Brooks -- the Pride of Life


Phillips Brooks was born at Boston, Mass., in 1835, graduated at Harvard in 1855 and studied theology at the P.E. Seminary, Alexandria, Va. He was elected rector of the Church of the Advent, Philadelphia, in 1859, and three years later to that of Holy Trinity in the same city. In 1869 he became rector of Trinity Church, Boston, and was consecrated Bishop of Massachusetts in 1891. He died in 1893. He was in every sense a large man, large in simplicity and sympathy, large in spiritual culture. In his lectures to the students at Yale he spoke of the preparation for the ministry as being nothing less than the making of a man. Said he:

"It cannot be the mere training to certain tricks. It cannot be even the furnishing with abundant knowledge. It must be nothing less than the kneading and tempering of a man's whole nature till it becomes of such a consistency and quality as to be capable of transmission. This is the largeness of the preacher's culture." Doctor Brastow describes him thus: "The physical equipment was symbol of his soul; and the rush of his speech was typical of those mental, moral, and spiritual energies that were fused into unity and came forth in a stream of fiery intensity."


1835 -- 1893


[Footnote 1: Published for the first time by the kind permission of William G. Brooks.]

The pride of life. -- 1 John ii., 16.

John is giving his disciples the old warning not to love the world, that world which then and always is pressing on men's eyes and ears and hearts with all its loveliness and claiming to be loved. "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world.... For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world."

What is the pride of life? Pride is one of those words which hover in the middle region between virtue and vice. The materials which under one set of circumstances and in one kind of character make up an honorable self-respect, seem so often to be precisely the same as those which under another set of circumstances and in another kind of character make up arrogance and self-conceit. This last is the tone evidently in which John speaks. So it is with most moral minglings. All character is personal, determined by some force that blends the qualities into a special personality. The same apparent qualities unite into the most various results. It is like the delicate manufacture of mosaics. The skilful workers of Rome or Venice put in the same ingredients in nature and amount, and the composition comes out at one time dull and muddy and at another time perfectly clear and lustrous. Some subtle difference in the mixture of the constituents or in the condition of the atmosphere or in the heat of the furnace alters the whole result. So out of life we may say in its various minglings there come various products in character, either humility or thankfulness or contentment or self-respect, from some failure of the qualities to meet in perfect union, from some fault in the shape or misregulation of the temperature of the human furnace in which they are fused, this degenerate and confused result of pride which yet is often so near to, that we can see how it was only some slightest cause, some stray and unguarded draft across the surface that hindered it from being, one of the clear and lustrous combinations of the same material. But that fact makes it no better. The muddy glass is no more useful because it is made of the same components as the clear glass. There is nothing still to be done with it but to throw it away.

What then is the pride of life which is bad, which "is not of the Father, but is of the world"? Life itself we know is of the Father. In whatever sense we take that much-meaning word, life is God's gift. The mere physical being, if that be life, is the creation of His mighty word. The continuance, the prolongation of the vital function, if that be life, that too is the result of His never-sleeping care. The surrounding circumstances, the scenery of our experience, if that be life, is also of His arranging. The spiritual vitality, all the higher powers as we call them, of thought and feeling and conscience, if they be life, no hand but His strung and tuned their manifold and subtle cords. Everywhere there is no life but what He gives. It is not of the world. In no sense does any creative power of being issue either from the material earth, or from the social system, or from the mass of conventional laws and standards, each of which is sometimes, in different uses of the word, characterized as "the world." They may all influence and change and give character to life, but none of them can create it.

And perhaps this brings us to what we want. The world may give a certain character or shape to life, even altho it cannot create it. Now pride is a certain character or shape of life. It is a term of description not of the material of life but of a particular result of that material fused into a particular furnace. In general the shape of life which pride describes may be otherwise characterized as arrogant self-reliance or self-sufficiency. We may reach more minute definitions of it before we are done, but this seems to make the meaning plain when it is said that the pride of life is not of the Father, but of the world. Life comes from God. It is the world's influence that shapes that life, which has no moral character in itself, into arrogance and self-sufficiency, makes it up into pride instead of into humility, and so leaves as the result the pride of life. The pride of life, then, is God's gift which means dependence changed and distorted into independence, revolt and disobedience.

