of his people” (Psa 113:7-8).
“An high look, and a proud heart, and the plowing of the wicked is sin.”—Proverbs 21:4
Another stamp of abomination upon pride! We cannot mistake the mind of God so continually declared. Yet so many shapes does this sin assume, that, until the Spirit of God shows a man to himself, he rejects the idea of any concern in it. Nay, he will be proud of his very pride, proud of a high spirit; counting a Christian mean and cowardly, who in the true spirit of the gospel, yields up his right to a stronger hand.
But not only the haughtiness, but even the natural actions—the plowing of the wicked is sin. “This is an hard saying; who can hear it?” (Joh 6:60). How can the plowing of the soil, in itself a duty (Gen 3:19), become a sin? The motive determines the act. The most natural actions are inculcated for Christian ends. They become therefore moral actions, good or bad according to their own motives. The man, who plows the soil, acknowledging God in his work, and seeking his strength and blessing, “does it acceptably to the glory of God.” It is essentially a religious action.
But the wicked—who does the same work without any regard to God—for want of a godly end, his plowing is sin. His idleness is sin against a plain command (2Th 3:10). His industry is the sin of ungodliness, putting God out of His own world. The substance of his act is good. But the corrupt principle defiles the very best actions (Ti 1:15). “Every thought, every imagination,” of the natural “heart,” is unmixed “evil” (Gen 6:5). If the fountain-head be bitter, how can the waters be pure? Sin indeed defiles every motive in the Christian’s heart.
But here it is the substance of sin. In the one case it is infirmity of walk in the straight path. In the other, it is an habitual walk in a crooked path. With the wicked, “his eating as well as his gluttony; his drinking as well as his drunkenness; his commerce, negotiation, and trafficking, as well as his covetousness and inordinate love of the world, are all set down and reckoned by God for sins, and such sins as he must reckon for with God.” Fearful indeed is his condition. Would that he could see it! Whether he prays or neglects to pray, it is abomination. He cannot but sin, and yet he is fully accountable for his sin. To die is to plunge into ruin. To live in unregeneracy is even worse; it is daily “heaping up wrath against the day of wrath” (Rom 2:5).
Ought he then to leave his duties undone? “The impotency of man must not prejudice God’s authority, nor diminish his duty.” What then ought he to do? Let him learn the absolute necessity of the vital change, “Ye must be born again” (Joh 3:7). The leper taints everything that he touches. But let him seek to the Great Physician, Whose Word is sovereign healing (Mat 8:3), Whose divine blood cleanses from every spot (1Jo 1:7). Once his nature [is] cleansed, his works will be clean. His thoughts and principles, all will be for the glory of God; all acceptable to God.
Men of this stamp, “the king delighteth to honour” (Est 6:11). Their dignity begins on earth, and is crowned in heaven. “Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mat 5:3; 18:4). Poor they may be in station. But they shine forth as mightier conquerors than Alexander. Their real glory eclipses the glare of the pomp and “pride of life” (1Jo 2:16).
The elevation of the proud is often the step to their downfall. But God’s honour, put upon His own people, upholds them as witnesses for His name, as Joseph and Daniel in their high eminence. Meetness for heaven is that adorning clothing of humility, which leads us to ascribe all our grace to God, and all our sin to ourselves. This is the prostrate adoration of heaven (Rev 5:9-12). The Lord imbue us richly with this spirit.
Indeed all chastening discipline is for the great purpose, to “hide pride from man” (Job 33:17), and to bring us low in our own eyes, that His honour may “lift us in due time” (1Pe 5:6; Job 22:29)! It is with us as with our Lord—honour comes out of humiliation (Pro 15:33; 18:12). “Thou meanest to be not our Saviour only, but our pattern too. If we can go down the steps of thine humiliation, we shall rise up the stairs of thy glory.”
