Every sin that can be committed is traceable back to pride. Boil all the sinful meat off, and what you have left are the bones of pride.
“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all this is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” (1 John 2:15-17).
In the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:6), the woman saw that the tree was good for food (lust of the flesh), pleasant to the eyes (lust of the eyes), and able to make one wise (the pride of life). And from the first sin committed, to the last one in the history of the world, this is how we may aptly summarize worldliness—belly, eyes, and fevered brains.
Pride is a sin that God hates above all others. Six things God hates, seven are loathsome to Him. What is first on the list? “These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: a proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood . . .” (Prov. 6:16-17). Murder of innocents is third on the list, and a nose in the air is number one. The Lord condemns it as proceeding, with other sins, from a filthy heart (Mk. 7:22). God insults the very appearance of the proud. (Ps. 73:6-7). He does hate it, and because God hates it, so should we. But if we hate it rightly, as forgiven sinners, we will hate it first in ourselves. We have to be very careful here. I have seen some who hate (and sternly rebuke) what they perceive as arrogance in others first, and they do so, not as a humble one grieved over insolence, but rather as a competitor jockeying for position. The ugly result is nothing like humility hating pride, but rather envy hating any kind of blessing for others. “Who does he think he is?” is a sentiment that is almost certainly uttered from the seat of pride. Sinful pride hates competion, and loves to be catty about it. And sinful pride can feel good about this catty hatred of pride in others, because, after all, does not God hate pride as well? That’s us, thinking God’s thoughts after Him.
Pride is manifested in various ways — one of them is clearly seen in how the proud treat the poor. How does God describe the prideful? When we think of the sins of Sodom, the first thing in our minds is sexual perversion. But this is not what God mentions first. “Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and the needy” (Ez. 16:49). And consider the same thing from another angle: “The wicked in his pride doth persecute the poor: let them be taken in the devices that they have imagined. For the wicked boasteth of his heart’s desire, and blesseth the covetous, whom the Lord abhorreth. The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts” (Ps. 10:2-4). According to the Bible, the proud have contempt for the lowly, and so God has contempt for them in their purported high and mighty state.
We should learn to hate what wisdom hates. “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate” (Prov. 8:13). We sometimes think that we should not hate, but this is to reject the words of God. We must hate sins, and, if this is true, we must hate the mother of all sins—pride, arrogance, insolence.
Judgment falls on pride. Not surprisingly, God does not leave pride alone. “And I will break the pride of your power; and I will make your heaven as iron, and your earth as brass” (Lev. 26:19). God sees to it that pride and arrogance is followed by shame. “When pride cometh, then cometh shame: but with the lowly is wisdom” (Prov. 11:2). Shame follows after all pride, looking for an opportunity, and there always is one. Pride sets a man up for destruction. The Bible is plain here as well. “A man’s pride shall bring him low: but honour shall uphold the humble in spirit” (Prov. 23:29). And of course, there is that famous passage—”Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18). Pride is the kind of sin that can cloak itself in any garment. Wherever a man is, some things will be honored (this is right, and it is inescapable). But a proud man feeds on the honor, and he does so in a way that brings dishonor to what should be honored. This is why Paul requires a humble demeanor from those called to be elders. This is why a novice (Tyndale translates it “young scholar”) should not be made an elder. In addressing the question of elder qualifications, Pauls says, “not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil” (1 Tim. 3:6).
Pride knows how to wave the most bizarre tokens of “accomplishment” over its head, and this brings us to the issue of doctrinal pride. “We Calvinists have the truth, to be distinguished from all those semi-Pelagian bozos out there.” When it comes to the doctrines of grace, this is particularly insane—what do we have that we did not receive as a gift (1 Cor. 4:7)? And if it was a gift, why do we boast as though it were not? So, are we now to take pride in our knowledge that we are not allowed to take pride in anything? Boastful attitudes can mouth any words, including “free grace, exhaustive sovereignty,” or “soli Deo gloria.” Moreover, the gift of acknowledging God’s sovereignty was a gift we did not want. At any rate, I certainly did not want it, and surrendering to Calvinism in principle (telling God that I was “willing” for it to be true) was one of the great eat-your-spinach moments of my life. No doubt there was great jubilation in the courts of heaven when old Wilson decided that he was willing for Romans 9 to stay in the Bible, what with the cherubim chest-bumping and all. The lunacy of this kind of doctrinal pride and conceit must be stated with great emphasis before the next point can be made.
This is because rejection of Calvinism is also a function of pride, and a variant on the theme of creaturely insanity. What happened when Nebuchadnezzar boasted in his accomplishments in building his great city? God struck him, and he lost his mind, and lived the life of a beast for years. And what happened when Nebuchannezzar’s understanding returned to him? What did he say?
“And at the ends of the days I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me, and I blessed the most High, and I praised and honoured him that liveth for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation: and all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, ‘What doest thou?’ At the same time my reason returned to me . . . (Dan. 4:34-37).
Submission to the Godness of God is what sanity means. Understanding who God is, and gladly submitting to Him should be our very definition of what it even means to be sane. But forgetting this is not the sole province of Arminians — forgetting this is the province of sinners. And I confess that there are Arminians who are like the boy in Christ’s parable, whose doctrinal commitments require them to say that they will not go, and yet they live lives of practical obedience. And there are Calvinists, may their tribe decrease, who potter about in the Laboratory of Sovereignty and declaim mightily about the nuances of what they see under the Microscope of Analytic Theology after having sliced the Decrees so thin and transparent that they can be arranged on the Slides of Systematic Investigation. To them we say what was said to the policemen in Penzance. “But you don’t go.”
All this relates to the antidote to all pride. What heals the poison of arrogance and boasting? It is not “no boasting,” but rather learning to change the direct object of our boast. What is the antidote to pride? The Bible teaching that the answer is boasting. “My soul shall make her boast in the Lord: the humble shall hear thereof, and be glad” (Ps. 34:2; cf. 2 Cor. 10:17).