Most necessary is it that in all we say we should keep clear in mind that the first gift is God's. The substance of life is His. All evil is misuse, otherwise repentance must be cursed with misanthropy and hopelessness instead of being as it always ought to be, the very birthplace of hope, the spring of a new life from the worn-out failure of an old, back into the possibility of life that is older still, as old as man's first creation.

Let us see where the pride of life shows itself. First of all doubtless in the mere exuberance of animal strength. To be well and strong, full of spirit and physical vitality, this is beyond all doubt one of the most precious gifts of God. We never can forget the large strong physical strain with which our Bible opens, the torrent of health and full life that seems to pour down to us out of those early days when the world was young, when the giants made the earth shake under their mighty tread and the patriarchs outlived the forests with their green old years. The fulness of physical vitality is of God, to be accepted as His benefaction, to be cultivated and cared for with the reverence that His gifts demand. And round the mere physical life group a whole circle of tastes and enjoyments and exercises which belong with the sensuous more than with the intellectual or moral part of us, and whose full life seems to be dependent upon the fulness of physical being, the mere perception of beauty, the love of comfort, the delight in enterprise and adventure and prowess. The sum of all these is what we call full physical life. It is what gives youth its most generous charm and makes it always poetic with its suggested powers and unaccomplished possibilities.

But yet this mere fulness of life as we all know has its dangers. Mere health is overbearing by its very nature. There is a lack of sympathy in it. Not knowing suffering itself, it is not respectful of suffering in others. It is not careful of inflicting suffering. The full blood sings of nothing but itself. It is careless of others. It is careless of God, not malignantly cruel, nor deliberately atheistic, but selfish with a sort of self-absorption which is often, very gracious in its forms and infidel with a mere forgetfulness of God. Who of us does not know, and who of us, wavering between his standards and his feelings, has not very often found it hard to tell just how he ought to value the enthusiastic and arrogant self-sufficiency of healthy youth?

It is this, I take it, that is described here as "the pride of life." Wherever there is eager and full-blooded youth there it appears. It breaks out in the wild and purposeless mob of lower city life, in the impatience and insubordination of the country boy who longs to be free from his father's farm, in the crude skepticism of college students' first discussions of religion. It is jealous of slight, of insult, of the least suspicion of restraint or leading. It belongs to strong young nations as well as to strong young men. By it they flaunt defiance in the face of the world and are afraid of the imputation of prudence. It is what you can see in the faces of any group of eager young men as you pass them on the street. Sometimes it makes them attractive and sometimes it makes them detestable. It turns the noble youth into a hero and the mean youth into a bully. A fine nature it leads into the most exquisite tastes and encircles it with art and music. A coarse nature it plunges into the vilest debauchery and vice. In good fortune it makes the temper carelessly benignant. In bad fortune it makes the temper recklessly defiant. It works these very different effects but is always the one same spirit still, -- the pride of life. The gift of life which came from God, taken possession of by the world and tamed into self-sufficiency, a thing not of the Father, but of the world, who does not know in himself, or see in somebody he watches, something of this pure pride in life? Just to live is so attractive that the higher ends and responsibilities of living drift away out of sight. This instinctive almost physical selfishness is the philosophy of more than we think both of the good and of the bad that is in young people.

I have seen too much of it to undervalue the sweet and sober piety of old age. There is a beauty in it that is all its own. A softness and tenderness and patience and repose in the western sky that the bolder glories of the east where the morning breaks never can attain. Many and many of the best men we have known have been old men, but no one looks at men's progress without feeling that a great deal of what passes for growth in goodness as men grow old is in reality only the deadening of the pride of life from the dying-down of the life itself. Many and many a man who passes for a sober, conscientious, religious sort of man at fifty, if you put back into his cooled blood the hot life he had at twenty-five would be the same reckless, profligate, arrogant sinner that he was then. It is the life, not the pride, that he has lost. Many and many a man thinks that he has saved his house from conflagration because he, sees no flame, when really the flame is hidden only because the house is burnt down and the fire is still lurking among the ashes, hunting out any little prey that is left and hungrily waiting for more fuel to light up the darkness again. One thing at least is true, that the goodness of old age in what we may call its passive forms, humility, submission, patience, faith, is necessarily far more hard to recognize and be sure of than the same goodness in a younger man. What you call piety may be only deadness.

