1 Timothy 3:1-7
This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desires a good work.…
You can hardly fail to perceive that this reasoning of St. Paul's proceeds on the supposition that they who know but little are most in danger of pride. It is just because man is a novice that he is likely to be lifted up. Is it not a confessed and well-known fact that the arrogant and conceited person is ordinarily the superficial and the ignorant? You will hardly ever find the man of real power and great acquirement other than a simple and unaffected man. It would scarcely ever lead you to a false estimate of persons, were you to take it as a rule, that where there is the manifestation of conceit, there is shallowness of intellect. And why is this, but because he who knows most is most conscious how little he knows? Can he be vain of his mental power who, having applied it to the investigation of truth, has discovered little more than that truth would exhaust power a thousand-fold greater? Can he be proud of his scientific progress who, having laboured long and hard, finds himself only a beginner, so vast are the spreadings which lie dimly beyond? Oh! it is not, and it never will be, the man of experience who shows himself haughty and conceited. We have thus taken the case generally of a novice in knowledge, as it helps to place under a clearer point of view the gist of St. Paul's argument — namely, that ignorance is the great parent of pride. But we will now confine ourselves to such particular branches of life as must have been referred to by the apostle, when he penned the direction for the exclusion of a novice; and forasmuch as it is the novice in Christian doctrine of which he speaks, we shall perhaps thoroughly compass his argument if we give our attention to knowledge of ourselves, in the two grand respects of our state by nature and our state by grace. Of all knowledge there is confessedly none which is either more valuable in itself, or more difficult of attainment, than self-knowledge; none more valuable, for a man has an immeasurably greater interest or deeper stake in himself than in the whole surrounding universe; none more difficult of attainment, for we have it on the authority of the Bible itself, that none but a Divine Being can search the human heart. And if we were not able to show of all knowledge whatsoever that it is a corrective of pride, or at least reads such lessons to each, as to his incompetence and insignificance, as leaves him inexcusable if he be not humble, we should have no difficulty in doing this in regard to self-knowledge. Let it be, if you will, that the study of stars in their courses might tend to give a man high thoughts of himself; for, indeed, till you look closely into the matter, there is something ennobling — something that seems to excuse, if not to form, a lofty estimate of power — when, with daring tread, the astronomer pursues the heavenly bodies into untravelled regions, tracking their wanderings and counting their revolutions; but in regard, at all events, of self-knowledge, there can be no difficulty in showing to any one who will hearken that pride can subsist only where this knowledge is deficient. If we consider man in his natural condition, how could any one be proud who thoroughly knew that condition? Self-knowledge — knowledge of the body — as appointed to all the disorders of the grave, would be the most effectual corrective to the self-complacency, of which beauty is the food. Who, again, could be proud of rank, puffed up because of some petty elevation above his fellow-men, who was deeply aware of his own position as an accountable creature? Who, once more, could be proud of his intellectual strength, of his wit, his wisdom, his elocution, who knew the height from which he had fallen — and saw in himself but the fragments — we had almost said the rubbish — of what God designed and created him to be? Indeed, you have here in the general the grand corrective to pride. Men have but to know themselves as fallen and depraved creatures, and we might almost venture to say that they could not be proud. But we have spoken of self-knowledge as though it were knowledge of man in regard only of his natural condition. We must, however, consider him as a redeemed being, and not merely as a fallen; for possibly, though knowledge of him in his ruined state be the corrective of pride, it may not be the same with knowledge of him in his restored state. Yes, a slight knowledge of the gospel, so far from generating humility, may even tend to the fostering pride. There is such an opposition between man ruined and man redeemed, if in the one state he may be exhibited as loathsome and worthless, in the other he may be thought of some such importance as ransomed by Christ whilst angels were left to perish, that it is hard to avoid on first hearing of the gospel, feeling that, after all, our degradation must have been exaggerated and our insignificance overdrawn. Thus the novice is once more in danger of being lifted up with pride. As the novice in that knowledge which has to do with man fallen, so the novice in that knowledge which has to do with man redeemed, is liable, through his knowing but little, to the thinking more highly of himself than he ought. And will not the danger diminish as the gospel is more thoroughly studied and understood? Yes, indeed; for what were it but the worst libel on the system of Christianity to suppose it not adapted to the producing humility? And if to this argument for humility, which is interwoven with the whole texture of the gospel, you add the constant denunciations of that gospel against pride — its solemn demands of lowliness of mind as essential to all who would inherit the kingdom of God — you will readily see that the further a man goes in acquaintance with the gospel, the more motives will he have to the abasing himself before God. Redemption as a scheme of wonders into which the very angels desire to look, may kindle in him a dream of his importance; but redemption as emanating from free grace, will convict him of his nothingness; and redemption as requiring from him the mind which was also in Christ, will cover him with confusion. And thus we reach the same conclusion, when we examine self-knowledge in regard to our condition as redeemed, as we reach when we examine it in regard of our condition as fallen. It is the novice who is in most danger of pride; it is his being a novice which exposes him to danger.
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.