Christian Love,
or the Influence of Religion upon Temper

By John Angell James, 1828


"Love does not boast—it is not proud." 1 Cor. 13:4

The Apostle's meaning, in this part of his description, evidently is, that love has not a high and overweening conceit of its own possessions and acquirements, and does not ostentatiously boast of what it is, has done, can do, or intends to do. Love is opposed to pride and vanity, and is connected with true humility.

Pride signifies such an exalted idea of ourselves, as leads to self-esteem, and to contempt of others. It is self-admiration—self-doating. It differs from vanity thus—pride causes us to value ourselves; vanity makes us anxious for applause. Pride renders a man odious; vanity makes him ridiculous. Love is equally opposed to both.

Pride is the sin which laid the moral universe in ruins. It was pride which impelled Satan and his confederates to a mad "defiance of the Omnipotent to arms," for which they were driven from heaven, and taught by their bitter experience, that "God resists the proud." Banished from the world of celestials, pride alighted on our globe, in its way to hell, and brought destruction in its train. Propagated from our common and fallen parent with our race, pride is the original sin, the inherent corruption of our nature. It spreads over humanity with the contagious violence—the loathsome appearance of a moral leprosy, raging alike through the palace and the cottage, and infecting equally the prince and the peasant.

The GROUNDS of pride are various—whatever constitutes a distinction between man and man, is the occasion of this hateful disposition. It is a vice that does not dwell exclusively in kings' houses, wear only soft clothing, and feed every day upon titles, fame, or affluence—it accommodates itself to our circumstances, and adapts itself to our distinctions, of whatever kind they be. The usual grounds of pride are the following—

WEALTH. Some value themselves on account of their fortune, look down with contempt on those below them—and exact fawning attentiveness towards themselves, and deference for their opinions—according to the thousands of money, or of acres, which they possess.

Others are proud of their TALENTS, either natural or acquired. The brilliancy of their genius, the extent of their learning, the splendor of their imagination, the acuteness of their understanding, their power to argue or speak publicly—form the object of self-esteem, and the reasons of that disdain which they pour upon all who are inferior to them in mental endowments. But these things are not so common in the church of God as those which we shall now mention.

RELIGIOUS CONNECTIONS form, in many cases, the occasion of pride. This was exemplified in the Jews, who boasted that they were the children of Abraham, and worshiped in the temple of the Lord. Their self-admiration, as the members of the only true church, and as the covenant people of God, was insufferably disgusting. In this feature of their character, they are too often imitated in modern times. While some boast of belonging to the church as by law established, and look with contempt on all who range themselves on the side of dissent—too many of the latter throw back the scorn upon their opponents, and pride themselves on the greater purity of their ecclesiastical order. There is the pride both of the dominant party, and also that of the seceding one—the pride of belonging to the church, which includes the court, the senate, the universities—and that which is sometimes felt in opposing this array of royalty, and learning, and law. There is the pride of thinking with the king, and the nobles, and the judges, and the prelates—and also that of thinking against them. Whatever leads us to think highly of ourselves in matters of religion, and to despise others, whether it be the distinctions of earthly greatness, the practice of religious duties, or the independence of our mode of thinking—is opposed to the spirit of Christian love.

Superior LIGHT on the subject of revealed truth is no unusual occasion of pride. The Arminian pharisee dwells with fondness on the goodness of his heart; the Antinomian, with equal haughtiness, values himself on the clearness of his head; and the Socinian, as far from humility as either of them, is inflated with a conceit of the strength of his reason, and its elevation above vulgar prejudices—while not a few moderate Calvinists regard with complacency their sagacity in discovering the happy medium. As men are more proud of their understanding than of their disposition, it is very probable that religious opinions are more frequently the cause of conceit and self-importance, than anything else which could be mentioned. "It is knowledge," says the apostle, "that puffs up." "We are the men and wisdom will die with us"—is the temper of multitudes.

Religious GIFTEDNESS is sometimes the ground of self-admiration. Fluency and fervor in public prayer, ability to converse on doctrinal subjects, especially if accompanied by a ready utterance in public, have all through the influence of Satan and the depravity of our nature, led to the vile pride which we are now condemning. None are in more danger of this than the ministers of religion—it is the besetting sin of their office. There is no one gift which offers so strong a temptation both to vanity and to pride—as that of public speaking. If the orator really excels, and is successful, he is the immediate spectator of his success, and has not even to wait until he has finished his discourse; for although the decorum of public worship will not allow of audible tokens of applause, it does of visible ones—the look of interest, the tear of penitence or of sympathy, the smile of joy, the deep impression on the mind, the death-like stillness, cannot be concealed—all seem like a tribute of admiration to the presiding spirit of the scene; and then the compliments which are conveyed to his ear, after all the silent plaudits which have reached his eye—are equally calculated to puff him up with pride. No men are more in danger of this sin than the ministers of the Gospel; none should watch more sleeplessly against it.