And young men are often pointed just to this old age as the golden time when they will be religious as they cannot be now. They look to it themselves. "You are full of the pride of life," men say to them; "Ah, wait! By and by the life will flag. The senses will grow dull, the tastes will stupefy, the enterprise will flicker out, and the days come in which your soul will say 'I have no pleasure in them.' Just wait for that! Then your pride will go too, and then you will need and seek your God." It is a poor taunt and a poorer warning. If you have nothing better to say to make men use their powers rightly than to tell them that they will lose their powers some day, the answer will always be, "Well, I will wait until that losing day comes before I worry." If you tell a young man that his life is short, the old bacchanalian answer is the first one, "Live while we live." You must somehow get hold of that, you must persuade him that the true life now is the holy life, that life, this same life that he prizes, ought to breed humility and faith, not arrogance and pride, or else you must expect to talk to the winds. It surely is important that the conversion of the pride of life must come not by the putting-out of life but by making it a source of humility instead of pride. The humbleness of life. How can it come? By clearer and deeper truthfulness to let us see what the real facts of the case are, that is all; but that is very hard, so hard that it can be brought about by no other than the Almighty Holy Ghost. Let me see that this physical life of mine, having no true character of its own, is made to be a great machinery for simply conducting the knowledge and the love of God into my life; let all my study of the exquisite adaptations of the physical organs for their work be sanctified with this idea, this ever-pervading consciousness that eye and ear and hand are doors for the knowledge and the love of Him to enter by, and that all their marvelous mechanism is only the perfecting of hinges and bolt that He may enter more impressively and lovingly and entirely; let me learn that every bright taste or fine instinct or noble appetite is a ray of sunlight, not the sun, is the projection into my life of some force above, outside of me, which I can find only by climbing back along the ray that is projected, up to it; let me see all animal life a study and preparation for this final life of man, sensations and perceptions, growing clearer and clearer as we rise in the scale until in man they are fit to convey this knowledge which man alone can have, the knowledge of God; let me see this, and I must be ashamed to make that life a thing of pride which might be the seat of such an exalted and exalting dependence and humility. I am unwilling that those well-built cisterns which ought to be so full of God should hold nothing but myself, as if one crept into his aqueduct and closed it up where the water came into it from the fountain and lived in it for a house and found it very dry.

We see clearly enough what the change is that is needed. It is to substitute for self-consciousness as the result of life the ever-abiding consciousness of God. Do you ask how it shall be done? Ah, my dear friends, that is the very miracle of the gospel. I can tell you only this about it, which the Lord has told us all before: "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." The kingdom of God, that region of life in which God is the life's King. And again: "If any man love me he will keep my words and my Father will love him and we will come unto him and make our abode with him." "We will come to him!" That is what we want, for that is the source of all humility, the coming of God into us, and the condition is love and obedience, the spiritual and the active forms of faith. That is all we can say. And that is enough, for in that this at least is clear, that such a conversion is a work that God has undertaken to do for us, that He asks of us nothing but submission to His willing helpfulness, and that being a transformation of life, it may, nay it must, be done while life is in possession, it can be done best when life is in its fullest. We have not to wait till movement is slow and color is dull. We are not tempted to make a vacancy and call it piety; but when man's life is so full that it tempts him daily to self-consciousness and pride, then let him open it wide to the consciousness of God and ennoble it with the full dignity of that humility whose first condition is the presence of God in the soul that He built for His own inhabiting.

There is a condition possible where the life shall flow with God as fully and freely as it ordinarily flows with self, where the greater volume it acquires, it only bears the more of Him; where every joy delights in Him, and every power depends on Him, and the whole man lives in Him and knows it. It is not a constant effort. It is the spontaneous direction of the whole nature. It is the new condition of the Christian who has been exalted from the human pride into the divine humility of life, out of self to God.

