Dear Pastor . . . Pride Is a Subtle Enemy

This article is part of the Dear Pastor series.


One of our most heinous and palpable sins is pride, a sin that has too much interest in the best but is more hateful and inexcusable in us than in other men. Pride fills some minister’s minds with aspiring desires and designs. It possesses them with envious and bitter thoughts against those who stand in their light, eclipse their glory, or hinder the progress of their idolized reputation. Oh, what a constant companion, what a tyrannous commander, what a sly and subtle insinuating enemy is this sin of pride! It goes with men to the draper, the mercer, the tailor, where it chooses their cloth, their trimming, and their fashion. It dresses them in the morning, at least on the outside. Fewer ministers would follow the fashion in hair and clothing if it were not for the command of this tyrannical vice.

If only that were all, or the worst, but alas, how frequently does pride come with us into our studies and sit with us as we prepare our sermon? How often does it choose our subject and more often choose our words and ornaments? God bids us to be as plain as we can for the informing of the ignorant and as convincing and serious as we are able for the melting and changing of unchanged hearts. But pride stands by and contradicts all. Sometimes it puts in toys and trifles. It pollutes rather than polishes, and under pretense of laudable ornaments, it dishonors our sermons with childish toys. It persuades us to paint the window that it may dim the light and to speak to our people that which they cannot understand. Then when pride has made our sermon, it goes with us into the pulpit. It forms our tone and animates our delivery. It causes us to avoid that which may be displeasing to our hearers, however necessary, and sets us in a pursuit of vain applause.

The sum of all this is that pride makes men both in studying and preaching to seek themselves and deny God, when they should seek God’s glory and deny themselves. If they perceive that they are highly thought of, they rejoice that they have attained their end. But if they perceive that they are thought weak or common men, they are displeased at having missed the prize of the day.

The Reformed Pastor

Richard Baxter

In his classic text The Reformed Pastor, Richard Baxter expounds on the apostle Paul’s encouragement to the elders of Ephesus to keep watch over themselves and their flocks. Updated and abridged edition.

Yet even this is not all, nor the worst. Oh, that ever it should be spoken of godly ministers that they are so set on popular approval and of sitting highest in men’s estimation that they envy the gifts and names of their brethren who are preferred before them. They act as if all were taken from their praises that is given to another’s. They carry themselves as if God had given them his gifts so that they may walk as men of reputation in the world, and all his gifts in others are to be trodden down and vilified if they seem to stand in the way of their honor! Will a saint, a preacher for Christ, envy that which has the image of Christ and malign his gifts for which he should have the glory, all because those gifts in others seem to hinder his own glory? Every true Christian is a member of the body and therefore shares in the blessings of the whole body and of each particular member. Every man owes thanks to God for his brother’s gifts, just as the foot benefits from the guidance of the eye and also because his own ends may be attained by his brother’s gifts as well as by his own (1 Cor. 12:12–27). If the glory of God and the church’s felicity are not his end, he is not a Christian. Will any workman malign another because he helps him do his Master’s work? Yet alas, how common is this heinous crime among men of leadership and eminency in the church!

Thus it is that men magnify their own opinions and criticize anyone who differs from them in lesser matters, as if it were all the same thing to differ from them and from God. They expect that all men should be conformed to their judgments as if they were the rule of the church’s faith! It is true, we have more modesty than expressly to say so. We pretend that we expect men should yield only to the evidence of truth that appears in our reasons and that our zeal is for the truth and not for ourselves. But as that must be taken for truth that is ours, so our reasons must be taken as valid. We embrace the cause of our errors as if all that was said against them was spoken against our persons and as if we were heinously injured to have our arguments thoroughly confuted by which we ourselves injured the truth and the minds of men!

So high are our spirits that when it becomes a duty to any man to reprove or contradict us, we are commonly impatient both of the matter and of the manner. We love the man who will say as we say, be of our opinion, and promote our reputation, though he be less worthy of our love in other respects. But he is displeasing to us who contradicts us and differs from us, who deals plainly with us in our miscarriages, and who tells us of our faults. Our pride makes too many of us think all men hate us who do not admire us and admire all that we say and who do not submit their judgments to our most palpable mistakes! We are so tender that no man can scarce touch us but we are hurt. We are so stout and high-minded that a man can hardly speak to us.

Pride makes men both in studying and preaching to seek themselves and deny God, when they should seek God’s glory and deny themselves.

I confess that I have often marveled that this most heinous sin should be thought so consistent with a holy frame of heart and life when far lesser sins are by ourselves proclaimed to be so damnable in our people! I have been amazed to see the difference between ungodly sinners and godly preachers in this respect. When we speak to drunkards, worldlings, or any ignorant, unconverted men, we disgrace them as in that condition to the utmost. We lay it on as plainly as we can speak and tell them of their sin, shame, and misery. We expect that they should not only bear all this patiently but also take all this thankfully. Most of those I deal with do take it patiently, and many gross sinners will most commend the starkest preachers. They will say that they care not to hear a man who will not tell them plainly of their sins. But if we speak to godly ministers against their errors or any sin, even though we honor them, reverence them, and speak as smoothly as we are able to speak, they take it as an almost insufferable injury unless the applause is so predominant as to drown all the force of the reproof or confutation.

Brethren, I know this is a sad and harsh confession. But that all this should be so among us should be more grievous to us than to be told of it, and I desire to deal closely with my own heart as well as yours. Have not many of us cause to inquire whether sincerity will consist with such a measure of pride?

The work may be God’s, and yet we do it not for God but for ourselves. I confess that I feel such continual danger on this point that if I do not watch against it, I would study for myself, preach for myself, and write for myself rather than for Christ, and then my work would surely go amiss. Consider, I beseech you, what baits there are in the work of the ministry to entice a man to be selfish, that is, to be carnal and impious even in the highest works of piety. The fame of a godly man is as great a snare as the fame of a learned man: woe to him who takes up with the reputation of godliness instead of godliness itself. “Verily I say unto you, they have their reward” (Matt. 6:2, 5).

This article is adapted from The Reformed Pastor: Updated and Abridged by Richard Baxter and adapted by Tim Cooper.

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