“As the fining-pot for silver, and the furnace for gold; so is a man to his praise.” —Proverbs 27:21
The [re-]fining-pot and furnace have been before mentioned, as the Lord’s “trial of the heart.” The most searching furnace is here shown. He that is praised is not only much approved, but much proved. The courting of the praise of our fellow-creatures is the world within. Praise is a sharper trial of the strength of principle than reproach. “If a man be vain and light, he will be puffed up with it. If he be wise and solid, he will be no whit moved therewith.” A haughty deportment, “loving to have the pre-eminence” (3Jo 9), forwardness to give our opinion, and offense if it be not taken—this is the dross brought out of the furnace. Count the discovery a special mercy. Know thy need of purifying, and let the great Refiner do His perfect work (Mal 3:2-3.)
But see a man humbled by praise, in the consciousness how little he deserves it, and “who maketh him to differ” (1Co 4:7). See him made more careful and diligent, bearing his honour meekly, and the same man as before; here the furnace proves the real metal, and brings out “a vessel of honour, meet for the Master’s use” (2Ti 2:21).
Absalom was tried in this fining-pot, and found “reprobate silver.” Herod, under the shouting praise of his flatterers, “gave not God the glory,” and was blasted in shame (Act 12:21-23). Joseph (Gen 41:41-43) and David (1Sa 18:7-8, 15-18) maintained their humility, Daniel his consistency (Dan 6:3-5), the apostles their singleness for their Master’s glory. Here was the bright gold in the heated furnace.
Fearful often is the trial to a minister of Christ. When he becomes the object of popular applause, his people’s idol (Act 3:11-16); when men of strong impulse and weak judgment put the servant in the Master’s place—then he is in the fining-pot. He that is but dross, is consumed. Even if there be true metal, the man of God “is saved, yet so as by fire” (1Co 3:15). Without painful discipline his usefulness would be withered, his spirituality deadened, his soul lost (2Co 12:7).
Two rules strongly present themselves. 1) Be careful in giving praise. Even the children of the world can discover the deadly tenacity of pride in our nature. “Do you know,” remarked M. de Stael on her death-bed, “what is the last thing to die in man? It is self-love.” We cannot therefore do our brother a greater injury than by supplying fuel for pride by unregulated praise. Even if he be a public man, he is not always before God as in the eyes of the Church. It may be that the most eminent servant of God is one of whom the Church has taken little cognizance. And at best we are far too short-sighted to take the accurate measure of our brother’s piety. We cannot weigh it aright without the balances of the sanctuary, which are fully in His hands alone Who searcheth the heart. Therefore till the day appointed for manifestation, it is well to judge each other, whether for good or evil, with becoming moderation.
And to which: is it merciful to expose a weak fellow-sinner to the frown of a jealous God, by stirring up the innate corruption of his heart? For put even the finest gold into the furnace, how humbling is the spectacle of the dross that yet cleaves to it (Isa 39:2, 2Ch 32:31)! Be not less careful in receiving praise. While our taste revolts from extravagant flattery, yet we are apt to think it kindly meant, and it is very rare not to take unconsciously a drop of the poison.
2) But the praise of the church is by far the most insidious poison—so refined, so luscious! Specially when we feel it to be lawfully obtained, how hard to receive it with self-renouncing consecration to God! “Christian! thou knowest thou carriest gunpowder about thee. Desire those that carry fire to keep at a distance. It is a dangerous crisis, when a proud heart meets with flattering lips.”May not even the habit of speaking humbly of ourselves be a snare of the devil? Would it not be safer not to speak of ourselves at all? At least, to confine our conversation in strict sincerity to what we are, not what we appear to be, would be a “wise refraining of our lips” (Pro 10:19). Guard against dwelling, even in thought, upon anything that brings man’s approving eye upon us. Delight mainly in those works that are only under the eye of God. Value alone His approbation. Ever think of the love of human praise as the most deadly bane of a Christian profession, to be resisted with intense energy and perseverance (Joh 5:44; 12:42-43).