But I suggested at the outset that the word life was used in various meanings, and in connection with one or two of them I should like to develop a little what is meant by this phrase the "pride of life." Life sometimes familiarly signifies what we otherwise call circumstances. A man is said to "get on in life," not with reference to his growing older or growing healthier, but as he grows more rich, more prosperous. The pride of life in this sense would be the pride of success, which we see wherever men are struggling in this world of competition. Look at the young merchant who is making a living. Things go well with him. He rises from stratum to stratum of that commercial system whose geology is the ever-eluding study of the toilers of the street. He grows rich. His store begins to spread with the pressure of new enterprises. His house begins to blossom into the rich bloom of luxury. He is greeted with a new respect. He is courted with an eagerness he never knew before. Friends gather about him. His word has weight. His name means money. He is successful. What is the result? Those facts in themselves signify nothing, let us remember, but material capable of being made into one thing or another wholly its opposite. These are the gift of the Father, every one of them, all that profusion of life. But there is a possible effect of them all in character, a pride, which is not of the Father, but of the world. With a morbid sympathy the man assimilates all that is poor and mean and worldly out of his prosperity, and rejects, because he has no affinity for it, all that is good and sweet and heavenly. He is chilled and narrowed and embittered. All the old sweetness and humility fade out of his nature. Need I tell you of it? Our streets are full of the pride of life. Its types only, its outer types flash in the splendid carriages and blaze in the fronts of gaudy houses and sweep the floors of drawing-rooms and the aisles of churches. Those types, the mere outward trappings of success, are not wherein the badness lies. The reality is in the hard hearts and selfish tempers and undocile minds which, in the splendor or the squalidness of wealth, show the sad ruin of self-sufficient success, the pride of life.

The pride of life kills out the life itself. Is there a sadder picture than you have in the life of a man, old or young, to whom God has sent prosperity, who by his own act then turns that prosperity into a failure by being proud of it? Christ Himself has told us how it is. The life is more than meat. He has no tolerance for this little meaning of a word that He made so large. The life is more than meat. Yes, life is meat and man, and to lose the best manhood to get the meat, to lose the soul to save the body, to fail of heaven above you and before you that you may own the ground under your feet, that is not success but failure. "In all time of our prosperity, Good Lord deliver us!" May God help you who are prosperous.

I would speak again of what is called intellectual life, the life of thought. It is "of the Father," indeed. We picture to ourselves the pure joy of God in thought. Free from so many of our cumbrous processes, free from the limitations of slow-moving time, free from all imperfection, with an instantaneous thought as is His being, the intellect that is the center of all reason revolves in its unfathomed majesty. And man thinks too. God makes him think. God gives him powers to think with, and then, as when you pour for your child a stream of water out of your cisterns upon the wheels of the machinery that you have first built for him, God gives man thoughts to exercise his power of thinking upon. Can anything be more humble? The power was from God, the thoughts by which the power moves were God's thoughts first. "Oh, God, I think Thy thoughts after Thee," cried John Kepler, when he caught sight of the great law of planetary motion. But mere thought, self-satisfied, seeking no unity in God, owning no dependence, boasting of itself, counting it hardship that it cannot know all where it knows so much, this is the pride of thought, and this is not of the Father, but is of the world. How arrogant it is! How it is jealous of dictation, how it chafes under a hand that presses it down and a voice that says to it, "Wait! what thou knowest not now thou shall; know hereafter." How carefully it limits its kind of evidence, shutting out everything that sounds like personal communication, revelation, in its impatient independence; how studiously it orphans itself. And then how, in some moods, orphaned by its arrogance, it suddenly becomes intensely cognizant of its orphanage, and the child's hunger for a Father takes possession of its heart and it is dreary and miserable!

I always know, when I speak thus of types of men, that you will think that I am talking of those types in their extreme specimens. I am not speaking to-day of the miracles of physical vitality, nor of the over-successful men with their colossal fortunes, nor of the mighty thinkers only. We all have our certain share in these various kinds of life, and each of us may make his little share a seed of pride. We are strangely ingenious here. We have an easy faculty of persuading ourselves that ours is best of everything and growing arrogant, unfilial and worldly over it. I speak to the men confident in their youth and health, to the merchants strong in their business credit, to the thoughtful brains at work over their problems of settling the universe for themselves. I warn them all against the pride of life. I would try to show them all that the same material which is capable of being made into pride is capable also of being made into humility. I would tell them therefore that they have not to be made old or sick or poor or stupid before they can be made humble, that the best humility, as well as the hardest, is that which can come to them here, right in the midst of their strength and wealth and study!

