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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Pride (2)

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PRIDE.—The condemnation of pride has always been very pronounced in Christian thought. It is one of the faults most distinctly incompatible with the ethics of the NT. Certain other systems of religion have not so strenuously combated this feeling. In fact, some may not unreasonably be regarded as having contributed to its indulgence. An elementary attribute in the Christian conception of character is humility.

1. It is remarkable that the word for ‘pride’ (ὑπερηφανία) occurs only once in the recorded conversations of our Lord, and the adj. ‘proud’ (ὑπερήφανος) only once in the Gospels (Luke 1:51). In Mark 7:22 pride is classed as one of the things which defile a man. It is in the positive precepts and general example and teaching of the Master that we find the principles which have made pride so repugnant to the Christian consciousness. Chief of all these forces is the example of our Lord’s own life. The Incarnation was itself the most transcendent exhibition of humility. In it men saw their Lord counting it not a prize to be on an equality with God, emptying Himself, and taking the form of a servant. In the essential abasement of this earthly life He humbled Himself to the particular extremes of endurance of personal ill-treatment and obedience even unto death. Henceforth lowliness of station and self-forgetting passivity were consecrated by the Divine example. In the same degree the possessors of power and place were taught the limitations and responsibilities of their position, and shown the insensate evil of scornfully regarding men of inferior circumstances.

2. Before the Birth of Christ this characteristic of His mission was heralded in Mary’s song. She who described herself as a handmaiden of low estate could rejoice that in the coming Kingdom the proud would be scattered in, or by (Luke 1:51 (Revised Version margin) ), the disposition of their hearts. Princes would be brought down, and rich men sent empty away. On the other hand, those of low degree would be exalted, and the hungry abundantly satisfied. The Magnificat proclaimed the truths that whilst poverty and obscurity are not bars to acceptance with God, there are evils peculiarly belonging to high rank which utterly disqualify.

3. The Temptation (Matthew 4:1-11 || Luke 4:1-13) was largely an attempt to work on feelings of pride in the mind of Jesus. He was urged to prove His superiority to the conditions of ordinary humanity by a self-glorifying triumph over the laws of nature. The Tempter strove to make Him do so either (1) by providing for His special physical needs, or (2) by a public display of His might. In the offer (3) of universal sovereignty, the lures of authority and glory were especially emphasized.

4. In His definite teaching our Lord laid especial stress on the virtues of humility and lowliness of mind as fundamental requisites in His loyal followers. The Beatitude of the meek struck the dominant keynote in this respect. Men were invited to learn of Him, for He was meek and lowly in heart (Matthew 11:29). His disciples could apply to Him the prophetic description that He was meek (Matthew 21:5). More than once He seems to have uttered the apothegm, ‘Whosoever shall exalt himself shall be humbled, and whosoever shall humble himself shall be exalted’ (Matthew 23:12, Luke 14:11; Luke 18:14). Various specific forms of pride were rebuked and cautioned against.

(1) Several times our Lord severely censured exhibitions of spiritual pride. This vice called forth peculiar indignation and detestation in Him. The religious ostentation of the Pharisees was unsparingly reprobated. The types are eternally stigmatized who can thank God they are not as others are, who from the heights of their own complacency can look down on the supposed inferior spirituality of their fellows (Luke 18:9 ff.); who parade in public places their devotions (Matthew 6:5); who do all their works to be seen of men, and obtrude their religious symbols (Matthew 23:5); who for a pretence make long prayers (Luke 20:47). This species of religious self-satisfaction, of spurious spirituality, elicited the scathing invective of Christ in an altogether unparalleled degree. He declared that the publicans and harlots went into the Kingdom of God before such proud professors (Matthew 21:31).

(2) The strictures our Lord passed on the racial pride of the Jews drew against Him their fiercest anger. He showed how vain were their boasted privileges when He proclaimed that many should be admitted to the Kingdom from all quarters of the earth, but the children of the Kingdom rejected (Matthew 8:12). He tried to make them realize from their own Scriptures the futility of their reliance on descent, by referring to the favour shown Naaman the Syrian and the widow of Zarephath (Luke 4:25 ff.). The parables of the Labourers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1 ff.) and of the Householder’s rebellious servants (Matthew 21:33 ff.) were plainly intended to make His hearers see how little worth was in their lofty pretensions as the children of Abraham—the chosen people.

(3) Intellectual haughtiness was also decidedly condemned by Christ. The inclination that springs from the consciousness of ability or learning to scornfully depreciate those of more meagre mental equipment, is one of the most insidious forms of pride. To it certain natures fall victims who would consider family pretensions or religious assumptions of superiority vulgar and discreditable. Many who would loathe the commonly recognized vaingloriousness of the Pharisees are dangerously near sharing in the mental arrogance which prompted the latter to sneer, ‘This multitude which knoweth not the law are accursed’ (John 7:49).