“A man’s pride shall bring him low: but honour shall uphold the humble in spirit.”—Proverbs 29:23
This proverb, Bishop Hall remarks in his own style, “is like unto Shushan: in the streets whereof honour is proclaimed to the humble Mordecai; in the palace whereof is erected an engine of death to a proud Haman.” It exhibits the spirit of our Lord’s oft-repeated declaration expounded by His daily providences: “Whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted” (Mat 23:12; Luk 14:11; 18:14). The real value of man in himself is so small, that the Psalmist is at a loss where to find it (Psa 8:3-4; 144:3; 39:5). His undue value of himself is utter delusion, having lost all, stripped of all—yet proud, as if he were the possessor of all. He raises himself to heaven in his airy visions, but soon does he meet with his own punishment: A man’s pride shall bring him low. We see this in the world. The proud conceit of rank, talent, or any superiority, subjects to continual mortification (1Ki 21:1-4; Est 5:13); while on the other hand, humility, at first considered a mean and servile spirit, ultimately comes to its just estimation.
The world counts nothing great without display. But mark the substantial “honour that cometh from God only” (Joh 5:44). “Heaven is my throne; and earth is my footstool; yet to this man will I look, even to him that is poor, and of a contrite spirit” (Isa 66:1-2). Yea, “I dwell,” saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, “with him that is of a contrite and humble spirit” (Isa 57:15). Humility is indeed true greatness, “the crown,” as Mr. Howels finely remarks, “of finite beings, made and jewelled by the hand of God Himself. Supremacy is the glory of God; humility is the ornament of His child.” “I am but dust and ashes;” “I am less than the least of all thy mercies;” “I abhor myself;” “Sinners, of whom I am chief” (Gen 18:27; 32:10; Job 42:6; 1Ti 1:15)—such are the self-abasing confessions of men great in Jehovah’s eyes. They shine with the reflection of His glory; but they turn away with genuine humility from their own shining.
“When pride cometh, then cometh shame: but with the lowly is wisdom.” —Proverbs 11:2
Pride was the principle of the fall (Gen 3:5), and therefore the native principle of fallen man (Mar 7:22). When pride had stripped us of our honour, then, not till then, cometh shame (Gen 3:7, with 2:25). This is the wise discipline of our God to scourge the one by the other. The Babel-builders (Gen 11:4), Miriam (Num 12:2, 10), Uzziah (2Ch 26:16-21), Haman (Est 5:11; 7:10), Nebuchadnezzar (Dan 4:29-32), Herod (Act 12:22-23)—all are instances of shame treading upon the heels of pride. Even in common life, a man will never attempt to raise himself above his own level—but then cometh shame (Luk 14:11), the most revolting recompense. And thus our God puts to shame the man who knows not his bounds, and who refuses to stand on the low ground on which He has placed him. “Every one that exalteth himself shall be abased” (Luk 18:14; Isa 2:17).
Such is the folly of pride. With the lowly is wisdom. What a splendour of wisdom shone in the lowly Child, “sitting at the doctors’ feet, astonishing them at his understanding and his answers!” (Luk 2:47). And will not this spirit be to us the path of wisdom? For the Divine Teacher “reveals to the babes, what he hides from the wise and prudent” (Luk 10:21). There is no greater proof of proud folly, than believing only what we understand. Faith is thus grounded on knowledge, not on testimony—as if the Word of God could not be implicitly received except as corroborated by other witnesses. Happy is that lowliness of spirit that comes to God’s revelation, as it were, without any will or mind of our own—humbly receiving what He is pleased to give; but willing, yea, thankful, to be ignorant when He forbids us to intrude (Col 2:18)!
“…and before honour is humility.”—Proverbs 15:33b
Most wise therefore is our Father’s discipline—humility before honour. Indeed, without humility, honour would be our temptation rather than our glory. Had not the Apostle been kept down by a most humbling trial, his honour would have been his ruin (2Co 12:7-9). The exaltation of the Lord’s people in providence is therefore often conducted through the Valley of Humiliation. Joseph was raised from the prison to the throne (Gen 41:14-44). Moses and David were taken from the Shepherd’s fold to feed the Lord’s inheritance (Exo 3:1-12; Psa 78:70-72). Gideon acknowledged himself to be of “the least of the families of Israel” (Jdg 6:15-16). Ruth was humbled by adversity, ere she was raised to the high honour of a Mother in Israel and progenitor of the Saviour (Ru 2; 4:13-22; Mat 1:5). Abigail confessed herself unworthy to wash the feet of her Lord’s servant, before she was honoured to be his wife (1Sa 25:41-42). And in the daily walk of life, the lowest place is the pathway to honour (Luk 14:7-11).
