Honor, Pride, and Climbing High – Richard Baxter

Originally from here. Minor adjustments to the text have been made.

The third part of the objective interest of self, is that which goes commonly under the name of Honor; and is called by the Apostle, “pride of life” and put by him in the third place. And of this, I intend, if God will give me time and strength, to write also a treatise by itself, and therefore should say nothing of it here; but only lest I should not have time to do that which I desire, I shall briefly name you ten of the particulars under this head of Honor, which you must deny: that is, ten ways wherein men exercise their pride.

One work of pride is to climb higher into places of superiority and honor and command. Poor men that are out of hope, and in no capacity for rising, feel not much of this, though the disposition to it be in them as well as others, because it is not drawn forth by temptations. But where opportunity serves, there is nothing wherein selfishness and pride doth more constantly and obstinately shew itself than in this. It is the nature of selfishness to aspire after the highest exaltation in the world that can be attained. We may easily observe in kingdoms and corporations, and all societies of men, what Christ observed at their feasts, that “they choose out the chief rooms, and sit with the highest” (Luke 14:7, 8). What eager desires have they to be above other men? If any office or seat of honor be void, there is few that apprehend any possibility of attaining it, that want a will to it; yea few that will not seek and strive for it, and envy those that carry it before them; and hate, or bear a grudge to those that were against their rising: yea few but venture on the most unlawful means to accomplish their desires, and yet will scarce believe that they are unlawful, because they think them necessary to their ends. There is few, if they had the choice of a man to any vacant place of honor, that would choose any other but themselves; unless their unfitness were likely more to dishonor them, or some way to make their honors too burdensome to them. No man in their eyes is so fit as themselves, or so worthy as themselves: Or if it be their children or kinsmen that stand for it, or any that self has special interest in, they seem the worthiest for the place, because they are related to them. Especially if it be any eminent dignity or command, that seems to them a prey that’s worth the hunting after. O the blinding, bewitching, befooling power of pride and selfishness! How commonly doth it rule! How few are those holy, happy men, that have escaped and overcome it! How few societies be there in the world, whether corporations, colleges, or the like, but pride and selfishness makes their governors? How few nations on the earth, where pride and selfishness makes not their kings or sovereigns? And is it any wonder if they be all ill-governed then, where the devil does so much to choose the governors? I know that God rules over all, and restrains the lusts of men, and crosses their designs; but yet their lusts and the devil may rule to their destruction for all that.

Objection. But is it not lawful to seek for dignity and superiority?

Answer. No: not for self; but for God it is. You have warnings enough, and plain enough from Christ, if warnings would serve turn: He has bid you “sit not down in the highest room”: he has sharply rebuked them that strive for precedency (the condition of being considered more important than someone or something else; priority in importance, order, or rank), and who shall be the greatest: He has told you, he that will be the greatest, must be the servant of all: and has told you of stooping to the feet of the meanest, and condescending to men of low degree; and has set little children before you to be your teachers, and assured you that there is no entrance into His kingdom in any other posture. He hath told you that God resists and hates the proud, and that he that humbles himself shall be exalted, and he that exalts himself shall be brought low.

Objection. But how shall I know whether I seek promotion for God or myself? I hope it’s God that I seek it for.

Answer. 1. How shall a man know his own mind? You have dark hearts indeed if you cannot know your own intentions, if you are but observant, and diligent, and willing to know them. 2. He that seeks not dignities for himself, but for God, will never seek to put by another that is as able and likely to do God service in the place as he: Nor will he seek it at all, if he see that God may be served as well without his seeking it: but will stay till God call him to it, and then he may expect his help and blessing. Few do intend God in it, that are exalters of themselves. Indeed if you see that an enemy of the Gospel, or some unworthy, ungodly man is like to come into the place if you seek it not, by which the church or the state, is likely to be injured, then you may seek it by lawful means; so that you can truly say, I would not do it for my self; but it is to serve God for his people’s good. 3. He that seeks not the dignity for himself, will seek first and more to get in another, if he know another that is fitter than himself, and likely to do God more service: and this he will do heartily, and not misleadingly. If you had not rather a worthier and more useful man were preferred before you, and seek not more for such than for your selves, you are plain self-seekers, whatever you may pretend. If a man should come to almost any of the rulers of nations, churches, colleges or corporations that have screwed themselves into the place of government, and ask them, “Did you know no man fitter for this place than your self, and have you sought first to get in a fitter man?” What can they for shame say to it? If they say, “No”; they proclaim themselves notorious self-seekers! For it’s very seldom, that a humble man is allowed to judge himself the fittest. 4. And he that seeks dignities for God and not for himself, will use them for God, and not for himself. For the intention will command the use. He will deny himself in his superiority as well as if he were in the lowest place; and will contrive how he may most serve and honor God: and this will be easily seen in his endeavors, whether it is God or self that he serves and lives for.

