When the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews speaks of the sin which doth so easily beset us, surely he must mean pride! For of all human vices, pride is not only the most deeply-rooted, the most prolific, and the most subtle, but also the most sensitive and the most easily roused into action. Springing, as it does, directly out of self-love, it is the strongest as well as the most resentful of all our Inward Enemies. When attacked, it fights desperately, and, if it ever dies, it dies hard. It has been called "the radical reigning sin that first lives and last dies." Hence, in describing the wounding or hurting of his pride, a man commonly uses the strongest words he can think of; he says he feels "crushed," "Cut up," "mortified," and then, like a scotched snake, he writhes in mental agony. Or, again, let any one (even our most intimate friend) insinuate ever so mildly that we are ignorant, or foolish, or incapable, or vain-glorious, and straightway we smart all over. We say our feelings are hurt, our pride is wounded, our vanity is piqued. In short, anything that reflects unfavorably upon ourselves instantly stirs up our Inward Enemy and makes him fight.
The supreme end and object of our spiritual life is to learn Humility; that is to say, to learn to submit patiently, cheerfully, and thankfully to have our feelings, our thoughts, our characters, ourselves, "cut-up" by the great spiritual forces of the universe—the sorrows and hardships and dangers of life that are continually at work helping us to carve ourselves into perfect men and women. The operation of this cosmic spiritual process—for such it is—constitutes our Experience. In the order of Diving Providence all that is sent to us—or, as we say, all that happens to us—is sent with the definite purpose of imparting to us some good thing we need to have, or of taking away some evil thing we need to get rid of.
Among the many things that thus come to us in life are our sicknesses; and, to palliate these, how cheerfully we submit to the most drastic medical treatment! We even welcome the surgeon's knife that hacks our limbs so many dead branches and literally cuts up our diseased body to save our life. And yet we resent as an unpardonable interference on the part of a friend—nay, more, on the part of Providence—the hurting and wounding of our self-love, although we know quite well that the correction of our faults and the perfecting of our spiritual nature can be effected only by the wounding of our pride even until the death—the mortifying and crucifying of "our evil and corrupt affections" which are the progeny of this our mortal Inward Enemy. Thus it is divinely ordained that through suffering we are made perfect.
Therefore, if we were wise, we should welcome our rebukes, settings-down, humiliations, corrections—in short, all that comes to us in the way of life's discipline—as allies, fellow-helpers, ministering angels and teachers, every one of them, of that most precious and last attained of all heavenly graces, Sweet Humility.
Pride is not an outward irritation—although that is one of its consequences—but an internal ulcer in the very core of our natured. It is a common error to suppose that, so long as we do not speak or act wrongfully, it matter very little what we feel and think. This means that we may harbor as many unworthy thoughts, as many spies and enemies, as we please so long as we conceal them in jars, like the forty thieves in the legend, and do not let them break out in open revolt. Surely, this is as unwise and fool-hardy as it would be to fill our cellars with dynamite and rest secure in the fond hope that nothing will ever happen to explode it. Our thoughts, whether good or evil, are like so many machines wound up and ready for action, requiring only pressing of a button to set them going, and producing results to all appearance quite out of proportion to the exciting cause. Once upon a time, in an exhibition of scientific instruments, the writer—whether undesignedly or in obedience to a passing playful mood—imparted to a strange-looking instrument labeled with a long Greek name the gentlest possible little nudge, when lo and behold! The thing began to work; there was the whir of wheels and the click of levers and the machine was busily recording with the rapidity of a shorthand writer the exact dynamic equivalents of that miniature earthquake, and here on its dial was the record in black and white! Thus our every thought and word and deed leaves its mark upon the character, and the wound-up coil of the serpent, Pride, that lurks in the dark caverns of the human mind, is ever on the alert to sprint into action on the slightest touch; and, as we all know, some people are more touchy than others.
