“Let another praise thee, and not thine own mouth; a stranger, and not thine own lips.”—Prov. 27:2.
“I laboured more abundantly than they all.—In nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles.”—1 Cor. 15:10; 2 Cor. 12:11.
So near is the resemblance of good and evil, with respect to their outward expressions, that the one is very liable to be mistaken for the other. Vices pass for virtues, and virtues for vices. Thus indifference is taken for candour, bitterness for zeal, and carnal policy for prudence. The difference in these things may frequently lie, not in the expression or action, but merely in the motive, which, being beyond human cognizance, occasions their being so often confounded.
It is thus that a just and necessary vindication of ourselves, when we have been unjustly accused, is liable to be construed into self-applause. That which was condemned by Solomon, and that which was practised by Paul, were far from being the same thing; yet they appear to be so with respect to the outward act or expression. A vain man speaks well of himself; and Paul speaks well of himself. Thus the branches intermingle. But trace them to their respective roots, and there you will find them distinct. The motive in the one case is the desire of applause; in the other, justice to an injured character, and to the gospel which suffered in his reproaches.
The apostle, in defending himself, was aware how near he approached to the language of a fool, that is, a man desirous of vain-glory, and how liable what he had written was to be attributed to that motive. It is on this account that he obviates the charge which he knew his adversaries would allege. “Yes,” says he, “I speak as a fool.… but ye have compelled me.” This was owning that, as to his words, they might indeed be considered as vain-glorying, if the occasion were overlooked; but if that were justly considered, it would be found that they ought rather to be ashamed than he, for having reduced him to the disagreeable necessity of speaking in his own behalf.
Fuller, A. G. (1988). The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Memoirs, Sermons, Etc. (J. Belcher, Ed.) (Vol. 1, pp. 667–684). Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications.