ON PRESCRIPTIONS AGAINST VAINGLORY
Consider first, in order to cure this unhappy vice of vainglory – which is so deeply rooted in our corrupt nature – how little title we have to pretend to any honour, praise, or esteem from any one – we, who have so often and so grievously offended the creator of all, and who, if we were to be treated according to our deserts, ought rather to be despised and trampled under foot by all men, yea, to be detested and abhorred by all God’s creatures. for there is something so black, so odious, so filthy and abominable in wilful sin that even toads and snakes, were they capable of knowing it, would hate and fly from the unhappy wretches that are stained with it. What pretensions, then, can such wretched sinners as we have to any honour, praise, and esteem, whilst we are conscious to ourselves of mortal sin? No other surely than the damned in hell. And can there be any room for vainglory there?
Consider 2ndly, how truly vain, how empty, how short how inconstant is all human glory and all the praise and esteem of men: ’tis like a puff of wind, which passes in a moment, and makes us not one jot the better in ourselves; it adds nothing to us in the sight of God, the just and true, and eternal judge of all merit. O give ear to the devout a’ Kempis, 1. iii c. 50, ‘The sentiments of men are often wrong in their judgments – what is a man the better for being reputed greater by man? One deceitful man deceives another: one vain man deceives another; the blind deceive the blind; the weak the weak whilst he extols him; and, in truth, doth rather confound him, whist he vainly praises him: for how much each one is in thy eyes, O Lord, so much he is, and no more, saith the humble St. Francis.’ and again, chap. xiv., ‘What is all flesh in thy sight O Lord? How can he be puffed up with the vain talk of men whose heart in truth is subjected to God? He will never suffer himself to be moved with the tongues of them that praise him who hath established his whole confidence in God. for behold, all they that talk of him are all nothing; for they shall pass away with the sound of their word, but ”the truth of the Lord remaineth for ever.” ‘ Ps. cxvi.
Consider 3rdly, that this passion for glory, honor, praise, and esteem, is not only highly unreasonable, foolish, and vain: but ’tis unjust too, ’tis impious, ’tis pernicious. ‘Tis unjust and impious – because it tends to rob God of his glory, and to usurp what belongs to him alone; inasmuch as it pretends to appropriate to itself the glory of God’s gifts, which he has reserved for himself. ‘What hast thou,’ said the apostle, ‘that thou hast not received? and if thou hast received, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?’ 1 Cor. iv. 7. ‘Tis also pernicious, inasmuch as it robs man of the reward of his good works, and even poisons the best of his actions, and exposes the actor to the danger of being eternally published for those very works for which he expected an eternal crown. ‘O take heed,’ saith our Lord, ‘that you do not do your justice before men, to be seen by them: otherwise you shall not have a reward of your Father who is in heaven,’ Matt. vi. 1. No: no other reward, but that of the Scribes and Pharisees, against whom he pronounces his woes, because ‘they did all their works to be seen by men, and loved the uppermost seats, and salutations and titles,’ Matt. xxiii., ‘and justify themselves before men;’ but, said he, ‘God knoweth your hearts; for that which is high to men is an abomination before God,’ Luke xvi. 14. Ah! it was this love of human glory that stood chiefly in their way, and hindered them from submitting to the faith and simplicity of the gospel; for ‘how can you believe,’ saith our Lord to them, John v. 44, who ‘receive glory one from another; and the glory, which is from God alone, you do not seek.’ so pernicious it is to the soul to be a slave to vainglory.
Conclude, O my soul, for thy part, ever to seek the glory of God, by a purity of intention, in all thy words and actions; and God will reward thee exceeding great. If what thou art saying or doing be right in his eyes, it matters not what the world thinks or says of thee, or of thy performances; but if he disapproves of thy conduct, it will be of no service to thee to be esteemed and applauded by the whole world. ‘for he that has a mind to be praised by men, whilst he is dispraised by God, shall not be justified by men, when he shall be judged by God, nor rescued by men, when he shall be condemned by God.’ St. Augustine, Confess. 1. x. – c. 36.