The same principle obtains in the dispensations of grace. “He that humbleth himself shall be exalted in due time” (Luk 18:14; 1Pe 5:6). Not that in the forgetfulness of our high privileges and confidence, we are to be weighed down in a sense of degradation. The true humility, which realizes our vileness, casts us most simply upon the full resources of the gospel, so that the most humble is the most triumphant believer. “The lower then any descend in humiliation, the higher they shall ascend in exaltation. The lower this foundation of humility is laid, the higher shall the roof of honour be over-laid.”
And was not this the track of our beloved Lord: before honour, humility; the cross before the crown? How deep was that descent, by which He, Who was infinitely more than man, became “a worm and no man” (Psa 22:6)! And yet the honour, which rewarded this humility, what tongue can tell (Phi 2:9)! “We must not disdain to follow Jesus Christ.” Is it a light privilege to follow in the pathway consecrated by His steps, irradiated by His smile (Mat 11:29; 20:28; Joh 13:14)?
“Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. Better is it to be of an humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud.”—Proverbs 16:18-19
What more vivid exposition of these proverbs is needed, than our own ruined condition? Our father’s pride, desiring to “be as God,” hurried his whole race to destruction. “O Adam” was the exclamation of a man of God, “what hast thou done!”“I think,” said another holy man, “so far as any man is proud, he is kin to the devil, and a stranger to God and to himself.” The most awful strength of divine eloquence seems to be concentrated to delineate the character and ruin of pride. Examples abound throughout the Scripture; each sounding this solemn admonition—“Be not high-minded, but fear” (Rom 11:20; also 1Co 10:12, 1Ti 3:6). Fearful indeed is our danger, if the caution be not welcomed—if the need for it be not deeply felt!
The haughty spirit carries the head high. The man looks upward instead of to his steps. What wonder therefore, if, not seeing what is before him, he falls? He loves to climb; the enemy is always at hand to assist him (Mat 4:5-6); and the greater the height, the more dreadful the fall. There is often something in the fall that marks the Lord’s special judgment. God smites the object of which the man is proud. David gloried in the number of his people, and the Lord diminished them by pestilence. Hezekiah boasted of his treasure, and the Lord marked it to be taken away. At the moment when Nebuchadnezzar was proud of his Babel, he was banished from the enjoyment of it. “The vain daughters of Zion,” priding themselves on their ornaments, were covered with disgrace (Isa 3:24). Yet after all, the state of heart that prepares man for the fall is the worst part of his condition. For what is our pride is our danger. “Why,” a wise man asks, “is earth and ashes proud? Pride was not made for man.”
But have we been preserved from open disgrace? Examine secret faults. Trace them to their source—a subtle confidence in gifts, attainments, and privileges. And then praise thy God for His painful discipline, the preserving mercy from ruinous self-exaltation. Truly the way down to the Valley of Humiliation is deep and rugged. Humility, therefore, is the grand preserving grace. The contrite publican was safe, [while] the boasting Pharisee was confounded (Luk 18:14). Better then—more happy, more honourable, more acceptable to God and man—is a humble spirit companying with the lowly, than the spoil of the haughty conqueror, ministering only to his destruction (Jam 1:9). Better is an humble spirit, than a high condition; to have our temper brought down, than our outward condition raised. But who believes this? Most men strive to rise; few desire to lie low! May thy example, blessed Saviour, keep me low! “When Majesty,” said pious Bernard, “humbled Himself, shall the worm swell with pride?”
From A Commentary on Proverbs, reprinted by The Banner of Truth Trust