This automatic power of the mind is called by scientists reflex action, and the slightest impulse is sometimes sufficient, as in the case of a word spoken in anger, to "set on fire the whole course" of a man's nature. "As everyone knows, it takes a soldier a long time to learn his drill—for instance, to put himself into the attitude of 'attention' at the instant the word of command is heard; but after a time the sound of the word gives rise to the act, whether the soldier be thinking of it or not. There is a story, which is credible enough though it may not be true, of a practical joker, who, seeing a discharged veteran carrying home his dinner, suddenly called out 'Attention!' whereupon the man instantly brought his hands down and lost his dinner in the gutter.
The drill had been thorough, and its effect had become embodied in the man's nervous structure. The possibility of all education is based upon the existence of this power, which the nervous system possesses, of organizing conscious actions into more or less unconscious actions into more or less unconscious, or reflex, operations." This is true of all animals, including man. In man the instinct of pride inheres in his mind as the instinct of self-preservation inhere in his body. In fact, pride is the instinct of the mind to defend and uphold itself against attack. All our thoughts and words and actions are more or less tainted with pride, so that its eradication is the last and supreme accomplishment of self-mastery. Pride is thus the self-constituted body-guard of the human mind. It stands as an armed sentinel at the door ready to challenge and repulse the attack of any aggressor. Pride corrupts to purity of every virtue. It is the ringleader of all our Inward Enemies.
Fortunately for us, however, these fiends or passions that infest our souls are capable of amendment, rectification, and eradication; and, seeing that pride is the parent of so many of them, let a man only master pride and he will have gone a long way towards mastering himself and subjugation the most undesirable conditions of mind, including censoriousness, impatience, discontent, peevishness, and pessimism.
In John Bunyan's two representations of the Valley of Humiliation there occurs a brilliant stroke of genius which to the unreflecting reader might appear a dramatic inconsistency. When Christian passes alone through the Valley he encounters Apollyon, who may be regarded as the arch-fiend of Pride that lurks in the human mind, and a desperate fight ensue, in which Apollyon is grievously wounded. But subsequently, when Christian's wife and her traveling companions—conducted by their gentle guide, Great-Heart—pass through the same valley the surrounding circumstances seem changed; there is no Apollyon, and the fierce spiritual trials experienced by Christian do not present themselves to the more disciplined characters of these good people; so that the Valley, which to Christian appeared terrible and fraught with danger, now looks lovely, and they all declare it to be "one of the most delightful places in all their pilgrimage." Evidently these good souls had in the course of their pilgrimage cultivated and acquired the graces of humility, and that contented, cheerful, submissive mind which constitutes a foretaste of heavenly rest, so that their surrounding appeared different from what they had appeared to Christian's less disciplined mind. So true is it that man's character transforms its surroundings into harmonious relation with itself; that, in other words, it is not place nor opportunities nor circumstances that make character, but it is character that makes circumstances.
Apollyon is a very real enemy: he is our natural, corrupt, selfish nature—in a word, our pride that lurks within us and is ever ready to rise in rebellion against our better self. Great-Heart was well named "Great," because he had already been through the Valley of Humiliation, had fought with himself, had conquered himself, and was therefore proof against his Inward Enemy. Also his companions, Christiana, Mercy, and the boys, blest by nature with a more tender heart and chastened by a gentler training, were comparatively free from the evil principles or pride. Bunyan here clearly recognizes the fact that some people are born with a "good disposition" and other with a "bad temper," and that therefore in the School of Experience some need sterner discipline and stronger medicine than others. Moreover, he recognizes the all-important fact that the remedy lies within ourselves, and consists of individual effort more or less strenuous according to the strength of our besetting sins. Thus the regenerate heart is freed from the tyranny of temptation: death hath no more dominion over it: it is dead unto sin and alive unto God: and, in the power of the Christ-Spirit within, it has become proof against the assaults of its Inward Enemy.
he who desires to lay up "treasures in heaven" must allow no waste of his soul's wealth to pass unheeded.
—Frances P. Cobbe