Pride and Despair

Augustine the great Christian thinker from the 4th Century said “Pride is the beginning of sin”, John Ruskin a writer from the 18th Century said “In general, pride is at the bottom of all great mistakes.” and just the other night when reading through the book of Daniel I came across this great word from a once proud king “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.”

I’m not sure that everyone struggles with pride in exactly the same way and I don’t for a minute think that pride will be the key struggle for everyone. But I am aware that many people I know, both those I know personally and those I know through their writings, struggle with pride. Perhaps it is a sin of particular temptation to those in leadership and perhaps it is also a particular sin of evangelicals. We can so quickly become proud of our precise formulations of doctrine and correct handling of scripture, proud of our carefully lived lives and attention to detail in such things as Sunday observance and tithing, but pride is so thoroughly out of place for people who have been rescued not because they were good but because they were dead in sin and unable to save themselves. Our pre-Christian lives weren’t much to boast about and to honest our post-conversion lives are still pretty messy so in the end it’s all about grace. And yet even though we know that still be can be quickly led into proud feelings about what we do or what we understand or what we have achieved.

Strangely hand in hand with that often comes feelings of despair. We oscillate from feelings of being really useful and good and effective to feeling rubbish and worthless and exceedingly sinful. Perhaps we let God down in some way or we catch a glimpse of ourselves in a spiritual mirror somehow (a conversation, a passage of the Bible, a moment of reflection) and what we see is not pleasant, and so we are plunged into black feelings of depression about the huge gap between what we are called to be and what we are. While it may not be a great place to find yourself in, oscillating between pride and despair, it is not unusual.

The solution is Jesus. I know it sounds like a Sunday School answer but it’s the right answer. Reading through the Gadsby’s hymn collection reminds me how powerfully the people who wrote these hymns felt their own sinfulness but they also knew what it was to turn to Christ in that. They knew the dangers of pride but they also knew what to do about it: turn to Jesus. They knew black thoughts of despair but their medicine was Jesus, the bread of life, the living water, the loving shepherd, the sympathetic high priest.

Here’s one from John Berridge (1716-1793 Vicar in Everton)

Jesus Cast a Look on Me

1. Jesus cast a look on me,
Give me sweet simplicity
Make me poor and keep me low,
Seeking only Thee to know

2. All that feeds my busy pride,
Cast it evermore aside
Bid my will to Thine submit,
Lay me humbly at Thy feet

3. Make me like a little child,
Of my strength and wisdom spoiled
Seeing only in Thy light,
Walking only in Thy might

4. Leaning on Thy loving breast,
Where a weary soul can rest
Feeling well the peace of God,
Flowing from His precious blood

5. In this posture let me live,
And hosannas daily give
In this temper let me die,
And hosannas ever cry!

Red Mountain Music have some new music for this old hymn. You can find it here.


One Response

  1. Gill Thomas says:

    Thankyou for your helpful comments on pride and despair. The hymn by John Berridge is clear and also profound. I like the tune too!

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