Do you ask how that can be? It is time that I tried to tell you, tried to tell how one may be full of life and yet be free from the pride of life. That question must somehow be answered, or else the world will be condemned to choose forever between an arrogant prosperity and a salvation by misery, distress and disaster, by death. What do we need for the salvation of a prosperous life? The answer in one word is consecration. Consecration, that is what we need. There have been men in whom life seemed complete who have yet walked very humbly. They had no pride of life. And why? Because always before them and above them there stood some great principle, some idea, some duty to which their life belonged, not to themselves. All work is modest, all idle self-contemplation is vain. And what the young man needs with his vague aspirations and conceits is to make himself the servant of some worthy purpose. And what the merchant needs with his growing business is to count himself the steward of some worthy Master. And what the student needs with his active mind is to trace the footsteps of the God of wisdom in the path he walks and to count the reaching nearer to Him, the true prize and object of all thinking. Consecration! We are proud of life because we do so little with it. It is as if the bearer of dispatches sat down calmly and boasted of the well-made box in which they had been given to him, and never bore them to their destination. Life is force, to be transmitted and delivered to a purpose and an end. It loses its true nature and sweetness, it corrupts into pride, when it is robbed of its true purpose and cherished only for itself.

We can find our example of the consecrated man wherever we see true lives lived in history or about us now, in the Bible or in common life. Moses, David, Paul! But why look at the poor, imperfect copies when in our Lord Himself we have the consummate human life clothed in the wondrous humility of His appointed work. The life of lives! and yet was ever any life so utterly free from the tawdry pride that makes our poor achievements so wretched and unsatisfying. You say He cut Himself off from all that men are proud of. Not so. He gave up house and home, but he carried about with Him always the devotion of the people, the mystery of unknown power and the consciousness of great work and influence, the very things that have always seduced the best men most and in their highest labors made them proud. You say He was divine and so could not be humble. Yes, but He was profoundly human also, and humility is not subserviency or meanness. It is a grace not unworthy of, nay, necessary to, even the perfect humanity. But one thing stands out always: His was the consecrated life. It was all given to its purpose. "He was called Jesus because he should save his people from their sins." "Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?" "Behold we go up to Jerusalem and the Son of Man shall be betrayed." "To this end was I born and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth." Everywhere the consecration, a life appointed to an end, the face set to Jerusalem, the hands and feet waiting for the cross! Meanwhile it was the fullest life, but lived so high that the "pride of life" lay all below under His feet and out of sight.

And our life must be consecrated even as His was. What shall the consecration be? Far be it from me to undervalue the exaltation into humility that comes to a man when he consecrates himself to any great and noble cause. I believe that it helps to save any man from pride when he gives himself to his family or his country or his fellow men, to truth, to liberty, to purity, to anything outside of and above himself, but there is a consecration higher and fuller and more saving than any such can be. We go back to the Cross. Jesus is dying there for us. He dies and we are saved. What then? When a soul "knows its full salvation" and sees it all bought by, all wrapt up in, that Redeemer, then in the outburst of a grateful love, he gives himself to the Redeemer Christ. There is no hesitation, no keeping back of anything. He is all offered up to Christ; and then to serve that Christ, to follow Him, to do His will, to enter into Him, that is the one great object of the whole consecrated life, and in that consecration, the straining of the life toward that One Object, the "pride of life" is swept down and drowned. Not merely the life then, but the use of the life, comes from the Father. It is not of the world. The soul is saved!

The salvation of the Cross! Its center is the forgiveness of sins which the cross alone made possible; but is not its issue here, in the lifting of the soul above the pride of life and consecrating it in the profoundest gratitude to "Him who redeemed us and washed us from sins in His own blood"? What humility! What self-forgetfulness! What unworldliness! What utter childhood to the Father!

My friends, my people, would you be saved, saved from your sins, saved from yourselves, saved from the pride of life? You must be His that you may not be your own! He died for you that you might not henceforth live to yourself but unto Him. You must be consecrated to your Savior. If there is one soul in my church to-day who is weary and dissatisfied with his self-slavery, I offer him Jesus for Savior, for Master! If any man thirst let him come unto Him and drink. Turn unto Him and be ye saved! You can, you must! His service is life, life in its fullest because life in humility. Outside of His gospel and His service there is the pride of life, and the pride of life is death.

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