Deep religious EXPERIENCE has often been followed by the same effect, in those cases where it has been remarkably enjoyed. The methods of divine grace, though marked by a uniformity sufficient to preserve that likeness of character which is essential to the unity of the spirit and the sympathies of the church, are still distinguished by a vast variety of minor peculiarities. The convictions of sin in some minds are deeper—the apprehensions of divine wrath are more appalling—the transition from the poignant compunction of repentance, bordering on despair, to joy and peace in believing, more slow and more awful—the subsequent repose more settled—and the joy more unmingled with the gloom of distressing fears, than is experienced by the generality of their brethren. Such people are looked up to as professors of true religion, whose religious history has been remarkable, as vessels of mercy on which the hand of the Lord has bestowed peculiar pains, and which are eminently fitted for the master's use. They are regarded as having a peculiar sanctity about them, and hence they are in danger of falling under the temptation to which they are exposed, and of being proud of their experience. They look down from what they suppose to be their lofty elevation, if not with disdain, yet with suspicion, or with pity—upon those whose way has not been in their track. Their seasons of elevated communion with God, of holy enlargement of soul, are sometimes followed with this tendency. Paul was never more in danger of losing his humility, than when he was just returned from gazing upon the celestial throne.

ZEAL, whether it be felt in the cause of humanity or of piety has frequently produced pride. This was strikingly illustrated in the case of the Pharisee—"God, I thank you," said the inflated devotee, "that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax-collector—I fast twice in the week—I give tithes of all that I possess!" Where a natural liberality of mind, or religious principle—has led men to lavish their property, or their affluence, or their time—upon benevolent institutions, they have too often returned from the scene of public activity, to indulge in private and personal admiration. They have read with peculiar delight the reports in which their munificence is recorded—and have assigned to themselves a high place in the roll of public benefactors.

On all these grounds does pride exalt itself—but love is no less opposed to VANITY than it is to pride—Love does not boast of, or ostentatiously display, its possessions, abilities, or good deeds. A disposition to boast, and to attract attention--is a common foible. We see this among the people of the world, in reference to their property, their learning, their good deeds, their influence. They are afraid the public should under-rate them, or pay a poor compliment to their importance—they thus think it necessary to proclaim it themselves, in order to make it known. If, indeed, they are what they wish to make us believe they are, the fact would be obvious, without this method of publishing it in every company. Boasting is always suspicious, or superfluous; for real greatness no more needs a publisher, than the sun!

But it is more particularly in reference to religious matters that this observation of the apostle applies. We should not appear eager to display our gifts—nor should we vaunt of our religious experience. The manner in which some good but weak people talk of their pious conflicts, is indeed intolerably offensive. No matter who is present, pious or profane, scorner or believer—they parade all their seasons of despondency or of rapture; they tell you how they struggled with the great enemy of souls, and overcame him; how they wrestled with God, and had power to prevail—and that you may have as exalted an opinion of their humility, as of their enjoyment, they tell you, in the utter violation of all propriety, and almost of decency, what temptations they have encountered—what hairbreadth escapes they have had from the commission of sin. Their motive is obvious—all this vaunting is to impress you with the idea, that they are exemplary Christians. Who can wonder that all religious conversation should have been branded with the epithets of 'whining cant' and 'disgusting hypocrisy'—when the injudicious and nauseating effusions of such talkers are regarded as a fair sample of it?

Too common is it to make the externals of religion the subject of vain-glorious boasting. How long can you be in the company of some Christians without hearing of their splendid place of worship, and its vast superiority over all the rest of the town. They establish the most insulting and degrading comparisons between their minister and his brethren in the neighborhood—none are so eloquent, none are so able, none are so successful—as their minister! Notwithstanding your attachment to the pastor under whose ministry you sit with pleasure and profit—to boast about him is dishonoring and degrading vanity!

