We make ourselves our own end in frequent self-applauses, and inward overweening reflections. Nothing more ordinary in the natures of men, than a dotage on their own perfections, acquisitions, or actions in the world. Most “think of themselves above what they ought to think” (Rom12:3-4). Few think of themselves so meanly as they ought to think: this sticks as close to us as our skin; and as humility is the beauty of grace, this is the filthiest soil of nature. Our thoughts run more delightfully upon the track of our own perfections than the excellency of God; and when we find any thing of a seeming worth, that may make us glitter in the eyes of the world, how cheerfully do we grasp and embrace ourselves!
To magnify ourselves is a form of self-idolatry, which itself is a form of atheism in the practice of rejected our Creator in favor of the creature.
We magnify ourselves in ascribing the glory of what we do or have to ourselves, to our own wisdom, power, virtue, etc. How flaunting is Nebuchadnezzar at the prospect of Babylon, which he had exalted to be the head of so great an empire: “Is not this great Babylon that I have built?” (Dan 4:30). He struts upon the battlements of his palace, as if there were no God but himself in the world, while his eye could not but see the heavens above him to be none of his own framing. Attributing his acquisitions to his own arm, and referring them to his own honour, for his own delight; not for the honour of God, as a creature ought; nor for the advantage of his subjects, as the duty of a prince. He regards Babylon as his heaven, and himself as his idol, as if he were all, and God nothing.
An example of this we have in the present age; but it is often observed that God vindicates His own honour, brings the most heroical men to contempt and unfortunate ends, as a punishment of their pride, as he did here: “When the word was in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven” (Dan 4:31). This was Herod’s crime, to suffer others to do it. He had discovered his eloquence actively, and made himself his own end passively, in approving the flatteries of the people, and offered not with one hand to God the glory he received from his people with the other (Acts 12:22-23). Samosatenus is reported to put down the hymns which were sung for the glory of God and Christ, and caused songs to be sung in the temple for his own honour.
When anything succeeds well, we are ready to attribute it to our own prudence and industry. If we meet with a cross, we fret against the stars and fortune and second causes, and sometimes against God, as they curse God as well as their king (Isa 8:21), not acknowledging any defect in themselves. The psalmist, by his repetition of “Not unto us, not unto us, but to thy name give glory” (Ps 115:1), implies the naturality of this temper, and the difficulty to cleanse our hearts from those self-reflections. If it be angelical to refuse an undue glory stolen from God’s throne (Rev 22:8-9), it is diabolical to accept and cherish it. “To seek our own glory is not glory” (Prov 25:27). It is vile, and the dishonour of a creature, who, by the law of his creation, is referred to another end. So much as we sacrifice to our own credit, to the dexterity of our hands, or the sagacity of our wit, we detract from God.
Adapted from The Complete Works of Stephen Charnock, 1:226–227.