Pride is the greatest snare in the souls of men. It is essentially a measuring of ourselves by ourselves and a comparing of ourselves among ourselves (2 Cor. 10:12). When we allow pride to fester and take root in our hearts, we begin to think, act and speak as if we are, because of our supposed virtues, spiritually superior to others. As we do so, we make that in which he believe we excel our standard of holiness, rather than God’s Law with its unattainable depths and requirements. Additionally, when we foster spiritual pride we reveal that we do not truly see our need the atoning sacrifice of Christ for our sin.
John Owen once wrote, “Spiritual pride is the worst sort of pride.” He explained,
Pride, or carnal confidence in our own wisdom and ability of mind for all the ends of our duty towards God, either keeps the souls of men under the bondage of darkness and ignorance, or precipitates them into foolish apprehensions or pernicious errors.
In 1742, Jonathan Edwards published Some Thoughts Concerning the Present Revival of Religion in New England. Edwards had taken note of the great evil of spiritual pride in his consideration of what was transpiring in many where he ministered. As he saw the ways in which so many set themselves up as examples of godliness over against others, he set down some of his thoughts about the nature and marks of spiritual pride.
The Nature of Spiritual Pride
Edwards first explained the nature of spiritual pride. He wrote,
The first, and the worst cause of errors that prevail in such a state of things, is spiritual pride. This is the main door, by which the Devil comes into the hearts of those that are zealous for the advancement of religion. . .This cause of error is the main support of all the rest. Till this disease is cured, medicines are in vain applied to heal other diseases. ’Tis by this that the mind defends itself in other errors, and guards itself against light by which it might be corrected and reclaimed. The spiritually proud man is full of light already; he don’t need instruction, and is ready to despise the offer of it.
Edwards went on to offer a rationale about why spiritually pride is not easily detected in the hearts of those whose hearts are full of it. He noted,
Of all kinds of pride, spiritual pride is the most hidden and difficultly discovered…because those that are spiritually proud, their pride consists much in an high conceit of those two things, viz. their light and their humility; both which are a strong prejudice against a discovery of their pride. Being proud of their light, that makes ’em not jealous of themselves; he that thinks a clear light shines around him is not suspicious of an enemy lurking near him, unseen: and then being proud of their humility, that makes ’em least of all jealous of themselves in that particular, viz. as being under the prevalence of pride.
Marks of Spiritual Pride
Regarding the marks of spiritual pride, Edwards first observed that the spiritually proud person loves to talk about the sins of others while seeing very little sin in his own heart. He wrote,
The spiritually proud person shows it in his finding fault with other saints, that they are low in grace and how cold and dead they are, and are quick to discern and take notice of their deficiencies. 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.
According to Edwards, the next mark of spiritual pride is that of speaking harshly about the sins of others without doing so about their own sin. He suggested,
Spiritually proud persons…speak of almost everything they see in others in the most harsh, severe language. It is frequent with them to say of other’s opinion, conduct, advice, coldness, silence, caution, moderation, prudence, etc. that they are from the devil or from hell.