And what a propensity is there in the present age, to display, and parade, and boasting—in reference to religious zeal! This is one of the temptations of the day in which we live; and a compliance with the temptation, one of its vices. We have at length arrived at an era of the Christian church, when all the denominations into which it is divided, and all the congregations into which it is subdivided, have their public religious institutions for the diffusion of divine truth. These institutions cannot be supported without contributions—and these contributions must be matter of general notoriety. Like the tributary streams flowing into a great river, or like great rivers flowing into the sea, the contributions of associated congregations or communities, make up the general fund; but unlike the tributary streams which flow silently to form the mighty mass of waters, without requiring the ocean to publish to the universe the amount of each separate quota—the offerings of the different religious bodies must be announced to the uttermost farthing before the world. This perhaps is necessary, that the contributors may know that their bounty has not been stopped and swallowed up in its course. But has reached its destined receptacle—and such is the weakness of our principles, and the strength of our imperfections, that this publicity, to a certain extent, seems necessary to stimulate our languid zeal. But it has given opportunity, and that opportunity has been eagerly embraced, to establish a system of unhallowed vanity between the different denominations and the various congregations into which the Christian church is divided.

Who can have heard the speeches, read the reports, and witnessed the proceedings of many of our public meetings, convened for the support of missionary societies, without being grieved at the 'strange fire' and 'diseased offerings' which have been brought to the altar of the Lord? The object of the meeting was good, for it was the destruction of an idolatry as insulting to Jehovah, as that which Jehu destroyed—but like the king of Israel, hundreds of voices exclaimed in concert, "Come, see our zeal for the Lord!" 'The image of jealousy' was lifted up in the temple of Jehovah—adulatory speakers chanted its praises in compliments upon the liberality of the worshipers—the multitude responded in shouts of applause to the tribute paid to their zeal—the praise of God was drowned amid the praise of men—and the crowd dispersed, in love with the cause, it is true—but more for their own sakes, than for the sake of God or of the heathen world!

Difficult indeed it is, with such hearts as ours, to do anything entirely pure from all admixture of a sinful nature. But when we take pains to make our zeal known—when we employ effort to draw public attention upon us—when we wish and design to make ourselves talked of, as a most extraordinary, liberal, and active people—when we listen for praises, and are disappointed if they do not come in the measure we expected, and feast upon them if they are presented—when we look with envy on those who have outstripped us, and we find no pleasure in any future efforts, because we cannot be first—when we look with jealousy on those who are approaching our level, and feel a new stimulus, not from a fresh perception of the excellence of the object—but from a fear that we shall be eclipsed in public estimation—when we talk of our fellow-workers, or to them, with disdain of their efforts, and with arrogant ostentation of our own—then indeed have we employed 'the cause' only as a pedestal on which to exalt ourselves! In pulling down one kind of idolatry, we have set up another, and rendered our contributions nothing better than a costly sacrifice to our own vanity! All this is a lack of that Christian love which does not boast—and is not proud.

True zeal is modest and retiring—it is not like the scentless sunflower, which spreads its gaudy petals to the light of heaven, and turns its face to the orb of day through his course, as if determined to be seen. But like the modest violet, it hides itself in the bank, and sends forth its fragrance from its deep retirement. True zeal employs no trumpeter, it unfurls no banner, as the hypocrite does; but while conferring the most substantial benefits, it would, if it were possible, be like the angels, who while ministering to the heirs of salvation, are unseen and unknown by the objects of their benevolent attention!

Observe the manner in which love operates to the destruction of pride and vanity. Love, as we have already had frequent occasion to remark, is a desire to promote the happiness of those around us; but proud and vain people tend materially to impair this happiness. They generally excite disgust, frequently offer insult, and sometimes inflict pain. Their object is to impress you with a sense of their superiority—and thus wound and mortify your feelings. Caring little for your peace, they pursue a career of ridicule and scorn for others. They are dreaded by the weak, and despised by the wise. It is impossible to be happy in their society; for if you oppose them, you are insulted—if you submit to them, you are depreciated and degraded.

Love is essentially and unalterably attended with humility. Humility is the garment with which love is clothed—its inseparable and invariable costume. By humility, we do not intend the servility which crouches, or the lowliness that creeps, or the flattery which fawns—but a disposition to think lowly of our attainments, a tendency to dwell upon our defects rather than our excellences, an apprehension of our inferiority compared with those around us—with what we ought to be—and what we might be. It is always attended with that modest deportment, which neither boasts of itself, nor seeks to depreciate anyone. Humility is the inward feeling of meekness. Modesty is the outward expression of humility. Humility leads a man to feel that he deserves little—modesty leads him to demand little.

