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A Most Prevalent Evil

It is an evil which prevails everywhere among mankind, that everyone sets himself above others.

—John Calvin

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Do Not Retaliate

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.  And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. — Matthew 5:39–42

At times this very rule of self-sacrifice may require us to take steps in the way of legal appeal, to stop injuries which would fall heavily upon others; but we ought often to forego our own advantage, yea, always when the main motive would be a proud desire for self-vindication. Lord, give me a patient spirit, so that I may not seek to avenge myself, even when I might righteously do so!

— Charles Spurgeon

 

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To Please or Displease Christ or Creature

I dare say that I would not willingly and resolvedly sin against Christ for a world. I will rather leap into a bonfire than wilfully to commit wickedness, wilfully to sin against God. I can say, through grace, were I this moment to die, that my greatest fear is of sinning against Christ, and my greatest care is of pleasing Christ. I know there was a time, when my greatest care was to please myself and the creature, and my greatest fear was to displease myself and the creature. I can remember with sorrow and sadness of heart, how often I have displeased Christ to please myself, and displeased Christ to please the creature; but now it is quite otherwise with me, my greatest care is to please Christ, and my greatest fear is of offending Christ.

—Thomas Brooks
Works, 3:79.

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Love to God is Contrary to Selfishness

They who have true love to God love him so as wholly to devote themselves to God. This we are taught in the sum of the Ten Commandments: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength” (Mark 12:30). Here is contained in these words a description of a right love to God; and they teach us that they who love him aright do devote all to him, all their hearts, and all their souls, all their mind and all their strength, or all their powers and faculties. Surely, a man who gives all this wholly to God keeps nothing back, but devotes himself wholly and entirely to God. He who gives God all his heart, and all his soul, and all his mind, and all his powers or strength, keeps nothing back; there is no room for any reserve. All who have true love to God have a spirit thus to do. This shows how much a principle of true love to God is above a selfish principle. For if self be devoted wholly to God, then there is something above self which influences the man; there is something superior to self which takes self and makes an offering of it to God. A selfish principle never devotes self to another; the nature of it is to devote all others to self. They who have true love to God, love God as God, and as the supreme good; whereas the nature of selfishness is to set up self for God, to make an idol of self. That being which men respect as God, they devote all to. They who idolize self devote all to self, but they who love God as God devote all to him.

—Jonathan Edwards
Ethical Writings, WJE (Yale University Press, 1989), 264–265.

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Self-Esteem is Idolatry

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.

—Stephen Charnock
Adapted from The Complete Works of Stephen Charnock, 1:226–227.

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