The tendency to indulge in lofty contempt from the ‘intellectual throne’ is strikingly portrayed in Tennyson’s Palace of Art

‘O God-like isolation which art mine,

I can but count thee perfect gain,

What time I watch the darkening droves of swine

That range on yonder plain.’

All such disdainfulness for the simple and unlearned was impressively forbidden by Christ’s warning, ‘See that ye despise not one of these little ones’ (Matthew 18:10; cf. a striking sermon by Bp. Boyd Carpenter on ‘The Dangers of Contempt’). Again, our Lord bore witness to the supreme importance of simplicity and innocence, as opposed to superciliousness and pride, when He said of the little children, ‘Of such is the kingdom of heaven’ (Luke 18:16), and added that the only attitude which qualified for admission was that of a little child. It is noteworthy that the same dispositions of receptivity and absence of hard preconceptions are insisted on by scientists as prime requisites for the student of the kingdom of nature.

(4) The pride that comes from the enjoyment of high official or social rank was discountenanced in one of the most surprising actions of our Lord’s earthly life—the episode of the Feet-washing (John 13). It was a vivid, unforgetable lesson in the duty of self-abasing service. No one who then was present was likely to fall into the sin of presuming on privileges of position, or treating subordinates with selfish, slighting inconsiderateness. The imagination of succeeding generations has been intensely impressed by the spectacle of the Son of God washing the travel-stained feet of His poor followers. The pride that jealously exacts sub-servience could not be more effectually proscribed. The homily against those whose self-importance made them claim the place of honour at entertainments (Luke 14:7 ff.) is directed against the same grandiose assumptions. This social arrogance of the Pharisees was one of the points in our Lord’s indictment of them. They loved the chief place at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and to be called Rabbi (Matthew 23:5 ff.). Any tendency among His disciples to assume lordship was strictly, tenderly suppressed. Once He called them together when such claims were mooted, and pointed out to them how among the outside Gentiles there were those who lorded it and exercised authority. In contrast to that should be their practice. Whoever of them was ambitious of greatness and supremacy could attain it only along the lines of submissive service (Matthew 20:25 f.). They had Him as an example, who came not to receive service, but to minister to the needs of others, even to the point of giving up His life for them (Matthew 20:28). They were not to arrogate to themselves titles implying mastership (Matthew 23:8; Matthew 23:10). The question of leadership among them was met by Christ taking a little child and placing it ‘beside himself’ (παρʼ ἑαυτῷ), and saying that the reception of a little child meant the reception of Himself and of His Father who sent Him (Luke 9:46 ff.). In the light of how so stupendous a glory was to be won, their own shortsighted strivings after precedence stood exposed. All such grasping at power and place was a contradiction or the true conception of honour. It was he who humbled himself as a little child that was greatest (Matthew 18:4).

5. The essential vice of pride was glanced at in one of these conversations when the Master said, ‘All ye are brethren’ (Matthew 23:8). Pride is an injury to the bond of brotherhood; it is disloyalty in the Christian household; it is a breach of fellowship. The selfish despising of our fellow-creatures is a contradiction of the law of love. It cannot coexist with a true-hearted affection for all men. Pride is self-centred, and plumes itself on the gap between ourselves and those beneath us. It revels in the feeling of superiority. Nothing could be more opposed than this to the self-sacrificing love which is bent on raising and helping. Pride also betrays a lack of perception as to our own true position before God. It reveals an undue magnifying of relative differences.

6. The word ‘pride’ is often used in another and a harmless sense which may imply no more than a fit appreciation of benefits, a lofty sense of honour, a dignified aloofness that will not stoop to what is mean or defiling. In this better sense Milton can speak of ‘modest pride,’ and Moore deplore the loss of the ‘pride of former days.’ The distinction is clear between this pardonable and highly useful feeling—a feeling which may be accompanied with real humility—and a haughtiness of spirit, a contemptuous looking down on others, a selfish glorying in one’s own superiority. See also Humility, Meekness.

Literature.—Aristotle, Nic. Ethiopic iv. 3; Kant, Met. of Ethiopic (Clark’s ed.), 241; Liddon, Univ. Serm. ii. 203, BL [Note: L Bampton Lecture.] 8 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] , 491; Medd, The One Mediator, 416; Alford, Quebec Chapel Serm. ii. 15; Stalker, Seven Deadly Sins, I; Wickham in Oxford Univ. Serm. (ed. Bebb), 332; Bunyan, Pilg. Prog., Pt. ii. ‘The Valley of Humiliation’; Longfellow’s ‘King Robert of Sicily’; Bp. Magee, The Gospel and the Age (‘Knowledge without Love’).

W. S. Kerr.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Pride (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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