Andrew Fuller Friday: Fuller on Spiritual Pride

Humility is our best friend and pride is our worst enemy. In the excerpts below Andrew Fuller (1754-1815) takes aim at spiritual pride. He explains, “the particular species of pride which I shall attempt to delineate is that which is spiritual, or which has religious excellence, real or supposed, for its object.” Spiritual pride is especially dangerous because it so often wears the garb of humility. In Mere Christianity C.S. Lewis rightly notes, Pride leads to every other vice.” If true, one must ask why the topic is so absent from contemporary sermons.

Fuller was strongly influenced by Jonathan Edwards who also warned about the danger of spiritual pride,

The first and worst cause of errors that abound in our day and age is spiritual pride.  This is the main door by which the devil comes into the hearts of those who are zealous for the advancement of Christ.  It is the chief inlet of smoke from the bottomless pit to darken the mind and mislead the judgement. Pride is the main handle by which he has hold of Christian persons and the chief source of all the mischief that he introduces to clog and hinder a work of God.  Spiritual pride is the main spring or at least the main support of all other errors.  Until this disease is cured, medicines are applied in vain to heal all other diseases. It is by spiritual pride that the mind defends and justifies itself in other errors and defends itself against light by which it might be corrected and reclaimed.  The spiritually proud man thinks he is full of light already and feels that he does not need instruction, so he is ready to ignore the offer of it. (Some Thoughts concerning the Present Revival of Religion in New England)

Below are excerpts from Andrew Fuller’s excellent essay on spiritual pride. I have only modernized some of the spelling and added the headings.

[Andrew Fuller, The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Expositions—Miscellaneous, “Spiritual Pride,” editor J. Belcher, vol. 3 (Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1988) 564-574]

The Danger of Cultural Respectability

Those who name the name of Christ are taught also to demean themselves in such a manner as will naturally inspire respect from persons of character, and this may become a snare to the soul. Religion, by changing the course of a man’s conduct, often raises him to a much superior station in society than he occupied before.

From being a drunkard, a liar, or in some form a loose character, he becomes sober, faithful, and regular in his conduct. Hence, he naturally rises in esteem, and, in some cases, is entrusted with important concerns. All this is doubtless to the honor of God and religion; but let us beware lest a self-complacent thought enter our heart, and we be lifted up to our hurt. This species of pride will frequently appear in a scornful behavior towards others who are still in their sins, and in a censorious and unforgiving spirit towards such members of the church as have conducted themselves with less regularity than ourselves.

The Danger of Taking Pleasure in the Fall of Others

A lowly mind will drop a tear over the evil courses of the ungodly, and, feeling its obligations to renewing and keeping grace that hath made the difference, will find matter even in a public execution for humiliation, prayer, and praise. The falls of fellow Christians will likewise excite a holy fear and trembling, and induce a greater degree of watchfulness and supplication, lest we should in a similar way dishonor the name of God; and if called to unite with others in the exercise of scriptural discipline, it will be with a spirit of tenderness; not for the purpose of revenge, but of recovery.

See thou a man whose resentments rise high when another falls, who is fierce and clamorous for the infliction of censure, and whose anger cannot be otherwise appeased, there is little reason to expect that he will stand long. He “thinks he stands;” let him “take heed lest he fall!”

The Danger of Despising the Spiritually Less Mature

He whose character is established by a steady and uniform conduct is doubtless worthy of our esteem; but if with this he be unfeeling towards others less uniform, there are three or four questions which it might be well for him to consider.

Viewing One’s Natural Advantages as Spiritual Superiority

First, Whether the difference between him and them be owing so much to the prevalence of Christian principles as to other causes. It may arise merely from a difference in natural temper. The sin which easily besets them may be of a kind which exposes them to the censures of the world; while his may be something more private, which does not come under their cognizance. It may arise from a greater regard to reputation in him than in them. Some men pique themselves much more than others upon the immaculacy of their character. But these are motives which if weighed in the balance will be found wanting.

Gaining One’s Identity by Comparing Themselves with Others

Secondly, Whether a censorious spirit towards those who have fallen does not prove that we arrogate to ourselves the difference, and depend upon ourselves for the resisting of temptation. We may “thank God” in words that we are “not as other men,” and so did the Pharisee; but we may be certain while this spirit prevails that God is not the rock on which we rest.

Ignoring One’s Own Less Outwardly Recognizable Sins

Thirdly, Whether arrogance and self-dependence be not as odious in the sight of God as the greatest outward vices, and whether it be not likely that he will give us up to the latter as a punishment for the former. We might have thought it a pity that so eminent a character as Simon Peter, one that was to take so important a part in spreading the gospel, should not have been preserved from so shameful a denial of his Lord. He prayed for him that his faith should not fail: why did he not pray that he should be either exempted from the trial, or preserved from falling in it? Surely if this self-confidence had not been more offensive to Christ than even his open denial of him it had been so; but as it was, rather than he should be indulged in spiritual pride, he must be rolled in the dirt of infamy.

The Danger of Big Numbers and Holy Huddles

If some are lifted up by being of that [denominational] party which has the greatest number, others are no less so in being of that which has the smallest. To despise the multitude, and to pique themselves on being among the discerning few, is common with men who have nothing better on which to ground their self-esteem. Pride will also find footing to support it in being irregular, as well as regular. The contempt with which some affect to treat all forms and rules, and those who adhere to them, is far from being to their honor.

By |June 2nd, 2017|Categories: Andrew Fuller Friday, Blog|

About the Author:

David E. Prince is pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky and assistant professor of Christian preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of In the Arena and Church with Jesus as the Hero. He blogs at Prince on Preaching and frequently writes for The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, For the Church, the BGEA and Preaching Today