In our self-indulgent era of self-esteem, self-fulfillment, self-assertion, and self-righteousness, we need Chesterton to remind us of just where the danger lies. In fact, he wrote that if he had just one sermon to preach, it would be a sermon against the sin of pride.
Chesterton defined pride as thinking oneself superior—as Satan thought when he fell. Chesterton believed that pride was especially dangerous because, while people fall into the other vices through weakness, pride attacks us where we are strong–even where we are good. If we are virtuous, even devoutly pious, we may not realize how proud we are of the fact, forgetting John Bradford’s “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” Only God is the source of His own goodness, Chesterton reminds us.
Chesterton once expressed sympathy for “a certain Cavalier whom some Puritan had denounced for the immorality of his troopers.” The Cavalier’s reply:
“Our men have the sins of men–wine and wenching. Yours have the sins of devils–spiritual pride and rebellion.”
And Chesterton had a ready answer for those who asked or demanded that he take “the Pledge” (i.e., a vow of total abstinence from intoxicating drink). He would swear off drinking when the temperance reformer swore to total abstinence from the sins of pride, spiritual insolence, self-praise, and the “contempt of common things.” And “the wickedest work in this world is symbolized not by a wine glass but by a looking-glass.”
And for further reading in Chesterton’s works, see “If I Had Only One Sermon to Preach,” The Common Man; “Temperance and The Great Alliance” [pamphlet]; and “Shakespeare and Milton; Silly Headlines” (Illustrated London News, May 18, 1907).