"The ancient sages, amid all their eulogies upon virtue, and enquiries into the elements of moral excellence, not only valued humility at an exceedingly low estimate—but reckoned it a quality so contemptible as to neutralize the other properties which went, in their estimation, to the composition of a truly noble and exalted character. These sentiments have been adopted in modern times. By the touchstone which Christianity applies to the human character, it is found that pride and independence, which the world falsely dignifies with the epithet honorable, are really base alloy; and that of every character, formed upon proper principles, and possessed of genuine worth—humility is at once a distinguishing feature, and the richest ornament. And on this subject, as on every other, Christianity accords with the sentiments of right reason—that it is unquestionably the duty of every intelligent creature, especially every imperfect creature to be humble; for they have nothing which they have not received, and are indebted, in every movement they make, to an agency infinitely superior to their own."

Now, as divine revelation is the only system which either in ancient or in modern times assigns to humility the rank of a virtue, or makes provision for its cultivation, this in an eminent degree does both. It assigns to it the highest place, and a sort of pre-eminence among the graces of piety—bestows upon it the greatest commendations—enforces it by the most powerful motives—encourages it by the richest promises—draws it into exercise by the most splendid examples, and represents it as the brightest jewel in the Christian's crown.

Everything in the word of God is calculated to humble us—the description which it contains of the divine character, combining an infinitude of greatness, goodness, and glory, compared with which the loftiest being is an insignificant atom, and the purest heart as depravity itself; the view it gives us of innumerable orders of created intelligences—all above man in the date of their existence, the capacity of their minds, and the elevation of their virtue; the account it preserves of the intellectual and moral perfection of man in his pristine innocence, and the discovery which it thus furnishes of the height from which he has fallen, and the contrast it thus draws between his present and his former nature; the declaration it makes of the purity of the eternal law, and the immeasurable depth at which we are thus seen to lie beneath our obligations; the history it exhibits of the circumstances of man's fall, of the progress of his sin, and of the numberless and awful deviations of his corruptions; the characteristics it affixes to his situation as a sinner, a rebel, an enemy of God, a child of wrath, an heir of perdition; the method it presents, by which he is redeemed from sin and hell—a scheme which he neither invented, nor thought of, nor aided—but which is a plan of grace, from first to last, even the grace of God, manifested in and through the atoning sacrifice of Christ—a plan which, in all its parts, and in all its bearings, seems expressly devised to exclude boasting; the means by which it asserts that the renovation and sanctification of the human heart are carried on, and its security to eternal life established even by the effectual operation of a divine agency; the sovereignty which it proclaims, as regulating the dispensations of celestial mercy; the examples which it holds forth of the astonishing self-abasement of others, so far superior to man in their mental and moral natures, such as the profound abasement of the angelic race—but especially the unparalleled humiliation of Him, who, though he was in the form of God, was found in the form of a servant.

These considerations, which are all drawn from the Scriptures, supply incentives to humility, which demonstrate upon Christian principles, that pride is the most unreasonable, as well as the most unrighteous thing in the universe. Pride is opposed, and humility is supported, by every possible view that we can take of divine revelation. An acquaintance with these great principles of inspired truth, at least an experimental knowledge of them, will bring down the loftiest of men's looks, and silence the tongue of arrogant boasting. Surely, surely, he who is conversant with these things will see little cause for self-exaltation and pride; or for that self-publication, which is the essence of vanity.

While every true-hearted Christian is thankful that the Son of God stooped so low for his salvation, he will rejoice that his state of humiliation is past. "If you love me, you would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father." The eclipse is over, the sun has resumed his original brightness, and the heavenly world is illuminated with his rays. That man in whom was no form nor loveliness for which he should be desired, sits upon the throne of the universe, wearing a crown of immortal glory, and is adored by angels and by men. His humility has conducted to honor; his sorrow has terminated in unspeakable joy. "Through the victories you gave, his glory is great; you have bestowed on him splendor and majesty. Surely you have granted him eternal blessings and made him glad with the joy of your presence." Psalm 21:5-6. Similar shall be the result in the case of those who follow his steps, and tread the lowly path in which he has commanded them to walk.

The crown of glory is reserved for the humble—but shame shall be the reward of the proud. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." There is no operation of Christian love more beautiful, none more scarce, than humility. Let professing Christians set themselves to work on their own proud hearts, and their own boasting tongues, remembering that they who sink the lowest in humility in this world—shall assuredly rise to the highest honor in the world to come!