And now I advise all that love their souls, to take heed of this aspiring act of selfishness. If you will need to seek for yourselves, and be your own exalters (or self-promoters), you must trust in yourselves, and be your own defenders: And then you will find that the lowest condition in the hand of God, is more safe and comfortable than the highest in your own hand. If God should lift you up to the top of the highest mountains, you may expect either a calm, or his protection in the storm, and to be as safe as those below: but if you lift up yourselves, and Satan carry you to the pinnacle of the temple, take heed lest you cast down your selves by his temptations that did lift you up. Dignities and honors, are not indeed the things that they seem to be to carnal eyes that see not the inside, but judge by the outward glittering show. There is most holy duty and work to be done, where is the greatest dignity. And certainly the life of greatest work and labor is not the life of greatest ease, or carnal pleasure: especially when it is the work of God that you must do: a work which all the world is against, and which Satan and all his power will resist: and which must meet with hostility and abundance of hostility, when ever you set about it: Though you are commanders, yet you are soldiers; and you that are leaders have the hottest standing, and must expect the sharpest conflicts. Do you think of your dignities and offices as places of mere superiority and honor and accommodation to your carnal selves? Then you are carnal men, and you enter upon what you do not know, and make yourselves traitors and enemies to God, whom He is engaged to bring down and be avenged on at last: you debase the sacred coin which bears the stamp and name of God. Authority is holy, and the image of God, and you basely turn it into the image of the flesh; and blot out God’s name from it, and stamp upon it the name of self, and traitorously make it your own, which was eminently His. Believe it, whoever you are, if you seek for places of rule and dignity with carnal selfish expectations, you must either use them accordingly when you have them, which is the readiest way to DAMNATION in the world, or else you must find your expectations crossed, and miss of all your carnal goals; and find that the greatest toil and burden, which you expected should have been your chief content. God has added the honor and outward greatness, partly to encourage you to so hard a work, lest the burden should be too heavy, and partly to enable you to perform it, and give you some advantages against opposition. But though the clothing of authority and rule be splendid, the substance thus covered is extraordinary labor, and duty, and sufferingIt is honorable, but it’s an honorable burden, and an honorable painful difficult work. So that if men understood what office and authority is in church or state, and looked after the substance as well as the ornaments; the work as well as the honor and greatness; it would be an eminent piece of self-denial for a man to submit to the call of God, to be a prince, a judge, a justice, or but a constable: and men would as hardly be drawn to take the office, as they are now to do the work of the office in faithfulness and with courage and zeal for God; and that is almost as hard as an offender is drawn to the stocks: Offices and high places, are not intended to accommodate the flesh; nor are they things to be ambitiously desired and sought for, by such as understand the purposes and use of them: but they are such laborious, hazardous ways of serving God, which a wise man knows must cost him more, than the honor will repay, and which a good man will not run away from, when God calls him to it; but will so far deny himself as to submit to them; but not thrust himself into them, as the proud and selfish do. It is a work of patience to a godly man to be thus exalted; but it is a work of pride and self-seeking in others. Deny yourselves so far as to submit to government and dignity, and bear it patiently if it be cast upon you, as being an excellent opportunity of serving God: But wish not for it, because of the honor and advantages to the flesh: much less contend for it, or set your hearts on it. He that seeks an office or honor for himself, must have another heart before he will use it for God. It’s better with Saul to hide ourselves from honor, than with Absalom to contrive and seek it: but best of all with David to stay till God call us, and then obey.

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