Andrew Fuller Friday: On Knowledge and Spiritual Pride

God abhors the occasional exercises of self-confidence in his own people, and still more the habitual self-complacency of hypocrites. I remember a professor of religion, a member of one of our churches, who for a series of years maintained a very uniform character. He was constant in his attendance on all opportunities. At his own expense he erected a place of worship in his village for the occasional preaching of the gospel. Few men were more respected both by the world and by the church. To the surprise of every one that knew him, all at once he was found to be guilty of fornication. The church of which he was a member excluded him. From this time he sunk into a kind of sullen despondency, shunning all company and conversation, and giving himself up to melancholy. His friends felt much for him, and would often represent to him the mercy of God to backsliders who return to him in the name of Jesus. But all was of no account: he was utterly inconsolable. His sorrow did not appear to be of that kind which, while it weeps for sin, cleaves to the Saviour; but rather, like “the sorrow of the world” which “worketh death,” was accompanied with a hard heart, and seemed to excite nothing unless it were a fruitless sigh. I well recollect having some conversation with him at the time, and that his state of mind struck me in an unfavourable light. It appeared to me that the man in the height of his profession was eaten up with spiritual pride; that God had let loose the reins of his lust to the staining of his glory, and that now, looking upon his reputation as irrecoverably lost, he sunk into despair.—A few years after, when his friends had begun to despair of him, all at once he wanted to come before the church and be restored to his place. In his confession little was said of the evil of his sin, or of the dishonour brought upon the name of Christ by it; but of certain extraordinary impulses which he had received, by which the pardon of his sin was sealed to him. The church, though with some hesitation, received him. They were soon under the necessity, however, of re-excluding him, as from that time he became a most self-important and contentious Antinomian.

God in calling sinners by his grace has given great proof of his sovereignty, passing over the wise and prudent, and revealing himself to babes; the mighty and the noble, and choosing the base; yea, the devout and the honourable, and showing mercy to publicans and sinners. This is, doubtless, of a humbling nature, and its design was that “no flesh should glory in his presence.” But even in this case there is an avenue at which spiritual pride may insinuate itself; and it seems to have found its way among the believing Gentiles. Hence the following language: “Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off that I might be grafted in. Well, because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not high-minded, but fear.” It is easy to perceive how the same thoughts may be admitted in weak, ignoble, and once profligate characters who have obtained mercy, while others more respectable are yet in their sins.

Moreover, the Christian religion tends to enlighten and enlarge the mind. Men that have lived a number of years in the grossest ignorance, on becoming serious Christians have gradually obtained a considerable degree of intelligence. They have not only been spiritually illuminated so as to read the Scriptures as it were with other eyes, and to discourse on Divine subjects with clearness and advantage; but have formed a habit of reading many other useful publications, and of thinking over their contents. All this is to the honour of Christianity; but through the corruption of the heart it may become a snare. It is true that spiritual knowledge in its own nature tends to humble the soul both in the sight of God and man; but all the knowledge that good men possess is not spiritual; and that which is so, when it comes to be reflected upon in unworthier moments, may furnish food for self-complacency. Neither are all whose minds are enlightened by the gospel, and whose light is so far operative as even to effect some change of conduct, good men: we read of some who “escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour,” who were afterwards entangled and overcome, 2 Pet. 2:10. An influx of knowledge to some men, like an influx of wealth to others, is more than they are able to bear, and, if they have not the grace of God at heart as a balance, they will certainly be overset. A disposition for raising difficulties and speculating upon abstruse and unprofitable questions, a captiousness in hearing, an eagerness for disputing, and an itch for teaching, are certain indications of a vain mind, which at best is but half instructed, and, in many cases, destitute of the truth. Such characters are minutely described by Paul in his First Epistle to Timothy: “Give no heed,” saith he, “to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith. The end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned: from which some having swerved have turned aside unto vain jangling; desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm.”

If a little knowledge happen to unite with a litigious temper, it is a dangerous thing. Such characters are the bane of churches. If they might be believed, they are the faithful few who contend for the “faith once delivered to the saints;” but they know not what manner of spirit they are of, nor consider that there is a species of “contention” that “cometh only by pride.” There were men of this stamp in the times of the apostle Paul, and whose character he described, with the effects produced by their wrangling. Such a one, saith he, is “proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions, and strifes of words, whence cometh envy, strife, railings, evil-surmisings, perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth.” It is to be hoped that some who have manifested this litigious spirit may not be altogether “destitute of the truth;” and it may be worthy of notice that the persons referred to by the apostle are not thus denominated, but are supposed to kindle the fire which “men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth” keep alive. It is doubtful, however, if not more than doubtful, whether the description given of them will admit of hope in their favour. But if it will, and the same hope be admitted of some litigious spirits in our times, it is doubtless a very wicked thing to furnish the enemies of religion with brands, as I may say, wherewith to burn the temple of God.

Excerpt from: Spiritual Pride: or the occasions, causes, and effects of high-mindedness in religion; with considerations exciting to self-abasement

Fuller, A. G. (1988). The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Expositions—Miscellaneous. (J. Belcher, Ed.) (Vol. 3, p. 564). Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications.

By |December 4th, 2020|Categories: Andrew Fuller Friday, Blog|

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